Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Harvard Law Professor As Snap On Tool. Posted by olvlzl.

Charles Fried, former Solicitor General for Reagan, former member of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, tireless proponent of imperial power for REPUBLICAN presidents of a certain pedigree - he and Alito practically invented the unified executive road to fascism - present fixture at Harvard Law School is clear as can be on torture.

From Bill Moyer’s show last night.

FRITZ SCHWARZ: And I think, Charles, you would agree with me, that Congress does have the power to prohibit torture รน constitutional power. And the president has no constitutional power to authorize torture, even though this administration has done that both by American forces and by rendering people to Egypt and Syria to torture people when we send them there.

CHARLES FRIED: Well, I feel very differently about torture than I do about warrantless eavesdropping.

BILL MOYERS: Why do you see a difference between those two?

CHARLES FRIED: Because torture is horrible, immoral, and causes the total meltdown of our human inhibitions and about how we treat each other. While the warrantless eavesdropping that I think was going on under the NSA and perhaps still is going on is absolutely necessary. The FISA restrictions on it, if they were restrictions, were mindless, foolish. And I don't think the American people care. They do no harm. They do a great deal of good.

But watch what happens a few minutes later

FRITZ SCHWARZ: --Charles, you know, in the first place, we've made a lot of progress between us. Charles agrees they don't have the power to torture. They can't break the law. That's an issue in the Mukasey hearings right now. Secondly, we agree, Charles agrees that there should be real--

CHARLES FRIED: I didn't quite say they don't have the power to torture. I say that they mustn't, as human beings, do it.

So, you see, they mustn’t “as human beings” do it, but as a junta no one can stop them when they do it. Useful thing for Republicans The Constitution in the hands of a genteel legal dirt bag like Charles Fried.

But never fear, Brother Fried has the common touch.

I'd prefer Jay Leno to Frank Church because the real check on these people is when they become the butt of late-night comedians. It's over with them then.

Jay Leno, speaking of Republican tools. Read the transcript and notice how Fried works in the Clinton pardons. You can see the Leno influence on his legal thinking.

War on Samhain Posted by olvlzl.

Busier Saturday than I'd expected, will post again soon. But until then, here's a thought....

Hand Halloween back to the children, rip it out of the hands of the corporate hucksters.

Needed to get that off my chest.

When Spouting Pseudo-Scientific Bigotry Is Given A Pass Posted by olvlzl.

Apparently it’s like a day without sunshine for James Watson unless he publicly spouts some sexist, racist, homophobic or other pseudo-scientific bigotry. When writing about his sexism here two weeks ago I didn’t expect that there would be any fall out, Watson’s fans are pretty much willing to let him say things they would excoriate, quite rightly, a figure in politics or religion for saying. For some of them, since he’s a famous scientist, that apparently makes it all right. That his position as an eminent scientist gives his bigotry a potency that it would lack if said by just about anyone else, counts for nothing with his adoring fans.

As this op-ed by Ivan Oransky, an editor at The Scientist says, he’s been at it for decades. I mentioned the things he said about Rosalind Franklin and women in general, I have to admit that I’d been largely unaware of the racism and gay bashing until recently. While it’s nice that Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has, at long last, suspended him as director, you wonder how they could have kept him on for thirty-nine years while he was continually demonstrating that he might be less than reliable when it came to impartial career decisions for those groups he clearly disdains.

The op-ed quotes PZ Myers lamenting the suspension.

Influential blogger PZ Myers wrote that the suspension does Cold Spring Harbor "no good: it's a declaration that their director must be an inoffensive, mealy-mouthed mumbler who never challenges (even stupidly)."

There is a difference between someone who challenges an established order and someone who continually takes lip shots at members of groups excluded by the established order, the subjects of discrimination. Watson is in trouble for his pseudo-scientific racism and bigotry targeting groups who have been the object of active discrimination in hiring and other activities. I’m not entirely clear, even after looking, how much power to hire Watson has had at Cold Spring Harbor but I’m hoping someone will look at employment records there now to see what those might show. The facts are that women and people of African ancestry have been and are very much under-represented in science. How much of this is due to the culture of science and to the general perception of the chances members of these groups have to get into the club has been and will continue to be discussed.

