Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Smiling Face On The Surface Of The Cesspool Posted by olvlzl

Will Huckabee still get away with his cloying and rapidly congealing niceness act now that he’s hired the professional thug, Ed Rollins? He might since he’s paid no price for the news that he’s getting advice from the, perhaps, marginally less repugnant Dick Morris. Funny company that preacher man keeps. Maybe it's because his free ride seems to be ending as his rivals look at his public record and nest feathering for ammunition. If that's it, boy is it going to get dirty.

The Republican field for the presidential nomination are notable for not having a decent man among them. Even Bush II era Republican voters, who are a mighty hard-hearted bunch themselves, seem to have noticed, which could account for the fluidity of the poll results. Huckabee’s late rise to the top is due to his ability to pass as being less repellent than Romney or Giuliani. His syrupy style is what passes as nice these days. Is it “heartland nice”? Will it play in New Hampshire? He’s not really their style but they might vote for Huckabee if he comes out of Iowa looking stronger than the other frauds, but with a cynical smirk.

f Obama wins the nomination it will be interesting to know if Rollins’ past use of suppression of the African-American vote becomes an issue. We should definitly make it one. Attempted voter suppression should be a felony in a democracy, one that carries a serious prison term and a harshly punitive fine. Especially when it is a continuation of suppressing the vote on the basis of ethnicity.

Democrats should stop attacking each other and begin going after the Republicans. Whoever wins the nomination will be up against a bunch of sociopaths who have everything to gain by being ever less principled. The most useful thing they can show Democratic voters is how effective they will be at going after the Republicans. You would think running against total corruption would be easier than this. I hope that Hillary Clinton learned something from her experience with Dick Morris. Whoever it was who advised the Clintons to take his advice should have no part in any other Democratic campaign.

The Naked Desmond Morris

Desmond Morris has written yet another book in his "naked" series. The first one was The Naked Ape, many decades ago. The new one is called The Naked Man. Its thesis is that men are smarter than women, more creative than women and that the history of human beings is the history of men. From a review of the book:

Try to name history's top ten women artists, scientists, composers, dictators, heroines or explorers. You can probably trawl your mind and come up with a few examples - especially in those categories involving humane work.

I can think of Marie Curie, Rosamund "DNA" Franklin and the astronomer Jill Tarter (who runs an alien-detection institute and discovered dwarf stars). We've had Boudicca (vanquisher of the Romans) and Margaret Thatcher (who gave the Argentines an equally bloody nose). Also, arguably, our three greatest monarchs have been queens, not kings.

But, by and large, the inescapable conclusion is that the history of humanity is the history of man, not of woman.

For every great woman there have been 100 - even 1,000 - great men in the same field.

This is, of course, a contentious thesis, but a new book by anthropologist Desmond Morris attempts not only to explain why this is so, but also to contest that those reports of the death of masculinity (trumpeted by so many feminist thinkers) have almost certainly been exaggerated.

The Naked Man takes a (perhaps unfashionable) look at the triumph of the human male - and examines the wonder of evolution that is the male body.

Morris's study could not have come at a more opportune time, as the very concept of masculinity is being derided on so many fronts. Male traits such as aggression, singlemindedness, linear-thinking, devotion to facts and love of competition are under attack in today's femininised world.

Today's feminized world? I wonder what color the sky is there, and if they also have wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Anyway, what is so startlingly new and wonderful about Morris's study is the reasons for the immense male superiority. It has to do with hunting by the prehistoric man. The story goes like this:

Next, Morris takes the argument further to explain the dominance of men over women.

Hunting, he argues, was a dangerous, high- octane pursuit. It made little sense for the females to put themselves in harm's way - they were far more valuable to the tribe's future than men because, of course, human survival depended upon their fertility,

So men, who were expendable, went out with the spears while the women stayed behind - a pattern that (minus the spears) has persisted long after our hunter-gatherer days were over.

As a result, the male brain became progressively more adventurous, more aggressive and more cunning.

Morris doesn't bother to explain how the intelligent brain became something that only the men inherited. Neither does he explain what evidence we have of the importance of hunting for the prehistoric tribes (one theory proposes scavenging as the real major activity of those hunters). I have read that the vast majority of the foods of recent hunter-gatherer tribes come from the gathering activity, and that the role of the hunting activity is relatively minor.

Morris does not explain how he knows that hunting was something all males did. It's much more likely that gathering is what all the members of the tribe did, most of the time, and that at least some hunting expeditions used all members of the tribe, too.

In short, we don't have evidence on the kind of division of labor he posits, and neither do we have any evidence of how that wonderful male brain was kept from being passed on to the daughters as well as to the sons if it existed in the first place.

Note also that we have no idea if not going hunting was any safer than going hunting. It might not have been, because we know nothing about the actual living circumstances of those prehistoric humans. We don't even know if the women were left behind or not.

In any case, none of this is the point of the book. The point of the book is that men deserve to dominate over women:

Around 10,000 years ago, the human male was perhaps at the pinnacle of his powers. Totally in command, the alpha-hunter, with a quick mind and an athletic body to match, was the world's most powerful animal, dominant over all other species and over his fellow humans.

How do we know this? Not also that those "fellow humans" means "women."

Then agriculture was invented and the end of the glorious hunter power ended. Who invented agriculture? Of course we have no way of knowing, but if it was so bad for men it must have been invented by women, except that according to Morris women don't invent things. Those poor, puny female brains didn't develop, you see. So it must have been men who invented agriculture. But why did they invent something that ended the glorious era of the chest-thumping hunters?

Perhaps the book tells us that in great detail. Anyway, this is how men coped with the ending of hunting as the supposedly major way of acquiring food:

According to Morris, the solutions were twofold. First, Man invented war. Rival males were treated as prey to be hunted down and killed, much like animals were before them. This, says Morris, "gave the risk-hungry male all the dangers he could dream of, and as weapons became more and more sophisticated, far more dangerous than he had ever envisaged".

