Saturday, January 12, 2008

Comment Repeated From a Post Below

What's the derivation of "Tweety"?

Forgive me, but it's the best joke I ever made.

Why is he called "Tweety"?

"I though I'd slob a plutocrat. I did, I did slob a plutocrat."

Repeat As Often As Needed: They Aren’t Journalists, They’re Opinionists. Posted by olvlzl

It’s been fun, of a sort, watching the media fall all over themselves as they try to explain or cover up or drool in bewildered astonishment at their inability to divine that Hillary Clinton would win the primary in New Hampshire. It’s fun mixed with the anger of the same people who dismissed the polling in Florida and Ohio in order to make questioning the legitimacy of the Bush junta indecent. In a corrupt system any tool of public deception is turned on or off depending on what the predetermined effect requires. And none of these tools is more used than opinion polling, the fraud which supposedly uses the opinion of the public as its raw material. You would think from the frenzy of “abadabadabadabadaba” flowing from the TV that they are afraid the jig is finally up, that the people have seen the wires holding up the levitated elephant. If only.

In the spirit of ditching frauds, it’s time for us all to stop calling the large majority of our media “journalists”. That word should never be applied to Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, anyone on the cabloids or those who phone in “editorials, analysis, opinion, a-says-b-says pieces, etc.” They aren’t dealing in supported facts, their work doesn’t support the truth. They are opinionists, that’s the polite way of putting it. I know that calling them something else is closer to the truth, but we need something they can say on TV. Not that they will. As one person said to me, "What about all those polls over the past year that said Clinton had it sewn up? What happened to that "fact"?"

And then there is this succinct condensation of the truth behind all the business reporting you are going to be hearing as we go into the coming depression:

THE SUBHEAD on your front-page story on Thursday, "Big slowdown in spending could bring recession," says it all. Rough economic weather lies ahead, and it's all the consumer's fault. more stories like this

Americans have been chastised for decades for not saving enough and for our increasing dependence on debt. But now, a family that cuts consumption to pay down debt endangers the economy. Either way, the consumer is to blame.

Of course consumers should live within their means. But they should also take a peek behind the curtain of our consumption-addicted economy.

What if they found profiteering insurance and pharmaceutical corporations, unethical mortgage lenders seeking taxpayer bail-outs, and an astonishing concentration of wealth and power among the elite? They might demand a new set of rules and vote out the officials who wrote the old ones.

Scary business. Better to close the curtain and blame the consumer.

NEIL CLARK Arlington

Marilynne Robinson, A beginning Posted by olvlzl.

Not even half way through January and a major and lasting regret, not having read Marilynne Robinson before now. Until last spring I’d never read anything by her. Then, after reading The God Delusion and suspecting that it was something that would be much discussed I read a number of reviews to see what Richard Dawkins’ defenders and detractors would have to say. Robinson’s in Harpers was the best of all of them, an essay on the book and its background, the best essay I’ve read in many years. After repeated readings of the essay and as much as could be found online I began reading her books this month, Mother Country, The Death of Adam and her novel Gilead so far. It leaves me wondering why she isn’t renowned as one of the major intellectual presences of the past quarter century.

I will get to The Death of Adam in the near future. Her essay on Darwinism is likely to be especially topical in a year when the Republicans will almost certainly try to use biblical fundamentalism as thy have to succeed in the past decade. But like all her writing, you haven’t read it if you’ve only read it twice. Beneath a beautiful surface that is too honest to beguile there is depth that runs down to the bedrock. Against the fashion of contemporary journalism, Robinson reads what she comments on and she reads what those things were based in before she opines.

Mother Country is a lengthy investigation into how apparently civilized, liberal, Britain, really England, could, for decades, run a processing plant for nuclear waste and pump some of the worst toxins known into the Irish and North Seas. Though the book is really about the consequences of centuries of callous, genteel hatred and use of the poor and the spiritual corrosion that no one in that Blakean hell can escape Robinson doesn’t merely use the Sellafield plant as a taking off point to come up with yet another social, economic or psychological theory explaining it all. This isn’t an intellectual exercise, none of her writing is merely done to occupy the minds of intellectuals or to get someone another useless degree by commenting on it. Her purpose is to change things and things haven’t changed yet. Though the book is nineteen years old it is more topical than most of what you will read in the press this week.

The recent decline in national self-esteem has led many Americans to invest their emotions offshore, in what they take to be a favorable climate, among solvent institutions. In imagination they have escaped ruin, growing rich as their neighbors grew poor. These people do not want to hear bad news.

But there is a real world, that is really dying, and we had better thnk about that. My greatest hope, which is a very slender one is that we will at last find the courage to make ourselves rational and morally autonomous adults, secure enough in the faith that life is good and to be preserved, to recognize the grosser forms of evil and name them and to confront them. Who will do it for us? E. P. Thompson? Greenpeace? The Duke of Edinburgh? The Washington Post? We have to walk away from this road show, consult with our souls, and find the courage, in ourselves, to see, and perceive, and hear and understand.

