Saturday, March 15, 2008

Easter Weekend 1993 by Anthony McCarthy

Holy Saturday afternoon, most dismal of the calendar.
Just waiting in the paraffin air.

There is a place where wild oats grow,
Dull flowers, more winter, not spring,
The stone wall that goes up hill.
Olive, nodding lilies made for a waiting day.

Sighting up the line to where you’re buried.
Up the hill, where the stone wall didn’t reach
In the plot of cousins
Who gave you room, finally,
The shame of death with the shame of life, notwithstanding,
By quick subtraction, going on twenty-seven years.

A young death, for me,
You bastard son of a hard family.
Too far gone to shake any more heads.

Tall, strong, day laborer.
Strong, like your hard-assed brother
You should have lasted a drunk till now.
He has.
But drunk to death, even so.
Not even the romance of a car crash
To bury you by.

You weren’t hard,
I remember.
Seven, or maybe six, in town, after school,
Falling in the street, cut my knee,
Afraid of visible tears and shame.
Suddenly, was stood on my feet.
“You ‘ll right kid?”
Never heard you again.

But eyes, blue and red,
Your face too old for its age.
The smell of liquor and cigarettes.
Scared me sober.
In your gaze,
The first time I ever saw
The ground of everything.
Your hand tight on my arm.
No more than a second, you held me up,
A drunk, I’d heard,
No more than another before you went on
To drink the rest,
But two were enough
To draw me up the hill,
Twice as old as you, now.
To hope for, but never to stand you up.

I Like Our Candidates, It’s The Jerks In Their Campaigns I Can’t Stand. By Anthony McCarthy

After weeks of reading the high school level invective heaped on Hillary Clinton by people on the leftist blogs, it was a real pleasure to hear Barack Obama’s reaction to the equally foolish gaff by Geraldine Ferraro. In contrast to many of his supporters, his reaction was a model of class and maturity such as used to be fairly normal for the best of politicians.

If Hillary Clinton loses the nomination I think you can date the beginning of the end to what Bill Clinton said in South Carolina. And he wasn’t alone. There were others. But it was Bill Clinton’s statements about race then that changed the atmosphere and altered the polarity of the electorate. After that any statement made by Hillary’s campaign impinging on race would be pulled in a direction that would be dangerous.

Some might point to Hillary Clinton’s statement about the necessity of Lyndon Johnson being in office to get the Voting Rights Act and other parts of Martin Luther King’s agenda put into law as being a continuation of a strategy. I don’t believe that for a single second. What she said was obviously true, you have to hold the government to put anything into law. You wonder how anyone with the most vestigial knowledge of civics could fault the accuracy of what she said even if it might have been put more advantageously. But in the changed and charged atmosphere of her campaign it would have been better if it hadn’t been said at all.

Whatever happens, whoever wins the nomination, the friction between the Clinton campaign and one of the largest and most loyal parts of the Democratic coalition isn’t helpful at all. Just as bad is the sexist locker room talk from the supporters of Obama on the blogs and elsewhere. A lot of that is indistinguishable from the worst of what the Republican mouthpieces have been saying about her for going on two decades. Some of it is also reminiscent of the language used by the spoiled brats on the puritan left to talk about Nancy Pelosi. That also is offensive to another essential and reliable part of the Democratic coalition. It’s not as if we have enough of those parts to make any of them expendable. Winning the election is going to be hard enough as it is without the boys of the blogs trying to out do each other to come up with anti-Hillary spew.

I heard on the radio that both of our candidates for the nomination had an “intense”, private, three minute conversation between themselves on the Senate floor the other night. I hope that during that conversation it was agreed that which ever one of them got the nomination would have a hard time beating McCain and the entire force of the corporate system that will try to hand him a crown, just as they successfully have for a series of inept and criminal Republicans over the past thirty years.

You could suspect that they might have commiserated between themselves at how hard it is to keep their supporters from making their real work, winning the election, infinitely more difficult for them. Between the two of them and what they must have found out about the nearly impossible job of keeping your supporters from committing political suicide on your behalf it's a natural topic of conversation for these two smart grown ups. With what they’ve learned these past months, they could probably come up with an idea or two on the subject.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Why men write stupid things (by Suzie)

         In "Why Men Do Stupid Things: The Psychological Appeal of Prostitutes," psychologist Michael Bader writes that men seek prostitutes because they are "psychically weighed down by the belief that they're supposed to take care of women, that they have an obligation to make women happy, to please them." A man wants a woman who will be completely devoted
to his pleasure, his satisfaction, his care, his happiness. The man doesn't have to please a prostitute, doesn't have to make her happy, doesn't have to worry about her emotional needs or demands. He can give or take without the burden of reciprocity. He can be entirely selfish. He can be especially aggressive or especially passive, and not only is the woman not upset, she acts aroused. He is not responsible for her in any way. She is entirely focused on him. He is the center of the world.
         Because that never happens outside of prostitution. Men who patronize prostitutes are never selfish with other women, and women never pretend to be aroused or pleased when they're not.
         What are the implications of Bader's analysis? Should men worry less about pleasing women? Should women do a better job of reassuring their partners? What about women who worry about pleasing men and who want to be "entirely selfish"?
         Bader has written similarly about pornography. In most porn, women act happy, even when they are being violently degraded, he claims. He says this isn't misogyny. "It's sad because men in our culture are so disconnected from themselves and women, and often feel so helpless in their efforts to make women happy, that they require these kinds of fantasies to get aroused ..."
         I'm so worried that my blogging won't please men like Bader that I need to go now and watch a film of men being tortured. Don't get me wrong; I love men. I just need to find a way to relieve my guilt.  

Friday Critter Blogging

The first picture is by our brilliant swampcracker, of a lovely parrot:

The second picture, of a high-rise apartment complex for birds (the holes are nests), is by Doug:

And last but certainly not least, FeraLiberal's Emma is walking her own path.

