Friday, March 07, 2008

Friday Critter Blogging

Here are some egrets from swampcracker:

And FeraLiberal's Pippin with a high "eep" quotient:

Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Hughes (by Suzie)

       This week I attended an inspiring evening of conversation among Gloria Steinem, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Amy Richards, Jennifer Baumgardner and women from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla.
       “As you know, this is a revolution, and we’re in it for the long haul,” Professor Carolyn Johnston said.
       The event got coverage before and after. I'd like to add a little more on Hughes.
       Terrified of public speaking, the young Steinem had wanted to go on the road with another woman. She thought: “Who do I know who is fearless?” Hughes leaped to mind. Steinem also wanted to partner with a black woman because “the press was saying this was just a middle-class white woman thing – and they’re still staying that.”
       After they raised their fists on stage, just as they had done in this great old photo, Hughes explained: “It was always a way to say sisterhood is powerful.” She said they loved the speaking tour.
      “We did some crazy things. We wanted to make change.”
      One of the crazy things was having Steinem stay with her family one weekend in Lumpkin, Ga. That challenged the racism of the times, Hughes said.
      She talked of racism and poverty, and how her desires differed from middle-class white women who complained about being put on a pedestal. “I would have built my own pedestal, and I would have climbed upon it.”
       She worries that a lot of schools and neighborhoods seem to be returning to de facto segregation. She wonders how children can go hungry in America. There cannot be political or social justice without economic empowerment, she said.
        While Steinem supports Clinton, Hughes endorses Obama, hoping he can heal racial divisions.
      “He can’t deny his white mama or his black daddy.” Like Steinem, however, she said, “Whoever’s left standing, I’m willing to work with them. … We have to win this one.”

Fibroids and cancer (by Suzie)

         My previous post may have scared some women into wondering about the symptoms of gynecologic sarcoma.
         Let me highlight one: fibroids. Doctors, and the media, will tell you that fibroids don’t turn into cancer. But they may not tell you: Although sarcoma is very rare, when women do have it, the malignant tumors often get mistaken for benign fibroids.
         As a patient and volunteer, I’ve talked to many women with gyn sarcoma. In many cases, if not most, they have surgery for fibroids, only to get diagnosed with this rare and aggressive cancer. This happens so often that doctors call it the “whoops” procedure.
          I don’t want to worry women unduly. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to keep quiet when I know that diagnosing and removing sarcoma early can save a woman’s life.
          This doesn't have to be an either/or situation in which we turn women into hypochondriacs or else we accept that we'll lose a few to cancer. Another option is for science to come up with a better way of telling a fibroid from a cancer, before surgery. Doctors are working on this. (While they're working on it, let's hope they also discover the cause and cure.)

Rare cancer and women (by Suzie)

       Because I know how to have a good time, I’ll be spending a couple of days with more than a thousand gynecologic oncologists.
       At their national conference next week, I’ll be representing the Sarcoma Alliance, trying to lure doctors to my table with little bits of chocolate. I have pamphlets, wristbands and ribbons to foist on them.
       If you don’t have this rare cancer, why should you care? Because problems for women with sarcoma illustrate bigger issues in our health-care system. They expose a glitch in the system.
       When I was diagnosed with vaginal leiomyosarcoma in 2002, some cancer centers told women with gyn sarcoma that they had to see a gyn oncologist. They could not see a doctor in a sarcoma department. Let me restate that: Some women with sarcoma were not allowed to see sarcoma doctors. Hmmm, what’s wrong with that picture?
       In 2006, when I contacted the federal National Cancer Institute, two information specialists said I should see a gyn oncologist, not a doctor in sarcoma.
       The NCI and the private, nonprofit National Comprehensive Cancer Network separate gyn sarcoma from other types of soft-tissue sarcoma on their Web sites. After I asked about this in 2006, NCI linked the sites.
        The NCCN publishes guidelines for doctors. Oncologists who focus on sarcoma write the guidelines on soft-tissue sarcoma. Gyn oncologists write the guidelines for women with gyn sarcomas.
        As far as I know, no one in a sarcoma department has ever gone to the national gyn oncology conference. On next week’s agenda, I didn’t see any discussion of sarcoma. On the flip side, it is rare for someone in gyn to attend the international sarcoma conference. In two major NCI reports on gyn cancer and sarcoma, the doctors don’t mention each other.
         I wrote about this in 2006 here and here.
         I don’t mean to disparage doctors. I like and respect mine. I have no quarrel with a woman who decides that a gyn oncologist is best for her. I see a gyn oncologist as well as a medical oncologist in a sarcoma department. Other women should have the choice of seeing the former, the latter or both.
        I know the medical system could improve in many ways. But the situation with gyn sarcoma illustrates a couple of points: Patients need to know about options and have access to specialists. And doctors need to collaborate more on research and treatment.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Helsinki Complaints Choir, Again

I believe I have posted this video before, but it is still very funny. Subtitled for your enjoyment.

On The Mental Consequences of Multiple Deployments

Soldiers on their fourth or fifth tour in Iraq report more mental health problems than those on their first tour, say:

More than a quarter of U.S. soldiers on their third or fourth tours in Iraq suffer mental health problems partly because troops are not getting enough time at home between deployments, the Army said on Thursday.

Overall, about 17.9 percent of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan had mental health problems in 2007, according to an annual Army survey. That is slightly below the 2006 figure of 19.1 percent but relatively consistent with previous years.

