Saturday, April 28, 2007

If I hadn’t lost my temper and written that useless diatribe mentioned below, the time could have been better spent writing a piece honoring David Halberstam or Bill Moyers. I’ve already posted one about Moyers. Three actually. After last week’s brilliant piece about the media promotion of the invasion of Iraq, I wish it was stronger. But how much stronger can it get than “the best English language broadcast journalist in the history of the medium”?

So I re-post this piece and dedicate it to the memory of a reporter, a great one.

Life Isn't A Machine, It Is Not Book Keeping, It Isn't A Circus Act.
First Posted by olvlzl Septemeber 3, 2006
As used in the context of politics and social life, “balance” is a very strange word. It’s an even stranger virtue. The assumption that finding a balance is the same thing as being correct is part of the automatic standard operating settings of our country. It is one that is accepted without question.

The “balance” fetish sees society and politics as if they are a revolving machine that will fly apart if some kind of mystical governor doesn’t keep things in a state of equilibrium. While this is, I contend, just more of the absurd habit of seeing all of life in terms of mechanics there isn’t any reason to think about public life in those terms. It is an unthinking response that has some dangerous political consequences. What “balances” democracy, equality, freedom? You can balance many things but you can’t balance reality.

The most important political use of this “balance” comes in the context of news reporting and the parasitic limpets attached to it, opinion “journalism”. In that context something called balance has replaced the reporting of facts*. It used to be that a reporter was required to get two independent sources to verify the truth of what their primary source had said. Now, instead, they just have to get a second opinion and that opinion doesn’t even have to present facts in refutation, it just needs to refute. The excuse is that the “reader will get to decide who is right”. Well, I’m very sorry to have to say that I’ve decided that is a lie, a cheat and a fraud entered into for reasons of laziness, cowardice, economy and ideology.

The function of good journalism is to present verified facts that a reader or listener can reasonably rely on at least contingently. A reporter has to do their job well enough to go past the point of presenting a false dichotomy which the reader then chooses a side to be on. This wasn’t always done honestly but it used to be done a heck of a lot more often than it is now. It’s not an unimportant matter, the news is a lot more earthshaking than presenting a choice between clear or cream soups.

The excuse that the “reader gets to decide” is fundamentally dishonest. Presumably a reporter will know a lot more than the readers will even after reading the results of their work. Not even an unusually long report will have enough information for someone to form an opinion. But that question shouldn’t even enter into the business of reporting the news. The reporter is the one who gets to decide but news decisions can’t be a matter of pro or con, it’s a decision about what is supported by the facts as they have it in their power to discover them. If the reporter fails in that task it is up to the editor to decide that they haven’t got the goods yet.

I first started noticing this kind of phony balancing act back in the 70s in response to the already years long effort by conservatives to destroy journalism. It was a cowardly capitulation to an organized effort to paint an objective media as liberal.** The media began by “balancing” their straight news reporting with stuff from the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution, The Heritage Foundation, and the Cato whatever. Have you noticed much in the way of ‘balance’ in the direction of the left, that is other than the typically soggy Milquetoast from the likes of the Brookings Institution? And we see today that the usual panel of talking heads on TV has one or more obvious right-wing representatives to “balance” one reporter.

With this decay of real reporting there has been the rise in several levels of “opinion” journalism, complete with excuses within the profession for why they are exempt from accurately presenting facts or even telling the truth. Analysis, op-ed, focus, feature columnist, right down to the lowest of the low, the pundit; the presentation of opinion by these entirely biased and interested parties is almost certainly cheaper than supporting a reporter through the difficult and expensive task of trying to uncover hard news. It is certainly more certain what the point of view expressed will be.

A democracy can withstand wars, depressions, insurrections, plagues and many other calamities, it cannot withstand the ignorance of the People. It cannot exist if a majority of its people believes that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and so the invasion was justified. It cannot stand if the majority of people know more about what goes on in Hollywood than inside the government. It is a measure of the failure of our news that Americans, with the most elaborate media structure in the history of the species are inadequately informed on issues they need to know in order to govern themselves.

I don’t believe in a right to be ignorant but like all opinion what I think doesn’t matter. But unless someone can find an alternative explanation I’ll have to believe that if people choose ignorance they will always lose their rights. People who are ignorant are unable to resist those who would manipulate them and exploit them, even without an effort to impose a dictatorship, they will likely stumble into one. Similarly, if the media chooses to pander to the least common denominator, if they seduce the population with infotanement for their corporate interests they don’t exist as a free press. A free press is always in danger of having the exercise of its freedom taken away from it. If they only report corporate propaganda they will find, in the fullness of time, that they are not allowed to do anything else. A free press is fully dependent on an informed and free electorate. Our media hasn’t given up free speech with a gag but with a simper.

