Saturday, May 12, 2007

Feet of Clay Words of Steel

Thanks to those of you who wished me well on my first anniversary, and to those who didn’t. Um, hum. Well, in a “what was happening when” frame of mind, here’s what filled a heck of a lot more news time than, say, how many Iraqi civilians were being killed this week a year ago.
From May 15, 2006

You could be forgiven for getting it wrong. I certainly did. Some of us thought that the self evident crisis in journalism today were the cumulative repeated, uncorrected errors in fact, the inventions of quotations, the verbatim stenography and similar violations of the ever adjustable Code of Journalistic Ethics -- "Gore claims to invent internet, " being the poster example. We assumed that the overrarching crisis was that the corporate consolidation of the media had rendered our journalism a tawdry pose fit only to fill up spaces on the cable band so the best in rerun sit-coms could go premium. But we were wrong.

The great crisis facing this foundation of democracy, itself, is that someone has been at the cooky jar, someone's been stealing their snickerdoodles. The great flood of plagiarism is the real danger that faces the nation, with front page stories and network news segments presenting in in-depth report on the rolling crime wave. A rather flashy and enterprising Harvard co-ed (having read some of 'her' words I think she has earned the title) has borrowed from an even more eminent auteur of her genre. An executive at Raytheon has taken time off from producing engines of mass death to pilfer the wisdom of one of the ancients of his tribe. And now, we are told that a nameless intra-network jegg has broken into the word hoarde of the fictitious President Bartlett of "The West Wing" applying the stolen phrases to the real life news story of an heroic horse trainer. This may be the first instance in history of words written for a fictitious president to say, we assume written by fictitious ghost writers, being applied to what passes as news on our major networks. Though that might be too much to hope at this stage of our politics.

Given that the typical West Wing script is full of references to numerous works other than the script writers' the big deal on this one escapes some of us. A point made online before it was also made on a certain Boston TV program the other night.

Um, hum.

Understand this, though. The press has seen enough. It will act.

So while the Cheney and Bush crime syndicates steal everything in sight, waging wars of conquest abroad, stealing elections and the U.S. Treasury here. As they hand out patronage money and the public schools to any hallelujah peddler with an R after their name. As they dismantle the national parks and turn them into franchise operations for extraction industries we can rest easy. Even as the free press watches the Republican Party donate the internet to the telecom industry, the media can be counted on to provide protection. For their words. Their intellectual property at so-many-cents apiece, down to the most putrid swill issuing from the conservative nepotism newslets, will be made safe from those who would borrow them without attribution and compensation.

Note: Officially, Al Gore pointing out, correctly, that he had a hand in founding the internet is over the top, the Republicans stealing it for their campaign contributors is just swell. Just for those who like to keep track of current ethics. Also note: Since on one gets killed, no one loses their pension and no wildlife habitat is destroyed in the act, plagiarism is a moderately naughty thing to do and at times actionable. This piece is not an invitation to commit crimes or violate the rights of authors to just compensation for their work. Since a "journalist" may read this I should point out that it is an invitation to the press to do their jobs.

Note from 2007. How many of you can remember the name of the Harvard student who got nabbed for plagiarism? I had to look it up and I wrote the thing.

Olvlzl Proposes HaloScan Disposes

Apparently the discussion I hoped to incite will be delayed by HaloScan issues. I’ll check in later to see if it’s been fixed yet. Sorry, I was looking forward to your comments.

Do Victims of Crime Have A Right To A Conviction?

Question Of the Week Posted by olvlzl.
Last week NPR had on a segment about victims rights and about how some states are allowing increasing participation by victims in criminal trials. There has been increasing talk around the country of allowing victims to have lawyers represent them even in the part of the trial that determines guilt. Some people are saying that this, in effect, means that a defendant in a criminal trial not only has one but two prosecutions against them during the trial.

But what are the rights of a victim of a crime? Certainly their needs for security and health care are rights as is their right to have their evidence taken seriously. Crime victims have had their rights violated and what they have to say about that matters. The media, and especially the cabloid view seems to be that victims have a right to a conviction and punishment, or what else explains the presence of Nancy Grace? Everything about the American media is entertainment on the cheap with the most cliched plot lines horrific novelty and hokey melodrama all the better to provide advertisers with an audience.

Is there a right to a conviction? Isn’t the conviction of an innocent person a violation of the rights of the victim of a crime? Much as they might believe in the guilt of the accused and as much as they want to see them punished, shouldn’t the overriding presumption be that if they get the wrong guy, THEY’VE GOT THE WRONG GUY? The People, presumably represented by the state prosecution are also presented just about every time as deserving a conviction. The prosecutors seem to think so. And if there is evidence that the wrong person is sitting in jail or death row there seems to be a professional code to fight to the last piece of paper to keep it out of consideration.