But the incidence of mental health problems for soldiers in war zones climbs significantly among troops returning for a third and fourth combat tour, the survey showed.

Among noncommissioned officers, for example, 27.2 percent on their third and fourth tours suffered mental health problems in 2007. That compares with 18.5 percent for those low-ranking officers on their second tours and 11.9 percent of those on their first tours, the Army said.

"Soldiers are not resetting entirely before they get back into theater," said Lt. Col. Paul Bliese, who led the Army's Mental Health Advisory Team survey for 2007.

By "resetting" Bliese meant soldiers are not getting enough time to recover from the trauma of duty in a war zone.

In other words, the military is overstretched.

I'm not sure how possible it is to "recover from the trauma of duty" in general, given the Vietnam veterans who still suffer from PTSD. Some probably recover, some don't, but in either case the circumstances in Iraq are such that we should expect greater rates of PTSD in the future. This means that more money is required for the mental health care of returning veterans.

I Love Thee, Phantom

This is a post about the first loves in the world of blogs, about that wonderful day when you happen upon a blog which speaks to you, really speaks to you! Then it whispers, cajoles, kisses your eyelids and softly blows on the small hairs at your nape. You have found a blog which agrees with you!

Then you are in love. You wake up every morning with the sun, turn on the computer and re-establish that bond. Until, one day, sooner or later, the blogger writes something stupid, something uninformed, something that you strongly dislike. It's a little like that young Adonis in your bed suddenly farting in his sleep.

What then? It's a little bit like real world love affairs. Either you get over that first hump, that first noticeable crack in the beautiful carapace, and you grow wiser and more cynical but you still go on with the relationship. Or the first love is over, the honeymoon is crumbled and you never go back to that perfidious blog again.

And how do I know about this? Because I have been on both sides in this odd love affair. Yes, indeed. But because I blog I have more experience from the blogger side, more melancholic recollections of voices that I no longer hear at the blog, more memories of those horrible times when I revealed the worse side of my profile and lost yet another acolyte.

Meanwhile, in Congo

Via Rorschach, this piece of news about gang rape as a weapon of warfare:

IT TOOK five operations to repair Lumo's internal injuries after she was gang-raped and left for dead by Hutu militia in eastern Congo, in what women's rights activists call a new form of terrorism, the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Lumo's story, told in an award-winning documentary about survivors of sexual violence in Congo, highlights the women's continuing plight. "The main issue is terrorism. Rape is used as terrorism, as an instrument of war, to empty whole communities of people, to destroy the economies," said Lyn Lusi, program manager for Heal Africa, whose organisation works with the affected women in the Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern region.

Mrs Lusi, who is in Australia to promote grassroots advocacy for Congo, welcomed last week's United Nations announcement of a global campaign to combat violence against women and girls, saying raising awareness of the problem was an essential step.

She said a recent survey of 600 young women with HIV in Goma, eastern Congo, found that for a large number their first sexual experience was not consensual.

Gang rape is not a new weapon, though. What may be new is that people now talk about it and refuse to regard the victims as dirty, disgraced and somehow responsible for their own victimization.

The next step is to let women be part of the peace talks, given that they are participants in the wars, whether they wish it or not.

Your Lips Are Too Small

That's what an ad tells me:

"Your Lips are too Small!"

See which Lip Plumpers actually Plump your Lips & which ones don't!

Humans are crazy.

I don't have the energy to discuss this one. But of course your lips can be too large, too. Especially the lower ones. What never changes is that the way you are is Just. Not. Right..

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Deep Thought for the Day

If this world was a sane and logical place getting the endorsement of George Bush (what with his humongous disapproval ratings) should be the death-knell of McCain's presidential campaign.

And Washington Post Responds

To the concerns of those who thought it was a bit much for a major newspaper to have a column all about how women are intellectually inferior Washington Post has only one proper answer, which Laura Rosen called "hiding behind Charlotte Allen's knickers."

I'd call it giving Allen another chance to spout her great contempt towards those other women. You see, what the Post did was this: Instead of a real apology or anything of the sort it decided to let Allen answer more questions about her great loathing of other women.

Isn't it interesting that those questions don't look anything at all like the comments to the original piece, that they have so many more positive and supportive and softball questions? Very odd and curious, that. Who picked the questions to be answered?

At least you can now find that the Outlook editor's lame non-apology apology about the initial column being a humorous one was so much crap. It was never meant to be satire, as Allen clearly explains.

I'm very angry at the Washington Post.

The ombudsman is still at

Puzzling Research Interpretations

You may remember an earlier study which found an elevated breast cancer risk for women who had taken hormone replacement therapy at menopause, compared to a control group who took a placebo. Now a follow-up study suggests that the higher breast cancer risk remains, even after the women had ceased taking estrogen and progestin.

I'm unhappy with some of the interpretations that this study has been given. First there is the fact that many of the findings were not statistically significant was downplayed in the reports of the study. For example:

But the researchers were surprised to find that the overall risk of cancer was 24 percent higher in women who took hormones compared to those who an inert placebo: 281 of those who had taken hormones developed some type of cancer, compared to 218 in the placebo group. That appeared to have been driven by a 27 percent increased risk of breast cancer, although that difference did not meet a test of statistical significance. There were 79 breast cancers in hormone group, compared to 60 in the placebo group.