More than one of my heroes is in the list of those exposed in this book. Her purpose isn’t to spare feelings, not when the crime is as great as dumping toxins into the sea, destroying the very basis of life itself, killing large numbers of people in the process.

The reason that Robinson isn’t better known is because she isn’t merely a revolutionary thinker, her program takes us right out of the printed schedule. The change she proposes isn’t merely exchanging capitalism for Marxism, not merely exchanging one system of mining the life of the planet to produce wealth for another, more efficient one. If I am reading her thinking correctly, and it is some of the deepest writing being produced today, nothing short of placing life over the accumulation of wealth is what is asked. Taking people out of equations of production, value and exchange and regarding them and the environment they depend on as the basic non-negotiable fact, outside of commerce and economic-social-scientific alibis.

Note: One thing about the novel, Gilead, that disturbed me when first reading it, was the very end. The dying father hopes for his son, who is intended to read what the father is writing when he’s an adult, that he has been “useful”. At first I mistook this for exactly the kind of commercial view of humanity that is one of the foundations of our most serious evils. But context is everything, it is clearly not what is meant. Usefulness is not limited to the concept of exchange of value, something in which a person should never figure as a mere variable. A person can choose to use their strength to do what is good for other people and for the world in general. People can remove themselves from the dismal, economic, view of life as the shuffling and accumulation of material commodities and actions taken as commodities, services rendered.

But don’t expect that you will get the praise of society for doing that, not if you tell the truth while you’re doing it. It got this book banned in Britain where the libel laws, in line with best traditions of the British legal system, are rigged against telling the truth.

I don’t think that I’m pushing my on priorities onto Marilynne Robinson when I say that this seems to me to be a major focus of her brilliant writing. I haven’t had more of my thinking changed in as short a time since adolescence.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Today's Deep Thought

Comes from Barry from Alaska:

Why is Marion Jones going to jail and Scooter Libby is not?

It's a deep thought if you go past the obvious institutional answers.

Does Chris Matthews Have A Problem With Women?

Does the bear poop in the woods?

That is the headline of a Media Matters article on Matthews and his comments (well, not the bear bit, I added that). I have written about The Drama That Is Tweety in many, many blog posts. But yes, perhaps Chris Matthews has a teeny-weensy problem with those of the girly persuasion. If you agree, you can let MSNBC know here.

I Write Too Much

I should think more and write less. Here is a wonderful (though belated) winter holiday picture of Pippin pretending to be a nice ornament. By FeraLiberal:

And here's how peace and sisterhood and brotherhood is done (photo by Darryl Pearce):

The Dead White Girls

The media's (and probably the public's) fascination with missing or dead young white women, preferably pregnant, is unsavory. Lots of women of color go missing, too. Lots of men of all races get killed. Lots of older women get killed. But the victims we hear about are young, pretty, white and female.

It is not likely that every single one of the "dead white girl" stories just happens to be one with national significance (though the most recent might be), and that all the stories where the murder victim or missing person was of another race or age or gender are not. And I very much doubt that young white women are more likely to be victims than every other demographic group.

That some tragic, horrible and sad stories are pulled into the limelight and other equally horrible, sad and tragic stories are not is a fact. To explain why this happens is much more difficult. I have had theories about this for some time (the Snow-White fairy tale myth, the "punish the uppity young women myth", the "man bites dog" explanation), but I'm beginning to lean a little bit more towards one specific explanation: these stories provide both generally accepted eye-candy and exciting violence. What do you think?

Added: I have more to say about the case of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach later. There are reasons why this horrible case deserves the limelight.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

On the Duties of the Press

This article at Politico is quite a good summary of many of the criticisms the blogs have directed at the way the mainstream media covers politics. It defines three problem areas for political reporters: seeing election campaigns as horse races (or as theater performances), living in an echo chamber, and having personal biases influence the reporting. And oh boy but are those problem areas!

I have been shocked with journalistic attempts to manipulate the primaries so that they would make a more interesting race to report on. That is not one of the duties of the press, as far as I can see it. The proper duty here is to inform the voters about the relevant issues. The echo chamber is a big problem, especially because of this:

Check out the nicer restaurants in Manchester, N.H., or Des Moines, Iowa, in the political season and you will see the same group of journalists and pols dining together almost every night. We go to events together, make travel plans together and read each other's work compulsively. We go to the same websites — the Drudge Report, Real Clear Politics, Time's "The Page" — to see what each other is writing, and it's only human nature to respond to it.

Note the importance of the Drudge Report in that list. It is a conservative website and it's unclear to me where Drudge gets the items he reports on or how neutrally he selects the topics to cover. But mainstream journalists go there to find out what's going on.

The echo chamber has a different problem, too. If it gets something wrong, the echoes will perpetuate the error, and unless the whole thing blows up in the faces of the journalists we may all be left with false information and untruthful reporting. The duty of the press is to inform and to provide as truthful reporting as possible.