Is there a right to a conviction in any given criminal trial? Since before there is a conviction the accused is held to have the right to be presumed innocent, how can there be a right to have a conviction before hand? Who possesses that right before a conviction? Where does it go if there is an acquittal? Isn’t it really a matter of the necessity to prevent further crimes, to rehabilitate offenders, to provide some form of restitution to the victims of crime from THE PERSON WHO ACTUALLY COMMITTED THE CRIME?

Punishment of crimes are useful as a plot device in a TV drama and a tool for unscrupulous political operations. A justice system based in that kind of punishment might provide a satisfying catharsis but when that is the focus of a real trial and its aftermath, doesn’t it actually provide a good chance of depriving the accused, the victims and The People of their genuine rights?

Note: The last time I did a Question like this the response was wonderful. I’m thinking that it might be something I try every week. What do you think about that?

The Examined Life Is A Necessity But It Isn’t The Entire Story.

Remembering Arthur Berger The Week of His Birthday.
for Tristero
There is a certain slant of light, springtime afternoons, flooding through the large, open window with a fresh, cold wind that brings Arthur Berger’s Duo for Cello and Piano(1) to mind. Arthur Berger was sometimes described as an “intellectual composer”. Whatever that means. He was a composer, writer, analyst, critic, and a part of any intellectual scene wherever he happened to be. Perhaps closer to the point, Virgil Thomson, a fellow composer, critic and one of his friends, talked about his “sidewalks of New York charm”. So, here we already have a dichotomy, or at least two things usually considered as opposites. Maybe the strong sun light and cold spring wind should count as a third point of view. What’s the truth? Having played some of his pieces and studied more of them, I am happy to testify to the intellectual brilliance and the charm, he had both in abundance. Beauty of sound, the ability he shared with Luigi Dallapiccola(2) to find exactly the right note, tone color and expression, and to put it in exactly the right context, might stand in for the primary witness above.

Someone asked me why I don’t write more about music, since that’s clearly something I know more about than evolutionary psychology or cognitive science , about which I’ve spent enormous numbers of skeptical words. While music is what I got my formal training in, I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t think anything more is known about music than the technical aspects of how to produce it. Music is an order of sounds (3), it is possible to learn how to produce musical orders intentionally to attempt an effect. On that level music is a skill instead of a collection of theories, observations, measurements and speculations. That I could talk about easily, though it makes for rough reading and it really doesn’t contain any information useful to non-musicians. It’s only in the sense that it is a skill to be practiced that someone can “know” something about music. In that sense, it is entirely like speculations about the mind, only with a practical component.

I could tell you that roughly measures 25 through 31 of the first movement of Berger’s Duo move me to an all encompassing state of ecstacy every single time I hear it or play through the piano part. Just remembering how that passage sounds can take me out of myself. I could try to think of further metaphors or write a formal technical description, to give a partial explanation of what happens at that time in the music and then guess why it produces that effect. All of that might be entirely true, in part, and entirely useless in total. Any elucidation that someone reading that description might think they’ve received would be deceptive. It would tell you nothing useful, it might endanger your own experience of the music. I would have to motivate you to experience the music, to listen to it, complete and in its entirety, to have any hope that you could know what I was talking about. No one who had not heard the music would know the first thing about it.

The culture of scholarship, text and reflection, is all well and good but it carries danger when it is placed in supremacy over actual life. Life, the whole stream of experience and action as lived, not arbitrarily cut into segments to be digested and published. Scholars dwell on their publishable and teachable work, the materials of their careers, jealously guarding its repute, hardly ever admitting to their intentional selection out of the entire body of possible information. Actual, direct experience is not susceptible to scholarship. It is by its most basic nature, personal, the experience of a single person, invisible and variable, in its deepest essence indescribable. That is something that the aforementioned behavioral scientists(4) should keep in mind, something that a composer could tell them, something such a musician should never forget.

The very selective, partial view of life, which makes up the work of a scholar, can be very useful, it can produce things and objects that enhance health and increase life-span, it can enrich experience. But when those things are ideas about real life, their entire effects, good and bad are often not able to be apprehended. Sometimes the added component of history proves that ideas thought good or innocuous in the abstract are deadly. Far from just being the plaything of a dreamer or a brick in a scholar’s career, an idea can’t be viewed as an end in itself, it has to be seen in as full a context as possible. Unconsidered in the full context, ideas can carry the danger of overtaking the whole of life.(5)

1. Also Hear: An Arthur Berger Retrospective New World Records NW 360-2
Joel Kroskick, cello Gilbert Kalish, piano and others.

