Friday, December 07, 2007

Deep Thought For The Day

Blogging is hard work.

Explanation: All the topics I never got around to, and many of them are more important than the topics I actually wrote on. Mea culpa.

Tweety Stole My Nurse Ratched Character!

Chris Matthews thinks that Hillary Clinton is Nurse Ratched:

Summary: On Hardball, Chris Matthews asked about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), "[D]oes she look like Nurse Ratched here?" referencing a character in Ken Kesey's novel and the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, who has been described as a "scheming, manipulative agent" who "asserts arbitrary control simply because she can." In fact, Matthews and others on programs on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC have a long history of associating Clinton with Nurse Ratched.

Now I'm grumpy, because all my relatives know I make the best Nurse Ratched ever. In fact, they don't DARE to get sick because then I swoop in, with chicken soup and rectal thermometers. I keep them all healthy with the preventive power of fear.

More seriously, Tweety is waging a war against wimmen who don't know their place, and that place certainly is not as the president of a country. The selection of this particular fictitional character is quite clever, because Nurse Ratched both isn't supposed to have real power (she is just a nurse, after all) and misuses the power she has usurped (see what happens if we let wimmen rule over us?).

Well played, Tweety.

Friday Cats

Above: Henriette, a French-Canadian cat of great elegance, not being happy about that white stuff on the ground. Henriette is owned by (or owns) plum p. Allo!

This is Spinoza's cat, finally gettting reunited with the favorite chair which was put into storage after a move. Never gonna move again!

And here, added later, are Jeffraham Prestonian's Curly and Larry Elvis, figuring out a brand new string theory. You have to check out their home blog for the final solutions, because the theory is still in the musing stages.

For Your Seasonal Gift Giving

Consider helping the Pretty Bird Woman House:

Jackie Brown Otter created The Pretty Bird Woman House after the brutal rape and murder of her sister, whose Lakota name means Pretty Bird Woman.

PBWH provides emergency shelter, advocacy support, and educational programs for women on the Standing Rock reservation who have been victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. It opened on January 5, 2005.

Recently, the Pretty Bird Woman House was forced to move out of its original location after a number of break-ins through the exterior walls left it in such bad condition that the women could not safely remain there. The staff are now sending women to 2 other shelters off the reservation, which reduces their ability to serve Standing Rock's women and strains the resources of the other shelters.

PBWH really needs a permanent house for the shelter. There
happens to be a house for sale near a police station. The purpose of this fund drive is to raise enough money to buy it or another suitable one in a safe location. Won't you help?

A bid has been made on a suitable house but donations are still urgently needed. Go here.

Religion And Freedom, According To Romney

I know that this looks like an obsessive-compulsive disorder about the Romney speech, this deluge of posts on that one topic, but then he does give us so much material. It is only now that I am getting to the part of the speech that I found the weirdest. I couldn't stop thinking about it while doing the dishes, while walking the dog, while arguing with the burner-repairman (who still hasn't fixed the burner, despite the third visit inside a month). And all the time I was doing these chores I was trying to sort out Mitt's argument that freedom depends on religion.

What did he mean by it? To remind you of this fascinating topic (I'm sure it fascinates someone, somewhere, as much as it fascinates me), here is Mitt again:

There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams' words: ``We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. ... Our Constitution,'' he said, ``was made for a moral and religious people.''

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

What is your take on that? Does Mitt mean that "freedom" (however he might define that concept) is only possible if the religious authorities use the buggy whips on the backs of all the sinners, to keep them in line? That is what the quote from John Adams suggests to me: that human beings are too evil to be allowed to have freedom without some external restraints, in the form of fear of eternal damnation.

If my reading is correct, Mitt argues that secular freedom (where? only in the marketplace?) should be combined with some kind of a religious authoritarianism. The latter would actually not be freedom at all, but a set of rules which limits the freedom people are actually allowed to have. Now, given the misogynistic nature of most of the older religions, this could well mean that men can have freedom and a religious blessing for it, while women can have freedom only if the religious rules allow them to have it. Which would be rather seldom.

Here comes my confusion: If this is the reading I'm supposed to give these parts of Mitt's speech, how does the religious liberty argument sit with it? Is it that everybody is free to pick their own set of rules which constrict that freedom by keeping the old Adam (old Eve???) in check? But if these rules are all quite different from each other, doesn't it mean that different people will then end up having very different amounts of real freedom? And given that most of us are born into a religion, rather than choosing it on these types of grounds, how is this helping freedom in general?

And of course Mitt also seems to be arguing that freedom is not possible with atheism or secularism in general. Why not? Because those religious restraints, such as the fear of hell, would be missing? Does Mitt suggest that atheists would always choose to do truly horrible things, just because they don't believe in a punitive god? If someone proved to Mitt, in some odd way, that there is no god, would he go out to rape and pillage, right away? I doubt it. But I have read similar arguments from religious people, implying that all that keeps them on the straight-and-narrow is the fear of later divine punishment, that they only do good because otherwise they get to burn to a crisp over and over again, all eternity.