* There is another aspect of this avoidance of news reporting posted at my blog.

** A couple of years ago there was a letter in the Boston Globe, I believe in response to a story about David Horowitz’ McCarthy style efforts against college teachers. It was the most succinct and sensible answer I have ever seen to these charges. The letter said that College teachers tend to be liberals because they read a lot.

Question of the Day

Posted by olvlzl

Proposed: Science has proven that "free will is a myth".

Please discuss, including an explanation of how democracy and personal rights can survive this belief.

This assumption seems to be a question that underlies a lot of present day thinking and we can’t avoid confronting it. It’s cropped up no less than three times in my surfing the web and it’s in today’s Boston Globe, it’s clearly a question that is ripe for investigation. You've heard me on this subject before, now it's your turn.

Update at c. 3:10 PM I’ve been coming back to this thread to see what you’ve been writing. It’s excellent, proving one thing, holding off on posting that 847 word diatribe I wrote was a good idea. Please, keep on. This is good.

Friday, April 27, 2007

So Unfair

How can I write ironical posts about the Bush administration when they do things like this:

Deputy Secretary of State Randall L. Tobias submitted his resignation Friday, one day after confirming to ABC News that he had been a customer of a Washington, D.C. escort service whose owner has been charged by federal prosecutors with running a prostitution operation. Tobias, 65, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), had previously served as the Ambassador for the President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief.

A State Department press release late Friday afternoon said only he was leaving for "personal reasons." On Thursday, Tobias told ABC News he had several times called the "Pamela Martin and Associates" escort service "to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage." Tobias, who is married, said there had been "no sex," and that recently he had been using another service "with Central Americans" to provide massages.

In his other persona Tobias preached against relying on condoms to stop the spread of AIDS:

Tobias, who was in Berlin for the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS' 2004 Awards for Business Excellence, said that promoting abstinence and monogamy are "far more effective" than distributing condoms for preventing the spread of HIV, according to Agence France-Presse. "Statistics show that condoms really have not been very effective," Tobias said, adding, "It's been the principal prevention device for the last 20 years, and I think one needs only to look at what's happening with the infection rates in the world to recognize that has not been working." PEPFAR has been criticized by AIDS advocates for placing "false hopes" on abstinence and monogamy prevention programs, according to Agence France-Presse.

Now tell me how I can make this ironic by exaggeration. There should be a law...

What the Wingnuts Find Funny

Or at least Rush Limbaugh's dittoheads.

On Curse Words

Coturnix writes today about an informal survey Dave Munger on Cognitive Daily carried out about how the readers of that blog rate various curse words in their offensiveness. The survey is not a scientific one, because the respondents self-selected for it and because the words picked for the survey might not be equally representative of all cultures or even be regarded as swear words by many. For instance, penis and vagina were included in the list of swear words, and so was gay. I've never caught myself going, say, "Oh, penis!" when some idiot backs into me at traffic lights. But perhaps other people have.

With all these reservations, the graph Dave Munger posted on the answers is of interest. It looks at the differences between female and male respondents to the offensiveness of various words:

You can click on the graph to make it bigger. What struck me about the words selected to this survey is that very few lend themselves at being used against a white, male heterosexual, and this may explain why men in general (most of whom will fall into the white, male heterosexual category, I suspect) find most of the words less offensive. Now "dick" is used against men, true, but it is not as strong a word as "cunt". One can be a dick for messing up a simple task at work. To be a cunt requires quite a lot more loathing from the user of the term.

Have a Herring Sandwich

My writing most of the time is like making herring sandwiches with a few artfully arranged cucumbers and radish roses. Different styles of writing look like food to me, and right now I want to write about something different from herring sandwiches. Maybe a chocolate meringue tarte with cacao liqueur in the whipped cream filling?

I never know which metaphors are shared with others and which are the lonely monsters only inhabiting my cobwebby brain. So I try them out on this here blog and then listen very hard, to hear either some response or silence, which is also a response. Though a tricky one to interpret, because it could be that I just fell flat on my face or it could be that all the readers fainted or perhaps there were no readers but Silence.

Nothing is quite as tricky as trying to write with humor, because what I find funny and obviously meant as a joke sometimes comes across as an earnest argument in writing. Then I have egg my face and still nobody laughs. At other times I find things funny that I know nobody else would find funny at all and if I were at all in my right mind I wouldn't put them in writing. But sometimes I do.