Finally, the personal bias. To quote from the article:

NBC's Brian Williams stirred some controversy earlier in the week when he reported that his network's correspondent covering Obama admitted it was hard to be objective covering the Illinois senator. Reporters are human, and some did seem swept up in the same emotions many voters experienced when they saw a black man win snow-white Iowa by preaching a gospel of change. Many are sympathetic to Obama's argument that the culture of Washington politics is fundamentally broken.

McCain also benefits from the personal sentiments of reporters. Many journalists are enamored with McCain because of the access he gives and, above all, the belief that he is free of political artifice.

Hillary Clinton, cautious and scripted, got the reverse treatment. She is carrying the burden of 16 years of contentious relations between the Clintons and the news media.

Many journalists rushed with unseemly haste to the narrative about the fall of the Clinton machine. On this score, reporters are recidivists. The Clintons were finished in 1992, when Bill Clinton's New Hampshire campaign was rocked by scandal. In 1993, when Time pronounced him "The Incredible Shrinking President." In 1994, when Hillary Clinton botched health care and Democrats lost Congress. In 1995, when Bill Clinton pleaded he still had "relevance." In 1998, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal sent the Clinton presidency reeling.

Once again, the problem here is that if the reporting is based on personal bias it will not only inform or misinform the audience but may also change general perceptions about a politician in the direction of the reporter's own bias. Suppose the bias is based on something personal. The outcome then is to make a private friendship or hatred between a reporter and a politician into a real factor in the political game. That's stupid.

Wear Orange

Tomorrow, January 11, is the day when wearing orange (the color, not the fruit though you could make earrings out of oranges, I guess) is a way of protesting the torture policy of the U.S. government and the indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay.

New York Times On Sexism

Sadly, also on Hillary Clinton. Do you realize what an enormous problem the lack of women in politics is? There aren't enough juicy targets for sexism. Sexists have to attack the few women up there using all that wonderful artillery that applies hateful language not only to the intended target, such as Billary or Hitlery, but to the majority of this world's people: women.

It's pretty horrible and must be fixed as soon as possible. We need more female targets for the sexists, obviously. It's their right, after all! And seeing it this way makes me understand why some feminists don't think that getting more women into politics is important at all or one of those "whatever" issues. It would just give the assholes more material to work on.

I'm in a bad mood and the viper-tongue is out. Which means that what you will ultimately read is a many-times-revised euphemism of what I originally wrote.

But I shouldn't be in a bad mood! The New York Times, the place where David Brooks and Maureen Dowd are nestled while scribbling missives about that contemptible sex, women (can smart women get laid?, can female eyeballs actually see?), has a piece on sexism today! Snoopy-dance time. Make it a stripping dance if you are a woman, because otherwise you are a tight-ass and no fun to be around. Then go and read the piece. Oh, and get me a coffee while you're at it.

Gawd I sound old-fashioned. We all know that this is the era of post-feminism. Sexism is dead and buried, all women have completely equal rights in everything and more than equal rights in some fields. It's mostly men who are oppressed, these days, and the oppressors are the feminazis. To say anything else means identity politics, and identity politics are wrong unless your identity is a white, Christian, heterosexual male. But otherwise they are wrong. And we don't do identity politics on the left anymore.

Do you know what really angers me? No, not what I wrote above, but the interpretation of sexism as just having to do with sexual jeers and ridiculing of the women in the public sphere. It's as if the question of "why" this jeering and ridiculing happens is veiled, ignored, a taboo. Or as if we all know the "why", it's just to decide if we are infringing the First Amendment rights of sexists too much or not enough.

So why do many people in the media treat Hillary as if she was a piece of rotting meat dragged along in some nightmarish carnival? Sure, many treat her like that because they don't like her personality, her policies, her marriage or her history or because they don't like the concept of dynasties or because they don't like Bill Clinton, his policies, his personality, or his penis being titillated. And sure, it's hard to differentiate between bashing this one particular woman and all women.

But we have all been asked to pretty much assume that Hillary Clinton is bashed as "Hillary" not as the first woman ever to run in the presidential primaries of the United States. That there has never been a woman in that place is regarded as unimportant, trivial, obviously not something to think about when understanding why a Facebook group such as "Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich" exists and why it has 23,000 members.

Even I assumed that most opposition to Hillary Clinton was personal, not sexist, until the way the so-called "tears" incident was treated in the media and on the Internet. Hillary-the-automatic-robot turned in one minute into Hillary-the-too-emotional-woman, and there was much jubilation over this in the media. Now we can get rid of that woman. She is scheming and manipulating and no male politician has ever schemed and manipulated.

It's not clear to me what percentage of Hillary-hatred is based on her personal history or on political manipulation by those who prefer another candidate (yes, manipulation is quite common in politics) and what percentage is based on a general fear and loathing of women in power. But the latter percentage looks to me to be much higher than I anticipated.

And that is why it is important to dig deeper into this whole sordid spectacle. The problem is not just that Hillary is bombed with sexist insults and that some of those bombs end up exploding in the living-rooms of American women. The problem is the reason for these sexist insults, and the reason is not just to have some fun teasing women, but to keep women out of certain parts of the power structure.