Almost all of Berger’s works are or have recently been available on CDs. I have heard and would recommend all of them. If you can find it I would also recommend the old CRI recording of Berger’s music in the American Masters collection. The recording of his Chamber Music for 13 Players, conducted by Gunther Schuller, is particularly wonderful. I've seen three dates in different places of when his birthday was but they were all in this coming week. This week would have been his 95th birthday. I loved Arthur Berger and his music very much.

2. Talking about your neglected composers. John Harbison made this observation about Dallapiccola’s ability as a composer.

3. Susan K. Langer: An Introduction To Symbolic Logic. Langer’s several simple observations about music in this book stand as the most insightful general statements I’ve ever read by someone outside of the profession.

4. It is exactly this selective feature of these reductionist schools practice that makes me very suspicious of them and alarmed about the resulting conclusions they seem to demand. Those who insist that only one mechanism of evolution, the crudest part of natural selection, is the supreme guide for understanding practically everything , strikes me as too likely to produce a superficially appealing mannerism (6.) instead of a view of reality. It closes off too many possibilities of real life from consideration, even, at times, substituting fables with no known real life evidence as possible explanations.

5. If music was an area of life that could produce life and death consequences, a danger to freedom, it would be dangerous. Hearing, quite involuntarily, Les Preludes by Liszt the other day, the story of its association with the invasion of Poland and the suspected motivating force of Wagner’s work might be noted here. I do so without prejudice, as a suggested supplement to the observation.

6. I’m fully aware of the irony, I read Perspectives in Music Theory too.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Garance tells us that the Republicans are most chuffed that Mitt is sexy and hot and will make women all over America swoon in the voting booths:

"In this media-driven age, Romney begins with a decisive advantage. First, he has sensational good looks. People magazine named him one of the 50 most beautiful people in America. Standing 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Romney has jet-black hair, graying naturally at the temples. Women -- who will play a critical role in this coming election -- have a word for him: hot."

According to Garance this is from official Mitt Romney campaign literature. It wouldn't surprise me as I've read that I shouldn't vote for John Edwards because he spends too much on haircuts and that I shouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton because she doesn't smile enough. But HAWT! Now, that is something a girl can get behind.

If she was picking a bedroom partner, that is. Now, if she was picking a dentist or a president, perhaps questions of professional competence and policies might be more interesting to her.
Addendum: Garance's original post is updated to tell us that the material doesn't come from Romney campaign material but from this article.

Happy Mothers' Day

I hope all the little burnt offerings on Sunday morning will remain in your memory for ever.

To keep this post political, put some pressure on the U.S. government to ratify CEDAW, The Treaty for the Rights of Women. The U.S. laws are all already in accordance with the treaty, so why refuse the ratification? There are only eight countries that have not ratified the treaty: Sudan, Somalia, Qatar, Iran, Nauru, Palau and Tonga and the United States. We are known for the company we keep.

Outsourcing The Mainstream Media?

That is probably the next step. The signs are in the air:

The job posting was a head-scratcher: "We seek a newspaper journalist based in India to report on the city government and political scene of Pasadena, California, USA."

A reporter half a world away covering local street-light contracts and sewer repairs? A reporter who has never gotten closer to Pasadena than the telecast of the Rose Bowl parade?

Outsourcing first claimed manufacturing jobs, then hit services such as technical support, airline reservations and tax preparation. Now comes the next frontier: local journalism.

It is all about money. Journalists in India come cheaper than journalists in Pasadena, California. But the savings would be even bigger if the city government could be run from Mumbay, too. Come to think of it, a newspaper owned and run by Indians for the benefit of the citizens of Pasadena would save a lot of money, too. The funny thing about outsourcing is that it doesn't usually work in that direction.
Cross-posted on TAPPED in a slightly modified form.

Friday Pet Blogging

This is FeraLiberal's Pippin and some stone friends. A fantastic picture, with all sorts of captions one might invent.

Henrietta the Hound is very frisky, these days. And still an excellent barker. I will have to take a picture of Her Highness for next week.

An Odd Item For Your Information

I was reading about some new books on women's issues when I came across this little tidbit of information:

Caitlin Flanagan's 2006 "To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife," has sold 9,000 copies in the past year, according to Neilsen BookScan in White Plains, N.Y., which calculates weekly sales data for the book industry.

Now, the low sales numbers may be par for the field. But I remember Flanagan being on all the important television shows flogging her book. She got enormous amounts of publicity. Enormous.

Perhaps I should cancel my book-writing plans. If someone beloved by the patriarchy can't make it...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Happy Anniversary To olvlzl

His blog turns one today.

One of Those Days

Edited to add that Haloscan seems to be working now, at 9:01 pm EST.

I click on my Sitemeter page (to gloat over my humongous readership numbers) and they have changed the aesthetics of the page so that I have to look for the place to log in and so on. There is no familiarity, nothing that my body memory can use to go through the tasks quickly. But it is new and improved!