And for another example of the same problem:

Future papers will provide additional analysis of the cancer trends in the study, the investigators said. During the three years women stopped taking hormones, there was some suggestion that their breast cancer risk began to drop from peak levels, but the overall risk remained about the same. The breast cancer data weren't statistically significant, suggesting chance could play a role, but researchers say the trends are credible because they are consistent with previous research.

Other data on cancer risk also failed to reach statistical significance. For instance, there was a troubling suggestion that lung cancer risk was slightly higher among former hormone users, but that trend could also be due to chance.

It was only after researchers combined all the data from various types of cancers that they were able to show a statistically significant difference between the former hormone users and those who had used placebos during the study.

Why am I troubled by this? Because, strictly speaking, results that fail to reach statistical significance cannot be used to prop up the favored hypothesis. What would the interpretation have been if some statistically non-significant results had gone in the other direction, i.e. showing higher cancer rates in the group that never took hormones?

Oh wait. Some results did go that way:

The researchers found that the annualized event rates for the outcome �all cancer� was higher during the postintervention follow-up for the CEE plus MPA group (1.56 percent per year [n = 281]) than the placebo group (1.26 percent per year [n = 218]). This reflects a greater risk of invasive breast cancer and other cancers in the CEE plus MPA group; the rates of colorectal cancer did not differ significantly between the two groups; rates of endometrial cancer were lower in the CEE plus MPA group. Though risk of breast cancer remained elevated during the follow-up, the risk was less than that experienced towards the end of the trial period.

Or to translate some of that into plainer English: The experimental group had lower colon cancer rates earlier but those lower rates rose in the three years after the treatment was stopped to match the rates in the control group. Also, the rates of endometrial cancer were lower in the group which had taken the hormones. Of course, these differences may well have been statistically non-significant. But so was the breast cancer finding.

I cannot help feeling that some sort of a bandwagon effect is operating here. Now that hormone replacement therapy is viewed as something dangerous all the findings are interpreted within that framework.

Then there is this panic-button pressing bit:

And the millions of women who have taken the hormones should be monitored closely for cancer, especially breast cancer, she said.

"The important message is women really need to make sure they continue getting their mammograms," Stefanick said.

It remains unclear how long the increased risk persists, she said, and researchers have continued following the women to try to answer that crucial question.

"This says, 'You're not quite safe yet, but let's hope you'll be safe soon,'" said Stefanick. It is also unclear whether women who took the hormone combination for shorter periods or took estrogen alone face similar ongoing risks.

Quite safe from what? From ever getting breast cancer? That is a very poor way of framing the issues. Yes, the experimental group had 79 breast cancer cases. But the control group didn't have zero cases, it had 60 cases. Moreover, each of those groups consisted of thousands of women.

And that bit about mammography being important for the women who have taken hormone replacement therapy. Isn't it every bit as important for those who have not?

Someone should write a good explanation about the concept of risks and about all the different types of risks we take (knowingly or unknowingly) every day.

Tweety LURVES McCain

That would be Chris Matthews, a so-called political pundit. Brian Williams loves McCain, too. From Digby:

Brian Williams: You know what I thought was unsaid ---they took their position Chris, we're seeing the replay --- they end up in this spot and the sun is coming is just from the side and there in the shadow is John McCain's buckled, concave shoulder. It's a part of his body the suit doesn't fill out because of his war injuries. Again you wouldn't spot it unless you knew to look for it. He doesn't give the same full chested profile as the president standing next to him. Talk about a warrior...

Chris Matthews: You know, when he was a prisoner all those years, as you know, in isolation from his fellows, I do believe, uhm, and machiavelli had this right --- it's not sentimental, it's factual --- the more you give to something, the more you become committed to it. That's true of marriage and children and everything we've committed to in our lives. He committed to his country over there. He made an investment in America, alone in that cell, when he was being tortured and afraid of being put to death at any moment -- and turning down a chance to come home.

This sounds like something McCain's campaign would say. Not something an objective political analyst would say. I guess we now know whom Williams and Matthews will vote for.

It's fun to compare statements like these to the way the same people discuss Democratic presidential candidates, especially Hillary Clinton. It's also fun to cast our collective minds back to the codpiece celebrations after George Bush declared the war in Iraq won.

Chris Matthews on that heroic day:

MATTHEWS: Let's go to this sub--what happened to this week, which was to me was astounding as a student of politics, like all of us. Lights, camera, action. This week the president landed the best photo op in a very long time. Other great visuals: Ronald Reagan at the D-Day cemetery in Normandy, Bill Clinton on horseback in Wyoming. Nothing compared to this, I've got to say.

Katty, for visual, the president of the United States arriving in an F-18, looking like he flew it in himself. The GIs, the women on--onboard that ship loved this guy.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Women in the media (by Suzie)

       A new Web site called New Media Women Entrepreneurs rounds up a bunch of statistics, including: Although women have been the majority of college journalism majors since 1977, they still make up only a third of the full-time journalism workforce in the United States. That has not changed in more than 25 years. Women hold only 3 percent of the top positions. 
       Go to the site and read more of the statistics, which show women are under-represented throughout the media.
       Some people think we live in a postfeminist age, in which gender doesn't matter. It shouldn't matter if the media hires, retains and promotes people who just happen to be women. We know women can be ... well ... Charlotte Allens and Maureen Dowds.  
       Call me crazy, but I still think the media would be less sexist in its coverage if it was less sexist in employment.  