Fear, desire and fembots (by Suzie)


      Whether high-priced call girls or Real Dolls or female robots, some men seem fascinated with the idea of a woman who will serve (and service) them without the requirements of a relationship.
       The latest issue of Bitch magazine has a fascinating article on "the evolution of the artificial woman." Not all serve men. Author Tammy Oler suggests the Cylons of the updated "Battlestar Galactica"* "come closest to embodying the cyberfeminist ideal of gender/identity liberation," as posited by Donna Haraway in "A Cyborg Manifesto."
      Gender stereotypes also take a beating in the new "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," a television show that takes up the story after the second "Terminator" movie. In terms of feminism, the show is not perfect, by any means. But it does feature the strong single mother Sarah Connor and adds the female terminator Cameron, sent from the future to protect Sarah's son, John, who can save "mankind" from the bad robots. 
       What Oler says about the movie "RoboCop" could apply to "BSG" and "The Sarah Connor Chronicles": They explore what it means to be human - and whether humanity is worth saving.
        Oler also talks about how pop culture combines the fear of women and machines in its depiction of artificial women. That's true of "BSG," in which the female Cylons are much more sexualized than the males. In "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," however, Cameron's beauty rarely matters in regard to the plot. She doesn't appear programmed as a femme fatale.  She is learning to perform gender.
        To set up the clip below: A ballet teacher told Cameron that "dance is the hidden language of the soul." This intrigued her. (It also intrigued fans who knew that the actor Summer Glau had been a ballet dancer.) We hear Sarah Connor talk about what separates terminators from humans, as Derek, a human who has fought the robots, watches Cameron with awe and fear. This is a "male gaze" with a twist. Viewers know that the watcher could just as easily be a woman and the terminator could be a man. The terminator can dance freely because she holds more power, including the power to explore her self.

*If you're a fan, check out the "BSG" link. The video is hilarious.

A spectrum of sexuality (by Suzie)


       Eliot Spitzer isn’t the only one whose sex life has been splashed across the pages of the New York Times. The Times also revealed Buffy the Vampire Slayer in bed with another woman last week.
       The Buffy comic book continues the television show created by feminist Joss Whedon. Maybe the latest issue “won’t change the world,” to quote a well-known song by Jill Sobule, but it has sparked much conversation, at least among geeks, um, I mean, people who read comics. Whedon says:  
    "It’s not a huge life change for Buffy. She’s not gay. Sexuality is a spectrum. Many of us have experimented in our youth – that’s what youths are for.”
       After all, Buffy has had romantic relationships with two vampires. Whedon says he didn’t propose this plot for the publicity, and the comic doesn’t depict any exploitive slayer-on-slayer action.
       In Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire, Lisa M. Diamond suggests female sexuality may have more to do with context than gender. For example, you’re surrounded by hundreds of female slayers who adore you, and only a couple of men.
Lisa Diamond argues that for some women, love and desire are not rigidly heterosexual or homosexual but fluid, changing as women move through the stages of life, various social groups, and, most important, different love relationships. This perspective clashes with traditional views of sexual orientation as a stable and fixed trait. But that view is based on research conducted almost entirely on men. Diamond is the first to study a large group of women over time. She has tracked one hundred women for more than ten years as they have emerged from adolescence into adulthood.

         What is that sound? Is that Echidne sharpening her knives to slice and dice this research? All I can say is: I look forward to the day when the gender of our partners no longer matters to others.

Save women's studies (by Suzie)

       Last week, the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of South Florida celebrated its 35th year – and, perhaps, its last.
       USF must cut its budget, and the elimination of the department is being discussed. USF has the only autonomous Women’s Studies Department in Florida, and the program is one of the oldest in the nation. I'm partial because I got my master's degree there in 2001.
        If you want to add your name to a petition calling for the preservation of the department, message
        Last year, Ms. magazine asked what can you do with a women’s studies degree. Short answer: Transform the world.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Music Hour

Laura Nyro

A Fluff Post

I finally cashed in a gift card on by reordering a few books I destroyed by reading them in the bathtub (a great pleasure, by the way, except for the part where the book slips underwater), and I spent more time on trying to figure out how not to go over the gifted amount by even one cent than on actually selecting the books.

Which probably reveals something mean-spirited, nasty and illogical about me. But somehow a gift doesn't feel like a gift if you have to chip in to get it. It feels more like a discount, and the two are different things to me, emotionally speaking.

Anyway, I look forward to getting those books back on the crowded shelves where they belong.

More on Mamet's Conversions Experience

I earlier linked to Chet Scoville's excellent piece criticizing David Mamet's confession letter about how he came to see the truth and stopped being a brain-dead liberal who listens to the National Palestine Radio (NPR, which I usually call Nice, Polite Republicans), how he now instead believes that Free Markets will set us free.

What struck me about Mamet's ideas is something I have noticed many times before in people who skip from one end of the political spectrum to the other: They go and erect straw-ideologies (like strawmen) and then they kick them apart, easily and effortlessly, to show the reason for their conversion experience.

Thus, for Mamet all liberals think that people are good, that government is good and that business is bad. It's easy to point out exceptions to these rules. If you live in a dualistic world full of only extreme alternatives, then those exceptions will force you to choose the opposite choices: people are bad, the government is bad and business is good.

The snag in this way of thinking is an obvious one: Now it would be equally easy to point out exceptions to that latter triad. Would Mamet then decide that he is, after all, a brain-dead liberal?

Probably not, because he appears to have decided to look at only those pieces of evidence that support his current thesis (well, probably his thesis all along as I doubt he has been much of a liberal for at least twenty years). Thus, the fact that people can be swine in extreme situations proves that people are swine always. That not all government policies have been successful proves that they always end in sorrow. And so on.