That's how you know you are getting old. When things being changed immediately makes you suspect that nothing good will come from it.

Well, at least Haloscan (my comments program) is as schizoid it always was, sometimes working and sometimes not. First it refuses to post my comment altogether, then when I resubmit it I'm told that I already said so, which I didn't, given that the original posting failed. Then I change one word in the comment and resubmit, only to be told that I must wait at least twenty seconds between posts. And all this before I managed to post anything at all. Sometimes it is cookies that it craves. Sometimes it wonders if I really don't know my name. Dear old Haloscan: something unchanging in this ever-changing world.

Oh well.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma

Something happened in Oklahoma that was seen as a pro-choice victory. A bill that would have barred abortions in state hospitals except when the woman's life is threatened was vetoed by the governor and so far the veto has not been overridden. But attempts to override it can continue:

An ardent anti-abortion senator lost a second bid on Wednesday to override Gov. Brad Henry's veto of a bill to bar abortions at state hospitals except to save the life of the mother.

Henry vetoed the measure on April 18, saying he feared it would add to the suffering of poor women with problem pregnancies. The Democratic governor also was critical of the bill because it did not include exceptions for rape and incest.

The vote on Sen. James Williamson's second override attempt was 31-16. It takes 32 votes, or a two-thirds majority of the 48-member Senate, to override a gubernatorial veto.

The bill was opposed by the Oklahoma State Medical Association and other medical groups, who said it could endanger the future health of some women.

Note that the Irish 17-year old girl carrying an anencephalic fetus wouldn't get an abortion in an Oklahoma state hospital under this proposed bill.

And this is a pro-choice victory? To temporarily bar a bill like this?

Matters are much worse than I could ever have imagined.

Cogito, Ergo Sum?

A sinus infection offers a perfect perch for ruminations about the existence of a permanent self, because the infection seems to have taken over most of the brainpan where the permanent self is supposed to reside, and it has also made the permanent self act as if it has early-onset Altzheimers. I have a strong urge to write lists today, beginning with such things as the arm with the scar belongs to the right side of the body and continuing with reminders about a particular door swinging INWARDS, dammit.

But none of this is about the "self", of course. It is about the many little machines that empower the self, and in particular about the thinking and monitoring part of the mind. The emotional part of the mind seems to be asleep right now, as it usually is when I am sick, only to wake up disgruntled and very depressed during convalescence, leading to a few days of "vanity, all is vanity" kind of thinking and a much greater empathy with long-term depressives.

What is quite clear to me, though, is that none of these changes are ultimately affecting that part of my mind that feels to me like the "self". The part that somehow observes everything else, the part that can decide that "we" are a little down today, and can also decide that this, too, will pass. And as well as I can remember, that observing part has been pretty unchanging all through my life.

Perhaps that is not the "self" that buddhism discusses, say. But it is the part of me that feels like "home", or at least the part of me that appears somewhat able to climb out of any turmoil caused by high emotions or an outside emergency and even illness. Yet at the same time it is an integral part of the whole body-mind meld and not something that I can imagine floating alone somewhere above the clouds.

To Be Like Animals

A New York Times article on Pope Benedict's visit to Brazil focuses on his resistance to abortion and his defense of the family. It is interesting how "family" is code for "no women's rights". This makes me wonder what sort of a creature the "family" is and why its needs never appear to conflict with men's rights.

The same article had an interesting quote:

In another, related statement, the Brazilian church's senior cleric, Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnello, condemned government policies on reproductive health, which have won praise from international public health groups. The cardinal singled out sexual education and condom distribution programs, which have helped cut AIDS transmission rates in Brazil, and attacked them by saying they promoted immorality.

"This is inducing everyone into promiscuity," Cardinal Majella said in an interview with the Portuguese-language service of the B.B.C. "This is not respect for life or for real love. It's like turning man into an animal."

So all animals put on a condom and review their sex-education booklets before engaging in a little bit of wild sex? Animals act much more in accordance with what Cardinal Majella would like to see from humans, actually.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Home-Grown Terrorists

An idea repeated several times in the reports about the New Jersey Six, a very amateurish plot which consisted of a handful of men planning to attack a military base, is that domestic terrorism in the United States is somehow caused by the Internet sites where AlQaeda resides. An example of this:

B. WILLIAMS: A lot of government officials from the president on down have hinted over the years that if we ever really knew about all the unsubstantiated national security threats that are out there, we'd never leave our homes in the morning. Of course, most of those threats pass without us ever knowing about them. But this morning, as millions of Americans were leaving home for work, they heard about this story, what the feds say is a busted plot by six young men in their 20s accused of planning to shoot up a U.S. Army post, Fort Dix in New Jersey. The FBI says this was an example of home-grown terrorism, inspired by the Internet and thankfully foiled.