Why the wish to keep women out? There are both psychological reasons, starting from that Biblical verse of man being the head of woman, continuing into that whole murky psychology of masculinity and what it means for a man to take orders from a woman (emasculation! eek!) and into a similarly murky psychology of femininity and the needs (inculcated?) to have a man take care of the important business, and cultural/historical reasons, from the fear of the unknown (we have never had a woman president) to the acknowledgment that this is the planet of the guys and as long as other guys won't respect a woman, electing one isn't going to help in running the business of politics, either domestically or internationally.

Then there are very practical reasons: What if women actually want different policies? What if the political game changes when enough of the players are women?

Digging out these hidden reasons and discussing them is important, not only from the sexist angle, but also because so many of us seem to have forgotten the reasons why feminism wanted to see more women in decision-making roles in the first place.

These reasons have to do with both the process and the outcome of politics. First, a system which is truly open for both men and women should ultimately result in a larger number of women in top positions than one which is closed to women or only partially open to them. If we don't see this outcome of more women, it is important to ask whether the system really works as intended. The lack of women might have other explanations, true, but the number of women in those positions is the only preliminary yardstick we have for measuring progress or for identifying lack of it.

Second, once an adequate number of women have positions of power the policies might change to reflect more closely the life experiences of women. In most cases this will not happen with just one token woman. But it will happen when being a woman is no longer a curiosity in politics, and the policies that follow are more likely to reflect the needs of both men and women than the current policies.

Third, sexism in politics itself is strongly dependent on the number of women in the game. Virginia Valian (in Why So Slow) has argued that as long as women are a small minority in an occupation, say, a female applicant will be first viewed as a woman and only next as a person, but once the female labor force in the occupation reaches some critical minimum size (say, 30%), female applicants to that occupation are no longer viewed as female first and professionals second. A sort of gender-blindness ensues.

A similar process is likely to take place in politics. Once we have enough women in the Congress, they won't make the Congress look like "a shopping mall" (this was Strom Thurmond's reaction to new female member in the Congress in the 1990s). In fact, they start looking like your ordinary politicians.

Fourth, to have women in positions of power might change the level of general sexism by presenting alternative images of women which are not examples of weakness, of sexual desirability, of evil ex-wives or of greedy girlfriends or whatever it is that fuels the daydreams of misogynists. It might even weaken some of those ideas that the definition of a "real man" is one who can dominate over women.

John Aravosis on Sexism

You can find his opinions here.

Now for the multiple-choice questions:

a) John wrote this post after years of studying the psychological, biological and feminist literature on gender references and after at least as many years of listening, watching and recording the use of sexist slurs in the public sector.

b) John spent several days in conversation with various female friends and relatives to find out what they think about the comments in question, listened to these opinions carefully and then wrote and rewrote the post.

c) John whipped it out in five minutes flat, because he already knows enough.

Ok. I'm annoyed, because I wouldn't write a post on the fairness of gay men's treatment in the public sphere without lots and lots of research.
Via feministe.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Justice For Some, Little American Flags For Others

The callous treatment of Jamie Leigh Jones continues. You may remember that her case alleges she was gang-raped by her Halliburton/KBR co-workers in Iraq, thus falling into that unfortunate no-man's land where the possible culprits are subject to no courts. The military system doesn't cover private contractors in Iraq, but those very same private contractors are not under the Iraqi jurisprudence. What that boils down to is a wonderful world where you can kill, rape and plunder and your punishment might amount to no more than getting a plane ticket out of the country.

Jones has tried taking her case to an American criminal court, unsuccessfully. The U.S. government has added salt to her wounds by not helping her. If anything, the government appears to help the alleged rapists: First it lost the evidence kit, then nobody from the Justice Department bothered to turn up for the inquiry into her case, and now Pentagon refuses to look into the allegations.

Tweety's Song About Hillary

For transcript and analysis, go to Firedoglake.

A hint to Chris Matthews: You just suggested that the voters in the New York state elected Hillary Clinton because her husband cheated on her.

Tearing Out My Hair

After reading this Maureen Dowd rant against Hillary. Dowd is overplaying her hand and comes across embarrassing. Perhaps the Washington press hate the Clintons, but that is not what this election is supposed to solve.

What I really don't understand is how Dowd is blind to the sexism in this description:

When I walked into the office Monday, people were clustering around a computer to watch what they thought they would never see: Hillary Clinton with the unmistakable look of tears in her eyes.

A woman gazing at the screen was grimacing, saying it was bad. Three guys watched it over and over, drawn to the "humanized" Hillary. One reporter who covers security issues cringed. "We are at war," he said. "Is this how she'll talk to Kim Jong-il?"

If one flash of tears disqualifies you from being the president, how about a history of alcoholism? Or how about the tears from men?

I also think that she is wrong about the reason why women might have voted for Clinton in larger numbers at the last minute. If they did, that is, which is not yet clear.