It's an interesting phenomenon, this desire to see the world in extremes. I suspect that talking about it makes no difference, because it's most likely a personality quirk and not amenable to logical arguments. Rather, those arguments themselves will be turned into additional support structures for the emotions. I've seen this happen a lot recently, in the context of the primary campaign, too.

Oh, What Joy!

Laura Schlessinger is now never off your television screen, because the people in power have decided that it's an excellent idea to blame Mrs. Spitzer for her husband's use of prostitutes. Dr. Laura will be on Larry King next. The advertisement for her appearance tells us:

Always telling-it-like-it-is, always topical, it's Dr. Laura! What does she think of the Eliot Spitzer affair? You won't want to miss her take on this timely subject!

Any alien from outer space would figure out the imbalance of power between the sexes on earth from just the fact that CNN thinks having her on is a great idea. Because Dr. (of something unrelated to what she is doing now) Laura will blame women for everything, including the stuff that men do. Or especially that stuff.

Is this all just your usual search for controversial performers to plump up the audience numbers? I doubt that, because a reversal of the Schlessinger phenomenon should do as well then: a radical feminist, preferably a man, who bashes men as hard as Schlessinger bashes women. No such performer would be ever invited to Larry King's show.

I rest my case.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Today's Action Alert

Gays are a bigger threat to this country than terrorism. So says Oklahoma Representative Sally Kern. You can politely disagree.

Stand By Your Man

So that you can more precisely kick him in the gonads.

I'm trying to make sense of the conservative family values when it comes to adultery by the husband. It's very confusing, because conservatives say that women are supposed to put their families first, to get all their enjoyment and ambitions satisfied by their husbands and their children, to be totally family focused. Except when the man is unfaithful. Then the wife should divorce him, stat.

Even if there are small children, and even if those small children would be hurt by the divorce. The hell with the family, I guess.

It's very confusing. Human beings are much more complicated and multi-sided than the conservative mythology allows, but I still can't quite connect those two arguments into something resembling coherence.

Here are two disturbing takes on what Silda Wall Spitzer, governor Spitzer's wife, must be thinking right now:

On the March 11 edition of the CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric introduced a report by correspondent Nancy Cordes on "powerful men who cheat and the women who stand stoically by them." During the report, Cordes asked, "Big-city mayors, members of Congress, presidents, and presidential candidates: Why would they let sex jeopardize a position they worked so hard to win?" and aired a clip of Washington Post reporter Sally Quinn saying: "I can only think that ambition, their own personal ambition, is part of why they stick by these men, because they are accomplished women in their own right. And so, why would a Hillary Clinton or a Silda [Wall Spitzer, wife of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer] stand by her man and allow herself to be humiliated unless there was something in it for her?" Cordes then noted that "Wendy Vitter, whose senator husband David [R-LA] paid a prostitute, had a different explanation," and aired a clip of Wendy Vitter saying, "Like all marriages, ours is not perfect -- none of us are."

Similarly, during the March 11 broadcast of his CNN Headline News program, Glenn Beck remarked of Eliot Spitzer, "The thing that I'm most shocked about in this whole thing, or most disturbed about, is watching his wife stand beside him as he made these statements yesterday." Beck's guest, psychologist and author David Eigen, asserted: "Probably the wife knows that things weren't working ... and she's been going, 'I enjoy my lifestyle. I enjoy my position. And it's simply -- we've been allowing this to go on and on.' And there's been no true dialog ... and that's what really is the problem." Eigen later added: "Well, you know, this is a sad situation. But you know, the bottom line is -- how do I say this genteelly? They're paid to not worry about it. And they're in a position -- they've bartered themselves, in many cases. And unfortunately, you know, she's made her bed, and she's sleeping in it." Beck replied: "Ay, yi, yi."

So a woman who stands by her man is motivated by either the desire to continue her comfortable lifestyle or by her personal ambitions? What's in it for her, they ask. Well, the Spitzers have three teenage daughters. Perhaps, just perhaps, their well-being might matter to Silda Spitzer, too.

I have no idea what is going on inside people's marriages. But neither do these talking heads. It's fascinating how quickly something about a guy frequenting prostitutes turned in some heads into an argument about the comfortable lives of the "cuckolded" women. Spot any patterns in that?

A Historical Day!

This being the Women's History Month and all (yes, did you know that?), the New York Times has decided to post nothing but women's op-eds today! Hurray!

There's a snag, though. There usually is. The topic of all these op-eds is the governor Spitzer sex scandal. Finally a topic on which women can really show their expertise!

Another Good Read

Is this Chet Scoville post at Shakes. And while you are there read Jeff Fecke on Geraldine Ferraro's race comments. Also everything else, too.

One Stop Choadery Debunking

Bless you, Amanda, for criticizing one stupid anti-feminist article so well. Now I don't have to. Yippee!

Sex and The Single Girl Total Joint Arthroplasty

A fascinating Canadian study looked at the following question: Why do men have more than three times the rates of total knee arthroplasty than women? Here is the summary of the study:

Background: The underuse of total joint arthroplasty in appropriate candidates is more than 3 times greater among women than among men. When surveyed, physicians report that the patient's sex has no effect on their decision-making; however, what occurs in clinical practice may be different. The purpose of our study was to determine whether patients' sex affects physicians' decisions to refer a patient for, or to perform, total knee arthroplasty.

Methods: Seventy-one physicians (38 family physicians and 33 orthopedic surgeons) in Ontario performed blinded assessments of 2 standardized patients (1 man and 1 woman) with moderate knee osteoarthritis who differed only by sex. The standardized patients recorded the physicians' final recommendations about total knee arthroplasty. Four surgeons did not consent to the inclusion of their data. After detecting an overall main effect, we tested for an interaction with physician type (family physician v. orthopedic surgeon). We used a binary logistic regression analysis with a generalized estimating equation approach to assess the effect of patients' sex on physicians' recommendations for total knee arthroplasty.