Myers has in the past, again rightly, questioned the hiring of biology teachers who show basic ignorance of their subject. I’ve got no problem with only hiring competent people to teach in public schools. But displaying ignorance of biology was exactly what Watson was doing when he made his bigoted statements disguised as scientific knowledge. And he was doing it from a position in which he could do a lot more damage than one ignorant, bigot in a highschool could do. Claiming that “all the evidence” shows that people of African ancestry are less intelligent than other people is as bad as claiming that the evidence is that the earth is 10,000 years old. Actually, since it has the power to blight peoples’ lives, it is far worse. I don’t know of anyone as eminent as Watson who makes the claims of the worst of creationism’s follies, but there are other Nobel laureates in the sciences who have supported racism, the late William Shockley, for example. For someone like Watson to so basically misrepresent the science in ways that blight the lives and careers of the majority of people, women, those of African ancestry and others, is certainly more serious than Forrest Mims non-job related, scientific sins that got him fired from a far less prestigious job at Scientific American.

I would like to know what Myers views of Mims' firing were. As long as his personal opinions -which I disagree with vehemently - didn’t effect it, I’d have no trouble with Mims holding that relatively modest position, as long as he didn’t use it to provide lines for bigots to cite. It would have been up to his editors to keep any pseudo-science out of the magazine, I assume they would have done so if Mims had foolishly included any. Which he apparently didn’t.

Friday, October 26, 2007

All Over The Place

That would be my writing this week and especially today. The nice thing about running my own blog is the ability to do that. Blogs may be the last place where we can try to be Renaissance men (men, not women, because women didn't really have the chances then) in the sense of avoiding getting pigeon-holed into just one little specialty. The drawback is naturally that gabbing all over the place is shallow and silly but oh-so-enjoyable.

Still, I do avoid writing on some areas (the environment, for example), because I have neither the expertise nor the time to acquire it to write on the topic even half as well as those who run blogs on just the environment. And I also often feel extreme guilt on not staying firmly on feminism in my writings. But even feminists really aren't two-dimensional paper dolls bristling with anger and armpit hairs.

Have a wonderful weekend. Don't forget to read Phila's Friday Hope Blogging.

Friday Cat Blogging

This is a fascinating video on cats talking to each other.

And here is FeraLiberal's Pippin surveying her or his realm:

Barry's Zoey as a pirate. Send Zoey wishes for a speedy recovery. Her eye and jaw were hurt in a mishap.

Fixing Health Insurance

A recent Bloomberg/LA Times poll tells us that those surveyed preferred the health insurance policies of the Democratic presidential candidates over those of the Republican candidates:

Americans also back Democrats when presented with specific plans to deal with these issues: Just over half those surveyed say they favor requiring everyone to buy insurance; barring insurers from turning people down or charging extra for medical reasons; and subsidizing those who can't afford coverage. Those proposals have been offered by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

Even many Republicans like the Democratic ideas:

Almost half of Republicans surveyed say they like the idea of requiring large businesses to either offer insurance to their workers or pay a tax to help cover the costs of those who can't afford it on their own, a plan put forth by Clinton, 59, Edwards, 54, and Illinois Senator Barack Obama, 46. More than seven out of 10 Democrats and more than six out of 10 independents support that approach.

Americans back Democrats' ideas partly because the Republicans haven't been as detailed in their proposals, said Jason Furman, director of the Hamilton Project policy initiative at Brookings Institution, a Washington research group.

It's true that the Republicans haven't explained in any detail what their plans might be, assuming that they have such plans. Giving some people more tax cuts without fixing anything else in the current patchwork system of health insurance is not the best way to address the three major problems I see when it comes to health care access: the gaps in employer-based group health insurance system, the treatment of pre-existing conditions and the lack of alternatives for those too poor to afford private sector coverage but too rich to qualify for Medicaid.

The problems I listed are the major avenues people travel to the dismal land of the uninsured. How the poor get there is pretty obvious, given lack of money and the fact that low-paid jobs usually come without the fringe benefit of health insurance. A pre-existing condition makes health insurance much more expensive to acquire if not unavailable altogether, because a person with such a condition is not likely to make a profit for the health insurance companies. Indeed, one group of the uninsured consists of those who are "medically indigent", with illnesses or chronic conditions so expensive to treat that no private health insurance provider would ever offer them an affordable policy.

The gaps in health insurance tied to employment are the final way to turn into an uninsured person. Many small firms offer no health insurance benefits at all and the number of firms offering this benefit keeps declining. Why is this a problem? Can't the workers of those firms just buy policies on their own?