If war and sport hunting had become the only two ways in which the male brain could respond to the emasculation brought about by the farming era, then we would truly have been in trouble. But, happily, there is another side to the male brain.

That is its creativity combined with curiosity. The ability to concentrate and cooperate towards a long-term goal, an ability forged in the primeval chase, could be put to good use.

The result was the fascinating development of human society: buildings and roads, technology and art, music and literature, the whole of science and industry.

These are all, Morris argues, great fruits of the human male brain.

He says: "The human male has had the most impact on the planet than any other life form. Women are responsible and men are more playful and it is this playfulness that is our species' greatest achievement."

Even men who are not great scientists or artists can still put their male brains to good use. In the everyday environment of the modern workplace, it is men who tend to be more competitive, put in longer hours, get a bigger thrill out of success and getting one over on their colleagues.

The hunting pack of old even has its echo in modern bonding activities, such as drinking sessions after work and group attendance at football matches.

Equally the male habit of collecting items - from stamps to train numbers - harks back to men bringing home the kill.

That last bit about collecting is something that Simon Baron-Cohen has promoted in his theories about the male and female brains. Too bad that the questionnaire he uses for measuring collecting interest is biased. He never asks if a person collects Barbi dolls or teapots or antique lace, only if a person collects something such as coins or stamps. He also never seems to have gone to a flea market or checked out the membership lists of collectors' clubs. Collecting is a human activity. But once you make up a biased questionnaire and publish its results the other evo-psychos can use your findings as a fact.

Note also that if collecting instincts had anything at all to do with the prehistoric division of labor it should be the women who now collect madly. After all, they were presumably the gatherers.

So women don't bond, I guess. Neither is the work that women have traditionally done seen as one that requires creativity or brains in general. Bringing up children probably just happens, with no need to think hard or to learn to bond or to develop language or psychological skills or skills in medicine or problem solving in general. Only hunting can do that.

You know what is funny? These kinds of stories are a dime a dozen, but responding to all of them, one at a time, is real work. We need some biologists and psychologists and geneticists to get together and write a proper book on the issues.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Pet Blogging

These pictures are by Darryl Pearce. The top two ones are of Mali:

And the next two ones of Czar:

The bottom picture is one I have posted before, from VAM. It's a picture of Lapland at daytime during this dark time of the year.

Being Savaged

Michael Savage shows us how sexism is done:

On the December 12 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Michael Savage referred to Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as "yentas," said Harman should "[g]o home and cook verenikis," and suggested that the three were in office because they "have rich husbands who put them in power with their money, so they could have a little hobby in between getting their nails done." Savage later asked his "board operator" if he would rather "be waterboarded for 30 seconds or eat Jane Harman's ravioli" and whether he'd rather "be waterboarded or eat Nancy Pelosi's tortellini."

After playing a clip of Harman saying, "I think waterboarding, which -- another name for which is the Chinese water torture, is torture, and I think that John McCain is right, that if we ..." Savage interrupted and said:

SAVAGE: Aw, shut up, will you, you yenta. Get this yenta off. Go home and cook verenikis, OK? Do the American people a favor, and go home and cook. Go home. Go home and cook better instead of wasting our time with your stupid feelings. We don't care about your feelings. Now what would you recommend, Jane Harman? To get information from hardened men like this, who would slaughter their own people in a mosque. Who kill their fellow Muslims without any thought about it. What would you do to get information out of them, Jane? Probably have them listen to you and Barbara Boxer have a conversation for a few minutes, could break them faster than waterboarding.

He employs the very common device of telling women to shut up and to go home and cook. I've seen this used all over the world whenever women speak up on something. They are no longer in their proper place and should be returned there. He then adds the common assertion that women are too emotional, and to top it off he adds the reference to a conversation between the two women as something that would be torture to listen to. You can add your own biases as to why this would be so awful: are women perhaps too talkative or too stupid?

Now I know that criticizing Savage is like shooting fish in a barrel. I don't do it for that reason. I do it to point out what the existence of programs like his tell us about the American culture and its power structure. Try a mental reversal by imagining a female Savage saying something equally sexist about male politicians.

What do you think the response would be, assuming that such a woman would ever get a politial talk show? It certainly wouldn't be the response I often get when writing about people of this ilk, which is to ignore them. Tune out. Pretend that they don't say what they are saying, and pretend that they don't talk to a believing audience.

Why Young Women Fear the Feminist Label. Or: The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall and Rise of Feminism.

Feminism as a movement, like most political movements, comes in waves. Feminism as a movement is different from feminism as an ideology, and when critics argue that young women are not that interested in feminism they really refer to the movement concept rather than the ideology concept. Polls suggest that the vast majority of young women agree with the ideological goals of feminism: equality of opportunity for both women and men. But whether they belong to a feminist movement depends on the zeitgeist of a historical era. And the era we live in is not an era of a major feminist movement, though it just might be the birth throes of one.

I have read several articles in the last fifteen years or so about the death of feminism. That is a favorite topic in the trend-making business, of course, but the frequency of those articles also reflects something deeper, which is that many people wish and hope for the death of feminism. Some do so, because they don't like the feminist demands. Things are so much simpler if social norms and rules are not criticized, and life is much cozier for those whom the norms and rules favor. Others do so, because they want the business of feminism done, the world fixed, and the society perfected.

Well, neither of those groups will be happy, because feminism is an ongoing project. Neither feminists nor the gender-based injustices they fight will go away on some near-future date, though at times it may look like it. The feminist movement will ebb and wax, and the anti-feminist movement will follow that ebbing and waxing, too. This doesn't mean that the same battles are won over and over again. The battles change, from those early ones demanding women some legal rights within the family (such as the right to own property) to the battle for female suffrage to the battle for equal access in the labor markets and for the end of sexual violence to future battles which we can't yet quite define.