Results: In total, 42% of physicians recommended total knee arthroplasty to the male but not the female standardized patient, and 8% of physicians recommended total knee arthroplasty to the female but not the male standardized patient (odds ratio [OR] 4.2, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.4–7.3, p < 0.001; risk ratio [RR] 2.1, 95% CI 1.5–2.8, p < 0.001). The odds of an orthopedic surgeon recommending total knee arthroplasty to a male patient was 22 times (95% CI 6.4–76.0, p < 0.001) that for a female patient. The odds of a family physician recommending total knee arthroplasty to a male patient was 2 times (95% CI 1.04–4.71, p = 0.04) that for a female patient.

Interpretation: Physicians were more likely to recommend total knee arthroplasty to a male patient than to a female patient, suggesting that gender bias may contribute to the sex-based disparity in the rates of use of total knee arthroplasty.

Was that clear to you? If not, here's my attempt to summarize the idea in the study: The researchers selected two patients, one man and one woman, with similar levels of damage to their knees. These "standardized patients" were then trained to respond to all physician questions identically, including asking about knee surgery if it didn't crop up in the discussion. They were then sent to get consultations with all the physicians who agreed to participate in this study. Note that the physicians were not told the identity of the standardized patients or the day when they might come calling. Neither were they told that the topic of the study was related to the patient's gender.

Ok. Here we have two patients, all identical except for their gender, consulting with a large number of physicians about whether to get total joint arthroplasty or not. If physicians indeed don't take the patient's gender into account in their recommendations we'd expect the two standardized patients to get the same recommendation from each of the participating physician, right?

But that is not what happened. As the summary above mentions, the male patient was much more likely to get the recommendation than the female patient. What is especially worrying is that orthopedic surgeons, the specialists in this field, showed a far greater bias in that direction than family physicians who are generalists.

What does this all mean? It means that being a woman makes getting total joint arthroplasty more difficult, at least in the geographic area this study applies to, independently of any medical factors in this case.

Why would physicians practice this type of gender discrimination (for that is what the study found to exist)? That is not something the study can answer, but one intriguing possibility is this: Historically, the results from total joint arthroplasty have been worse for women, and this may be why the orthopedic surgeons were less likely to suggest it to the female patient. But here's where it gets very interesting: The reason the results have been worse for women, on average, is that women have gotten the surgery at more advanced stages of knee deterioration than men. Why? Could it be that physicians didn't recommend arthroplasty to women until the knee was very bad indeed?

See how all this could create a vicious cycle for the female patients? If the treatment doesn't seem to benefit women very much then physicians will not recommend it until there is literally nothing else left to recommend, and at that point the treatment will not work as well as it might have at an earlier stage. Enter the next round of the cycle...

Original link from Lance

Vatican on Values

There are new deadly sins! It's like an update on the menu, and many of the new sins are more socially and environmentally concerned. That's very nice. That using birth control is counted among the sins is not.

Even more interestingly, Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, had this to say about the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church:

Closer to home, Girotti was asked about the many "situations of scandal and sin within the church," in what appeared to be a reference to allegations in the United States and other countries of sexual abuse by clergy of minors and the coverups by hierarchy.

The monsignor acknowledged the "objective gravity" of the allegations, but contended that the heavy coverage by mass media of the scandals must also be denounced because it "discredits the church."

Yes, you read that second paragraph correctly. It would have been better if the media had not covered the sex abuse scandals.

Girotti also tells us that the Catholic Church supports unwed mothers:

Benedict has been leading the Vatican's campaign against abortion, and Girotti was asked about the "widespread perception" that the church doesn't consider the "difficult" predicament for women.

Girotti rejected that view, saying that Catholic organizations help unwed mothers, educating "their children who come into the worth [sic] because of their lack of foresight" and facilitating adoption.

Notice how neatly the women get scolded, even if they have not chosen to abort their pregnancies? Once a fallen woman always a fallen woman.
Thanks to janemarg for the original link to this story

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Fall of Fallon

I couldn't resist that title, but Admiral William J. Fallon, the top American commander in the Middle East isn't falling, though he is retiring early. This is of interest because he is opposed to the grandiose plans of yet another war in the area, this time against Iran:

President Bush said Admiral Fallon had served his country with "honor, determination and commitment" and deserved "considerable credit" for the progress in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But despite the warm words from Mr. Bush and Mr. Gates, there was no question that the admiral's premature departure stemmed from a public appearance of policy differences with the administration, and with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq.

Mr. Gates acknowledged as much when he said that Admiral Fallon, in asking permission on Tuesday morning to retire, had expressed concerns that the controversy over his views were becoming "a distraction." But the secretary labeled as "ridiculous" any speculation that the admiral's retirement portends a more bellicose American approach toward Iran.

Ridiculous? I'm no longer sure what might safely be labeled ridiculous in politics. I hope that sanity and logic will prevail. But I no longer assume that they will. After all, the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq is approaching four thousand, and that seems to the Bush administration to be a small price to pay for tearing a country apart and for fostering fundamentalism within it.

Yes, I meant Iraq with that reference to a country...

It's The Wife's Fault

Funny how that goes. Laura Schlessinger (a conservative weirdo radio talk show host) tells us that Eliot Spitzer's use of prostitutes is his wife's fault:

Today, right-wing radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger appeared on NBC's Today Show in a segment called "Why do men cheat?" Schlessinger argued that Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) cheated because his wife failed "make him feel like a man":

When the wife does not focus in on the needs and the feelings — sexually, personally — to make him feel like a man, to make him feel like a success, to make him feel like her hero, he's very susceptible to the charm of some other woman. […]

Yah. Schlessinger also wrote a book about the proper care and feeding of husbands. The gist of it is that you feed the beast and then you fuck the beast and that's it. And people call feminists man-haters!