What a tangled web we weave here. It is even more tangled than it looks, because I can never be quite sure what politicians mean when they say "freedom." It's just one of those words that push your feel-good-buttons. But if you stop for a moment and ask what it is that people are free to do, in what fields of life and who it is who will be given freedom your buttons get tired pretty fast. All that stuff about "your freedom ending at the tip of my nose" crops up, at least in me.


On Culture Wars

David Brooks, the conservative pundit I love to eviscerate most of the time, has written a good column on the Romney speech:

The first casualty is the national community. Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious. I'm assuming that Romney left that out in order to generate howls of outrage in the liberal press.

The second casualty of the faith war is theology itself. In rallying the armies of faith against their supposed enemies, Romney waved away any theological distinctions among them with the brush of his hand. In this calculus, the faithful become a tribe, marked by ethnic pride, a shared sense of victimization and all the other markers of identity politics.

In Romney's account, faith ends up as wishy-washy as the most New Age-y secularism. In arguing that the faithful are brothers in a common struggle, Romney insisted that all religions share an equal devotion to all good things. Really? Then why not choose the one with the prettiest buildings?

In order to build a voting majority of the faithful, Romney covered over different and difficult conceptions of the Almighty. When he spoke of God yesterday, he spoke of a bland, smiley-faced God who is the author of liberty and the founder of freedom. There was no hint of Lincoln's God or Reinhold Niebuhr's God or the religion most people know — the religion that imposes restraints upon on the passions, appetites and sinfulness of human beings. He wants God in the public square, but then insists that theological differences are anodyne and politically irrelevant.

Romney's job yesterday was to unite social conservatives behind him. If he succeeded, he did it in two ways. He asked people to rally around the best traditions of America's civic religion. He also asked people to submerge their religious convictions for the sake of solidarity in a culture war without end.

Brooks' first point is the one I have discussed under the concept of "faithiness" rather than faith. His second point about the endless culture wars was the main reason why Romney gave the speech in the first place: He wants to be counted among the insiders who can all hate together on the outsiders: immigrants, minorities, gays, lesbians, feminists and liberals. This kind of a populist appeal to the lizard brain has worked well for the Republicans in the past, true. But the odd thing about the culture wars as a fuel for conservatives is that this will only work as long as the wars are not actually won. Hence the attempt to keep them going as long as possible, without any great Republican victory.

The term "culture wars" offers layers of contradictory meanings. Some see the word "culture", decide that the term is about what music can be played on the radio and pretty much store it away as something irrelevant, not part of real politics, something that can be safely ignored. Or they figure it as being all about abortion and if they lack a uterus they decide that it's a special interest thing and should be ignored. I have learned these things on the blogs, by the way. I never could take "culture wars" that lightly, myself, given that the term is mostly code for "let's put the women back in the kitchens where they belong, let's put the gays back in the closets where they belong and let's throw away all the keys." This is not about "culture" but about very essential political questions: freedom, justice and equality, and the most essential question of all: Who is it who deserves to have these goodies in the United States of America?

Then there is the "war" part of the "culture wars." That is how Pat Buchanan sees the issue: A war, inside the country, to force people into certain societal roles. I never forget that he chose to call all this "a war." I never forget the speech he gave in the Republican National Convention in 1992, the one where working women were upgraded into one of our main enemies. Yes, he declared war on a very large group of his fellow citizens, a group which contributes to this country in countless ways, a group which probably is one of the most law-abiding ever, a group which the majority of women belong to. Spend a second thinking about that. Then think that Buchanan's speech looked like a good idea for the Republican Party then.

It still looks like a good idea, if Romney's speech is any indication. You are now officially forewarned.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Only Men Run For Public Office?

This is something odd I noticed about Romney's speech: his insistence that candidates for the presidency are of the male gender. Either that, or he decided to use "he" for both men and women. Or only men can commune with God. This is as revealing in its own way, of course.

Here are the bits that made me wonder. I have bolded the key words and sentences:

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.


Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.


What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind.

There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.


Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: Does he share these American values - the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another and a steadfast commitment to liberty?

I think this might be yet another coded message in the speech, to reassure the anti-feminists that he will ignore women in power as much as he ignores their existence in this speech.

Of Shoes, Ships and Sealing Wax*

Or on the famous religion speech Mitt Romney gave today. I didn't hear him speak it but I have read the transcript, and I must admit that he hit pretty much all the points he was supposed to hit and missed all those morasses he was supposed to miss except for one big one. Oh, and he used sexist language, but that is covered in the post above.

First, he did a lot of speaking in voices (or code) for the fundamentalist evangelicals. Examples, bolded by me for your benefit:

America faces a new generation of challenges. Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us. An emerging China endeavors to surpass our economic leadership. And we're troubled at home by government overspending, overuse of foreign oil, and the breakdown of the family.


Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.

Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'

It was in Philadelphia that our founding fathers defined a revolutionary vision of liberty, grounded on self evident truths about the equality of all, and the inalienable rights with which each is endowed by his Creator.

We cherish these sacred rights, and secure them in our Constitutional order. Foremost do we protect religious liberty, not as a matter of policy but as a matter of right. There will be no established church, and we are guaranteed the free exercise of our religion.

There you have it. Mitt would give us a Supreme Court full of Scalia clones.

Second, he courted the fundamentalist evangelicals by implying that he is one of them, really, except for happening to be a Mormon, too:

Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world. There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.

Third, he spat the Europeans in the face quite nicely, while following that immediately with a rant against radical Islam. This juxtaposition is no accident. Wingnuts tend to think of Europe as Eurabia, as being run over by hordes of bin Laden:

I'm not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our tradition of religious liberty. I've visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired, so grand and so empty. Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too 'enlightened' to venture inside and kneel in prayer. The establishment of state religions in Europe did no favor to Europe's churches. And though you will find many people of strong faith there, the churches themselves seem to be withering away.

Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent jihad, murder as martyrdom, killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance.

May I point to Mitt that the large cathedrals of Europe are tourist traps? The people who go to church prefer smaller churches. Though I probably shouldn't bother. I have often been astonished by the strong opinions conservatives have about Europe, especially those who have never been there.

Fourth, he managed to say nothing about the actual beliefs of the Mormons. Nothing about the Mormon underwear or about men becoming gods in the eternity while women become eternally pregnant and so on. That was very well done, indeed.

And where did he stumble? He defined religion as monotheism. That means Hindus and Buddhists are not good people in Mitt's books. And of course atheists are absolutely awful people. Very odd, given that Mitt defined secularism as a new religion, and he was all so gung-ho about religion otherwise:

But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

*From a good poem by Lewis Carrol.

Today's Cartoon

Via Ampersand, here is a teaser:

For the rest of the cartoon, go here.

Reactions from the Right to Romney's Speech

I haven't seen the transcript yet, so I can't comment on the speech itself. But I found these reactions by the ladies of the right interesting. First Kate O'Beirne:

I predict it will get rave reviews. Mitt Romney, who sure looked presidential, explained effectively that he is a man of faith who is committed to America's values. He was sure-footed and polished as usual but appeared today to be fighting back strong emotions when he talked about American exceptionalism.

Then Mona Charen:

That was perhaps the best political speech of the year. It was well-crafted and delivered with conviction and — this is unusual for Romney — considerable emotion. I thought his contrast of the empty cathedrals of Europe with the violent jihadis was particularly adroit. He managed to make this a speech about patriotism as much as about religion. Brilliant.

Sounds like fan clubs for bands, does it not (well, except for those references to American exceptionalism, empty European cathedrals and violent jihad)? I have been lax on that front, but from now on I will gush and fawn over all Democratic candidates and their deeds.

Answers Sought In Omaha Shooting

That is the headline of a Time article on the most recent mall shooting incident. It's human to seek such answers but I find it a pretty futile exercise when the only real explanation is ignored while it is sitting right under our noses, ready to spew even more bullets out. As long as it is easy to acquire a weapon which can kill lots of people in a short amount of time, unbalanced young men seem to do exactly that, in order to go out in style, with a retinue of other murdered people.

Perhaps it is time to stop giving these massacres so much attention of the kind which seems to flame the fires for a new one? At least two of the most recent incidents seem to have been partly motivated by the desire for posthumous fame.

The Tale of Two Michaels.

Remember Michael Dukakis? He was a 1988 Democratic presidential candidate. His campaign was pretty much over when the opposition published an ad about how the prison furlough program Dukakis supported allowed a convicted criminal, Willie Horton, to go out and rape another woman.

Now compare and contrast this with the case of Michael Huckabee. When he was the governor of Arkansas he helped to secure the early release of Wayne Dumond, a rapist. Dumond then went on to rape and kill at least one woman, most probably two. Perhaps nobody could have anticipated that Dumond would do such a thing?

Well, judge for yourselves. First the story:

In 1996, as a newly elected governor who had received strong support from the Christian right, Huckabee was under intense pressure from conservative activists to pardon Dumond or commute his sentence. The activists claimed that Dumond's initial imprisonment and various other travails were due to the fact that Ashley Stevens, the high school cheerleader he had raped, was a distant cousin of Bill Clinton, and the daughter of a major Clinton campaign contributor.

The case for Dumond's innocence was championed in Arkansas by Jay Cole, a Baptist minister and radio host who was a close friend of the Huckabee family. It also became a cause for New York Post columnist Steve Dunleavy, who repeatedly argued for Dumond's release, calling his conviction "a travesty of justice." On Sept. 21, 1999, Dunleavy wrote a column headlined "Clinton's Biggest Crime - Left Innocent Man In Jail For 14 Years":

"Dumond, now 52, was given conditional parole yesterday in Arkansas after having being sentenced to 50 years in jail for the rape of Clinton's cousin," Dunleavy wrote. "That rape never happened."