Two approaches have helped me in understanding feminism in this context. One is looking at the history of feminist movements. This shows how ideas about gender equality follow the wave pattern of a feminist advance, an anti-feminist backlash, a lull of some indeterminate length, another feminist wave and so on. (I'm not, however, convinced that the feminist wave is somehow the cause and the anti-feminist wave a response. It might be the other way round, at least in some cases. Reading about the 1950's suggests to me that misogyny and the oppression of women intensified during that period, compared to the 1940's, and that the Second Wave of feminism grew out of that. But the major point is to note the wavelike pattern over time.)

It was pretty upsetting to learn about the inevitability of the backlashes, but knowing that they will come helps in keeping optimistic in the longer run. Yes, progress does seem to advance with two steps forward and one step back, but the net result is that things are getting better.

The inevitable backlashes against feminism are also linked to the question of why more young women today won't call themselves feminists. Here is a quote on the topic:

Modern young a strong hostility to the word "feminism," and all which they imagine it to connote. They are, nevertheless, themselves the products of the women's movement.

Can you guess the year when this quote by Ray Strachey was published (in a book called Our Freedom and Its Results)?

The year was 1936, and the feminist movement the quote refers to is the movement to get women the right to vote. But something very similar is being written about young women today, and it helps to put it all into a historical context.

Another useful approach in analyzing the feminist movement is to look at the life cycle of successful social and political mass movements. Feminism is unlikely to differ from other types of movements, and understanding how such movements are created, how they grow and how they ultimately weaken and die (at least within that historical period) can let us understand the current stage of feminism, too.

A movement begins when there is some cause for it to exist and when the time and place for action are favorable. Thus, social mass movements tend to be less successful in authoritarian countries where the government applies violence to keep the population quiet, and social movements tend not to be created around trivial injustices. As the movement becomes better known its support also grows, and so does the resistance to its goals. The larger the movement the more likely it is to be successful, in the sense of getting at least some of its goals met. Paradoxically, these victories contain the seed of the movement's ultimate death, because working for such a movement is exhausting and intense and the costs of doing so start looming larger when the most urgent victories are already achieved. At the same time, the resistance to the movement's goal often reaches its major force around this time. It has learned how to effectively smear the movement and its goals and it is angered by the victories of the movement.

This is the point when many active members of the movement drop out, in order to have a life, as they say. Those who still remain tend to have more "extreme" demands. These demands are unlikely to be met, given the reduced resources of the movement and the increased resistance to its goals. Ultimately, even the most diehard members of the movement end their active participation in the movement.

It is interesting to apply this to the First or Second Waves of feminism. The First Wave was effectively over when women got the right to vote, despite the many other goals of that movement which remained unmet. Getting the vote was enough to reduce the impetus for change, and the backlash era followed. The Second Wave succeeded in creating more gender-equal conditions in the labor markets and in education. It also reframed the debate on sexual violence against women. These were major achievements, but the movement failed to get lasting change in the sexual division of labor at home or the way women's sexuality is treated in general.

Both periods were followed by backlash eras, eras when feminism was redefined to apply only to the most "extreme" demands of some in the movement. We are still living the end of that latter backlash era.

This is the way I look at the question posed in the title of this post. If young women don't support feminism as a movement it is because of the historical period we live in and because of the ubiquity of anti-feminist definitions of feminism in the popular culture. Nobody likes being called a man-hater and unfuckable, and those are the kinds of definitions feminists are often defined by. Add to all this the general way we human beings tend to view the world through the lens of our own lifetime only, and it becomes pretty easy to understand why coming out as a feminist isn't exactly the in-thing to do. But given the wavelike patterns of history, this, too, can change. Perhaps even quite soon. It all depends on how strong the current anti-woman wave in politics might become.

How does this explanation strike you? I like it, on the whole, though I should warn you that there is no natural law which states that the wavelike pattern of past feminist movements must continue into the future.

More Fun and Sexy Economic Analysis for You

Courtesy of Paul Krugman who writes about the new income inequality measures on his blog. The data now available comes to 2005. This is how after-tax incomes grew from 2003 to 2005:

Bottom quintile: 2%
Next quintile: 2.4%
Middle quintile: 3.9%
Fourth quintile: 3.7%
Top quintile: 16%

Top 10%: 20.9%
Top 5%: 27.7%
Top 1%: 43.5%

And what does this econobabble mean in plain English? The bottom quintile refers to the poorest 20% of all earners. The next quintile refers to the 20% which earn more than the poorest 20% but less than all the other Americans, and so on. The top quintile consists of the richest 20% of the country.

(NOTE: A commenter in the thread called the following popularization effort "craptacular math illiteracy", and the person is correct in that the effort doesn't work. I was trying to figure out how to make the percentage increases more meaningful for someone who doesn't like statistics, but I used the wrong base in the attempt.)

One way of making sense of the percentages is to think of the people as being just one hundred income-earners and the gains in income of being an extra 100 chocolate donuts. In this version, the data tells us that the poorest twenty people got two extra donuts for the whole group, whereas the richest person (the top 1% equivalent) got 43 additional donuts. And half a donut over that.

Clearly income inequality is getting worse. Krugman links to an article which addresses the question whether income inequality increases more under Republican administrations. The answer appears to be an affirmative one, but the reasons for that are not quite clear. This is because the presidents' power to affect income inequality is usually seen to lie in tax and transfer policies, and these affect after-tax income inequality. But the article found that Democratic presidencies seem to be associated with less pre-tax income inequality. In other words, Democratic administrations were found to be correlated with less unemployment and greater Gross Domestic Products (the value of what the country produces within a year).