Dowd believes that it was all to do with Hillary playing the female-victim card. I believe that if there was a reaction to the event it was a reaction to the vicious sexism of so many pundits when talking about the issue. Had the media not chosen to focus on that one event we wouldn't have this whole discussion, by the way.

The Democratic Exit Polls from New Hampshire

Are here. I will write more about what the New Hampshire results reflect after I get some sleep and run some errands. But the tables are interesting to study.
Link via the Democratic Strategist.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

My Thoughts on Reading Gloria Steinem in the NYT

Gloria Steinem has written an op-ed on the gender aspects of the Democratic primaries. It begins:

THE woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity.

Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth?

I doubt that she would be elected, even if she had the same charisma as Barack Obama has. Note that the children are young. Lots of people would be up in arms about a mother leaving her young children without care. Fathers are still not expected to be in charge of that care.

Steinem's op-ed continues with several themes, and many of them have been ferociously debated all across the blogs. The part I was nodding my hear at is this:

So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects "only" the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more "masculine" for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren't too many of them); and because there is still no "right" way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.

Note what she says in the first sentence: "Why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?" It certainly is not, in public debate. If you make a racist comment on television you lose your job (at least for a week or two). If you make a sexist comment you might get your very own television program as a reward. Don Imus's comments about the "nappy-headed whores" was seen as racist but not really as sexist.

Then there are all those "studies" trying to find out how to explain women's "natural" inferiority and the normality of male dominance by speculating about events in some far-distant time and undefined place. I don't see the racist versions of such "studies" popularized with the sort of semi-leer I've encountered over and over again in the popularizations of the gender studies.

The underlying nudge-nudge-wink in the whole discussion about gender has to do with the assumption that of course women are different and because of that inferior and unsuitable for all the places we haven't traditionally squeezed them in. It's only honest and brave to discuss this openly. Too bad the world isn't fair, but, alas.

None of what I have written is meant to imply that racism isn't a terrible problem, and not only in the United States or that its effects aren't truly awful and destructive. But so are the many consequences of sexism, on worldwide level, and yet we find it somehow unimportant or a little silly.

What about the rest of Steinem's message? Others have discussed that in great detail. I liked this point:

But here's where being black is less of a handicap than being a woman. American society is awash in certain negative stereotypes of African-Americans, especially African-American men. But it's possible for any individual African-American to "transcend" those stereotypes by simply not living up to them. So Barack Obama can't afford to show the kind of populist outrage John Edwards expresses lest he be deemed a threatening radical, but if he avoids falling into pitfalls of stereotype he winds up getting praised in a somewhat condescending, but still helpful to his political career, manner as "one of the good ones."

A woman faces a very different problem. A woman who's seen as possessing the stereotypical characteristics of femininity won't do well in presidential politics. But a woman who's seen as lacking those characteristics will be penalized as well. The female politician can't be too femme or too butch, and she can't be androgynous either.

I don't think that getting rid of the impact of the stereotypes is quite that easy for black men, but it's certainly true that becoming a "generic man" is considerably easier than trying to become "a generic person", and that's what this choice would mean for women. As long as a woman in politics is compared to the two stereotypes of extreme femininity and extreme masculinity she will always fail, for the reasons Yglesias gives in the quote. Which goes to show that we need the "generic person" concept. We don't really have that in areas where it would most count*.
*It is applied in the legal context, sometimes. But paradoxically it has been applied in areas such as pregnancy leaves (initially to limit such leaves only to the length that physical recovery from giving birth would require) where it isn't the right norm. Because a generic person doesn't get pregnant.

Theocracy 101

These kinds of declarations, honoring the role of religions in this country, are fascinating. On the surface level they are just fluff or a way of stroking the fundamentalist supporters of the Republican party. But on another level they are a step towards a Dominionist country: a Christian theocracy. Or theocrazy, really.

All those "whereases" in the declaration are worth reading, to see what it really says. It's not about "religion at all" but about Christianity, and the urgent need to have the government run on Christian principles. Note this part:

Resolved, That the United States House of Representatives----

(1) affirms the rich spiritual and diverse religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history, including up to the current day;

(2) recognizes that the religious foundations of faith on which America was built are critical underpinnings of our Nation's most valuable institutions and form the inseparable foundation for America's representative processes, legal systems, and societal structures;

(3) rejects, in the strongest possible terms, any effort to remove, obscure, or purposely omit such history from our Nation's public buildings and educational resources; and

(4) expresses support for designation of a `American Religious History Week' every year for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith.

The bolds are mine. Note the "politically correct" use of the term "religion" here.
Via this Kos diary.

For Your Reading Pleasure

May I suggest Katha Pollitt on Hillary Clinton's tears (which weren't tears, to begin with, but which have now grown into a torrent of either female weakness or a manufactured response showing her horrible callousness)?

Or if you've had enough of that, how about Chet Scoville on Christopher Hitchens' views on Barack Obama? Hitchens also gives a contemptuously weak sideswipe at Clinton, that aging and resentful female!

One day I'm going to write the way Hitchens does on Himself. That will be fun.