A subsequent Dunleavy column quoted Huckabee saying: "There is grave doubt to the circumstances of this reported crime."

After Dumond's release from prison in September 1999, he moved to Smithville, Missouri, where he raped and suffocated to death a 39-year-old woman named Carol Sue Shields. Dumond was subsequently convicted and sentenced to life in prison for that rape and murder.

But Dumond's arrest for those crimes in June 2001 came too late for 23-year-old Sara Andrasek of Platte County, Missouri. Dumond allegedly raped and murdered her just one day before his arrest for raping and murdering Shields. Prior to the attack, Andrasek and her husband had learned that she was pregnant with their first child.

Dumond died of natural causes while in prison on September 1, 2005. At the time of his death, Missouri authorities were readying capital murder charges against Dumond for the rape and murder of Andrasek.

Then the evidence that Huckabee was told about how dangerous Dumond was for women:

While on the campaign trail, Huckabee has claimed that he supported the 1999 release of Wayne Dumond because, at the time, he had no good reason to believe that the man represented a further threat to the public. Thanks to Huckabee's intervention, conducted in concert with a right-wing tabloid campaign on Dumond's behalf, Dumond was let out of prison 25 years before his sentence would have ended.

"There's nothing any of us could ever do," Huckabee said Sunday on CNN when asked to reflect on the horrific outcome caused by the prisoner's release. "None of us could've predicted what [Dumond] could've done when he got out."

But the confidential files obtained by the Huffington Post show that Huckabee was provided letters from several women who had been sexually assaulted by Dumond and who indeed predicted that he would rape again - and perhaps murder - if released.

In a letter that has never before been made public, one of Dumond's victims warned: "I feel that if he is released it is only a matter of time before he commits another crime and fear that he will not leave a witness to testify against him the next time." Before Dumond was granted parole at Huckabee's urging, records show that Huckabee's office received a copy of this letter from Arkansas' parole board.

It is hard for me to believe that a rapist would have been allowed to go free to kill women just because one of his victims was related to Bill Clinton. But whatever the reason for Dumond's premature release, the safety of women was apparently not of any great importance in the calculations.

This matters greatly when judging Mike Huckabee as a candidate right now.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

From Where I Stand

Often I am forcibly impressed by the difference sex and race and so on can make in how we relate to the news and in even how we write about them. For example, I don't think I could ever have mused over the problems Europe has with extreme Islam the way Matthew Yglesias did here, as if they are purely abstract theoretical concepts having to do with a game of international politics:

From the point of view of an American liberal, it's an awkward situation. One doesn't want to say "you guys should get rid of your progressive views on gender roles because it would make it easier for Muslims to assimilate" but at the end of the day it is much easier for Muslims to go along get along in a country like the US where traditionalist attitudes have more political clout. Of course, if more American conservative Christians decide to go the Pat Robertson route and decide to support Rudy Giuliani on the grounds that fighting Muslims is the ultimate expression of Christian values, then our advantage here will rapidly erode.

Hm. Should I recommend that my nieces in Europe should not go out alone or without wearing a veil? Should they not drive cars?

I also note that Yglesias really refers to homosexuality when he talks about gender roles, even though it is largely women who are oppressed by rigid gender roles in theocratic countries.

I'm not blaming him at all. But there is a blessing in being able to look at something through a thick protective glass of gender or race, say.

Drowning the Government in a Bathtub. And The Rest of Us With It.

It was Grover Norquist who once famously said that his goal is to make the government small enough to drown in a bathtub. Interestingly, the government has all sorts of functions which people might not want to see drowned that way. The inspection of foodstuffs and medicine is one such example. Currently the Food and Drug Administration is not doing too well on keeping us all safe, because of underfunding:

The Food and Drug Administration is so underfunded and understaffed that it's putting U.S. consumers at risk in terms of food and drug safety, an advisory panel to the FDA says in a report to be discussed Monday.

The report — developed in the past year by experts from academia, industry and other government agencies — delivers a scathing review of the state of the FDA, which regulates 80% of the nation's food, its drugs, vaccines and medical devices.

The report details a "plethora of inadequacies" in the agency, including:

•Inadequate inspections of manufacturers, noting that foodmakers, for example, are inspected about once every 10 years.

•A "badly broken" food-import system and food supply "that grows riskier each year." In the past 35 years, FDA inspections of the food supply have dropped 78% due to soaring numbers of products and inadequate FDA funding.

•A depleted FDA staff, which is about the same size as it was 15 years ago despite huge growth in agency responsibilities. Instead of being proactive, the agency is often in "fire-fighting" mode.

•A workforce with a "dearth" of scientists who understand emerging technologies. Turnover rates in some scientific positions at the FDA run twice that of other government agencies.

•An "obsolete" information-technology system.

I presume Norquist would want every family to run their own little laboratory at home to check the safety of toys and the cough medicine they plan to give their children. Personal responsibility, you know. Of course this makes no sense at all, given the costs and the expertise required.