I seem to remember something one would call home-grown terrorism, concerning Oklahoma City. Somehow terrorism has become equated with Islamic terrorism, these days. But the world has all sorts of terrorists and the U.S. has always had home-grown terrorists. Just ask the people who work at abortion clinics.

Nothing Can Be Done

This tends to be the conservative reaction to most any injustice or unfairness in this world, at least as long as it is not seen as caused by the government. Take the idea of a minimum wage: The conservatives will point out that raising the minimum wage will just hurt those it is intended to help by making firms employ fewer people than before, because they now cost more to employ. Or the jobs, which now cost the firms more, can attract a different, more skilled slice of the labor force and the original holders of those jobs will be unemployed in that theory, too.

These arguments seldom point out that even within the limited models used those employees who remain employed at the higher wage rate do benefit directly and that giving these workers more money to spend will help the local consumption levels to rise and that this, in turn, will cause more openings for fairly low-skilled workers in that community. Neither is it explained where the different and more skilled workers come from, the ones who are supposed to snap up the jobs with the higher minimum wage rate, or what happens to the jobs they presumably leave open elsewhere in the community.

I was reminded of these rhetorical tricks while reading Greg Mankiw's response to the Harvard students' living-wage-protest (via Max Speak). Then I read the comments to Mankiw's post and found a few more rhetorical tricks:

One is the argument that when two people enter a voluntary contract, nobody else should interfere with that purely voluntary agreement. If Carmen and Megapower International, say, agree that she will clean floors for one dollar a day, who are we to say that this contract shouldn't be legal? Nobody is forcing Carmen to enter into it, after all, and if she doesn't like the contract she can always starve. Was I clear enough about the fact that such contracts are not the same in consequences for the two contracting parties in some cases?

The other one has to do with the odd idea some commenters had that Harvard is a profit-maximizing firm and therefore must obey the market-set wage levels. But Harvard is explicitly and legally NOT a profit-maximizing firm. It is a nonprofit entity, and economists debate quite fiercely about the possible goals that such entities have and what those goals would predict about cost minimization. In short, it is not at all obvious that Harvard would have to try to minimize its labor costs to thrive.

Picture Blogging

From freewayblogger. You can find out from him how to participate in this outdoor arts form.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Some More Bad Poetry

Both because I still have a head cold and the alternative posts would all be about the odd colors that appear to now exist inside my nose and because I wrote earlier about women in academia. So here is the Professor's Prayer:

In the hallowed halls
the chalkdust sleeps.
Old bones dance in bounds and leaps.
The light has died
but the power keeps.

Ach mein Vater, hold me tight,
brand my forehead with thy sign.
Symbols whisper Latin stories,
algorithms and allegories.
Computers and rats in cages,
pages upon untouched pages.
Let them think that I am right.
Let my circles meet thy line.

Knowledge is a cruel fetus
sucking, sucking air.
Fed on academic blood that soaks
through the academic cloaks
that hang suspended.
Yet logic rules though mended.
No Alma Mater dare
to enter there.

My One Good Daily Addiction

Is to go and check on the two kittens fourlegs blogs about.

Do you have places on the Internet where you go just for something totally different?

Women in Academia

France A. Cordova, an astrophysicist, will become Purdue University's next president and the first woman in that role. In general, gender equality seems attainable in academia, given that half of the Ivy League presidents now are women. But a new article in Ms. Magazine warns us of premature congratulations about this:

Similarly, between 1986 and 2006, the percentage of women presidents has risen from 10 percent to 23 percent. Yet women continue to advance more slowly up faculty ranks and earn less salary than their male colleagues. Even though more women are tenured today, the tenure gender gap has not narrowed in the last 25 years.

Furthermore, despite high-profile appointees such as Faust, women are still disproportionately represented in lower ranks and at less prestigious institutions. Although nearly 29 percent of associate-degree-granting colleges were headed by women, less than 14 percent of doctorate-granting institutions have women presidents. And while there has been progress in closing the salary gap between men and women when new academic appointments are made, within five years of hire the equity begins to evaporate.

There have also been recent external and internal policy changes in academia that have not served women well. According to Martin Finkelstein, professor of education at Seton Hall University, only one out of four new faculty appointments in 2001 was to a full-time tenure-track position. White women, and men and women of color, are now over-represented in the new category of non-tenure-line positions and, as before, in part-time faculty positions. The constant assault on affirmative action has also erased or crippled one of the single most effective policies that increased women's access to equal opportunities.

Then there is the baby gap: The time for the most desperate struggles for getting tenured and the time for having your babies overlap almost completely. This hurts women who have "early" babies:

One of the explanations for the gender differential in academic careers may be the "Baby Gap," according to researchers Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden at the University of California, Berkeley. Their investigations have shown that having children, especially "early babies," is a disadvantage for women's professional careers—but an advantage for men's. Women with babies are 29 percent less likely than women without to enter a tenure- track position, and married women are 20 percent less likely than single women to do so.