Of course they can. But individual policies, sold separately from the group plans that are available for employers, tend to cost considerably more. The reasons for this are partly to do with the economies to scale that exist in writing just one policy for hundreds or thousands of workers, when compared to the costs of writing a separate policy for each individual seeking coverage. But the main reason is a phenomenon sometimes called "cream-skimming" or "cherry-picking": The workers covered under group policies offered to corporations are at least healthy enough to go to work every day. These group plans pool relatively low health risks together, whereas the pool for individual policies is more likely to include those who are not well enough to work. This raises the average cost of individual health insurance, and for some individuals the price becomes so high that going uninsured is the preferable option.

Any realistic proposal on how to fix health insurance should address these gaps in the coverage, together with how to control health care costs in general. The Republican proposals I have seen do not achieve this. I'm not sure if they even attempt it.
Cross-posted on TAPPED.

From My Mailbag

I received this e-mail today:

Many men are sending us testimonials describing their changed life:

"I used to feel really ashamed because of my small dick size and avoided sexual contacts with women. Thanks for creating such an amazing product. My sexual life is getting better every day reflecting on every aspect of my life as I feel self-confident now".

Matt, Mobile.

Don't put off your happy life, order our Cock Growth Patch today.

I'm going to order the Cock Growth Patch and see if I can grow one, too. Where should I put it, though? The living-room window, perhaps?

More seriously, this advertisement is an example of the way our anxieties are mined for the purposes of making money. I see it much more often with products intended for women, but when it comes to the groin area men are probably the majority of the anxious marketplace.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

On Hair, Tears and Air

This Guardian article by Fadia Faqir about her relationship with her father is very touching. She recounts the battle they had over her refusal to wear the veil, something which her Muslim father regarded as extremely wrong. She also recounts their reconciliation:

Now he is 76 and I am 51, and writing this piece has brought us closer still. A few weeks ago I sat with my father in the basement of our old house in east Amman and read it aloud to him. I choked and stumbled over many words. He also filled up twice. He said he did not know that the veil had caused me so much suffering. "Perhaps because you have nine children you did not notice," I said. He also said that the piece was accurate. When I finished reading we dried our tears, laughed, and walked out together into the autumn sunshine. The veil is still covering my computer but I feel we are father and daughter at last.

How painful relationships can be. Anything that strips your shell and opens you up for love also opens you up for rejection. So very painful and so very hard. Yet without relationships, what are we?

Do daughters need their fathers? Need their love and their approval? These questions may look silly to you, my wise reader, but for several decades popular psychology books have often argued that the role of a father in his daughter's life is to prepare her for her future life as a wife. The father is supposed to give a good example of the "opposite" sex and to keep his daughter safe. That's about it.

On the other hand, fathers are viewed as crucial for their sons' well-being, and that is why divorces are so bad. Because they usually remove the father from the immediate family environment and leave the son without a male role model. I have read repeatedly that the daughters won't be hurt by the divorce, because they still have their sex-specific role model on hand.

If you reverse these arguments you might expect to read that mothers aren't that important for their sons. All they need to model is behavior which makes their sons good husbands one day, and to feed them. That's about it. But of course it is not the same when reversed. Most things aren't.

I always thought these messages to men about their duties towards their daughters were incredibly sexist, incredibly insulting and probably caused a lot of suffering. Human beings are complicated things and some sort of sex-appropriate modeling is not all there is to fathering, not even when added to financial support. Consider, for example, the fact that in a very traditional family the father would be the person with the most power. If that powerful person is told to pretty much ignore his daughters, what is the message they get about their own worth? And note that I'm not even touching on the deep landscape of love and what it might mean to wonder if your father loves you at all.

These are some of the feminist thoughts Faqir's article gave me, although I also read it as a fable about the way children must fight for their independence from their parents and a meditation on the question why our childhoods have such immense power over some parts of our lives.