Do you know how hard writing humor is? It is about a million times harder than writing neutrally and that, in turn, is about a million times harder than writing a tear-jerker, for me, at least. But humor is one of those lifeboats that keep us from drowning on this long voyage across the stormy sea and tear-jerkers just add more water to the waves.

How did I get to stormy seas from herring sandwiches? Well, there is a connection, of a sort. But mostly this is just a writing exercise.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan

Taliban has taken over an area in the east of the country:

Taliban militants have seized control of a district in eastern Afghanistan after an hours-long clash that killed five people, including the local mayor and his police chief, a senior official said Friday.

The Taliban takeover is an embarrassment to the Afghan government and its foreign backers, and shows how vulnerable remote areas remain despite the presence of some 47,000 U.S. and NATO troops.

Militants launched the attack Thursday evening on the Giro district of Ghazni province, setting fire to several buildings and cutting communication lines, said provincial deputy governor Kazim Allayer.

The district mayor and four policemen, including the police chief, were killed in a battle that lasted several hours, Allayer said. Police reinforcements have been sent to the area, Ghazni's deputy police chief Mohammad Zaman said.

An unfortunate tendency of the media audience is to view wars from the movie angle: when the final credits are shown the war is over. In reality this isn't quite the way it works, and it is important to keep an eye on the Afghanistan occupation and war, too. Especially how giving the Afghans peace and freedom and gender equality was part of the war cries.

Terrorism - Yawn

This is the reaction of the mainstream press when a bomb is found at an abortion clinic unless someone has been killed. Feministe wrote about it today:

Why is it that the media and the government never calls the "pro-life" groups who plant bombs at women's clinics what they are: terrorists?

From the AP article, entitled "Explosive found at Austin women's clinic":

AUSTIN — A package left at a women's clinic that performs abortions contained an explosive device capable of inflicting serious injury or death, investigators said today.

"It was in fact an explosive device," said David Carter, assistant chief of the Austin Police Department. "It was configured in such a way to cause serious bodily injury or death."

The package was found Wednesday in a parking lot outside the Austin Women's Health Center, south of downtown Austin.

Nearby Interstate 35 was briefly closed, and a nearby apartment complex was evacuated while a bomb squad detonated the device.

Actually, I shouldn't say "from" the AP article. Because that was the whole thing.

And so did Scott Lemieux on the TAPPED:

After [all], as five reactionary lawyers on the Supreme Court have just informed us, you have to be crazy if you want to obtain an abortion anyway, so what's the big deal?

It is indeed true that terrorism against abortion clinics is not treated as real terrorism. Some Americans believe that such terrorism is justified and others are just used to the idea. As long as the bombs are not going to threaten anyone else, who really cares, outside the group who knows people actually working in or visiting those sites? Rheality Check has more on this whole "non-issue".

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More on Bill Moyers' "The Buying Of The War"

While watching Moyers' program I tried to think why I wasn't taken in by the call for war when it happened. It wasn't that I was so incredibly smart (though that helped, natch). It was that I was getting my news from all over the world and not just from Washington, D.C., and that I really saw the most important agenda for the U.S. international politics to be about bin Laden and his terrorism and what that reflected and not about starting a war against an essentially unrelated country, a country which was run by a nasty dictator (just like Zimbabwe is run today, by the way), true, but a country which had very little patience with Islamic fundamentalism of the bin Laden kind and was a very unlikely supporter of that. In those days, that is. Then there was the nationality of the 911 hijackers. They were mostly Saudis, and if the U.S. government had really wanted to go and clean out the places where terrorism seemed to have been nurtured, well, you see the obvious conclusion.

But probably the real cause for my great skepticism in 2002 was that I wasn't following the official news channels as closely as many fans of politics were.

Bill Moyers Is Ba-a-a-ck!

And his first new program is about buying the Iraq invasion. It is well worth watching, because it puts together all the counterarguments in one place. But be warned, it will make you angry.

Jennifer Pozner on Hannity & Colmes Tonight

Added later: The show has been postponed. Sorry.

Jennifer Pozner of WIMN's Voices (a group blog on women and the media) will be on Hannity & Colmes tonight to discuss Rosie O'Donnell's departure from ABC's "The View". Do you think Rosie's treatment has been at all affected by her being a woman and a lesbian out-of-closet? Hmm.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

That's where I decided I was when thinking about how to write on Islam and women, as a Western feminist. In many ways the best solution would seem to be not to write anything at all. This is because of the rock: the Bush administration decision to adopt women's rights as one of the apparent causes for attacking Iraq and the eager manner in which American conservative bloggers have adopted the cause of feminism, but only in the Islamic world and not at home. And it is also because of the hard place: the arrogance and colonial overtones of Western feminists preaching about feminism to women in another culture of which they know very little.