Why do I bother to write about this? Because her point of view is one based on seeing marriage as an employment contract: The man hires a wife, as a house servant, child producer and prostitute. If he goes elsewhere for his sexual needs it's his wife's fault, because she didn't perform properly. That this is a one-side view is easily seen by noticing that in Schlessinger's world men don't have to work to make their wive's feel like heroines so that they wouldn't stray. If they stray they are violating the labor contract.

A long time ago some conservatives were outraged that a writer dared to compare marriage to a long-term sexual favors contract. Yet that seems to be the way Schlessinger thinks about marriage. Well, who knows how she thinks about anything. She gets publicity because she disses women. That's always worth money.

One In Four

Of teenage girls in the U.S. have a sexually transmitted disease, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Federal health officials ask about different health and nutrition issues in the survey, which is conducted each year. The S.T.D. analysis was based on information collected in the 2003-04 survey.

Participants in the statistically based survey are chosen on a random basis. The survey contacted 838 women ages 14 to 19 who agreed to be tested for a sexually transmitted infection. Extrapolating from the findings, researchers estimated that 3.2 million teenage women are infected with at least one of the S.T.D.'s

I'm a little troubled with that "who agreed to be tested" part of the way the sample was arrived at, because we are not told if the girls who agreed to be tested are the same otherwise as the girls who perhaps didn't agree to be tested. It's possible that they are not the same, and if this is true the results should be generalized with a lot of caution.

In any case, this is what the study found:

The first national study of common sexually transmitted diseases among teenage women has found that one in four are infected with at least one of the diseases, federal health officials reported on Tuesday.

Nearly half of African-American teenage women were infected with at least one of the diseases monitored in the study — human papillomavirus (H.P.V.), chlamydia, herpes simplex type 2 and trichomoniasis, a common parasite.

That figure compared with 20 percent of white teenage women.

The two most common sexually transmitted diseases (S.T.D.'s) among all the women tested were H.P.V. at 18 percent and chlamydia at 4 percent according to the analysis, which was part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Among the infected women, 15 percent had more than one.

The Wall Street Journal warns the readers to not get into a panic over the findings, because

One in four American women between the ages of 14 and 19 has a sexually transmitted disease, according to the first national study to look at their prevalence, the CDC said.

That figure — alarming on its face — is worth a closer look.

The majority of those cases are infections with strains of a virus, human papillomavirus, that are associated with genital warts and cancer. But most people who get infected with HPV never know it, because the virus goes away without causing any health problems. "It is important to realize that most HPV infections clear on their own," noted a summary of the study that the CDC emailed to us.

Indeed, several common infections lumped into the big bin labeled "STD" can have mild or no effects on many patients — an issue that has prompted some leaders in the field to call for a dialing back of the nomenclature. The home page of the American Social Health Association says:

The concept of "disease," as in STD, implies a clear medical problem, usually some obvious signs or symptoms. But in truth several of the most common [sexually transmitted infections] have no signs or symptoms in the majority of persons infected. Or they have mild signs and symptoms that can be easily overlooked. So the sexually transmitted virus or bacteria can be described as creating "infection," which may or may not result in "disease." This is true of chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and human papillomavirus (HPV), to name a few.

On the other hand the human papillomavirus is indicated as a possible cause for later cervical cancer, and teenage girls should get vaccinated against it.

But it is certainly true that one reason for the rise in the reported numbers of sexually transmitted diseases is that we now include more diseases under that category. Syphilis and gonorrhea have been famous for centuries, but chlamydia, herpes and the human papillomavirus have not.

Reading the reports about this study offers you one of those very odd experiences, like looking at that picture your friend shows you, of her new living-room couch, and there's a large pink elephant sitting on it, but you are supposed to discuss the shape and the pattern of the couch and pretend that the elephant isn't there at all.

In this case the pink elephant has to do with the way the teenage girls acquire the STDs they have. They don't get them from a public toilet ring. They mostly get them from teenage boys.

So what percentage of American teenage boys have sexually transmitted diseases? This is the next important study topic.

Eliot Ness

If you live in the United States you must have heard by now that governor Eliot Spitzer of the state of New York was caught visiting a very expensive prostitution ring. He earned his political spurs by being very tough on crime and by going after the powerful Wall Street silverbacks.

That he was then caught doing something illegal (prostitution is illegal in New York state) toppled his crime-fighting halo, and a crime-fighter without that halo does tend to look like the other side. Now, it's worth asking why he was investigated in the first place and whether the silverbacks had anything at all to do with it, and Jane Hamsher asks many good questions about the whole investigation. But the fact remains that he was caught with his pants down and his political career is over.

That's the story from a centrist or lefty political angle, the way it is mostly told on the blogs. There might be a few additional comments about the Vitter case or the Craig case, neither of which seems to have gone exactly the way the Spitzer case appears to have been managed. For example, someone gave Spitzer's name to the New York Times,and the investigation itself seems to have been focused on Spitzer from the very beginning rather than on the prostitution ring.

The general discussion may also note that prostitution should really be legalized or it might lament the sex-angle and the puritanism of the American culture, but the general consensus is that Spitzer deserved to be caught because he was doing exactly what he so hated in others: breaking the law.