It could be that the Democratic administrations have just been lucky in terms of the general economic conditions. Or it could be that the macroeconomic policies the Democrats pursue are more likely to keep the economy strong. It could even be that Republican administrations want greater income inequality and let that determine the macroeconomic policies they pursue.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On the Permanence of the Self and Knitting

The zen post of the week? I doubt it. But I have been re-infected by the knitting virus, and all I want to do right now is to knit, knit, knit! I want to knit a new world, with better looking presidents! Their noses with be cables, their eyes will be done with intarsia, and their teeth will be long rows of Fair Isle knitting in all tones of yellow!

Did I ever mention that I was forced to knit at school as a very tiny goddess with uncoordinated fingers? Did I mention that the product of my attempts looked like a very large black knot, even though the wool was pink? The teacher used to unravel my work and do it up herself, and in my first report card ever I failed crafts. Failed crafts, at the age of six! Me? This cannot stand, I decided. Well, not really. I decided to hate knitting and crocheting and all those other horrible stuff you do with sharp weapons.

But the school system in Finland forced me to knit socks and mittens, and somehow I learned the techniques without wanting to. This came in handy many years later when I actually decided that crafts can be fun and a way to invert the patriarchal rules for women. (Check out the website listed at the top of this blog for some of my examples.) Since then I have knitted many, many sweaters, vests, cardigans, mittens, scarves and hats, though to this day I will not knit socks, probably because the one pair I was made to knit at school had too narrow ankle openings for an adult foot, yet the length of the foot part was much more than the average shoe size of an adult man. They were snake socks, I guess.

Anyway, to return to the title of this post, when I knit I knit. I hardly sleep, I forget to eat, and I don't care that my fingers ache like hell, because I'm living in this wonderful world where everything is made out of colors and patterns and warmth.

Then, one day, I wake up and wonder what madness overtook me. I put the wools away and sell all my knitting books. And I stay sane for a year or two or even five, and I'm convinced that I shall never knit again. Until the next bout happens.

So the point of this story is that I think the Buddhists have it right. We don't have a permanent self. We have a knitting self and then the sane self which hates knitting.

Do you think this could explain the existence of political parties?

I'm knitting the sweater on the left in that top picture right now. Click on the picture to see it in more detail.

Parsing A Meme

That doesn't sound like a fun thing to do, does it? But someone must do it, I guess, and that might as well be me. The meme in question has to do with the argument that the Democratic Congress gets lower approval ratings than George Bush. This, according to many right-wing blogs, means that the Democrats have disgusted the American voters in less than a year and that the Republicans will retake the Congress soon.

Now, the Congress does get low approval ratings, and they are probably deservedly low. Still, it is important to note that it is the Republicans in Congress who get the really low ratings, not the Democrats. Perhaps the voters don't like their obstructionist tactics?

It is also worth noting that the approval ratings of the Congress have been low since the 1970's. Why that is the case would be an interesting question to study, but it is generally true that the respondents in various polls never like the Congress very much.

None of this is meant to argue that the low Congressional approval ratings wouldn't matter. They do, of course, especially when compared to the historical averages in the same category. But it's incorrect to compare these ratings to the ratings of George Bush, unless we are willing to expand the comparisons to earlier presidents, too.

The Political Achievements of the Day

Glenn Greenwald points out that the Democrats in the Congress have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, with their usual lack of elan:

And this passage from the CNN article -- in which Democrats try to explain that they didn't completely capitulate in every single way possible -- is one of the most pity-inducing of the year, and there is a very healthy competition for that distinction:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic lawmakers and staffers privately say they're closing in on a broad budget deal that would give President Bush as much as $70 billion in new war funding. The deal would lack a key provision Democrats had attached to previous funding bills calling for most U.S. troops to come home from Iraq by the end of 2008, which would be a significant legislative victory for Bush.

Still, Democrats are trying to sell $70 billion in new war funding as a partial victory for them. They point out that while the final numbers are still in flux during intense private negotiations, Bush is likely to get far less money than he originally requested.

"What is for sure is he will not get all $200 billion," said one senior Democratic lawmaker. "Whatever number it is, it is much less than what the president asked for. For the first time in this war, he has received less than his request."

But senior administration officials privately say they expect to be able to get at least of the rest of the president's $200 billion request passed through Congress next year.

For Congressional Democrats, the "victory" they are touting is that they are only giving Bush $70 billion for the war now, and they won't give him the other $130 billion he is demanding until they return in a few weeks. They really showed him.

Watching all this makes my head go dizzy. Yes, I know that the Democrats don't have the votes to do all the things that should be done, but where is their backbone?

Where is their determination to rein George Bush in? We must not forget that the desire for someone to put some brakes on that recklessly careening train that is the Bush administration was the real reason why the Congress finally got a Democratic majority. But we are still in that train, heading for a bridge that has collapsed, and all the major Democratic politicians can do is to pat each others on the back for not immediately sucking the toes of this administration.

And how does the Democratic Party feel about its base: those dirty fucking hippies (as Atrios named them) who put time, effort, money and time into getting the Democrats elected? The rumor is that the Democrats ignore the base because it has nowhere else to go. Its votes are in the bag, and now is the time to court the fundamentalist Evangelicals for their votes instead. As if most of the fundamentalist Evangelicals would ever relinquish the Republican Party where they can run the family division to their hearts' content.

In other news today, the Bush administration is refusing to cut back greenhouse gases, and nobody can make it play along:

An international impasse deepened here Thursday over U.S. refusal to accept specific targets in a "road map" toward reaching a worldwide climate agreement by 2009, as European leaders threatened to boycott the parallel process that President Bush launched with great fanfare a month and a half ago.