That I am writing this post shows I'm not taking the obvious solution of silence, but I will get chewed up between the two stony surfaces. Sigh. Blogging is not fun some days, as I pointed out in my earlier post.

And why am I not just shutting up? If I write about, say, women being stoned in Iran am I not providing fuel for this administration to go and attack Iran? And who knows what decides the news in our press? Perhaps these issues are brought up now on purpose, to prepare us for another war marketing campaign? Perhaps the idea is to paint all Muslims with the misogyny brush? Wouldn't I be working for the wingnuts if I talk about problems that Islam has for women?

Add to this the rudeness of someone like me analyzing the lives of women far away from me, the lives of women with a totally different religion and perhaps a totally different idea of what feminism might be. And perhaps by writing about their lives I actually make those lives more difficult, by strengthening the image of feminism as yet another Western colonialism, yet another attack on their way of life and yet another criticism of their social arrangements. I might endanger the home-grown forms of feminism in the countries I criticize.

These are all important arguments, you know. I wrestled with them late into the night, even to the point where I felt quite breathless. The feeling only went away when I decided to write this post, so perhaps the real reason I can't be silent is so that I can breathe, not to be suffocated. A selfish reason, sure, but exploring why I felt like a weight on my chest let me come to some sort of conclusion. Here it is:

I can't call myself a feminist blogger and then avoid discussing certain issues in this world which scream to be discussed, just because someone else might use what I say in nefarious ways. I can make myself as clear as possible by stating that killing and slaughtering people is not going to advance the cause of gender-equality, that killing and slaughtering people is horrible and almost always wrong and that attacking Iran, say, would only make the lives of women there much worse than they are now, both directly and indirectly by causing fundamentalism to look like patriotism. And it is fundamentalism that hurts women. Thus, the fact that the wingnuts are right now toying with feminist causes (though only in far-away places) should not make me drop those causes. If I did, what kind of a feminist would I be?

So much for the rock. Now the hard place: My definition of feminism is about equal opportunities for both men and women and about equal valuation of traditionally female and male spheres of activity. This definition is not culture-dependent.

Now, there are feminist schools of thought which use different definitions and some of those definitions lead to the conclusion that people outside a culture cannot properly criticize its practices. But my understanding of feminism is not that one. I understand that culture and religion will affect how opportunities and spheres of activity are seen and they also affect the best ways of creating a feminist movement. Nobody outside can know the best ways of operating within another culture, and nobody outside should preach about such matters, or try to take the leadership in feminist movements elsewhere.

But this does not preclude the writing and criticizing of other cultures and their practices, from the point of view of the basic definition of feminism I use. It is important to do this without arrogance and to always remember that what we hear and see and read in the U.S. may not provide a neutral picture of the events in other countries. Anyone who writes has the duty to become as well-informed as possible, but even then a certain humility is becoming.

The feeling of weight on my chest had to do with the history of women's causes. There has always been something else more important: a revolution to be finished, a war to be won, better standards of living to be created, and women were told to wait until things had quieted down. Then their concerns would be addressed. This second-class status of feminism was what I couldn't bear, and the idea of feminism as perfectly relative, depending on each society and religion and culture pressed my breath out in a similar manner. It was like air itself had become a muddy soup of warnings and hedgings and qualifications, too thick to inhale.

So I chose to be between the rock and the hard place instead.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Today's Deep Thought on Blogging

Some days it looks like the perfect substitute for sticking needles under my toenails or for gouging out my eyes. Masochistic, to the extreme, and extremely well paid, too.

Then other days it's almost as good as chocolate and orgasms.

One Must Not Spread Despondency

The country of Borogravia has been at war for a long time. It is losing, to the point that the last regiment the military can recruit consists of a troll, a vampire, and a bunch of other recruits hiding yet more monstrosity: they are all female.

This is in a fantasy book by Terry Pratchett, entitled The Monstrous Regiment. I read the book a few days ago. Whenever Pratchett mentioned that it wasn't legal to say that Borogravia was losing, and losing badly, because saying so caused despondency I laughed aloud. This is of course what we are hearing right now in the U.S. of A. from the wingnuts. The U.S. may not be losing as badly as Borogravia, but it sure ain't winning. We are to ignore this and continue cheerleading for Bush's surge.

If you don't believe me on this, check out the YouTube video which Atrios just posted. It shows Michelle Malkin, a conservative blogger, as a cheerleader spelling out the letters L, O, S, E and R to make up "Democrats", pretty much. One. Must. Not. Spread. Despondency.