Today's Deep Thought

It is from FAIR:

As the results of the Republican and Democratic primaries in New Hampshire are reported tonight, it's a good bet that many prominent pundits and journalists will declare the race for the White House all but over--long before 98 percent of voters have had any say in the matter.

I understand the incentives the pundits have for doing this. But it's very bad for democracy. All the primaries should be held on the same day.

An Undercurrent

In the heated discussions of last night I noticed an undercurrent, a disguised one, for obvious reasons, and it is this one:

It is imperative to get the White House back from the Republicans if this country is not to be totally destroyed. The damage of the last eight years will be extremely difficult to fix, and another four years on top of that could well complete a) the emptying of the government's coffers, b) the theocratization of the United States (especially via the Supreme Court appointments) and c) the final death of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. (And I'm not even mentioning all that Republican war-hungriness there.)

Given this, what is the impact of having Democratic front-runners such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the chances of winning the election? These candidates encourage the racist and sexist voters to turn up, in order to vote their racism and sexism. Is it not an empty victory to get a black man or a white woman to be the Democratic candidate if that very choice causes the Democratic candidate to lose in the general election?

Note that this is not my argument, but one which I read in several hidden forms last night. I have also seen a conservative post on this very topic earlier, a post which suggested that the Democrats are slightly crazy to try to cram down politically correct choices when they otherwise seem so close to an easy victory.

Of course the crucial bit in evaluating the relevance of these concerns is the question of the extent of racist or sexist voters in this country. They sure exist. But do they exist in numbers large enough to determine the election outcome?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Back to the Ironing Board?

From yahoo news:

Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign stop was interrupted Monday when two men stood in the crowd and began screaming, "Iron my shirt!" during one of her final appearances before the New Hampshire primary.

Clinton, a former first lady running to become the nation's first female president, laughed at the seemingly sexist protest that suggested a woman's place is doing the laundry and not running the country.

From the Wall Street Journal blog:

After the event the protesters told reporters that they don't have anything against women they just don't think one should be president.

Today's Tired Thought

Sometimes this work is like rowing a water-logged boat against the current.

When Violence Against Women Is A Must

Via feministe, I learned about this opinion piece published in Yemen:

There Must Be Violence Against Women

This title may sound strange, but it's actually not just a way to attract readers to the topic because I really do mean what it indicates. Violence is a broad term, especially when used regarding women. In this piece, I want to shed light on those instances where violence against women is a must.

The author then goes on to explain the relationship of some Koran verses to both wife beating and the physical disciplining of daughters and sisters by fathers and brothers.

The article concludes:

Dear readers – especially women – don't think that I hate or am against women; rather, I simply mean to preserve the morals and principles with which Islam has honored us.

I hope my message is clear, since it's really quite relevant to the future of our societies, which must be protected from any kind of cultural invasion.

Note the reference to "cultural invasion." It's a way of linking feminism to Western imperialism, a way of implying that the culture which is to be protected is one which is based on the ability of men to beat women who endanger it. That the women don't have the same right to discipline the men who endanger the native culture is not mentioned, probably not even realized by the writer.

Two other things are worth mentioning about this opinion piece. One has to do with the idea, common in the past around the Mediterranean region, that the honor of a family is buried in the vaginas of its women. Thus, when a woman "misbehaves" she destroys the family honor. This is the justification for honor killings, but it is not something coming from the Koran but from a cultural tradition. Sadly, as the vaginas move around whenever the women move around, the only really safe way of guarding the family honor is by sequestering its women.

The second thing worth mentioning is that whenever the Christian fundamentalists talk about protecting the traditional family they have something a little related in mind. The family is so important that it doesn't really matter if certain of its members, such as the women (and often the children, too), get forced into subservience. It's as if "family" consists of the family patriarch, pretty much. But it's certainly true that the acceptable level of physical violence to guarantee the survival of the traditional family is considerably less in most Christian sects today.

Emotions and Hillary Clinton

The headline asks: Can Clinton's Emotions Get the Best of Her?

This, and all the hullabaloo right now about her tears, must be placed in the context of months of articles about how Hillary Clinton appears too controlled, too cold, too ambitious. Only female candidates for the presidency are regarded as "too" ambitious, the boys are obviously expected to be just that ambitious. The subtext in all that worry about Clinton's likeability was of course about gender. Women aren't supposed to be cold and ambitious. That's what bitches are. On the other hand, men are supposed to be just that: cold and ambitious.

Then Hillary Clinton tears up, and the sky falls. Ohmygod, she cries! She might fall apart at a nuclear crisis and just sniffle away! This is a quote from the link above:

How voters weigh Clinton's composure may not differ between genders, according to Georgetown's Owens.

"Male voters are basically going to see a hysterical woman," said Owens. "Women are going to think that if Clinton is going to take on this responsible role and represent women in such a visible way she should do a better job of it and not expose the gender to this criticism."

So it's not about Hillary Clinton at all. It's about whether women are suited for public offices, being so very hysterical. Note that entering into bouts of red-hot rage is not seen a problem when nuclear crises hit, even if my own experience is that red-hot rage makes you considerably less likely to be careful than tears. But red-hot rage is an acceptable male emotional state, not regarded as making you a dangerous leader.