I once read an assessment about the second wave of feminism as having been fairly successful in opening the public sector to some women, at least, but having been totally unsuccessful in affecting the gendered division of labor at home. This quote is another piece of evidence supporting that assessment.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Bill Moyers Interviews Jon Stewart

This is an old program, but if you didn't watch it you might wish to. The conversation between Moyers and Stewart is fascinating, because it is a real conversation in the sense that the participants just follow the ideas and respond to each other with a minimum of hedging or guarding or propagandizing. One can actually get somewhere with such a conversation, and that I feel so strongly about this all goes to tell how rare real conversations on television are. For one thing, they take time and that is not usually given to the participants.

Cable News Programs And Diversity

Media Matters for America has an interesting little survey of the gender and race balance on various cable news programs:

During the recent controversy over former radio and television host Don Imus' remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team, some cable-news viewers may have noticed something unusual: the presence of significantly more African-Americans. The nature of the controversy led the cable networks to seek comment from a far more diverse group of people than they ordinarily do, which begs the question: To the extent these cable programs included a more diverse guest lineup during the Imus controversy, why do they provide such diversity only when issues of race are in the news cycle? Do cable-news producers view the guests added to the lineup during the Imus controversy as qualified to talk only about issues of race, and not other issues of national and political significance?

And did these guests have any lasting effect on the networks' booking practices, or did they return to their old ways as soon as the Imus issue disappeared? To begin to answer these questions, Media Matters for America analyzed the race/ethnicity and gender of the hosts and guests on the major prime-time cable-news programs. This study looks at the guests who appeared on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC during the weeknights before the Imus controversy (Monday, April 2, through Friday, April 6), the weeknights of the Imus controversy (Monday, April 9, through Friday, April 13), and the weeknights following the Imus controversy (Monday, April 23, through Friday, April 27). (We omitted the week immediately after the Imus controversy because it was consumed almost entirely by a single issue -- the Virginia Tech shootings -- and thus was atypical). Each guest appearing on the prime-time shows of the top three cable-news networks was recorded and categorized by race/ethnicity and gender.

I'm sure you can predict most of the findings of the survey, though there were some surprises, too, at least for me:

CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC did not fare particularly well when it came to gender diversity in any of the three weeks. Among the individual programs, there was more variation. The most gender-diverse program was The O'Reilly Factor, with a nearly even split between male and female guests during all three weeks, increasing Fox News' overall proportion of female guests. Despite the fact that the remarks that touched off the controversy were not only racist but misogynistic, only Paula Zahn Now and The Situation Room increased their proportion of female guests substantially from the first week to the second. And three others, all of which air on MSNBC -- Scarborough Country, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and Hardball -- all hosted fewer women during the week of the Imus controversy than the week before.

The surprises are the O'Reilly Factor and the overall obliviousness of the MSNBC shows.

Writing about diversity is not fun. "Diversity" in itself is one of those euphemisms which were selected because fairness and equality didn't test well in a world where the Rush Limbaughs have been allowed to get away with defining those concepts as thought control and political correctness. But diversity is too vague a concept for practical purposes. One can have "diversity" by hiring one woman or one black man, for example. A better concept would be representativeness, although defining it properly would require a whole post.

As I was saying, I don't like to write about diversity. It isn't clear-cut and it is still vulnerable to all the same counterarguments as the more rigorous measures of inclusiveness. In particular, it has been tainted with the smell of diversity-for-its-own-sake; as if nothing is lost by not having diversity but diversity itself. That is of course exactly the wingnut argument: that the cream rises to the top and if it happens to be white, Christian and male, well, that's how it is. Of course scum also rises to the top, but that, too, is another post.

The Imus case is a good example of a treatment of news where something pretty obvious is lost if the people discussing Imus's slurs are all white guys. That the MSNBC shows didn't try to have more women talking about the slurs means that their coverage was weakened. As a minimum, when the debate is about something having to do with racial minorities or with women it would be just good manners to have a few from those groups participating in the pontificating.

But in a wider sense this is pitifully inadequate. It says that the only things women and blacks, say, can be experts in are being women and/or blacks. That is pretty insulting, isn't it?

Girls Gone Wild Reconsidered

Garance Franke-Ruta's article in the Wall Street Journal about Girls Gone Wild and similar recordings of young women doing sexual or pornographic things has provoked an interesting blog conversation. Garance recommends raising the minimum age at which one can engage in acts of pornography from eighteen to twenty-one. Her argument is this:

It is true that teenagers become legal adults at the age of 18, right around the time they graduate from high school. The age of consent to serve in the armed forces is also 18 (17 with parental consent), as is the minimum voting age since 1971, when an amendment to the Constitution lowered it from 21. But the federal government is already happy to bar legal adults from engaging in certain activities. Most notably, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 raised the drinking age to 21 (by threatening to withhold highway funds from states that did not go along). In practice, the age limit is flouted on college campuses and in private homes. But it has still had a positive effect, not least by driving down fatalities from drunk driving.