Throughout a week of negotiations on the island of Bali, Bush administration officials have steadily resisted a United Nations proposal calling on industrialized countries to accept a goal of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020. In retaliation, several European officials said they may not attend the next installment of the White House-sponsored "major economies meeting" on global warming, which is set to resume next month in Honolulu.

So it goes. Like little children bickering while the earth is slowly preparing to throw the human lice infestation off its skin.

Then there is this example of how much the Congress gets done:

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to hold a present and a former aide to President Bush in contempt of Congress, but no one expects them to be dragged before the lawmakers anytime soon.

By 12 to 7, the committee voted citations against Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff, and Karl Rove, the president's former chief political adviser, for refusing to comply with subpoenas in a Congressional inquiry into the firings of nine federal prosecutors.

The committee vote sends the issue to the full Senate. But it is by no means clear that the chamber, not noted for speedy action, will vote on the charges soon. Mr. Bolten already faces contempt charges in the House, as does Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, over the prosecutors' firings.

"I vote for the contempt citations knowing that it's highly likely to be a meaningless act," said Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the judiciary panel's ranking Republican. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa was the other Republican who joined the panel's 10 Democrats in voting for contempt charges.

Depressing, is it not? I should note that the main reason for the Democrats' apparent impotency is naturally the Republican resistance in the Congress. The Democrats don't have the kinds of votes the new rules now seem to require. Somehow a simple majority no longer works for anything, because the Republicans are gaming the system to keep the Democrats from getting anything much done.

But it didn't stop the passing of that Representative Steve King bill about praising Christians all over the world. It passed 372 to 9 in the House. So it goes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Religion Than I Need

This has been one of those days when I bump into someone else's gods all the time. First there was Representative Steve King proposing that the United States Congress reassures Christians, that oppressed minority of this world:

Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;

Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

Whereas Christians identify themselves as those who believe in the salvation from sin offered to them through the sacrifice of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible;

Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;

Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its roots in Christianity;

Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;

Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace; and

Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

(2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

(3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

(5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

(6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.

Why is he so very fragile in his faith? Why is it so fashionable for Christians, that powerful majority, to see themselves as haunted, persecuted and oppressed? Of course I know the answer. Representative King is pandering to the fundamentalist Christians whom the Republican Party has carefully cultivated in victimhood. That victimhood is defined as not being allowed to trample over everybody else.

Nothing much will probably come from all that whereassing, but that is not Mr. King's goal, either. He just wants to fan the flames of the persecuted Christians and to disguise the fact that the Republicans aren't giving them what they want: Our liberal heads on a platter. (See? I have read the Bible many times from cover to cover.)

If that wasn't enough to make a snake goddess grumpy, consider this video cartoon explaining the basics of the Mormon religion. The video is probably not a neutral description of what happens to Mormons after death, as shown by the comments in the attached thread. But the faith surely does look misogynistic for me: women are mere birthing vessels, both here on earth and also in eternity. They don't get to sit at the board meeting of the gods, either. Perhaps this is not a correct representation of the Mormon faith?

Isn't it odd how important gender is for the religious men? I recently read that pope Ratzo believes men will be men in eternity and women will be women in eternity, even though there will be no sex at all. Islam is a little fuzzy on whether women go to the Paradise after death or not, though men can certainly enter it. And of course Christianity worships the Father and the Son but says nothing at all about the Mother or the Daughter. All this sounds to me the way things would be if men had created gods in their own images.

My Feminist Pet Peeves. Part II: Nitpicking Accusations

I once wrote about the armpit hair wars, and called that one of my feminist pet peeves. This post shall serve as the second installment in the series, and it is about How All Really Is the Fault of PC Feminists.

This is how the story goes. To really appreciate it, you have to imagine a person who has never much studied feminism, who has heard about it largely through Rush Limbaugh's feminazi version and who thinks that he or she surely knows more about feminism than those uppity feminist bitches. Now imagine this person taking off the spectacles, looking down at you and wagging the right forefinger in your face while giving this speech:

Life is still horrible for many women in this world. Gender-based oppression, unequal earnings and sexual violence are serious problems, and feminists should certainly tackle them. If they did this, we would all be behind them every inch of the way. But do they tackle these weighty problems? No! They choose to nitpick over the honorable English language, fighting a pointless and unwinnable war against the lack of a gender-neutral third person singular. They choose to pretend that women are but men without that awkward dangling thing between the legs. They become a laughing-stock in all thinking circles.

They have killed feminism by their nitpicking and by their denial to admit that women really can't do science. They have left all those women in real need to suffer and die, and they have killed feminism as an ideology. Young women shun the label, because they don't want to be associated with those lunatics who insist that women should be called womb-men or womb-daughters and who want everyone to use readaughtering instead of reasoning. And everybody knows that men are warriors and women are nurses, but feminists have nothing constructive to say about that. And Barbi was right: Math is hard for girls.

See how difficult writing satire in this field is? I tried to do that, but I have gotten something like that exact speech more times than I can remember, and it is always presented with great authority. Let us now parse it with the same great authority.

Note first that the real and grave injustices that women still face: oppression, rape and even being killed for their gender in some countries, are somehow all problems that only the feminists should try to solve. The rest of the society can just sit back and criticize the feminist attempts, almost like those ice-skating judges at the Olympics. Though of course they would applaud should the feminists actually solve all those frighteningly large problems, without much external funding and while being criticized of nitpicking and various forms of lunacy. But are these problems not the responsibility of the rest of the humankind to solve? It appears not. Only the feminists are expected to fix the world for billions of women.

Next, the nitpicking accusations. Nits, by the way, are eggs of the head lice, so picking them off makes excellent sense. But that is not what our wise critic means by those accusations. The meaning has to do with feminists focusing on trivialities, on things which don't matter, compared to rape and honor killings. And focusing on trivialities makes feminists look ridiculous. Besides, others always have the right to judge what a feminist does, says or writes. Sometimes they nod approvingly, mostly they urge her to try harder and to focus on the Correct Topics.