And A Fluff Post For The Election Day

A good political blogger should link to statistics which allow you to follow every moment of today's vote counting, especially in Texas and in Ohio. A good political blogger would write interesting posts about why Hillary is the Devil Incarnate and why Barack is just an empty gift box (though with nice ribbon). Then that good blogger would have to read through comments about how indeed we have a fight between a devil and an empty box, and how the outcome is apocalypse now, tomorrow and in November, and how lots of Democrats will not turn out in November unless their favorite candidate wins. Who knows, lots of Democrats might just vote for McCain instead. It's always fun to cut out your own nose to spite yourself.

Well, I'm not a good political blogger so I don't have to do that. Instead, I'm going out for some nice exercise and perhaps a bite or two (hmmm). But let me just remind everyone that what is at stake in November is not about Clinton or about Obama. It's about the warmongering, the nominations to the Supreme Court and about rescuing some still-alive parts of the Constitution.

So relax and keep things in perspective.

In The Name of The Mother And The Daughter

I baptize thee something-or-other.

Doesn't that sound very weird to you? Yet we view the reverse as holy and religious, a religion which worships the Father and the Son. And that is how it's going to be within the Catholic Church forever, if the Pope Benedict is any indication:

The Vatican declared Friday that baptisms must be performed under a traditional formula - referring to the Trinity as the "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" - to be valid.

Any baptisms conducted under new formulas that use inclusive nonmale language are not legitimate.

A statement by the Vatican's doctrinal department rejected the new formulas, used by some Protestants and Catholics, which have come into use in an attempt to avoid masculine-exclusive language to refer to the Trinity.

The rejected formulas are: "I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer and of the Sanctifier" or "I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator and of the Sustainer."

Wild Hunt (via Hecate) has more to say about Pope Ratzi's dislike of feminist ideas in general.

I always thought that God is not necessarily a creature with a penis. But I guess I was misled in that.

This Is What The Conservatives Offer Women

At the Corner of the National Review, the response to the Charlotte Allen column on the dimness of women was given by Kathryn Jean Lopez (yes, a woman):

Charlotte Allen

eviscerates women. I love it.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Dissecting Charlotte Allen's Column

I am dim. I faint and shriek. I can't add 2 and 2. I can't drive or parallel park. I can't do three-dimensional mental rotations to save my life, and this will doom my life to one of concrete thoughts, intense emotions, illogicality and the one correct sphere for someone with those flaws: To stay at home and to be solely responsible for the teaching, care and safety of the frailest among us: little children.

So Charlotte Allen tells us women in her Washington Post column "We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get?" She must be writing satire, both because her conclusions are too preposterous to take seriously but also because if she was serious about us dim-bulb-women, surely she wouldn't have been allowed loose on the opinion pages of an august and objective newspaper?

Whatever the reasons Washington Post had for publishing Allen's piece, there it sits now, all printed, oozing misogyny and carefully picked pseudo-facts about women's obvious inferiority, and causing the usual dilemma I have with these pieces about the many ways women suck. Should I let the piece alone or should I dissect it and subject each slice to the microscope? It's a little like trying to decide whether that small section of covered-up asbestos in your basement is better ignored or removed. Either way, you will have no peace of mind.

Let's go with the dissecting. What sleights of hand does Allen use to make women look so bad?

The first of the tricks in her toolkit (or perhaps in her dainty little handbag) consists of not comparing the average man with the average woman. Instead, she chooses to see most women as brainless bimbos and most men as rational and calm human beings with only a few very minor flaws (such as eating standing up at the stove). In this alternative Allen-world women read silly romances, even soft-core porn, while no man at all surfs the Internet for pornography. Women pick their electoral candidates by whichever makes them feel more hysterical. Men, on the other hand, only pick on the basis of dry facts about the balance of payments and the state of the Federal deficit. And no man ever shrieks or faints about anything, possibly because some of them are too busy getting drunk while painting their faces prior to going to a baseball game.

It's quite clever, this trick of not comparing like with like. But it does lead Allen to a corner when the "exceptional women" argument crops up. Hence, she must assure us that women like Hildegard of Bingen, Elizabeth I or George Eliot were "brilliant outliers", the exceptions that prove the general rule about female dimness. Presumably men like Alcuin or Peter the Great or William Shakespeare were no different from your average guys. You could walk into them on any day of the year.

The second trick is to do utter violence to research results, and there is a wealth of that in Allen's column. For instance, you might equate the ability to drive well with general intelligence. Then if you can prove that women are bad drivers you can prove that they are probably too stupid to vote. Neat, is it not, especially considering that driving ability is unlikely to be correlated with intelligence? The next step is to go and dig for a study which might show that women are really horrible drivers and that the Saudis were correct in not letting them behind the wheel. And here is just such a study, from 1998! Allen interprets it for us:

A study published in 1998 by the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine and public health revealed that women clocked 5.7 auto accidents per million miles driven, in contrast to men's 5.1, even though men drive about 74 percent more miles a year than women. The only good news was that women tended to take fewer driving risks than men, so their crashes were only a third as likely to be fatal.