Me Pulling My Hair Out

In trying to answer the deep, deep question why the only regular political columnist at the New York Times who also happens to be a woman, Maureen Dowd, writes this:

Usually, I love the dynamics of a cheeky woman puncturing the ego of a cocky guy.

I liked it in '40s movies, and I liked it with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel, and Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis in "Moonlighting."

So why don't I like it with Michelle and Barack?

I wince a bit when Michelle Obama chides her husband as a mere mortal — a comic routine that rests on the presumption that we see him as a god.

The tweaking takes place at fundraisers, where Michelle wants to lift the veil on their home life a bit and give the folks their money's worth.

At the big Hollywood fund-raiser for Senator Obama in February, Michelle came on strong.

"I am always a little amazed at the response that people get when they hear from Barack," she told the crowd at the Beverly Hilton, as her husband stood by looking like a puppy being scolded, reported Hud Morgan of Men's Vogue. "A great man, a wonderful man. But still a man. ...

"I have some difficulty reconciling the two images I have of Barack Obama. There's Barack Obama the phenomenon. He's an amazing orator, Harvard Law Review, or whatever it was, law professor, best-selling author, Grammy winner. Pretty amazing, right?

"And then there's the Barack Obama that lives with me in my house, and that guy's a little less impressive. For some reason this guy still can't manage to put the butter up when he makes toast, secure the bread so that it doesn't get stale, and his 5-year-old is still better at making the bed than he is."

She said that the TV version of Barack Obama sounded really interesting and that she'd like to meet him sometime.

Many people I talked to afterward found Michelle wondrous. But others worried that her chiding was emasculating, casting her husband — under fire for lacking experience — as an undisciplined child.

The whole column is an exploration on the question what makes a good helpmeet out of a woman, how best to prop up the fragile ego of a husband, and how not to come across looking like an emasculating bitch in this age of late patriarchy.

These may all be questions which Dowd wrestles with, every single day, but they are about electoral politics only peripherally, and only in the sense of what wingnuts want to read. Or those who still have trouble with imagining equality of women and men.

An Important Read

Majikthise found this blogpost by a man who had to decide on aborting the fetus his wife was carrying.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Time for My Gender Gap Series, Again

Graphic Truth sent me a link to this piece by Carrie Lukas of the Independent Women's Forum (gal's auxiliary to wingnuttery). This is what Lukas says about the difference in average earnings between men and women:

"The simple truth is that women often make very different decisions about their careers than men make," Lukas contends. "Women take off more time to care for children; we gravitate toward different careers -- careers that provide some flexibility so we have more time to spend with families. And even full-time working women on average spend about a half-an-hour less per day in the office than men do."

The IWF spokeswoman says she is "a perfect example" of how some of the pay-gap issues work. "I'm a full-time worker, but I've traded compensation in order to work full-time from home," she notes. "I've got a little daughter and another one on the way. Am I making as much money as I could? No, but I'm compensated by having this wonderful work arrangement where I get to work flexible hours."

If this is a simple truth (which can be debated, especially when it comes to whether women should feel fully compensated by having more time (and less retirement benefits, say) for the production of the next generation which will benefit us all), it is also a very partial truth. Studies which evaluate the reasons for the gender gap in wages find that factors which might be related to "choice" do not explain all of the gap or even most of the gap. To focus only on those factors is not telling the truth, though neither is attributing the whole difference to discrimination.

If you want to learn more about this, I recommend the three-part series I wrote on the gender gap in wages.

The Clothes Women Wear

Are political in this world. They are not only about convenience, comfort and individual ideas of beauty; they are also about sexuality and the control of the society in general. And about religion.

An odd juxtaposition took place quite recently in my mind. It started with a piece of news from the United Kingdom about an American Muslim woman, Manal Omar, whose five-piece Muslim bathing costume caused difficulties at a pool in Oxford. Another swimmer complained about "inappropriate attire" and an altercation ensued. Omar was allowed to continue swimming in her costume, but the whole thing was written up in the press and an Internet debate began. Omar writes about it:

Needless to say, I was shocked to find out a week later that my swimming habits had caused not only a "row", but a huge online debate. Perhaps the most daunting part of the experience was the strong reactions from those who read the article. It was the website's "most viewed article" even two weeks after the incident. The comments ranged from attacks on me (from both Muslims and non-Muslims) to full xenophobic attacks on all immigrants in Europe. At no point did any of the readers question Caldwell's version of events; nor did the majority of readers question his motivation for highlighting the issue. There was a blind acceptance that some random Muslim woman had done something, as one commentator described it, "a bit stupid". British Muslims piped up in apologetic tones, and everyone else openly attacked.