That there might be something deeper in the trivial topics some feminists (read: Echidne) chooses is lost on the critics. This something deeper is twofold: First, language matters. It matters that the most common insults in the unmoderated parts of the blog threads are about the object of the insult taking the female position in sex (blow me! bend over!). It matters that a politician who is viewed as bought is called someone's bitch. It matters that "whores" are a common term of denigration, too. It even matters when a politician gives a speech with references to great statesmen, not to stateswomen, and it matters because of what the images might be that our brains create from that speech, and how those images then become expectations having to do with how a politician should look (masculine).

Second, trivialities are sometimes trivial for only those who are not affected by them. Suppose that you are bitten by mosquitoes while your friend is not. You go out for a camping holiday together. You get bitten in the morning, your friend does not. You get bitten at noon, your friend does not. You get bitten in the afternoon, your friend does not. You get bitten all evening at the campfire while your friend enjoys some marshmallows. You then scratch like mad and swear and rant, and your friend suggests that you pay far too much attention to such trivialities as mosquito bites. Then you kill your friend.

The trivialities I sometimes write about are a little like those mosquito bites. If you are a woman you will be affected by them a lot more than if you are a man. Only yesterday I was unable to get a reasonable answer from the boiler repairman. He would look through me and mumble something. I had to call the firm to find out what he fixed and why. There was a time when I would have thought that I just happened to get the one grumpy repairman or that I said something wrong or that he had a bad day or whatever. But I have learned that my experience has a lot more to do with being female than anything else, though I'm also glad to note that these incidents are getting less common with the younger guys.

Returning to the points in the sermon, note all the strawmen in it. All feminists say the same thing, all feminists deny the existence of innate gender differences, all feminists squeak with the same tone of voice, against the implacable burden of scientific (read:anti-feminist) evidence. And note that men are "warriors", not "killers" in that sermon, while women have "nursing" talents and not "curing" talents.

The final point in the sermon has to do with young women refusing to be feminists because of horrible nitpicking feminists like me. To address that properly will take a separate post, perhaps called The Fall And Rise And Fall And Rise... of Feminism.

But a concise answer to that accusation might be that it is the Rush Limbaughs and their feminazi labels which have made feminism less popular than it really should be, given that people, including women, don't actually love to be hated. Though right now I think that the idea that feminists are to fix the world, without pay, for all women while the rest of humans sit in the audience giving style points and drinking beer is also a very good reason not to come out as a feminist.

Efficiency in the FCC

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) appears to be run as a freak show:

The Federal Communications Commission's monthly meetings are scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin, the trains don't always run on time, and recently they've come close to veering off the rails.

On Nov. 27, for instance, the FCC was slated to consider controversial proposals dealing with potential new cable TV regulations and increasing women and minority ownership of broadcast stations. Journalists, lobbyists and spectators waited as the five commissioners on the fractious panel wrangled over the issues eight floors above. When they finally showed up for the public session -- nearly 12 hours late -- the few spectators remaining had front-row seats for the sniping and accusations that are threatening to become hallmarks of FCC meetings.

Critics usually blame Martin, a soft-spoken Republican known as a political tactician who has accomplished the rare feat of being criticized by all four of his fellow commissioners. He is also facing a congressional inquiry into the FCC's procedures and allegations of flawed research studies, suppressing data, ignoring public input and holding hearings with minimal notice.

"The FCC appears to be broken," Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during a hearing last week. Congressional Democrats' growing frustration with Martin could hinder his agenda. Last week, for example, a Senate committee passed legislation to delay Martin's planned vote this month on loosening media ownership rules.

In an interview, Martin said he was under fire for trying to force the FCC to deal with controversial topics. "It's not unusual for there to be tension in trying to work them out."

FCC employees and people who frequently deal with the agency said tensions were bogging down the panel. Reviews of corporate mergers and sales frequently stretch longer than the six months the agency aims for. Critics have complained that important issues -- such as the 2009 transition to digital television and reforming a fund that subsidizes phone and Internet service for low-income and rural residents -- are taking a back seat to bickering.

Pass out the popcorn, please.

Read the whole thing as they say. It is quite entertaining, and would be a lot more so if the issues the FCC is supposed to tackle weren't so important. Oh, and if they weren't getting paid from our taxes, while Martin is thumbing his nose at us.

There is a deeper point to this post, and that has to do with the question whether the voters who hate the government really wanted a government run along the lines of a very dysfunctional family.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Political Commentary as Theater Critique

Imagine that you are watching the French Revolution through the lens of the current American journalism, especially in this primary election season:

The scene: Marie Antoinette being taken to the guillotine. Commentary:
"Cindy, do you think that the color of her dress really goes with blood?"
"Well, June, she might have done better in one of those milkmaid outfits she introduced. Let's ask Mme Poissoniere in the audience, knitting away in a color out of fashion, to see what she thinks."

Or another scene: Marat lying dead in his bathtub, after being stabbed dead by Charlotte Corday:

"Max, here we are, at Marat's bathtub. Let's ask M. Marat how he feels now that he has a knife stuck in his heart. M. Marat? How does it feels to be dead?"

"Fred, he appears not to comment. Now our camera has turned to Mlle Corday, fresh from the provinces, and that sure shows in her outfit. I wonder if she is viewed as a missing white woman back in the countryside."

Or how about this scene, from the end times of the Revolution: Robespierre is taken to the same guillotines he urged for so many others.

Commentary: "Now that was a beheading! Sliced his throat like a cucumber. But Joe, don't you think that Robespierre should have wiped his nose before climbing up those stairs?"