"The only good news was that women tended to take fewer driving risks than men, so their crashes were only a third as likely to be fatal?!" I can't believe my eyes. So not killing people isn't anything much to write home about when it comes to women's driving skills? Now I feel all dizzy and likely to swoon.

But before I do that, let me just point out that the study found out much more than that odd and biased interpretation suggests. For example:

The investigators, who published their results in the July issue of Epidemiology, found that although teenage boys started off badly, with about 20 percent more crashes per mile driven than teenage girls, males and females between ages 20 and 35 were equally at risk of being involved in a crash, and after age 35 female drivers were at greater risk of a crash than their male counterparts.

What were the Washington Post editors thinking when they let Allen say, in print, that men's larger brains are a surefire way of telling that they are smarter than women or that "...the capacity to rotate three-dimensional objects in the mind, at which men tend to excel over women, are in turn related to a capacity for abstract thinking and reasoning, the grounding for mathematics, science and philosophy." Related, in what sense, I wonder, while rotating three-dimensional images of Charlotte Allen in my mind, something I should start doing every morning before trying any abstract thought at all.

The third tool Allen uses in her piece to really hammer down the nail of women's inferiority is to interpret all and any evidence of actual skills or intelligence in women as easy-peasy stuff. Thus, she "coasted through life and college" on her superior memory and verbal skills. Nothing to admire there, gals. Just coasting on something unearned and unimportant. That women might have good networking skills is turned into "nothing ever gets done and everyone spends the day talking about Botox." In the Allen-world guys work all day very hard, never mention professional sports or the swimsuit issue of the Sports Illustrated.

Sigh. I feel a little as if I'm waking up into a bad nightmare. What has happened to our political discourse during this election season? When did we declare open season for all who wish to hunt women?

You think I'm exaggerating, in the typically female fashion? Check out what the Post deemed a suitable counterpoint for this opinion piece about women being dim. It's all about women not being dim but fickle.

We Can All Now Relax!

Because Charlotte Allen's piece about the inherent inferiority of women was tongue-in-cheek! Whose tongue in whose cheek?

I was wondering what track the editor of the Outlook section, John Pomfret, would take. He chose to tell us that we have no sense of humor, really:

Wash Post editor says controversial piece was 'tongue-in-cheek'

On the front of Sunday's Outlook section, in the Washington Post, two articles were placed under the banner, "Women vs. Women."

It's the second piece, titled "We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get?" by Charlotte Allen that immediately fired up the blogosphere, and prompted Media Matters to get involved.

"If it insulted people, that was not the intent," Outlook editor John Pomfret told me this morning, calling the piece "tongue-in-cheek."

Ah! One of those funny non-apology apologies! Yes, I wanted Pomfret's head on a platter instead.

One of the commenters at Politico made the best overall comment on this explanation:

Do you even know who Charlotte Allen is? That's like David Duke asking to write a tongue-in-cheek article about the inferiority of African Americans.

Hunting Season. Post 2.

This should turn into an interesting series. It is all about the way the media has decided to hunt women, as if some invisible hunting horn has been blown, to get all the misogynists on their horses and ready to ride. Yes, my sweet reader, I'm asking you to imagine women as foxes. Of course that's not an uncommon term for some women.

The first big hunting meet of this season seems to have taken place in the Washington Post yesterday. What other explanation might there be for the humorous column of one Charlotte Allen on the topic of the intellectual inferiority of the weaker sex (her own), ending with this:

So I don't understand why more women don't relax, enjoy the innate abilities most of us possess (as well as the ones fewer of us possess) and revel in the things most important to life at which nearly all of us excel: tenderness toward children and men and the weak and the ability to make a house a home. (Even I, who inherited my interior-decorating skills from my Bronx Irish paternal grandmother, whose idea of upgrading the living-room sofa was to throw a blanket over it, can make a house a home.) Then we could shriek and swoon and gossip and read chick lit to our hearts' content and not mind the fact that way down deep, we are . . . kind of dim.

The shorter version of Allen's whole piece goes something like this (should you wish to dispense with the longer version):

Women faint and shriek. Women act irrationally. Women can't drive (or at least fail to kill enough people while driving, compared to men), can't think in abstract thoughts or do three-dimensional mental rotations (which everybody knows to be the decisive skill underlying philosophy, history and the sciences). Women read chick lit and have hysterics.

Therefore, the only possible place for women is at home where they can be the only ones responsible for the care and safety of little helpless children.


The e-mail address for the Washington Post ombudsman is:

On Honor

Does it ever happen to you that a word clearly tries to climb up your face and into your brain?

The word "honor"* has been knocking on my door for a while now, starting with two posts by Rod Dreher (crunchycon, as he calls himself), a conservative Christian who posts on Beliefnet. The first of these posts "The Bride's a Slut. They Call It Progress" was all about a woman who wanted to get married in a dress which revealed the tattoo on her back. Dreher found this slutty. He would have preferred the bride to act like a virgin even if she wasn't one:

I should be clear that when I said earlier that I missed old-fashioned hypocricy, I meant that I don't really expect brides today to be virgins on their wedding day (though I hope that they are), but I wish that they would still honor the ideal by the way they comported themselves on their wedding day.

He then got some second thoughts after hearing Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a feminist who used to be a Muslim, talk about honor killings, but not enough to retract his condemnation of the bride without honor.