Meanwhile, at the Federal Communications Commission

An attempt to relax the FCC rules about media concentration in specific markets is once again alive. The FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin wants to get rid of that troublesome 1970s ruling which barred media conglomerates from owning both a broadcast station and a newspaper in the same area. The Nation's Peter Rothberg called Martin's proposal "both a mogul's dream and a citizen's nightmare.":

As my friend and colleague John Nichols wrote last week, "Bush's chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has initiated a scheme to radically rewrite media ownership rules so that one corporation can own the daily newspapers, the weekly 'alternative' newspaper, the city magazine, suburban publications, the eight largest radio stations, the dominant broadcast and cable television stations, popular internet news and calendar sites, billboards and concert halls in even the largest American city."

If all this gives you a feeling of deja vu, you are correct. A similar attempt not that long ago was stopped by an astonishingly bipartisan opposition. This time it is Senators Trent Lott and Byron Dorgan, from different sides of the political aisle, who are opposing this FCC move.

Their reasons are many: The FCC is planning to ram the proposal through from its current beginning to final voting by December. That doesn't give the opposition much time to prepare, does it? Then there is the tiny problem that much of the FCC research in this area has been criticized:

"The FCC should not rush forward and repeat mistakes of the past. We applaud this Commission for its efforts to include the public through a series of hearings around the country," wrote Sens. Lott and Dorgan. "However, we understand there have been a series of problems with the process, including the selection of study authors, the peer review and the brief length of the studies comment period, which give us additional cause for concern."

A number of the Congress members who responded to Chairman Martin's proposed December 18th vote on media ownership rules referred to the crisis of credibility at the FCC. With recent reports of flawed research, agency leaks, and a track record of ignoring public input, policy makers agree that the FCC has a long way to go before they can make reasonable and responsible changes to media ownership rules.

Dorgan also points out that the FCC's own research shows that further media concentration would cause a net loss in local news coverage.

Then there is the question of female and minority ownership. The FCC apparently hasn't managed to figure out which stations might be owned by the members of those rare and mysterious demographic groups. Why would this matter in the criticisms of the proposal?

I can think of two explanations. The proper one would most likely be the argument that diversity is important for guaranteeing that news of all types get passed on to their final consumers, also a diverse bunch. If Martin gets his way and the media gets more concentrated it might also get a lot less diverse.

The other explanation might be that if we are going to give most of the power in the news industry to a very small group of very rich people we should at least guarantee that Americans of all stripes get a representative in that group. This explanation has the extra merit of pointing out that increased media concentration will benefit one demographic group of Americans over all others: the wealthy ones. It is their judgment of what makes news which will rule in those concentrated media markets, and that is the real flaw in Martin's proposal.
Perhaps cross-posted at TAPPED.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Code Pink Congress

Link thanks to DWD.

Is Iran Next?

What do you think? The Congress can't seem to rein this administration in, and the administration is all gung-ho about wars. This article is one of many which provide some food for thought.

It's OK If You Are A Republican

One of the reasons I started blogging was the imbalance I saw in the political media coverage. Everyone talked about liberal media bias, but I saw few liberals on any of the shows which I watched, and the ones that were there had something done to them to make them zombiefied. Yet the talk most of the time was of the liberal media bias.

This was frustrating. Once I dove into the wonderful world of political blogs I learned the acronym IOKIYAAR. Its meaning is in the title of this post, the meaning being that Republicans are the teacher's pets in the media, getting favored treatment.

The reasons are not easy to figure out, but my guess is that the bias has something to do with that prolonged Republican program of always accusing the media of lefty bias. It may also have something to do with the fear of Republicans, because quite a few of them do seem to breathe fire when attacked, and life is much more pleasant for a journalist who only attacks the dirty but peace-loving hippies. Then of course the bias may have something to do with the conservatives being in power in this country.

Whatever the reasons, I was pretty convinced that the media did not have a liberal bias. What they had was a bias against any real lefties. (When did you last see Noam Chomsky on tv, say?) The people defined as liberals in political programs are mostly not. Many of them are Republican-lite, but now this is viewed as equal to communism. The center has been pushed and kicked rightwards for so long that I have to keep going over the list of defining characters of a communist to remind myself that, no, Hillary Clinton does not qualify.

Why this long preamble (and ambling it is)? Because in the next stage of my blogging life I learned that many people with opinions and experience I respect did not see the bias I raved about. This made me go back and check my data, always a good thing. But on the whole I still think that the IOKIYAAR is true.

It is evident in several behavior patterns in the media. One of these patterns is to dig up "equivalent" crimes on the left when some sort of a wide-reaching scandal on the right erupts (such as the Abramoff case). This digging is naturally good journalism. What is not good journalism is to find only, say, one similar example on the left, but to still write a story up as if the scandal or crimes are equally common on both sides of the aisle. These "ignore the numbers" types of stories are still quite common.