My routine visit to the gym had suddenly sparked a crisis: it was all about immigration, asylum! As one person commented, "This multicultural society is now becoming a multidirectional mess." Another commentator went as far as to write, "All the time people seem to be burying their heads in the sand and allowing our once great country to be taken over by others. I hope you one day will wake up when all our beautiful churches are being demolished and mosques built in their place." A tad drastic for a woman taking a swim, don't you think? (Mind you, it's all relative. I had one email from a woman in Sweden saying she found it disgusting that people in Britain went swimming wearing any clothing at all.)

Although Omar's point about the exaggerated response to her choice of a swimming costume is correct, it is also true that women's clothes are seen in that wider way: as messages about the society, about religion and about sexuality. Something to be controlled and not necessarily by the woman herself.

An example of this, and the second part in the odd juxtaposition comes from Iran, where the usual spring-time tightening of the dress code is in operation:

With the arrival of spring, Iranian police have launched a crackdown against women accused of not covering up enough, arresting nearly 300 women, some for wearing too tight an overcoat or letting too much hair peek out from under their veil, authorities said Monday.

The campaign in the streets of major cities is the toughest such crackdown in nearly two decades, raising fears that hard-liner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intends to re-impose the tough Islamic Revolution-era constraints on women's dress that had loosened in recent years.

The move highlighted the new boldness among hard-liners in Ahmadinejad's government, which has used mounting Western pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program and Iraq as a pretext to put down internal dissent.

But it could bring a backlash at a time when many Iranians resent Ahmadinejad for failing to boost the faltering economy or halt spiraling prices and blame him for isolating Iran with his fiery rhetoric. The two-day-old crackdown was already angering moderates.

"What they do is really insulting. You simply can't tell people what to wear. They don't understand that use of force only brings hatred toward them, not love," said Elham Mohammadi, a 23-year-old student.

Mohammadi's hair was hardly hidden by her white and orange headscarf _ an infraction that could bring police attention. Police could be seen Monday stopping and giving warnings to other women who were showing too much hair or even wearing too colorful a headscarf.

Both these cases are about what women wear, and both of them assign societal meaning to what women wear.

There are differences, too, and they are extremely important. The Iranian restrictions apply to all women and have the power to imprison and punish behind them, whereas in the British case the woman was not formally sanctioned and indeed prevailed. I personally prefer the British outcome. But in both cases it is the symbolic role of women that stands in the forefront and the right of those seeing her to decide what her clothing might mean.

Jessica's New Book Is Out

You can order it here.

I have bought my copy and will read it this weekend. It's fun to know somebody who just wrote a book.
You can read an interview with Jessica about the book at the Salon (sit through an ad first if you don't subscribe)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Boris Yeltsin Has Died

He was the first post-Soviet leader of Russia, and his reign wasn't that long ago. Something to remember when judging how the Russians are doing with democracy, assuming that democracy, like most social skills, requires a period of learning and the development of the necessary institutions. Though I must admit that Putin makes me worried about the future of Russian democracy.

And They Say Bloggers Are Nasty

Michael Smerconish, the kinder-and-gentler-but-still-shocking replacement for Don Imus had Camilla Paglia on his show to chat about the possible motives of the Virginia Tech assassin. Remember Camilla Paglia? I do, but don't ask me what would make her an expert on this particular topic. In any case, the conversation went like this:

SMERCONISH: You were quoted as saying, "Young women now seem to want to behave like men and have sex without commitment. The signals they are giving are very confusing, and rage and humiliation build up in boys who are spurned again and again."

It almost seems like, you know, this guy wasn't hooking up enough, and it allowed him to build up these frustrations that he might not otherwise have had.

PAGLIA: Well, I think this Cho was probably psychotic, and the signs of it were missed for a long time. But he seems to have been functional and to be able to get into college and so on. I'm of the pro-sex wing of feminism, whose patron saint is Madonna, all right, so I'm not coming from a conservative perspective here, but I do feel that this "hooking up" culture that's going on on campuses where girls just have sort of casual, random sex with guys and never see them again. I mean, I think that is kind of, over the long run, kind of degrading for women, OK? They're playing a male game, and I don't think they understand the psychological consequences.

SMERCONISH: Yeah, but none of them were hooking up with him. I mean, he wasn't partaking in any of that.

PAGLIA: No. Exactly. So you see all this going on around you. Not just in college, but in high school, it's going on. I mean, girls are servicing boys, and going either -- they're starting at age 10 and 11. And this is a kind of chaos that is going on right now in education. Also, our sex-permeated mass culture, popular culture makes it seem to a marginal and socially inept person like Cho as if everybody's getting it.