Or perhaps Norquist would want to see private firms take on the task of food and medicine inspections. Only those who can afford to pay would be guaranteed safe products. Or perhaps the government should outsource these tasks and hand them to some friendly company without any open bidding whatsoever. That way the job would nominally still belong to the government but the money would flow into private pockets. A little like the contractors in Iraq. Would that be an improvement over the FDA?

I doubt it. We really should fund the FDA better.

The Painful David Broder

His latest column really is quite painful to read. For example:

Bush's stance is likely to be copied by most of the major Republican presidential candidates. They can take heart from the successes the administration is beginning to score with its foreign policy. Surely, their position is stronger than the one they were defending early this year -- when Iraq looked to be lost, the Middle East was in turmoil and the threat of war with Iran loomed.

Does he earnestly argue that the clusterfuck Bush has created is a success? That finally hesitantly and half-heartedly trying to fix things is strength? It's as if someone had burned down a house by accident, killed all its inhabitants and let the fire spread to the neighborhood, but then, hours later, calls 911 and gets praised for smart action.

Pardon me while I go and bang my head against the garage door.

The Story of Alexis

Just read it and then weep or rage or admire the little girl's incredible deeds.
Via Molly Ivors.

An Aviator Helmet for an Elephant (Not Politics, Surprisingly)

If any of you have an elephant whose head gets cold in the winter, let me know. I just finished knitting an aviator helmet and it turned out a tad too big. I'm an experienced knitter so I know that one never should omit the "check the gauge" stage, but I did omit it. Bad me. Then the pattern was so very odd that there was no way for me to tell how it would look until it was finished. It looks very funny on my head. As if my head had suddenly shrunk.

Anyway, the only reason I'm writing about this is to get over the blah hump. Well, that and this odd aspect of some people (ahem) who can't give up on a failed project. I have toyed with the idea of turning the helmet into one of those Dutch caps with wings, for example. Like this:

Also with the idea of severely boiling the helmet to see if it would accidentally shrink to the right size. But then it would look like a tea cozy, I think. Or I could just pretend the knitting is material and sew new seams to make it smaller.

Or I could compost it. I should compost it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Today's Shallow Post

You want to go on a diet? You could do that by going into Zone, by eating the Mediterranean Diet or even the Christian Diet or by engaging in something called "The Cabbage Soup Diet." That last diet makes me fear that you'd lose not only pounds but also all the people who live in your house or work with you, given the other powers that cabbage has.

The diet industry is a very wealthy one, mostly because of all the repeat customers.

That was the shallow thought of the day. Or a deep one, if you wish, because there is really no such thing as a diet which you can quit when you have lost enough, without having the weight return. Not unless you permanently change the way you eat and the way you exercise.

The Teddy Bears' Picnic

You may have been following the case of Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher in Sudan. She let her class of six- and seven-year olds name a teddy bear Muhammad, something that could have been perceived as an insult towards Islam, because a teddy bear is an animal (sort of) and giving the name of the Prophet to an animal is an insult. A worker at the school informed the Sudanese government of this, and Gibbons was ultimately given a prison sentence of fifteen days. She was then pardoned by the Sudanese president, but some mobs in Khartoum had time to demonstrate and to demand a stricter punishment for her, including death.

The story is one of those where cultural values dominate everything else. To ask for the death of a nice lady teacher, just because of the choice of a teddy bear's name by a class of little children, seems preposterous, horrifying, totally alien to the Western audience. In fact, proof positive of the blood-thirstiness and fanaticism of some Muslim countries. But of course we don't really know what the average Sudanese thought about the event, and the demonstrations may well have been arranged to put pressure on the West concerning the attempts to stop the genocide in Darfur. I also suspect that the emotional associations many Western people have with teddy bears are not as common in Sudan. Still, the case was one which will not exactly help in the dialogue of the West and the Islamic world, and it's a good reminder why a theocracy isn't exactly the best alternative for this country, either.

That was my personal opinion. Should I have a feminist opinion on this, too? It's hard for me to say as Ms. Gibbons' gender seemed to have nothing to do with the whole debacle. But Anne Applebaum begs to differ:

In a pattern that has also now become familiar, Western reaction to these events divided neatly along political and institutional lines. The British government, faced with a controversy involving a teddy bear, put on a straight face and began negotiations with Khartoum, gingerly using two Muslim members of Parliament as emissaries. The archbishop of Canterbury and British Muslim student groups regretted the "disproportionate" punishment, thus implying that a somewhat gentler one might have been more acceptable. Asked for its opinion on the matter by Fox News, the National Organization for Women said it was not taking a position at this time. Elsewhere, some criticized Gibbons as insensitive to Sudanese religion and culture.

Others, from the British tabloids to the London Times, rushed to point out the absurdity of these positions. ("The punishment wasn't out of proportion," wrote one London Times columnist. "It was unwarranted, outrageous, insupportable.") But not nearly enough people said so. On the contrary, the West still finds it difficult to produce anything resembling a common, united, reasonable reaction to these periodic spasms of fanatical outrage, no matter what truly absurd forms they take.