All this is the mainstream media angle to the story and also, of course, the male angle to the story, because it's easier for heterosexual men to imagine themselves as the clients of an expensive hooker than as the hooker herself. This angle leaves the prostitutes in the shadows, still mostly viewed as a sexual object and part of the titillations the whole scandal affords us. Amanda comments on some of those hidden aspects of the story:

I'll show my hand up front—while I'm happy to play partisan Democrat a lot of the time, my sympathy for Spitzer is short to non-existent. I'm with Jeff. Sure, Spitzer is the victim of a double standard here, one that doesn't apply to Republicans, but that mainly shows that the problem is that Republicans are being held to a too-low standard. First of all, prostitution is illegal, and public officials who help enforce the law against the rest of us need to be held accountable to that law. Second of all, doubly so when it comes to prostitution, because prostitutes are citizens, too, and deserve our protection. But it seems that Spitzer needed so much damn money for his hobby because he enjoyed doing things that were quite likely dangerous to prostitutes, probably asking to go condomless. Do you think, if one of the prostitutes he visited were arrested, he would have come clamoring to her defense? Yeah, neither do I. After all, he helped make his career by busting prostitution rings.

This reminds us that prostitution is a dangerous profession for women. You go to hotel rooms to meet men you know nothing about, and those men might ask you to do dangerous things. What if you refuse?

It is not clear what the dangerous requests were that Spitzer supposedly made, but it's good to be reminded of the fact that having sex without a condom exposes several people to the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and those people are not limited to just the sex workers and the client himself but everybody else he might have sex with later on.

Which brings me to the videos showing governor Spitzer give a press conference with his wife standing next to him. Can't we dispense with this ritual humiliation of the spouse?

Health Care in Basra, Iraq

I just read this in an article about violence in Iraq:

In Basra, Dr. Khalid Nasir al-Mayah, one of only two psychiatrists left in the region, was shot and killed by gunmen at Basra al-Sadr Hospital. Since 2003, Basra's medical professionals have been in peril: 5 doctors have been assassinated, 12 have been kidnapped, 16 have left the area and 23 have fled Iraq.

Now the region has one psychiatrist left. Given the toll PTSD takes on people, that is not good news for the people of Basra or nearby regions (though most of them probably couldn't afford mental health care anyway). But what is the reason behind all this killing of medical professionals? Is there a reason other than the desire to get money by kidnapping them?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Take A Deep Breath, Part II: Exhale

This will be the geekier post of the two in this twinning, but I hope that you wade through it, because the issues I want to discuss matter greatly.

The issues have to do with how to define feminism. It's not a game of looking up the correct answer in a dictionary or Googling for a bunch of definitions. It has to do with something much more experiental, much more flesh-embodied. Two quotes may help me in trying to explain why this topic matters. First, here is Jessica Valenti in the Nation magazine, in a piece about the problems with the second wave feminism and the importance of changing the way movement feminism is practiced:

Rebecca Walker, a founder of the Third Wave Foundation, says, "There are no new issues on the table. What we see in this election is the zenith of the decades-old struggle between women of different sensibilities." Walker believes today's election friction is simply a consequence of mainstream feminist leaders and organizations not listening to critiques from younger women, women of color and grassroots activists about the exclusivity of thought within the movement. "The issue at hand has to do with [institutional] feminism's inability to respond adequately to the claims brought against it," Walker says.

One of these claims is that mainstream feminists have ignored an "intersectional" approach to feminism--one that takes class, race and sexuality into account--in favor of one that focuses on sexism above all else. NOW executives, for example, campaigning for Clinton in Ohio told women voters that sexism is "the worst of the isms."


No matter what Clinton's fate, feminist election tensions will start to fade--but we shouldn't let them, no matter how many calls for solidarity are issued by movement leaders. Instead of the group hug approach, let's focus on tangible goals: fostering youth leadership, working from the margins in and using intersectionality as our lens--instead of just a talking point. Let's use this moment, when our politics and emotions are raw, to push for a better, more forward-looking feminism.

What Valenti refers to here is the unfortunate tendency of much of second wave writing to view women's problems predominantly from the place where middle-class white educated women sat, focusing on the grievances and problems this group of women had. For example, the idea of women being put on a pedestal (where one cannot move, of course) was a pretty alien one for all the women who worked the fields and staffed the factories and then went home and cooked the meal and washed the dishes and put the children to bed. A pedestal looks like a mighty nice place to someone like that.

"Intersectionality", as far as I understand it, means that it's important to look at women positioned in all the different places in the society: poor women, women who are ethnic minorities, religious women, immigrant women, lesbians, disabled women, to give a few examples, and to make sure that the way feminism is practiced isn't just to benefit those who already are fairly well placed, as women are concerned. Thus, an intersectional lens is being applied when a feminist study looks at how the treatment of a chronic illness differs between male and female sufferers from it, or when a study asks how racism affects women differently than it affects men.

Now, notice how I stuck something relating to women into all those sentences? The second quote I have picked shows a very different interpretation of "intersectionality" in feminism:

Let me explain. During the heydays of the second wave of the women's movement -- the late 1960s through most of the 1980s -- the problems were very well defined, the barriers very visible, the opposition very overt, and many of the solutions very clear. The movement's goal, as well, seemed just as specific and just as clear -- gender equality. But as the women's movement continued to change and grow, and as white women finally began to listen to what women of color had been telling them for decades -- over and over again -- branches of the women's movement began to redefine the movement more broadly as a social justice movement. This was particularly true for Third Wave feminists -- my generation. The intersectionality between gender, race and class became the mantra, and more traditional gender equality advocates -- while not unsupportive of broader social justice ideals -- wondered at the wisdom of supplanting gender equality from the movement's central focus in favor of other progressive ideals.

It seems to me that the Clinton/Obama split in the feminist community in many ways mirrors these differing philosophies. Clinton supporters, while supportive of broader social justice initiatives, are nonetheless more focused on the women's movement as a gender equality movement, and on Clinton as an important, long-awaited first in a previously boys-only club. Obama supporters seem to be more focused on the women's movement as a vehicle for broader social justice action -- the focus on anti-war activities is a perfect example. Based on this analysis, it should not be surprising that younger women, less apt to identify with equality rhetoric, are more likely to support Obama, while older women -- more familiar with women's equality issues and the need not only for continued progress but for efforts to protect our gains -- are more reassured by Clinton.