A new legal age for participating in the making of erotic imagery--that is, for participating in pornography--would most likely operate in the same way, sometimes honored in the breach more than the observance. But a 21-year-old barrier would save a lot of young women from being manipulated into an indelible error, while burdening the world's next Joe Francis with an aptly limited supply of "talent." And it would surely have a tonic cultural effect. We are so numb to the coarse imagery around us that we have come to accept not just pornography itself--long since routinized--but its "barely legal" category. "Girls Gone Wild"--like its counterparts on the Web--is treated as a kind of joke. It isn't. There ought to be a law.

Garance points out that youthful indiscretions of this kind can follow a woman for the rest of her life, now that the Internet provides a handy place for storing videos and pictures, and given the way the world views women who have bared themselves in public (or even in private), the consequences could be severe.

Avedon of Sideshow disagrees with Garance's proposal:

I was once setting up for an interview about porn with a few other women, including one who had been a Playboy centerfold. (And also with Alice Nutter, which was very cool.) The ex-Playmate had said something about how she wouldn't want her daughter to do it, and I asked her why. She said something about how she'd rather her daughter finished college and did all sorts of respectable things. "I never posed for Playboy," I said. "I have my degree. And you're the one who has a column in a daily newspaper, and I'm not." She allowed as how I might have had a point. Her posing for Playboy when she was young had gained her all sorts of entry into a better life that none of her working-class friends had managed, and neither, with all my middle-class advantages, had I. So maybe baring your knockers for the camera isn't necessarily the life-ruining event Garance thinks it is.

Being indentured for the rest of your life by student loans or foolish credit card decisions could just end up being a life-ruining thing, though. But we don't seem to get nearly as upset about that.

But I wish Garance would rethink her whole approach. The problem isn't that girls get drunk and flash for the camera. The problem is that we still raise kids to think there is something dirty about sex, and we never quite get over it.

And Amanda of Pandagon partly disagrees with both Garance and Avedon, though she agrees with Avedon on this:

I agree with her that even if Garance, like me, is mostly interested in giving young people the space to experiment sexually without a bunch of punitive cameras coming in to stubbornly insist that 18-year-old women's experimentation belongs to slut-bashing 40-year-old wankers, there's exactly no way that a law like the one Garance is proposing would be used in good faith. Instead, it would be used to slut-bash, just as "Girls Gone Wild" is about punishing young women for sexual experimentation. Our culture is so stuck on the idea that the people in the wrong are Girls Who Do It, not the guys who rape them, not the creepy old fucks who want to punish them by taking away their contraception and plastering their faces all over advertisements on cable TV so you know that they're subhuman sex toys who don't deserve respect—there's no way that such a law wouldn't just turn into more witch-burning of Girls Who Do It.

Where she agrees with Garance is this:

I do take some issue with Avedon bringing up a Playboy model she spoke with, who was far from being punished for posing naked. While it's true that some women do very well from youthful porn displays, Playboy modeling is often the exception that proves the rule. The wink-and-nod "girl next door" thing is similiar to the Jessica Simpson "I'm a sex object virgin" thing, where the price you pay to be a respectable sex object is a lot of kow-towing to the idea that those other sex objects, they're the horrible sluts. You know, those stupid bitches who shook their tits at a camera for a T-shirt, the ones who are asking for it.

(Cut-and-paste is an excellent way of writing a blog post. See how far down the page I am already, and I haven't said one single thing yet? If I didn't have a head cold I might go back and rewrite this all. But I have a head cold and the clips will stay.)

And what will I say on all this? I think it pays to step one step back and ask what it is exactly that is going on with the Girls Gone Wild videos and what it is that might make a woman who posed for Playboy do well in certain cases. The answer has very little to do with women's sexual needs and a lot to do with who has more money and power in the society.

The Girls Gone Wild videos exist not because young women are experimenting sexually (that can happen in bedrooms and cars all over the place) but because someone with a camera arranged the situation to happen. The setup is a commercial one and the audience for it does not consist of young women. If we regard this as sexual experimentation then it is a commercial sexual experimentation.

The ex-Playmate may be successful in her later career, true, but only if she picks that career very, very carefully. Being a bishop is out, so is being a politician or a teacher, and probably a lawyer. I'm not sure how many columnists one might have out of the Girls Gone Wild participants, but I doubt there would be enough good jobs for all of them. For most participants the participation will not be a thing to add to the old resume.