Applebaum links her criticisms to the idea that "the left" is loathe to say anything negative about Muslims because this might be seen as support for George Bush's war on terrorism. I fail to see the connection that clearly unless she thinks that all extreme Muslims are terrorists, but I do get a different point from what she writes: Criticizing the way some Muslims interpret their religion should not be seen as support for the idea that they should then be killed.

But neither should our overall political views glue our mouths shut on issues such as the teddy bear one. If the "left" can be criticized on that score, so can the Bush administration. Just today, for instance, something very similar cropped up in the context of the Saudi gang-rape victim who got 200 lashes and six months in prison for meeting with a man who was not her relative. When George Bush was asked about this issue and how it cropped up in his recent negotiations with the Saudis, this is how he answered:

President Bush said Tuesday that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah "knows our position loud and clear" on the punishment of the victim of a gang rape.

President Bush said he would be angry with a state that did not support a rape victim.

However, Bush said he did not recall having raised the issue during a recent telephone conversation with the king.

Tiptoeing around the mine fields, aren't we?

The ultimate problem here is one of false dualism. There are other solutions to these problems, at least in public debate, than staying quiet or digging up the war banners.

The Ostrich Dance

I saw an even better version of this on television once, but this is great, too. It shows the use of the dancer's body as an instrument in making art. (Also quite sexy.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

On Faithiness, for Feminists

"Faithiness" is a term coined (as far as I know) on Eschaton comments threads to describe the kind of religiosity that politicians are required to have in the U.S.. It is not faith, but "faithiness". The distinction is similar to Stephen Colbert's definition of "truthiness" as opposed to "truth." Truthiness has to do with statements which might be the most glaring lies ever but which taste, smell and sound like truth, at least to the primal political parts of our brains. Truthiness is crunchy and wholesome, even though it's really hot air.

Faithiness is something very similar. It has the smell of holiness but no substance. Politicians must declare that they believe in God, and they must give every possible sign to tell us that it is the vindictive god of the Old Testament they follow. But try to nail them down on exact details of their belief, and they turn into slippery eels. So they are not going to tell us if they would stone adulterous women, for example.

All this is quite entertaining to watch from a distance. The fundamentalists from the right want the Republican candidates to tell us that they believe in the Bible as the literal word of God (even when it conflicts with itself), and that presumably would require the stoning of lots of adulteresses. But the politicians know that being in favor of stoning would not go down terribly well with the majority of Americans. It's a tricky tightrope walk for them to say all the nice things openly and also to give the wink-wink-nod to their fundamentalist supporters.

I was thinking of this when I read that Mitt Romney is going to give a speech about his Mormon beliefs. I bet that he will not tell you anything about women's role in his religion (not good at all) or about the very interesting initial justifications for polygamy in Mormonism.

Why am I bad-mouthing religions here? Because all religions have bits which are very unsavory to outsiders, and pretty much all fundamental religions treat women horribly, and if we are going to demand faithiness from our political leaders, I, for one, certainly want to know if adulteresses will be stoned or not and if women really must spend all eternity pregnant with spirit children to populate those planets the men, now turned into gods, rule.

In short, I don't want a faithy president, a president who declares faith but doesn't say anything more about its contents. If faithiness becomes an important issue then every presidential candidate should be grilled in great detail about the exact tenets of his or her religion that will be used in the governing of this country. And those religious tenets must then be openly discussed and criticized by everyone, not just those who have the same religion.

This is not something most religious people probably want, but it seems the logical thing to do. If your religion is going to affect my life through the government for which I pay taxes, then I have the right to criticize your religion.

Some Easy-Peasy Economics on a Nasty Topic

Paul Krugman has written a very good column which explains why we just might be heading towards a bad recession, especially with the free-market-whee! guys at the helm. Here is the main reason:

How did things get so opaque? The answer is "financial innovation" — two words that should, from now on, strike fear into investors' hearts.

O.K., to be fair, some kinds of financial innovation are good. I don't want to go back to the days when checking accounts didn't pay interest and you couldn't withdraw cash on weekends.

But the innovations of recent years — the alphabet soup of C.D.O.'s and S.I.V.'s, R.M.B.S. and A.B.C.P. — were sold on false pretenses. They were promoted as ways to spread risk, making investment safer. What they did instead — aside from making their creators a lot of money, which they didn't have to repay when it all went bust — was to spread confusion, luring investors into taking on more risk than they realized.

Why was this allowed to happen? At a deep level, I believe that the problem was ideological: policy makers, committed to the view that the market is always right, simply ignored the warning signs. We know, in particular, that Alan Greenspan brushed aside warnings from Edward Gramlich, a member of the Federal Reserve Board, about a potential subprime crisis.

And free-market orthodoxy dies hard. Just a few weeks ago Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, admitted to Fortune magazine that financial innovation got ahead of regulation — but added, "I don't think we'd want it the other way around." Is that your final answer, Mr. Secretary?