My reading of this quote is that intersectionality is not viewed as the intersection of gender with other aspects of a person's social position but as taking other social justice goals on board either as equally important with the goal of advancing women or perhaps as supplanting that goal altogether. If my reading is correct then a third wave feminist could work for an objective which has nothing to do with women at all, as long as it is connected with the social justice movement. Or perhaps a better reading is that everything that benefits human beings will ultimately benefit women, because women are about one half of all human beings. Hence being against the Iraq war is viewed as a feminist stance because women are hurt by the war.

I have trouble with this definition of feminism, not because the goals wouldn't be good or important, but because it seems to leave the term "feminism" without any real context. If feminism is not about women's equality first and foremost, how does it differ from lots of other social justice movements? And why would it be called feminism at all? And perhaps more importantly, if feminist activists choose to use their time and resources on issues other than women's rights, who is it who will speak for women? I see a big problem right there, because the usual assumption is that feminists are to take care of all issues having to do with women so that the rest of the society doesn't have to bother with those. But if feminists are busy saving the world in other ways, well, women's special concerns will be mostly ignored.

This is where defining feminism matters. I see roughly two definitions in embodied use among the feminist activists. One is the dictionary definition of wanting women and men to have equal opportunities, the one I apply, though with the addition that I also want traditionally male and female spheres of activity to be equally valued. The other definition has to do with "putting women first," with wanting to make the lives of women better. The two are not mutually exclusive, and all feminists do want to make the world a better place for women. But the definitional differences may explain why sometimes I feel totally lost in feminist debates.

There are probably better ways of expressing the second definition. But I think that's the definition that must be behind the argument that feminists should work against the war or fight racism or fight poverty, because all those ultimately hurt many women. Of course they also hurt many men.

Fighting against wars or poverty or racism are wonderful acts, great acts, acts everybody should be encouraged to perform. But are they feminist acts? That's where the definitional question comes in.

Consider this hypothetical example: You talk to a woman and ask her what it is that is really horrible in her life, what it is that she would like to be different, and she answers you by telling that she is poor and needs to have more money to feed herself and her family. Suppose that lots of other women tell you the very same thing. Does this make the eradication of poverty a feminist platform? It does, if we use the second definition of feminism. If we use the first definition of feminism we'd probably have to find out more about the relationship between poverty and being female, the way societies perhaps stop women from earning more and the way gender roles make it harder for women to get out of poverty.

In short, fighting poverty in general and fighting female poverty might be two different choices under one definition of feminism but the same thing under the other definition.

You must have noticed that I'm unhappy about the second definition, not because I'm mean and narrow in my world view (though I'm probably that, too), but because that definition is too wide and too messy and, paradoxically, might leave the tag "feminism" attached to an empty basket in the supermarket of ideas. It could also result in some very odd types of feminism. Suppose that you ask a fundamentalist woman what she most wants to have changed in this world to make her happier, and suppose that what would make her really happy is if all other women stop working for feminist causes. Is making her happier a feminist act?

One final warning: Everything I have written in these posts has to do with professional feminist activities, the feminist movement and the definition of feminism the movement people use. I'm not trying to rank causes or to compare oppressions, or to imply that a feminist would be some one-dimensional fanatic only working for women's issues.

Take A Deep Breath, Part I: Inhale

And plunge right in. That's what I keep telling myself because I really don't want to write these particular posts but I know that I need to, if I am going to continue calling myself a feminist blogger. Right now it looks like I might not be one, after all.

What is this all about? Some more internal belly rumblings about mememe? Not quite. I'm responding to the recent debate within the feminist activists about what it means when a feminist activist (not just a woman or a man with feminist beliefs) publicly endorses Obama over Hillary Clinton even though she is a woman with a good record of pro-woman policies, or what it means when a feminist activist publicly endorses Clinton largely because she is a woman with a good record of pro-woman policies, never mind what she is like otherwise as a candidate. And what it means when the two camps criticize each other.

What it certainly has meant is something that I read as an intergenerational power struggle. It's not truly about generations, but the issues in it have to do with who determines the tactics of the feminist movement, who gets listened to and whose experience and sacrifices are belittled. It's also, incidentally, about whether racism is worse than sexism and whether ageism against the young is worse than ageism against the old.

When I discuss the feminist endorsements, I am talking about public endorsements by famous and well-known feminist leaders, writers and even bloggers, not about whom a feminist might support and privately endorse. There is a difference between the two. When someone writes as a professional feminist then that endorsement must be viewed assuming that it is related to feminism. You bear that responsibility, and it is a weighty one. (Perhaps that is the reason why I was so very surprised with all those public endorsements both ways. I don't really have the guts to do something like that.)

Did that clarify anything? The point is that this post is about the acts and words of feminist activists, not about what a feminist does or doesn't do in the voting booth. When a physician gives a speech about home remedies against the common cold we take the advice seriously. When we chat about our favorite home remedies with some friends we take the advice of others with a pinch of salt. I fear that this distinction is lost in some of those recommendations and the reactions to them. The debate has become over-personalized.

This is why some of the second wave feminists have written angry and hurt articles, implying that women-these-days spit upon the hard work of the previous generations, and this is also why the response to those articles has been angry and hurt: What? Am I not allowed to vote for whomever I choose? How dare they tell me what to do? Wasn't feminism all about my rights to be a full human being?

But we wouldn't interpret a medical writer in those terms. We wouldn't necessarily believe everything that the article says, but we'd be unlikely to read it as a missive to just us. And neither would we decide never to read another medical article again if that particular one annoys us.