From The Migraine Country

An electronic postcard:

Dear Friend,

Hope you, too, were here, puking and seeing odd geometric patterns in the darkness behind your eyelids. Arrival was bumpy as usual. The morning was spent on fearing that I would die, the afternoon fearing that I would not die, after all. The food here is fast. That's about the only thing I can say about it. Sounds, smells and sights are too much to bear.

I hope to start the return trip soon, via that charming stage of living in soft clouds for an hour or two.

Yours, even in pain,


Outside the Law

It must be an odd feeling, to work for one of the contractors in Iraq and to realize that you are bound by no laws. The Iraqis can't take you to court and neither can the United States. You are untouchable!

This case shows some of the possible consequences:

A Houston, Texas woman says she was gang-raped by Halliburton/KBR coworkers in Baghdad, and the company and the U.S. government are covering up the incident.

Jamie Leigh Jones, now 22, says that after she was raped by multiple men at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, the company put her under guard in a shipping container with a bed and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she'd be out of a job.

"Don't plan on working back in Iraq. There won't be a position here, and there won't be a position in Houston," Jones says she was told.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court against Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR, Jones says she was held in the shipping container for at least 24 hours without food or water by KBR, which posted armed security guards outside her door, who would not let her leave.

"It felt like prison," says Jones, who told her story to ABC News as part of an upcoming "20/20" investigation. "I was upset; I was curled up in a ball on the bed; I just could not believe what had happened."

And will the case ever come to court, anywhere? Not to a criminal court:

Over two years later, the Justice Department has brought no criminal charges in the matter. In fact, ABC News could not confirm any federal agency was investigating the case.

Legal experts say Jones' alleged assailants will likely never face a judge and jury, due to an enormous loophole that has effectively left contractors in Iraq beyond the reach of United States law.

"It's very troubling," said Dean John Hutson of the Franklin Pierce Law Center. "The way the law presently stands, I would say that they don't have, at least in the criminal system, the opportunity for justice."

So it goes.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Peacock Bravado

Sharper minds and pens have already dissected Robin Givhan's odd little piece about Hillary Clinton's fashion choices:

The pantsuit is Clinton's uniform. Hers is a mix-and-match world, a grown-up land of Garanimals: black pants with gray jacket, tan jacket with black pants, tan jacket with tan pants. There are a host of reasons to explain Clinton's attachment to pantsuits. They are comfortable. They can be flattering, although not when the jacket hem aligns with the widest part of the hips (hypothetically speaking, of course). Does she even have hips?


Women have come a long way from the time when wearing a pair of pants was considered "borrowing from the boys." So it would be highly regressive to suggest that the candidate is using trousers to heighten the perception that she can be as tough as a man. And yet . . .

And so and so on, ending with a reference to Clinton's pink jacket as an attempt to compete with the guys in peacock bravado. Such an odd ending. Peacocks are beautiful in their iridescent garb, peahens are modest little brown things. But of course the fashion for human males today is to look like peahens on steroids: no colors, but some clear indicators of status. Had Clinton really wanted to compete in that she would always wear a pinstriped suit with a burgundy tie and a little American flag in her lapel.

It doesn't matter what Hillary Clinton chooses to wear. Whatever that might be, some writer, somewhere would argue that she is manipulating her clothing to get votes. Show some cleavage? The horror! Dress in a feminine way? She is trying to pass! Dress in a masculine way? She is trying to outmacho the men. Dress neutrally? She is cold and calculating and can't even dress with some emotional warmth. Choose a flamboyant color? See! We told you she is a schemer.

She probably should campaign naked. That way nothing could be interpreted as contrived.

And yes, this is really getting to be ridiculous. At least with George Bush we were only asked to contemplate having a beer with him. We didn't have to judge whether his butt looks big in those suits he wears.

On Pink Elephants and Income Inequality

The way conservatives think about the growing income inequality in the United States is what might happen when a family picture you took in your living-room appears to have a pink elephant sitting right between Uncle Albert and Cousin Selma, on that new green couch. Your first reaction might be to deny that the elephant is there at all, and that's pretty much how conservative pundits reacted to the first news of widening income equality. But that didn't work, because with all the amendments and adjustments, the data still obstinately showed that inequality is rising.

So the pink elephant sits there, in the middle of your family picture. What to do next? Perhaps its presence could be made into something irrelevant. After all, you fit all your relatives in the picture, even with the elephant. And that seems to also have been the second stage of the conservative reactions to more inequality: It does not really matter, because today's poor are not as poorly off as the poor were, say, a hundred years ago. The poor can now afford television sets and second-hand cars and even iPods. Besides, the poor in the United States are much, much wealthier than the truly poor of this world. And as Rush Limbaugh once pointed out, the American poor are certainly not going hungry but are more likely to suffer from obesity.

The problem with this approach is that although the poor may be able to afford fast food they are much less likely to be able to afford health insurance or safe housing or college education for their children. This, in turn, makes it harder for those same children to one day climb up the societal income ladders, and the ability to climb these ladders, in terms of social mobility, is one of the basic justifications conservatives use to explain why income inequality doesn't matter that much: Today's poor are quite likely to be tomorrow's rich. Except that this no longer seems to be as true in the United States as in, say, Europe.

A slightly different way to tackle the irrelevancy of growing income differentials is to point out that the poor are mostly quite happy. The so-called happiness gap between the rich and the poor is much less than the gap in their relevant incomes. The conservative take on this is that money doesn't really matter. As Tyler Cowen stated in his New York Times op-ed piece earlier this year: "Happiness, possibly the most relevant variable for a study of inequality, is also the hardest to measure. Nonetheless, inequality of happiness is usually less marked than inequality of income, at least in wealthy societies. A man earning $500,000 a year is not usually 10 times as happy as a man earning $50,000 a year. The $50,000 earner still enjoys most of the conveniences of the modern world. Even if more money makes people happier, it appears to do so at a declining rate, which places a natural check on the inequality of happiness."