A slightly different pattern is to ignore the fact that some wide-reaching scandal has a party dimension. This is a problem if one believes, as I do, that the mirror image of such a scandal would be written up in a way which links it to the Democratic party. An example of this pattern is the way the media reports on the many cases where politically prominent members of the religious right are caught propositioning minors, visiting prostitutes or engaging in gay sex while preaching against it. A more obvious example of this "look elsewhere" pattern is the coverage that three Republican members of the Congress have received for propositioning underage boys, visiting prostitutes and making sexual advances in a public bathroom.

A third pattern of interest is the "false equivalence". Suppose that I throttle my neighbor in a fit of temporary insanity, and you once forgot to send a Christmas card to your best friend from college. In the IOKIYAAR world these two deeds would be regarded as equally bad, but only if I am a Republican and you are a Democrat. (Well, your deed might actually be worse, especially if you happen to get Caitlin Flanagan to write it up.) The "false equivalence" treatment is probably the most serious one of the various patterns of IOKIYAAR, because it extends to all debate about issues so that a science debate must give equal time or space for those who don't believe in evolution or in any global warming whatsoever.

The last pattern I have noticed (though I'm sure there are more of them) is the obvious one of just asserting that something is OK if you are a Republican and not otherwise. Tucker Carlson made this point when he argued that Giuliani's past marriages and love life are out of bounds for journalistic exploration but that Hillary Clinton's husband's love life is a valid topic for discussion.
The pic is just for fun.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No Proper Posting Today

I'm tired.

It looks like a day for good bad poetry, doesn't it? How about a couple of gloomy ones?

Time is speeding to a close.
We have canceled hope
And the answers that we chose
now tentatively grope
for questions no-one knows.


An Ode To A Wasted Girl

She won't sing.
Not one single sound.
The bees sharpen their stings.

Her hair is not like honey.

What if a way
could have been found
for her to fly without wings?

But that would have taken money.

So now she's silent and will not be queen.
And we'll never learn what her
silence might mean.

Fun For Cat People

Barry from Alaska found this fun video.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Obesity As A Metaphor

Olvlz's post below provoked an interesting discussion in the comments thread about how to view fatness or obesity and about the correlations between obesity and ill health in general. One commenter asked:

Seriously. What am I missing here? Why are people defending fatness?

It is a valid question, and worth thinking about. I didn't participate in that thread, but my own answer to the question would have been that I'm not defending fatness. Or thinness or any other particular body shape. But I believe what deserves further exploration is the connection between a particular body weight and the ideas of goodness or worthiness, the Puritan equation between sloth and weight or weakness of character and weight, and the mirror image of this equation in how we view very thin women as somehow having won over their greedy and weak sides, even when the level of thinness they have achieved is a medical emergency.

The tendency to draw moral parallels between ill health and human worth is an old one. Mentally ill people were once seen as carrying demons and the treatment was to exorcize the demons in ways which often caused intense pain to the mentally ill themselves. Susan Sontag's work on illness as metaphors bears repeating here:

"Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor was the first to point out the accusatory side of the metaphors of empowerment that seek to enlist the patient's will to resist disease. It is largely as a result of her work that the how-to health books avoid the blame-ridden term 'cancer personality' and speak more soothingly of 'disease-producing lifestyles.' . . . Sontag's new book AIDS and Its Metaphors extends her critique of cancer metaphors to the metaphors of dread surrounding the AIDS virus. Taken together, the two essays are an exemplary demonstration of the power of the intellect in the face of the lethal metaphors of fear." --Michael Ignatieff, The New Republic

Something similar is visible on many discussions about health issues. An illness is seen as "deserved" if the patient ever engaged in any activity which is now known to be correlated with that illness, and the illness itself is now viewed as punishment for evil deeds. Illness becomes a moral condition and the search for its epidemiology becomes a court case where the jury looks for that one decision where the patient went wrong, the one sin for which the current pain and suffering might be a just punishment.