In the second post Dreher discusses men-as-sluts, to be an equal-opportunity moralist, I guess:

UPDATE: What it fundamentally comes down to is whether or not there is any such thing as honor, and if so, whether it has anything to do with sexual behavior. I think the answer to both questions is "yes", and that it should apply equally to males and females.

Fascinating, isn't it? The same post refers to honor in men like this:

Time was a woman might have respected and been grateful for a man who wanted to treat her honorably, according to traditional standards.

Honor clearly has to do with sexuality, but whatever Dreher might say, only for women. Men are not subject to honor killings, and when they treat women honorably the point isn't that they deny women their precious bodily fluids but that they don't insist on receiving sexual access.

So what is this sexual honor women should have? Is it virginity or chastity? Probably, given this little poem:

She offered her honor.
He honored her offer.
And all night long it was honor and offer!

Or this statement:

I'm defending her honor,
which is more than she ever did...

Now contrast all this with the following statement by the front-runner in the Republican presidential primaries, John McCain:

McCain: I want our troops to come home, but I want them to come home with honor and in victory. To concede defeat would strengthen al Qaeda, empower Iran, unleash a fullscale civil war in Iraq that could quite possibly provoke genocide there and destabilize the entire region. The consequences would threaten us for years and, I am certain, would eventually draw us into a wider and more difficult war that would impose even greater sacrifices on us.

I doubt McCain was talking about the troops coming home all chaste or virginal. The male concept of honor has to do with great deeds or general upright behavior. The female concept of honor has to do with keeping your legs crossed.

Interesting, huh?
*All bolds in this post are mine. To caressingly pick out the terms of interest.

Today's Trivial Thought

And this is truly trivial: Why is it that only right-wingers abbreviate my name to Ech?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hunting Season Starts. Post I.

Have you gotten your pencils sharpened and your keyboards on the ready? Have you stocked proper ammunition? It's the hunting season for chicks, and if you wait too long someone will have said the really misogynistic shit before you got your chance. So hurry up!

The Washington Post is a step ahead of you. Women are either dim or fickle. Probably tomorrow they'll have a thoughtful column which shows that we could be both dim and fickle!

Then there is the ever-funny Mr. Maher. I've known for a long time how very much he loves women, preferably barbecued, but this is certainly proof for those of you who still thought that he was a nice guy:

Bill Maher: I'm not trying to be sexist here, but I'm just saying that women try a lot of different tacks when they're in arguments.

Harry Shearer: Do you remember the website in the 90s , where it was all her different hairstyles?

Maher: Well, hairstyles.

Harry Shearer: Yes, but now there's going to be a website with all her different personalities.

Maher: Well, we made a montage, actually. Just to show you that, just — I'm not being sexist — I'm just saying that men, when we argue, we're kind of a one-trick pony, we try our one thing, and then we . . . sulk when we don't get our way. [Plays a clip of Hillary, misty-eyed at a campaign event]

Maher: But look at Hillary Clinton. Because the first thing a woman does, of course, is cry. [Affecting a dramatic, teary voice] "I just want to be happy. Why can't you just love me?"

Maher: And then they go to sweet talking.

[Plays a clip of Hillary complimenting Obama at a recent debate]

Maher: "You're the best thing that ever happened to me! And you look so handsome in that tie!"

[Plays a clip of Hillary saying "shame on you" about Obama's "Harry and Louise" brochure]

Maher: And then they throw an anger fit totally unrelated to anything. "Stay home and watch the game. See if I care."

[Plays a clip of Hillary mocking Obama's soaring rhetoric]

Maher: And when it doesn't work, they bring out the sarcasm. "Oh, I'm just a woman, I couldn't possibly understand the issues like you could." Don't write me, please ladies, don't write me.

And Christopher Hitchens agrees. Of course he would. He thinks that women can't be funny but are good for giving blowjobs and stuff.

Still not ready to join in the fun? Too bad. The first bitches have already been bagged.

Blogging In A Time of Snow by Anthony McCarthy

Threw the back out moving snow yesterday. If you thought I was grumpy yesterday, well, let’s stipulate I was and the old back’s worse today. Here are two pieces made newly relevant by the attacks on Obama over campaign financing and the IRS harassment of the liberal United Church of Christ for having had him as a speaker YEARS AGO! And the platform committee is beginning to make sounds of certain defeat.

You might want to read these two links to posts by the great blogger, RMJ at Adventus about the UCC incident.

Pretending Politicians Have The Same Job Description As Saints by Anthony McCarthy

You have to admit some liberals are strange. Some get up on a soap box and that turns into their whole universe. One of the oddest of these ducks is the process liberal. You can tell one by it's call, "I'm not interested in the outcome, I only want the process to be honest,". And so it's time to rip out another weak plank from the platform of The Code of Liberal Ethics before someone else steps on it and gets hurt.

This might pinch some toes but Fred Wertheimer is the great example of process liberalism. Some of you know that I've got a bone to pick with him over his teaming up with Newt Gingrich to get Jim Wright ousted, ending the only real opposition that the Reagan-Bush administration ever faced. In the most supreme political irony of our age, Fred and Newt sank him over a BOOK DEAL that by Gingrichean standards was chump change. Even if Wertheimer's motives were pure, in theory, this act marks him as the archetype process liberal due to it's pettiness, the enormous benefit it brought to Republicans and the damage it did to Democrats. You remember, Wright was replaced by the tragically ungifted Tom Foley who obsessed over marble floors in the elevators and lost the house to Newt Gingrich. I don't believe that was what Wertheimer wanted but it wasn't any surprise when it happened.