The reason for that is partly in Avedon's statement about sex being viewed as dirty, but perhaps even more in who it is that is assumed to have been dirtied by sex. It is still usually the woman whose reputation is smeared or whose "purity" is lost.

Would raising the minimum age of legal participation in erotic imagery be a good idea? I'm not sure. I have some problems with the fact that an eighteen-year old can go and fight in a war in Iraq, come home and then not get served a beer in an American bar. This seems illogical and patronizing. It seems that the age of maturity should be the same for all purposes.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Mitt Romney's Wingnut Hour

This is the time in the presidential campaign when the candidates cozy up to the bases of their respective parties. Hence the spectacle of three hands rising up when the Republican candidates were asked if they don't believe in evolution in the televised debate last week. Mitt Romney continued the wingnut courting by visiting Pat Robertson's Regent University (where God rules and where the students will be His regents on earth) and by giving evidence of his impeccable wingnut characteristics. He said, among other things, that Europe is like Sodom:

"It seems that Europe leads Americans in this way of thinking," Romney told the crowd of more than 5,000. "In France, for instance, I'm told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how different from the Europe of the past."

It's also well known that all Europeans must sign up for two years of obligatory homosexuality first. Sort of like the preaching young Mormon men must perform.

But an even odder statement from Romney is this one:

But, publicly, he has emphasized that he is a "person of faith" and said that Americans are electing a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief. To be sure, Mormons are major Romney backers; data from his campaign finance records in his three months as a presidential candidate show that a Zip code area in Provo, Utah, led all others in donations to his campaign. Provo is the home of Brigham Young University, his alma mater.

Are Americans electing a commander in chief? I thought the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces, not of the country. Does Romney see his role as a tribal war leader?


A seventeen-year old girl was stoned to death in Iraq. Her death was required by the family honor, because she had a boyfriend with a different religion:

Reports from Iraq said a local security force witnessed the incident, but did nothing to try to stop it. Now her boyfriend is in hiding in fear for his life.

Aswad, a member of a minority Kurdish religious group called Yezidi, was condemned to death as an ?honour killing? by other men in her family and hardline religious leaders because of her relationship with the Sunni Muslim boy.

They said she had shamed herself and her family when she failed to return home one night. Some reports suggested she had converted to Islam to be closer to her boyfriend.

Aswad had taken shelter in the house of a Yezidi tribal leader in Bashika, a predominantly Kurdish town near the northern capital, Mosul.

A large crowd watched as eight or nine men stormed the house and dragged Aswad into the street. There they hurled stones at her for half an hour until she was dead. The stoning happened last month, but only came to light on Wednesday with the release of the Internet video. It is feared her death has triggered a retaliatory attack. Last week 23 Yezidi workmen were forced off a bus travelling from Mosulto Bashika by a group of Sunni gunmen and summarily shot dead.

Women's vaginas as the place where family honor is kept. This is an old concept around the Mediterranean region, probably older than the idea of stoning adulteresses in the Bible and the Koran.

I feel sick in the stomach. More death followed the killing for honor, too.

Twisty has more. I don't recommend watching the video.

How Death Is Reported

These days you have to search to find the news about the deaths in Iraq. They don't make the top-ten list of news unless a very impressive number has been killed. Today's major deaths have the Kenyan airplane accident as the most important one.

What determines when deaths make news? And why are deaths so important as news, even in cases where there is nothing that can be done about the deaths and where there is no obvious way to prevent similar future deaths? And why are all airplane crashes reported but not the car accidents which actually kill a lot more people every year?

The Iraq deaths are "old hat". We are used to hearing about them now, and that is partly why they no longer make the front page. It may also be that the government discourages these types of news, although I have no idea if that happens. But getting used to deaths does seem to make a big difference to what is reported as "new" news. Hence, we are not being told how many people car accidents kill or how many people die each year of the common influenza, because we are used to those deaths. They don't look frightening any longer. But a new killer virus! Now, that is news, even if it might never come about or even if it might not kill any more people than the current influenza strains.

The reasons for reporting airplane crashes are somewhat different. I would have thought that people are by now used to the idea that planes can crash. But those crashes probably remain newsworthy because so many of us have an almost primitive fear of flying and a deeply held belief that we are not supposed to find ourselves in a little tin can up in the air. And each crash kills multiple people in a short amount of time.

Some deaths are reported because of the horror about a particular way of dying rather than about the deaths themselves. Pedophiles killing children is a prime example of this, even if car accidents actually kill many more children each year. The problem with reporting for reasons such as novelty or primal fears or horror is that news are also seen as giving relevant information at the same time. Hence many people decide that pedophiles are riskier than cars or that flying is less safe than driving. Or that the deaths in Iraq are not that many.