This is a good time to remind all of you, my sweet and intelligent readers, that it was another financial innovation: leveraging, which made the 1929 stock market crash so vicious. The markets need oversight and the Bush administration has not been willing to provide that. Neither did the Clinton administration, really.

And the reason for that reluctance is probably that presidents can exploit the bubbles the markets create for their own purposes. The bubbles serve as the engine of the economy, until they burst. If you figure the timing out you can be out of office before the bubble bursts. But someone always must bear the consequences. Too often it is those who are least able to do so.

Early Monday Thoughts

We have snow, finally. The white shawl is lovely, muffling sounds, creating art out of the bare branches of the trees and wrapping everything into a paradoxically warm winter coat. It is a mirage of peace, and even though a mirage, I take it. For today.

If you don't feel ready for memories of hot fires and cups of chocolate after a day's skating or skiing, how about a history lesson on, say, the military-industrial complex?

Still a valid warning, sadly.

Finally, given olvlzl's post about housing for the homeless, here is a blog by a homeless man, giving his thoughts about the roofless and rootless life.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"We’re All Journalists Now"? No, Count Me Out of The Self-Pitying Press. Posted by olvlzl.

Tom Keane’s column in today’s Boston Globe Magazine is the mix of truth, fudging, piety and self-serving dishonesty which commonly happens whenever members of the scribbling class wax on about the Freedom of the Press. To mix the Pentagon Papers case, perhaps the greatest example of press responsibility in the history of the First Amendment, with Judith Miller’s covering up for crime within the executive branch for the purpose of preventing the truth being reported (ultimately to promote an unprovoked, illegal and disastrous war) is dishonest and beneath contempt.

This, Tom Keane, is why any thinking person looking at the “press” in the United States today is rethinking the meaning of “freedom of the press” and the context in which it can exist. Judith Miller was not protecting a source, she was covering up for criminals. Those criminals were in the business of breaking the law in order to silence anyone who might be tempted to report the truth in the very paper involved in the Pentagon Papers case and which had carried Joe Wilson’s debunking of the Bush II junta’s case for invading Iraq. The point that she didn’t “report” on Valerie Plame’s undercover work and so those who leaked the information to her were not “sources” is a minor one compared to the fact that a “reporter” who was a party to preventing The People finding out that Bush and Cheney were lying us into a war worse than Vietnam. The publisher of the New York Times took his sweet time in doing something about one of his star reporters acting like a hack for political criminals, she’d been promoting Bush War II in the guise of reporting all along.

The freedom of the press is not like an individual's freedom of speech. It is not a right held by individuals, it isn’t in any way an inherent right due to nature or nature’s God. It’s a right given to corporate entities with potentially more power than the voice of any individual. A right given to an entity more powerful than an individual should be given only for a very practical reason. If The People are to govern themselves they have to have as much of the truth, an understanding as close to reality as it is possible for us to have. The press gets freedom to publish, not for its enrichment or because of some airy-fairy notion of freedom of thought, it gets that freedom only to the extent that it serves its purpose of informing the public. When it neglects or gives up its purpose of informing the public it gives up its right to freedom. Our press has largely given up that purpose and, in a rather frighteningly elegant example of consequences following actions, the very establishment that it serves in opposition to The People is limiting its rights to freely publish. It’s not The People who are the problem, Tom Keane, it’s those whose boots the subservient media lick. NOT that most of the press will care. They aren’t in the business of reporting the facts, they are in the business of selling advertising and boosting circulation by pandering to the lowest in human weakness for sensation and the stimulation afforded by hate and resentment. It’s the fact that the corporate party has the ability to maximize those profits which has led the“free press” to choose who it will serve.

A Free people aren’t the ones who are destroying press freedom, it’s the ones corrupted by commercial media and the thugs they are told to vote for. That might not be a fact of life they taught you in law school but it’s a fact that is absolutely basic to a real understanding of what is necessary for freedom of the press to exist at all. But you won’t find that reality by juggling legal terms and bandying names of famous cases hashed out in courtrooms and law journals. You get it by facing the facts as they exist in real life. That's a reporter's job. Reporters who find the facts and report them, they're the only real journalists. The rest of us are just parasites which die without our hosts.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Does The Cooper-Hewitt Citation Make The Mad Housers Respectable? Posted by olvlzl.

When they retired from the farm, my grandparents lived in “the little house”, about 16 feet square, four rooms and a water closet. There was also an outhouse in a tiny, unattached shed. Though it was a perfectly good place for two people to live and they had lived there with two of their children early in their marriage, it would probably never be allowed today. At least not unless it was on wheels.

The tiny house movement is a good thing, a rational reaction to the absurd mega-mansions that people have been gulled into wanting. Seems that a lot of people are rethinking letting a large house and mortgage eat up their lives. While some of the tiny houses are jewels of traditional and modern architecture, those are out of the income range of many who you really need a tiny house. As the Cooper Hewitt exhibit which featured the Mad Housers pointed out, there are 90% of the world who need to get through a life as well.