Process liberals bask in their own purity knowing that they are welcome on any talk show in the country and will seldom be asked a tough question or get pinned down on anything they say. They go on and answer all of the reverently posed questions about the latest sins of Democrats. They predictably bleat out their dismay over these venial sins which, they decree, must carry the penalty of eternal damnation. In the process they sell out the real progressive agenda that doesn't end in process, it ends in results, in making peoples' lives better.

They say "the ends don't justify the means," on the rare occasion someone questions their judgment. But that phrase was invented to counter people who wanted to use means that involved killing people and doing serious injury. Dictators' ends don't justify their means. But the left in the United States won't start doing that, no matter what the temptation. The left will use the untidy and imperfect process of government to defeat Republicans' lies and theft. If there is some minor naughtiness involved it's a small price to pay for child nutrition, healthcare, jobs creation, Social Security and other such benefits to humanity as the notably impure Democratic majorities of the past have produced. Remember the "post office scandal"? Looks penny ante after Bush II, doesn't it.

The sentimental attachment we have for these process liberals is rather strange itself since they haven't produced much and they've prevented much good. That the Republican media values them isn't any surprise, it should be an indictment against them. They wouldn't be asked on if Republicans didn't like the results.

The Rope To Hang Ourselves With by Anthony McCarthy

Two of our local delegates to this weekend's Maine Democratic Convention gave independent confirmation of their frustration over the same issue. The platform presentation was over long, divisive and futile. Granted they've both heard me lather on about party platforms but it was interesting that was the first nonsense they reported back to us about.

The only use I've ever seen a platform put to was for our opponents to smash us over the head with planks they'd pulled out of it. If a candidate tries to stand on a platform they fall off. Most of ours aren't that stupid anymore but they always have to deal in some way with the useless thing. I challenge anyone to come up with instances where platform planks have made a bit of difference in legislation adopted or lives improved. A direct link from the adopted plank to the signing by the executive to its being made real by implementation. In best platform form, include a footnote giving the length of the fight, the bad blood spilled over the struggle for every last splinter and the problems it created for the candidate. No group has ever lost a thing in real life if they weren't mentioned in the entirely unreadable resulting document.

Platform committees too often become the tiny, little piece of turf of people who have little to say, who say it at great length and who do little else. They fight like mad over that turf using the weapon of competitive scruples, a weapon whose only use is to commit political hari keri. Anyone showing these tendencies should be diverted into something else. They should be put in charge of refreshments or some other innocuous detail that could benefit from their fussy gifts. Not entertainment or continuity, however. They've already shown a talent for wasting time, they don't need any more chances to practice on the innocent.

I suppose we must have a platform since if it is entirely absent the Republicans will make that into a campaign issue. It should be as short as possible. It should be something our candidates can run with and not run into. And to avoid future time wasted on platforms that could be better used in actually winning the election, it should be something that will be the real focus of all our efforts until it is really implemented. How about this.

Democrats believe that all People have rights just because they are people. They have their rights no matter what race, gender, ethnic group, etc. People have a right to nutrition, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education. They have a right to an environment that will sustain life. They have a right to just pay for their work and an opportunity to have a good job. We believe that government's only legitimate purpose is to help People enjoy their rights. The Democratic Party is dedicated to finding ways to provide this opportunity to everyone, to making those ways into law and to the full implementation of those laws to make peoples' lives better. We believe so completely in democracy that we will peacefully promote its expansion to the entire human race so everyone can enjoy the blessings of freedom. When we have fulfilled these planks we can discuss secondary issues.

If anyone can find anything that the Republicans can use to defeat our candidates in that, please remove it immediately.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

After you figure you’ve heard everything everyone’s going to do with Billy Strayhorn’s Lush life, you find Stan Getz and Mary Lou Williams on You Tube.

Wish someone would post Mary Lou’s Waltz.

Feeling Queasy About This

Or A TV kiss is not a kiss. by Anthony McCarthy

As if gay men don’t have enough problems now we have a controversy about two gay characters kissing on a soap opera. The controversy is stirred up by one of the cooky-cutter-conservative-corporations, the home industry of American facism. And, of course, they have to be opposed. But, quite simply, this is not a major sign of progress attacked. I’m sure it is a sign of trouble for gay men in the United States.

I doubt that the positive effects of having gay characters on soap operas are going to balance out the problems those characters will lead to. Witnessing many, many screwed up straight lives of the sort that a TV based culture seems to be good at promoting, many of them seem to be copying what they saw on soaps. The, thankfully, little direct observation I’ve made of them seem to give one clear, though clearly unintended and unlearned lesson. People who give in to their desires without a sense of decency, lead screwed up lives. The kinds of lives seen in most of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination this time. And stupid? How many people in real life are stupid enough to discuss stuff they didn’t want overheard without the door closed? After they’ve made the same mistake the sixth time? It’s as if the residents of the small-mid-western towns that, I understand, are the locations of most of the soaps are too ga-ga to be given solid food. They’re populated with idiots in perpetual heat.