What really angers me (yes! emotional female here) about all this is that it took the media a very long time indeed to get one tiny episode of tears from Clinton, but then - boom - suddenly she is the weepy woman we cannot trust. And the reason I am angry is that I really didn't expect this level of shitty sexism. Always the naive goddess high on hope.

The Market For Macaque Sex

A recent popularization of a study about sex and grooming among the long-tailed macaque monkeys has those almost invisible strokes out of which the daily edifice of views on women is ultimately created. The strokes are practically not there, and ignoring them seems to be the sane reaction. Until you realize that almost every single study selected for popularization has those same tiny strokes and that none of the studies missing them gets picked.

I have not yet managed to get the original paper, so what I say about the study itself must necessarily be limited to conjectures. But happily we do have a couple of popularizations. Here is the summary of the study:

Male macaque monkeys pay for sex by grooming females, according to a recent study that suggests the primates may treat sex as a commodity.

"In primate societies, grooming is the underlying fabric of it all," Dr. Michael Gumert, a primatologist at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said in a telephone interview Saturday.

"It's a sign of friendship and family, and it's also something that can be exchanged for sexual services," Gumert said.

Gumert's findings, reported in New Scientist last week, resulted from a 20-month observation of about 50 long-tailed macaques in a reserve in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Gumert found after a male grooms a female, the likelihood that she will engage in sexual activity with the male was about three times more than if the grooming had not occurred.

And as with other commodities, the value of sex is affected by supply and demand factors: A male would spend more time grooming a female if there were fewer females in the vicinity.

"And when the female supply is higher, the male spends less time on grooming ... The mating actually becomes cheaper depending on the market," Gumert said.

Neat, is it not? I thought that anthropomorphism was a no-no in animal research, but here we decide that monkeys have markets with not just barter, but a currency: grooming. This makes the female monkeys into sellers of sex (or prostitutes, really, continuing the anthropomorphizing) and the male monkeys into buyers of sex (or johns), and the dollar they use is grooming: cleaning burrs and fleas and so on from the other monkey but also stroking the other monkey.

How do we know that what Gumert describes is a market with a currency? If we were to force monkey behavior into the human construct of a marketplace, then the one he describes sounds a lot more like one of barter: a situation where two monkeys trade services. Why can't we view the market as one for grooming, where the female monkeys are buying grooming services and paying for it with sex? That would make the male monkeys into the sellers and the female monkeys into the buyers. See how deciding that this is a market for sex and not for grooming warps our views and prepares us to superimpose all the human values and all the human biases on what is happening?

There are additional problems with the use of the market metaphor. First, if you read enough of the popularizations you will find that grooming didn't necessarily result in the grooming male getting more sex, and that sometimes the groomed female instead had sex with other males in the area right after the grooming. It sounds a bit as if she may have been turned on by the grooming, does it not? But the point I'm making here is that if grooming was the actual currency paid for sex the female supplier should have given the sex to the groomer every time, not just some of the time and not sometimes to males who didn't pay.

Of course grooming may well have the value of currency in some sense. But it's not money. It's a service which is associated with affection, bonding and perhaps even love. How is our understanding of the macaque behavior improved by putting that all into the human market structure, one which I'm pretty sure the macaques don't explicitly use?

And where is the sexism in all this, you ask, sarcastically. Here, my friend, in another popularization telling us what the study really means:

Selling sex is said to be humankind's oldest profession but it may have deep evolutionary roots, according to a study into our primate cousins which found that male macaques pay for intercourse by using grooming as a currency.

Michael Gumert of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore made the discovery in a 20-month investigation into 50 long-tailed macaques in Kalimantan Tengah, Indonesia, New Scientist reports on Saturday.

On average, females had sex 1.5 times per hour.

But this rate jumped to 3.5 times per hour immediately after the female had been groomed by a male -- and her partner of choice was likely to be the hunky monkey that did the grooming.

Market forces also acted on the value of the transaction.

If there were several females in the area, the cost of buying sex would drop dramatically -- a male could "buy" a female for just eight minutes of nit-picking.

But if there were no females around, he would have to groom for up to 16 minutes before sex was offered.

The work supports the theory that biological market forces can explain social behaviour, the British weekly says.

"There is a very well-known mix of economic and mating markets in the human species itself," said Ronald Noe of France's University of Strasbourg.

"There are many examples of rich old men getting young attractive ladies."

Another popularization with the same message can be found here.
So we leap from monkey grooming to human prostitution. Male monkeys can "buy" a fuck from a female monkey, rich old men can "buy" a fuck from attractive ladies. Females are the sellers of sex, males the buyers. And this is the essential message of this popularization: not about monkey sex at all but about human sex, and the popularizations leap deftly across species, biological differences and cultural difference (yes, even monkeys have cultures) to hasten to the point they wish to make.