The Mad Housers began in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s a group which builds tiny shacks for homeless people where they can sleep and get out of the elements. The houses are built by volunteers of donated materials and then turned over to the people they are built for. Their website shows two basic models, with plans. There is the 6x8' house with a sleeping loft and the 4x8' “low rider” for situations in which the housing has to be really inconspicuous. In northern climates they would have to include insulation, even with the tiny, funky home-made wood stoves they provide. While I’m not sure about the stoves, they say they’ve got a good record of safety. Still, I’d like to see one before I decide on it.

The Housers, like any well thought out shoestring group, has to be very careful about where they expend their limited resources and volunteer time. While the placement of the huts is often of marginal legality, there are some situations more marginal than others. I’m impressed at their practicality and realism. Some of their clients use the huts as a way to get out of destitution some of their clients are so down and out that they will probably never climb out.

Lending people money at a ruinous rate of interest, risking their falling into destitution is not only legal, it’s encouraged by banking and lending laws. Providing housing for people living in the rough makes you an outlaw. Sometimes, at least. In their FAQ there is one dealing with the advisability of providing housing for people without houses as if being disparately poor without a place to sleep wasn’t bad enough. Somewhere in the things I read for this post someone asks if people would rather have someone sleeping in their doorway or in one of these huts. Maybe that question is the best answer.

About Hapenings in Rochester, NH. Posted by olvlzl.

I live close enough to Rochester, New Hampshire so that two members of my immediate family were locked down in the schools and a number of friends were directly effected by the hostage crisis at Hillary Clinton’s headquarters. From what is known now, the local and State Police handled the crisis very professionally and I thank them for that. Even if it had happened thousands of miles away, their not attempting to become media personalities during the standoff is very much appreciated. The hyper-hype that the cabloids and broadcast impose on situations like this is more of an incentive to crack-pots and marginal personalities in search of attention than it is useful to the People. As if the media are in the business of providing people with useful information instead of sensational ratings fodder. While nothing can be done about the shameless and irresponsible media spreading every last rumor and air-filling lie, it’s not something that the police and others are required to participate in. The time to give the public the facts is when those are known. Until the crisis is over, the police have work other than to provide CNN with something to fill in between commercials.

Someone I talked to this morning wondered where Anderson Cooper and the other media people were going to spend the night. As luck would have it, I intended to write about Rochester today anyway. This article by Conor Makem from the Rochester Times earlier last month is about the mostly unremarked crisis in homelessness and hunger in one of the more well-off areas of the country.

ROCHESTER It's 3 p.m. and Nancy Lawrence is calming down one of her volunteers over the phone. The residents of the Homeless Center for Strafford County are beginning to show up for the evening. The parking lot is full.

Lawrence, the executive director, is frazzled. The center has never been this full so early in the season. They opened Oct. 1 and were full three days later. Normally they don't have this many residents until after Thanksgiving. There are 10 adults and 10 children, aged 1 to 11 years.

"I turn away two to five families a day," she said. "I've turned away a few people before, but never like this."

She notes that every homeless shelter in the area is full. Lawrence is housing a pregnant woman due within days, she has fewer volunteers than in recent years and she has taken to loaning money out of her pocket to residents. She expects it to get worse.

"Our food pantry is wicked low," she said.

No one really expected the national media that descends on New Hampshire every Presidential election, to cover every hot dog eaten by the candidates to find this story, now, did we. How often do they report on destitution in their own towns?

Rochester and the surrounding towns aren’t in particularly bad economic condition. Since homelessness and hunger are that bad in Rochester and the surrounding towns it’s certainly a lot worse in most places. I don’t know if there is a tie in with the hostage-taking and bomb threat to be made but there could be. The suspect is known in the area, there was at least one rather marginally rational letter printed in a local paper and there have been enough domestic and other incidents with police to have gotten his name in the news. I think he’s probably been in rather disparate need of some kind of psychiatric help for a while now, his neighbors say he’s been unemployed for months. His wife had just filed for divorce last week so it’s quite possible that he or she would soon have ended up homeless. A lot of people have fallen from father up the economic scale than they were. There are a lot of people just barely holding on by their fingernails even in relatively well off places.

The backlash against people who were living on the street and very conspicuously not those in a position to house them was some of the foul gas that fueled the rise of Rudolph Giuliani, objectively the seamiest and most compromised major candidate in the race. Not that the delicate noses of the DC based press can smell the taint. How much do you want to bet that somehow, Hillary Clinton will be made to pay more of a price for the incident in Rochester than Giuliani will have to for his associations with criminals and sleaze. Not that anyone here would take that bet. None of us is going to be surprised when it turns out to be her fault, I’m sure that some hate-talk personality has already floated the soon-to-be reported as having-been-said lie that she planned it as a campaign stunt. Some things are a sure bet.

More about this later.