However hard I try I can't see any other point to this exchange than trying to implicate the "out-of-control" sexuality of young women in the heinous massacre. Disgusting.

Yet More Hos

Bob Herbert in the New York Times (sadly, behind a firewall) has a story about words as weapons:

Just days after Don Imus was taken off the air for a slur hurled at members of the Rutgers women's basketball team, a police sergeant conducting a roll call at a precinct in Brooklyn is reported to have called the three female officers in the room "hos" as he gave them an order to stand up.

The women, two of whom are black and one a Latina, refused to stand.

Another officer, unable to resist the great "fun" of mocking his female colleagues, is reported to have called out, "No, sergeant, not just hos, but nappy-headed hos."

The women said they were stunned almost to the point of disbelief by the comments. They were the only women in the gathering of 17 police officers in the room, including the supervising sergeant. There was a sickening quality to the moment. The women said they felt violated, hurt and humiliated.


The three women in the 70th Precinct case have decided to fight back. Their initial complaint to Sergeant Mateo, immediately after the roll call, was brushed aside, they said. They then complained to the precinct's integrity control officer and hired a lawyer, Bonita Zelman.

This morning they will file a complaint in federal court, asserting that the degrading comments at the roll call amounted to illegal discrimination against them based on their gender and ethnic background. This is not a small matter. It's fair to wonder, for example, how eager a supervisor might be to recommend a major promotion for an employee he refers to as a "ho."

"We have tremendous concern about the effect of language like this on women police officers," said Ms. Zelman, "particularly women of color trying to make their way in the largely white male bureaucracy of a police department."

Imagine yourself in the shoes of one of those three women. You are sitting there with your colleagues, all professional and on the job. And then your superior calls you a ho. You haven't done anything wrong, you just happen to be a woman officer.

But despite what Ms. Zelman says, this isn't really about language. It is something deeper. It is about how Sergeant Mateo sees these female police officers (apart from the rest of the officers) and what lies behind the language he chose to use (disrespect).

To Her Coy Lover

Since I already gave you something disgusting this early Monday morning, here is another disgusting thing. It's an old poem of mine, perhaps having to do with addiction speaking to a person, perhaps more of an answer to all those poems like To His Coy Mistress:

Loving You

Let us make love then
on the featherbed.
Remind me of the time when
I will be cold and dead.

And I will come to you
naked to the bones.
And I will walk through you
and echo in your moans.

And our bones will lock and creak
and our hearts will sweat.
My lips will peck yours, like a beak
and make you cold and wet.

Let us make love then
on the featherbed.
I will let you know when
my appetite is fed.

A Hoax?

You decide. Some argue that this really is Fred Phelps' church singing about how God hates the world. In any case, it is very weird.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Losing Friends And Alienating People

Stale Carny Guys, Corporate Hustlers
Posted by olvlzl.
Penn Jillette, the taller, talkative half of Penn & Teller, might need some magic to manage his schedule. The father of two is back at Showtime for the fifth year of the counter-news show "Bulls**t!" Topics on tap this season include "a hardcore, pro-Wal-Mart show" and obesity. "It's a pro-science show and also a libertarian show," says Jillette, 52. "We expected more than half of the feedback we got would be negative, but the majority of the correspondence is positive."

Taking the last first, you couldn’t pay me enough to sit through another one of Penn and Teller’s magic acts, at least not without those noise cancelling headphones. I had enough of them the first five minutes, the first time I saw them. It doesn’t surprise me that it’s mostly their fans who would watch their self-described “pro-science, also libertarian” show. What’s “libertarian science” ? And how does it differ from, you know, real science? Anyone want to predict how many of the conclusions drawn WON’T support their libertarian ideology? And, given this “pro-Wal-Mart” stuff, how does it differ from John Stossel’s, self advertised, pro-corporate, junk-reporting? Why buy premium cable when you can get the same message on broadcast at everyday lower prices. Just to get in the Wal Mart spirit of things.

I spent some of last week following the “Framing” arguments on digby’s, coturnix’s and a number of other blogs. I was very happy to see some people taking a more realistic approach to talking to people outside of professional scientists in order to gain support for real science as opposed to creationism and other ideological nonsense. But a lot of the participants, who seem to have taken Penn as a role model, spent a lot of time blasting the others as "Neville Chamberlain atheists". I wasn’t exactly sure of how a discussion of more effective ways to promote science turned into a test of adherence to some previously unknown club rules for atheists. Apparently the N.C. A’s are declared to be apostate due to unwillingness to be a rude jerks in the cause of gaining atheists the civil rights denied to them by a prejudiced public. Yesterday, a couple of the true non-faith went so far as to tell me that being obnoxious was a better fire way to get atheists elected to public office than not being obnoxious.