In some ways we have stepped out of the framework where illnesses were caused by demons and into the scientifically medical one. But in other ways we have brought those demons with us, transformed into a different type of an ethical judgment or into a search of a different type of causal explanation, and that little hidden demon is what allows us now to judge other people without feeling any embarrassment over doing so. After all, if medical science tells us that some patients "caused" their own illnesses, then it is simply natural that we, too, point out that causal mechanism in all sorts of daily interactions.

We are not being nasty and intrusive when we worry about what that juice-looking drink in that pregnant woman's glass might be. Nope. We are waging a war on behalf of the fetus in her stomach. What if she is drinking wine, for example? Surely we should interfere, at least to make sure that it is juice.

And see that baby being fed from a bottle, over there? What if the milk in the bottle isn't from the mother's breasts? Does she know what untold harm she may be causing to her baby? Better that we go over and interrogate her.

Or how about that fat lady at the ice-cream bar! She is actually eating ice-cream, not low-fat yoghurt. Doesn't she know how bad obesity is for her health? Maybe we should say something.

Much of this may be just a search for a world where you get what you deserve, where horrible random events don't wipe out your life in one single accident, where eating all the right things and smoking none of the wrong things will keep you alive for a century at least. We want a word which works by rewarding good behavior, a word which is more predictable and less frightening, not so out-of-control, and by pointing out how others may have earned their illness we are really telling ourselves that we are going to stay healthy, because we have earned health.

This is understandable. But it does turn medical issues into moral issues, and moral issues for only the individuals. The kind of questioning I describe might be extended to a pregnant woman eating a tuna sandwich (doesn't she know about the mercury in the tuna? doesn't she care?), but not to the industries which allow tuna to be poisoned with mercury. Illness becomes an individual sentence and a moral judgment.

But not in all fields of life. I have read much about the effect of stress on ill health. Unemployment is very bad for your health, for example. Having a sadistic boss might be the reason for that heart attack the subordinate died from, after years of mental torture. A politician supporting a law which makes pollution in poor areas greater may in fact be responsible for much later illness and suffering, but we don't take him or her to task for it. The moral message we tell is always limited to the acts of the patients alone (except, of course, for pregnant women), not to the acts of others which may have caused the condition or which may make the management of the condition more difficult.

I see obesity as one of the metaphors which lets the rest of us (the slim ones, the tofu eating ones, the exercising one, the ones with better genes) off the hook. If obesity is what causes heart attacks or bad backs, then our hearts and backs will serve us well, and we deserve that good service, too. Not only that, but we don't really have to spend time and energy on trying to understand what it is that is making obesity more common in the society, because the obvious reason lies in the weak willpower and greediness of the fat people themselves. If only they shaped up, the way we have.

On Contraception

Some days a story will insist getting included. If I ignore it in one context a mis-click on the keyboard takes me to a web page with a different version of the story, and if I still mutter with a tight jaw about other uses of my time some third place pushes the same topic down my throat. That's when I give up and give you the story, because it's not from me but from some universe of neglected and angry stories, and if we don't pay it attention, who knows what will happen next?

So today it is contraception. At first Scott Lemieux posted on the TAPPED about the favorite fundamentalist candidate Mike Huckabee's views on who it is who is responsible for illegal immigration. Not surprisingly, it is women. Women tend to be responsible for almost everything that goes wrong in the conservative world view. This is what Huckabee said:

Speaking before a gathering of Christian conservative voters, GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said legalized abortion in the United States was a holocaust.

"Sometimes we talk about why we're importing so many people in our workforce," the former Arkansas governor said. "It might be for the last 35 years, we have aborted more than a million people who would have been in our workforce had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973."

So those nasty women have aborted all the people who would otherwise now pick our fruit, clean our houses and wash our laundry. Got it? Then Scott points out that abortion is not necessary at all to put the blame squarely on the women, because contraception also allows women not to make enough low-income workers, and that's what has caused the illegal immigration. So contraception is part of the evil axis in the fundamentalist world.

And what else has happened to contraception? One of those odd errors I mentioned got me on this page of news from last spring:

Millions of college students are suddenly facing sharply higher prices for birth control, prompting concerns among health officials that some will shift to less preferred contraceptives or stop using them altogether.

Prices for oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, are doubling and tripling at student health centers, the result of a complex change in the Medicaid rebate law that essentially ends an incentive for drug companies to provide deep discounts to colleges.

"It's a tremendous problem for our students because not every student has a platinum card," said Hugh Jessop, executive director of the health center at Indiana University.