The commercial media won’t be the place where positive depictions of gay people come from. The best place for people to see the best of gay men and lesbians should would be people they know personally. Those won’t be people who take their models from what American TV shows us to be. Not even with their best efforts. And that would not be found on the soaps. The media could only play a role in bring us up from oppression if decent, responsible, intelligent adult gay men and lesbians were written and acted by good writers and excellent actors. Frankly, those aren’t going to be found on daytime TV, they are almost non-existent in the moives, where decent, adult, gay men are even rarer than nice straight guys. And speaking of straight people. The models of straight behavior on TV doesn’t enhance the lives of straight people, why should anyone expect they’ll do better by us? At the risk of offending large numbers of people, the number of soap opera names held by neglected children in the news must mean something.

American TV is crap. I don’t want anyone forming an idea of me based on what is found there any more than responsible, grown-up lesbians would want to be taken for Rosie O’Donnell or Ellen DeGeneres. While the neo-fascists have to be opposed, I’d feel a lot better about defending gay characters kissing on TV if I didn’t suspect those will lead to silly, superficial, screwed-up behavior in what we have to take by default as being real life.

A Hapless Soldier In The Hands Of A Self Righteous Army by Anthony McCarthy

Billy Boy The Sunday Soldier of the 17th Maine by Jean Mary Flahive* is a novel based on a real story, one I grew up with. Billy was William Laird, a “slow” boy from Berwick, Maine, near where I live. Though illiterate and most likely not able to understand what he was doing, he was enlisted in the Army during the Civil War along with a group of other boys from his town, deserted after he’d been separated from them by the Army, walked a long way home from Maryland, was arrested and was shot by a firing squad for desertion. That much of the story is pretty solid fact. The town lore is that he was badly harassed and likely abused in the Army and that Abraham Lincoln, when informed of his story, pardoned him but that the pardon arrived too late. Though it seems the last part is not able to be confirmed. The author points out that the Anti-Conscription riots might have had something to do with a pardon being lost at the time he was killed. It’s impossible to know.

I got the story from the same source the author did. She was given an account written by Richard Stillings, a history teacher, local politician, and career military officer, after his funeral. He was also a friend of my parents, he told me the story, himself. His family lived in Berwick at the time Billy Laird lived, I think it is certain that his ancestors would have known the Laird family, so he probably got it from a line of transmission that began close to the facts.**

Dick was a history major and not a bad one, I read one of his college papers and it was pretty good if quite conventional. He was smart and honest about history, though he was a liberal Republican of the sort which doesn’t exist anymore. You won’t be surprised to hear we fought about everything to do with politics if it came up. Since he knew I’d fight at the drop of an implication, he must have enjoyed it. He certainly provoked me often enough. Dick died twelve years ago and I wish I could ask for his comment. Jean Mary Flahive did a lot of additional research but said that she really only found the beginning and the end of the story so oral history a generation removed is probably as good as is available.

The book is a real novel so much of what it contains is either guessed at or invented, the author makes it pretty clear at the end of the book what is which. I think that her guesses were generally on the mark. The irresponsibility of allowing a mentally retarded boy to enlist in the army, the ill treatment he would have gotten, especially when he was separated from people he knew, the injustice of the military justice system that killed him with brutal indifference, though I’d guess it was with a generous measure of petty official enthusiasm. I have wondered if he wasn’t killed just as an example to others, a specimen of the institutionalized terror that all war machines practice as a means of forcing people to make war. I’d wondered if a mentally retarded boy might have been seen as expendable by military officers with too little to do stationed in Augusta, Maine where he was tried.

The completely invented material fills out the story into a narrative that tries to explain how he might have made it home. It’s suitable for its intended audience, though it goes farther than I’d have dared try.

I think the picture of his family and their reaction to the execution of a beloved son must be close to true. They recovered his body and buried him on their farm, where his grave still lies.** They must have loved him enough to overcome whatever shame would have accrued to them for having produced a deserter during the Civil War. I hope that is what that means. The story I heard was that they eventually left the town, having had their hearts broken by the injustice of it. The sadness of the story survived for the next hundred years as part of local history so I think there must have been more than a little affection for Billy Laird while he was alive.

Billy Boy is a good book for middle-school aged children and older to read, something to counter the constant pro-war propaganda that saturates the media in the United States today. Every decade or so there is a story about someone who was inducted into the military who shouldn’t have been due to their intellectual limits. Sometimes they are destroyed by the sadism or indifference of the military and its officers, sometimes it amounts to no more than cold blooded murder. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to change as the imperial wars the United States is brought into by corrupt presidents with real absolute war making powers continue. William Laird’s story is only a small story of a hapless soldier, one of those whose blood regularly runs down the palace walls of our pretend republic. It pulls back the curtain on “supporting the troops” in a way that wouldn’t ever remain buried in a real democracy.

* ISBN: 978-1-934031-13-1 Billy Boy is published by Island Port Press.

** He told me on another occasion of having shaken the hand of someone who shook hands with Lincoln so he knew people who had been alive in the 1860s

*** Laird, William H., d. July 15, 1863, aged 30 yrs. 6 mos. 14 days. (53) (Executed as a deserter, but irresponsible.) BURIAL INSCRIPTIONS And other Data of Burials in Berwick, York County, Maine to the Year 1922 by Wilbur D. Spencer . I believe the age should actually read 20 yrs. I’ve never visited the grave, though I know people who have seen it. Reading through the list of Cemeteries indicates that Richard Stillings’ uncle owned the Laird Families’ farm early in the 20th Century.