Their movement has come a short way very fast. It’s at the stage when the biggest mouths grab the mike and wield it to bash their rivals. The next stage is no movement. I remember the 70s very well and know a movement on the brink of collapse when I see one. It’s not my business what they do but if the reasonable ones among them want to find common ground and work towards progress they’re going to have to dump the jerks first. Having seen this all before, I’m not wasting any time on people more interested in projecting their obnoxious personalities than in winning elections and preventing fascism. I’m not wasting time on people who waste their time placating them.

Not That Tired Old Stereotype Again

Classical music doesn’t belong to the lifted pinky finger set.
Posted by olvlzl.
When they said that they were giving the music Pulitzer to Ornette Coleman my response was, ‘bout time. He’s a great creative artist of the highest merit. His might be one of the most deserved Pulitzer prizes ever given out. This article today suggesting that the classical music world might not agree really threw me for a friggin’ loop, as we used to say around the old practice room. How could anyone suspect that we wouldn’t know that Coleman, a giant of music, was well overdue for that level of recognition. I’ll bet that there are more genuine fans of jazz among classical musicians than among the general population by at least a factor of three. I’m hard pressed to think of one I know who doesn’t listen to and study it. And of classical musicians, it’s the hard core modernists who are likely to be the biggest fans.

The idea that classical musicians are snobs is one of those cultural stereotypes that is maintained mostly among people who have strongly held convictions in conjunction with complete ignorance. Classical music snobs there might be, but they aren’t in the majority and certainly aren’t concentrated in the most creative. Brahms is reported to have been interested at the end of his life in ragtime. Debussy attempted and got close. Stravinsky, Bartok and others too numerous to name, broke through to both ragtime and approached jazz, in their way. The nail in that coffin should be that beyond any stereotype of him, Arnold Schoenberg showed clear signs of being very familiar with and very influenced by jazz. We haven’t even gotten to North America where virtually every important composer was raised on it. And there have always been large numbers of jazz musicians who were accomplished and fully informed members of the classical music community*. The idea that people who produce and listen to any worthwhile music would fail to recognize such sophisticated, interesting and just plain exciting music is so wrong that it is proof that some people just don’t get it at all.

If you want to know what would really shock me, it would be if more than a few in the mainstream pop music audience could give Ornette Coleman’s music enough attention to really listen to it**. Listening is an ability that gets developed by doing it. You have to both listen to the same thing often enough to get beneath the surface and to constantly listen to new things. And by new things, I mean things you’ve never heard before, things you don’t like on first hearing, even things you hate. The constant consumption of the same old, same old kills off the ability. If you want to see where the exclusive snobs are, it’s in the people who will brush off the work of great pioneers like Coleman, or Betty Carter or Arnold Schoenberg or Milton Babbitt as they go back to not listen to the same, sappy three minute tune for the thousandth time. To deride music as carefully and daringly produced as theirs because it failed to entertain on the first hearing, to think that such a superficial brush off was worth the breath wasted to express it, now that’s snobbery.

Tastes differ and there isn’t anything wrong with not liking even really great music. I’ve played and sung hours and hours of Handel and I know he was a great composer but his music leaves me just about entirely cold***. Not liking something isn’t the same thing as off handedly rejecting it as worthless and those who like it as somehow unworthy. The insistence on esthetic conformity is the sign of an egotistical child, not an adult.

* This disc of fully fledged jazz sessions by Mel Powell, who won the Pulitzer for his classical compositions, and the great Mary Lou Williams, mentioned here just the other week, is only one of many documents supporting my contention.

** Though not necessarily pop musicians. Many of even the most commercial of pop musicians are avid consumers and supporters of the most sophisticated and advanced classical music. I wonder how many Dead Heads know that they were just a few of the pop musicians influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen. At least a few, I'd imagine.

*** Listening to his opera “Giulio Cesare," on the Met broadcast just yesterday, admiring the performances and the skillful writing, it still has that effect on me for reasons I can’t identify.

Kurt Vonnegut

"War is so reputable still, because of Hollywood that George Bush can say ‘I am a war president’. That’s like saying ‘I am a syphilis president’. War is the most horrible disease that the planet could experience but he though it was beautiful and glamorous to be a war president".

From near the end of a recent interview with Harriet Gilbert of the BBC World Book Club Program. You can hear the entire interview by going here and finding it in the list under Listen to previous World Book Clubs

I think I got it pretty much word for word.