The conclusion we are perhaps to draw from this is that the rich are not to be envied for their greater affluence. But an equally likely conclusion would be that progressive taxation doesn't hurt the rich that much. They are almost as happy with a lot less money and that tax revenue could be used to finance more college scholarships for the poor.

If none of these strategies work in getting the pink elephant out of the family picture, why not resort to the Rovian strategy of arguing that a weakness is a great strength? Doesn't the pink in the elephant really bring up the green of the couch? This is also the final round of conservative debates about the rise in income inequality: It is a good thing.

Not only are income differentials necessary as a motivator for individuals to work harder, but now they are justified by something that no thinking American could oppose: greater returns to education. Employers want workers who are computer-literate and technology-smart, and they are willing to pay a premium for such workers. The less educated work is now done more cheaply abroad, so Americans who want to climb the income ladder better get educated fast.

George Will made this point early in September on the program "This Week", but the most detailed argument for it is an article "The Upside of Income Inequality" in the American's May/June issue by Gary S. Becker and Kevin M. Murphy. Becker and Murphy attribute the increasing earnings gap to education and then conclude: "For many, the solution to an increase in inequality is to make the tax structure more progressive -- raise taxes on high-income households and reduce taxes on low-income households. While this may sound sensible, it is not. Would these same individuals advocate a tax on going to college and a subsidy for dropping out of high school in response to the increased importance of education?"

The only problem with this avoidance mechanism is that the recent growth of income inequality cannot be explained away with the education argument. As Paul Krugman noted:

"Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn't a ticket to big income gains.

But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent. No, that's not a misprint.

Thus, it isn't the educated in general who are enjoying greater income growth, but a much smaller group at the very top of the income hierarchy. So much for the upside to income inequality.

What about its downside? That could be likened to finding that the pink elephant in your photograph cannot be ignored but is also growing to alarming proportions, ultimately pushing the family members out of the picture altogether. This is because increasing income differences don't only hurt those at the bottom of the income ladders but the general society. Countries with very unequal incomes have more crime, less social cohesion and greater difficulty in arriving at political agreements. Democracy itself may be endangered by too much inequality.

All this means that conservatives should stop making excuses for the elephant of rising income inequality without addressing its obvious drawbacks.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Forget The Fiction, Tell The Truth. Posted by olvlzl.

Today’s Boston Globe has an article looking at the history of Mormon history and its relationship with the church. From the 1940s onward there have been slowly spreading cracks in the wall of official Mormon mythology as academic historians, some of them with ties to Mormonism, have been looking at what actually happened as opposed to the official story. The piece points out that Mormonism, unusually for a large religion, has the problem of being such a recent innovation that large parts of its actual history are documented in some form. Reading it made me think of the tempest in a tin pot over The Golden Compass and Phillip Pullman.

The assertions that Pullman’s Dark Materials books aren’t entries in the long line of British anti-Roman Catholic propaganda are pretty flimsy. He announced his intention in no uncertain terms by calling the source of all evil The Magisterium. Anyone with the gumption to look the word up will find one definition in most English dictionaries, The Magisterium is “The teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church”. It couldn’t be clearer if he just came out and said the Pope was the whore of Babylon. They share something with the products of Chick Publications, though at the high end.

But what of if? The Roman Catholic Church has a checkered history, no doubt about it. Throughout the long centuries of its existence many of the Popes, Cardinals, Bishops and clergy of the Catholic church, many of its members, especially those holding political power, have provided so much ammunition to its enemies that you wonder why they would feel the need to make stuff up.

That long history and the enormous number of members also mean that along with the horrible acts of murder, theft, injustice, etc. there have been Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, clergy and lay members of the Roman Catholic Church who have been great examples of morality. Some consistently, most somewhat less than constantly. While those members can be asked to account for their membership in such a compromised church it shouldn’t be forgotten that few of us haven’t been associated with organizations with a checkered past or present. Being a citizen of the United States, Britain, etc. leaves us open to exactly the same questions.

If the Catholic hierarchy and it's fronts want to fend off this movie it shouldn’t resort to trotting out William “rent a religious reactionary” Donohue to come up with a non-starter like a boycott of the movie. It should finally get out front and admit to its sins. It should do what it has insisted to its members is the only way to expunge its guilt, it should confess and repent and it should do so in public. It should do so or it shouldn’t be surprised when it is susceptible to these kinds of attacks.

I will add that, as people familiar with me know, I’m not a fan of the kind of neo-humanism that Pullman promotes. I will have more to say about this in the future.

Note: You might want to consider this before deciding what you think.

While Pullman himself has said he believes 'the outline of the story is faithful to what I wrote, given my knowledge of what they have done', the National Secular Society - of which the author is an honorary associate - has now spoken out against the changes.

'It was clear right from the start that the makers of this film intended to take out the anti-religious elements of Pullman's book,' said Terry Sanderson, president of the society. 'In doing that they are taking the heart out of it, losing the point of it, castrating it. It seems that religion has now completely conquered America's cultural life and it is much the poorer for it. What a shame that we have to endure such censorship here too.'

So Terry Sanderson thinks Pullman doesn't know when his own material is being censored?

Kidman has said the critical stance of the film 'has been watered down a little ... I was raised Catholic, the Catholic Church is part of my essence,' she told film journalists in Australia in the summer. 'I wouldn't be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic.'

What a muddle. I think I'll forget about this stuff and read more history instead.

Questions About Our Free Press Posted by olvlzl.

Would (1.) Imus be back on the air after an exile of eight months and (2.) would the scribbling and chatting classes be defending his return as “free speech” if instead of reveling in gross sexism and racism he had, with equal enthusiasm, advocated a return of the progressive income tax?

When is the last time you heard a major radio or TV personality reveling in sexism and racism, when is the last time you heard strong advocacy for progressive taxation?