Is the original study itself sexist? I have no idea, given that I haven't managed to read it yet, but I notice that the researchers followed 60 male monkeys, not female monkeys. A different observer might have spotted different patterns. Remember that what we see depends on what we are looking for.

Note also how female desire is erased from these kinds of popularizations. It's as if the female macaque monkeys are not in heat at all, as if they are not having lots of sex with lots of male monkeys all the time anyway (1.5 times an hour). And what do we really know about the sexual desires of male and female macaques and the feelings they experience? Are we anthropomorphizing about that here, too? And what IS the role of grooming when the monkeys are at different places in the dominance hierarchy?

I think the market metaphor is a poor one, because it gives us an odd bias in looking at the behavior of these monkeys. It makes us ignore the pleasure of grooming (it might even be pleasurable to the groomer, just as stroking your cat or dog is pleasurable to you) and it makes us forget that we are watching the monkeys in their everyday life, not at some marketplace where sexual services are being traded.
First link thanks to Oscar, the second one from The post there and the comments are well worth reading to see why feminists are concerned.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Establishment Will Cover Up Reality As Long As They Can. News You Can Depend On. Posted by olvlzl.

Quick, name a province in Iraq. No, me neither, at least not one except the much touted “Anbar”. Anbar, where the sheiks were allegedly won over to the “American side” after they turned from the insurgents they originally backed, is one of the few places outside of Baghdad mentioned regularly in the American media last year. All of it is going like clockwork in Anbar province where our pals the sheiks are making the trains run...,

As the violence has faded, an argument has been raging over who speaks for Iraq's Sunni Arab minority: the province's largely secular and fiercely independent tribal leaders who resisted the US invasion or the main Sunni political party, an Islamist group led by former exiles who cooperated with the Americans from the start.

In slightly more than a year, Anbar's sheiks have helped accomplish what US military might, and endless rounds of political negotiations, could not: driving out the extremists who had flourished in Iraq's western desert since the invasion in 2003. Pockets of resistance remain in Anbar, but the US command says many of the Sunni insurgents, now allied with Al Qaeda in Iraq, are seeking new sanctuaries north of Baghdad.

Now, the sheiks say, it's payback time. They want more schools, better healthcare, clean water, and reliable electricity for their war-ravaged province. They want jobs for their followers. And above all, they want a stake in government for their Iraqi Awakening Conference movement.

That “payback” is what really has me worried. And notice the last sentence quoted below.

The sheiks accuse the Iraqi Islamic Party, which controls the local councils in most Sunni areas, of hijacking development funds and monopolizing jobs for their own supporters.

"There is corruption up to here," Sheik Hameed Farhan Hays said, raising his hand to his forehead, after delivering his speech during a recent visit by a representative of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

Leaders of the Iraqi Islamic Party countered that the sheiks had only themselves to blame for boycotting the 2005 elections that ushered in representative government in Iraq. And they challenged the sheiks to take their accusations of corruption to court.

Whether true or not, the accusations underscore the mistrust between the two sides. For now, it is a war of words. But some worry that the dispute could escalate.

Countered that the sheiks had only themselves to blame for boycotting the 2005 elections that ushered in representative government in Iraq.” Notice that in this statement the fact that the elections were boycotted, elsewhere in the story it says that fewer than five percent of the voters installed the Islamic Party, resulting in an unrepresentative government unacceptable to a good portion of the 95% of the population, is less important than the process. The problems on the ground today are considered to be less important fact than that the election was done and an unrepresentative government resulted. That kind of thinking, ignore reality when it’s tidier to look at process, isn’t peculiar to Iraq, it is one of the favorite tools of political gamesmanship in all places. Unfortunately, when the sides are armed and fighting, it looks like a more impressive argument here than on the ground there. Here no part of reality was to get in the way of the iconic purple fingers of PR.

Accounting for local peculiarities the problems of local power and politics in Anbar are a picture of the entire country.

Iyad Samarrai, the Islamic Party's secretary-general, said he was as unhappy about the vote as they are. The boycott gave the majority Shi'ites and ethnic Kurds a disproportionate share of provincial council seats in mixed parts of the country, as well as in the national parliament.

More Sunnis voted in the December 2005 parliamentary polls, which eased the imbalance at the national level, but new provincial elections have been postponed pending agreement on a law setting out the relationship between national and regional governments. The bill is one of several key power-sharing measures that have stalled in parliament.

The bill is one of several key power-sharing measures that have stalled in parliament.” How long does something remain “stalled” before it’s given up as dead?

The DC establishment, with the aid of our most respected media organizations, is already burying the “benchmarks” that were used to stall ending American participation in the Iraqi civil war. Their posturing about the great success in Anbar will be similarly covered up as the parties there jump start the infighting and realign. If the sheiks changed sides once, they’re quite able to change them again as the shifting power politics make them recalculate their advantages. Do you think the insurgents would not reunite with them for temporary advantage? Do you think loyalty to Americans will prevent that? Anbar will disappear from the news. Here it will disappear except when they have to report on an American who gets killed there. And that will feature mostly in the local news. The networks and flagship papers, that’s small potatoes for them.