There, he said, women are paying about $22 per month for prescriptions that cost $10 a few months ago. "Some of our students have two jobs, have children," Jessop said. "To increase this by 100 percent or more overnight, which is what happened, is a huge shock to them and to their system."

Now, it is not me who finds a connection between the two quotes I have given here; it is that dratted screeching contraceptive story demon. I think the connection is deeper, having to do with the fundamentalist spirit of these times and with who it is who is in power and how the wars against women are carried out in a quiet voice and in hidden places, and how we are beginning to wonder if contraception in fact is a good thing at all. Really.

The third part of the story came in my e-mail. A link to a student's musings on that very same question about how to afford contraception now the prices on college campuses have risen:

This is a terrible situation. My boyfriend and I are madly in love and hope to spend our lives together, it's affecting us both. He said he will help me pay but he already pays for so much and we're both poor students. Birth control pills are so ridiculously cheap to make, it's almost criminal what they're doing. Meanwhile Viagra is still covered by insurance. What sort of message are they sending? This makes women more powerless over their lives, I wouldn't be surprised if there will be a huge spike in STDs and a decrease in women graduating college due to pregnancy.

Is this enough on you, demon of contraception or whatever it is that you are. Angel?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What Do You Think About Leonard Nimoy's Photos of Women who are Obese? Posted by olvlzl.

Wading through the interior decoration porn in the Sunday magazine section, there is a short interview with Leonard Nimoy about his "The Full Body Project", featuring photos of obese women. Nimoy, yes, that Leonard Nimoy, said that his series began when a woman who was very large approached him at an exhibit of his photographs and asked him if he would be interested in working with her. From that beginning he started working with the late Heather MacAllister, who was the founder and artistic director of Big Burlesque and the Fat Bottom Revue. Nimoy quotes her in an earlier article in the NYT, "Any time a fat person gets on a stage to perform and is not the butt of a joke — that’s a political statement."

With the few photos from the series I've been able to find on the web, it looks like an interesting and movingly humane project. I don't pay enough attention to high profile fashion photographers to be able to get the references to conventional pictures of emaciated women taken by them. It strikes me that the invariably bony models are depersonalized, anonymous and tragic in a way that the women in these photographs definitely are not. They strike me as real personalities instead of types. The idea of very fat people, especially women, brazenly going against the culture of thinness can't be a bad idea. While the first response is to wonder about the health implications, those are just as much a concern with the stick figures of conventional photography as they are with very over-weight people. I don't know which is worse for your health but getting over looking at obesity as a question of commercial morality has to be good.

Update: candace kindly provides the project's website, with more of the photos.

Trade or Terrorism, In The End The Results Might Be The Same, Posted by olvlzl.

Here is an important article by Jeffrey A. Lockwood about the dangers posed by the use of insects as tools of terror. Unlike the, largely far fetched, paranoid hysterics of the immediate post September 11 days, the use of insects as vectors of disease, real bio-weapons is well established and so low tech that it is a much more real danger. And their potential isn’t just as vectors of disease in humans and animals. Some insects, themselves, have the potential to cause extensive damage to agriculture and the environment, the example of the threats to release the Mediterranean fruit fly in California shows how dangerous even a simple attack of this kind could be.

But there is another important question, isn’t this exactly the type of thing that is happening as a result of “free trade” ? Some of the most damaging insect invasives (not to mention plants, mollusks, amphibians, etc.) are a direct result of trade and commerce. But how often are even the economic consequences of this low grade enviornmental terrorism ever brought up or considered? How much does the motive an intention really matter? Enough to make the economic invasives innocuous? Does the fact that the intent was profit make it all right?

If someone brings in an organism that destroys the hemlock forests or hardwoods what difference does their motive make? And it’s not just insects destoying the flora here and everywhere else. Remember when West Nile Virus was first in the news in the United States? The anxiety was genuine, the known effects on people and birds were frightening. The speculation on many talk shows that I recall centered on how it had come into North America, imports, “foreigners”, the entire lexicon of xenophobic cogitation was brought up. Only once or twice did I hear someone say that it could have been anyone who had been in the middle east who was infected and brought it here. Even the most decidedly white, wealthy, conservative businessman who had traveled for business or pleasure could have introduced the virus here.

The benefits of trade, imports, exports and travel are often repeated but like everything, it’s not always what it is made to seem.