All of this shows that the debate provokes strong emotions, as does the Democratic primary campaign in general. That fire is a wonderful thing, of course. It energizes and pushes us forwards. But if we only focus on the fire and the energy we just might lose sight of the final goals, and all the different arguments push our values-buttons and our feelings-buttons at the same time, until we no longer know what it even means to be a feminist, though we know who clearly is not one.

And that is the topic of the second post about taking a deep breath. See how long it took for me to get into the geeky stuff: What is feminism?

This Bothers Me

The heated conversation between those who support Barack Obama and those who support Hillary Clinton produces some rather nasty discussion threads. I'd like to draw your attention to two I came across on Saturday night, within fifteen minutes: One from the Democratic Underground and one from Daily Kos, both places which are very firmly in the Obama camp. These threads were front-paged and recommended, respectively, which means that they were well liked.

Now notice the way in which the terms "sexist" or "sexism" are being used in the posts. Then replace those terms in your mind with similar terms which might apply to racial or ethnic categories. How do the stories read now?

My point is not whether some Clinton-supporters have cried wolf about sexism or not, as a way to prop up their candidate. My point is about the great ease and comfort with which two very liberal sites can make fun of the very idea of sexism.

This explains why the editors at the Washington Post didn't see anything wrong with Charlotte Allen penning a story about the dimness of women. It wasn't worth an apology, just another opportunity for Allen to tell the reading public how much she loathes women. It's kewl to ridicule the very idea that women might not always be treated fairly.

Meanwhile, in Iraq

Via Hecate, this story about the way Iraq now is for women who don't like fundamentalism:

"I asked Sawsan Ali of Althawra city who is 30 years old why she quit school and stays home. She has lost her ambition and tends to think about death. Sawson answered: "There's no hope for safety in the foreseeable future, my rights as a woman do not exist. Everything is against me as a human: family, traditions and culture. Killing and terrorizing women have become a daily show. Why should I live? I cannot go to school safely or voice my opinion. Whatever I do is opposed by others. Basically nothing is left to live for, therefore I am preparing for death."

Not all Iraqi women feel the same way, of course. Most of them perhaps never had many freedoms to lose. But I felt guilty reading that piece, guilty about the U.S. occupation and how it unplugged the bottle in which the particular genie of woman-hating was kept in Iraq. Much in religion may be good but no mainstream religion currently in vogue regards women as full human beings. And it's religious factions who hold power in Iraq, while the U.S. mostly looks the other way when it comes to those silly women and their "rights."

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Geesh! Keep Your Campaign Staff From Creating Problems And You Won't Have To Fix Them! by Anthony McCarthy

It's been a bad few weeks of the two Democratic presidential campaigns getting into trouble by what gets said to the media. Both of them have had a problem with overly talkative staff saying more than they should and causing problems for both candidates at once.

So you could hardly keep from smiling hearing Gary Tuchman of CNN whining that Chelsea Clinton won’t talk to the media. “That’s not fair,” was the sub text of the snivel, I wish they’d shown him stamping his little feet as well. With the addiction that people working in Democratic political campaigns have for talking to the media after decades of experience that they are, literally, the enemy of Democrats this story was like the first breath of spring.

The idiotic provision of material by Democrats which anyone with the sense of an unpopular middle-schooler would know the media will twist into weapons to use against us and our candidates leaves you in despair. You can’t help but have more respect for Chelsea Clinton for giving them the stone-wall, cold shoulder. Anyone who is stupid enough to wonder why she doesn't choose to talk to the media, having grown up watching them trying to destroy her family with lies and distortions, is too stupid even for the cabloids. CNN putting it on is a public benefit for only one reason, it’s hilarious in its detachment from reality.

Rahm Emanuel, though he is someone I sometimes don’t like and who I frequently disagree with, has one of the best press handling techniques among Democratic politicians. Politicians, unlike a private citizen like Chelsea Clinton, can’t avoid talking to the enemy. In an idea so simple it just works, he just refuses to take it. He won’t listen to an interviewer spinning during the interview and get drawn along to the next thing, he stops and challenges the distortion and he doesn't leave it until it is said. I've heard him do it a number of times and every time I wish someone would notice and take the lesson.

If those running the DNC or the Democratic Senate and House Campaign Committees had a brain in their star struck heads they would study these two methods of media handling and instruct the candidates on their methods. Most important of all, those chatter boxes working in their campaigns have to be taught the facts of real life about dealing with the corporate media.

Miriam Gideon (1906-1996) , An American Composer Well Overdue For A Revival by Anthony McCarthy

Suzie, thanks for the reminder.

One of the more surprising things said about music in the past century was when George Perle, the distinguished composer, critic and scholar, in 1960 stated that Miriam Gideon’s Sonnets From Shakespear was “the best American work of the last fifty years.” Consider that the years involved include some of the best works of Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, Ruth Crawford Seeger, etc. And consider that George Perle would have been fully aware of all of them and more. He could have easily bruised some large reputations in saying it.

The statement would have been even more surprising in 1960 than it sounds today for one overriding reason. When considered at all in 1960, Miriam Gideon would almost always have been put into that special category of “female composers” along with Vivian Fine, Louise Talma and the better known Ruth Crawford Seeger. That designation, whatever else it could be used for, did, and too some extent, still does constitute a walled ghetto, it puts the inhabitants out of hearing and out of consideration.

The Sonnets and other works are available on this disc of reissued performances of Gideon’s vocal works on the New World-Cri label. The poetry represented is remarkably varied and the setting of it shows Gideon’s thorough familiarity with voices and the way to set text to music in both English and German. Particularly interesting is her setting in “The Resounding Lyre” of the poem “Portrait of Mother” by Frederic Ewen. The poem could have descended into soppy sentimentality so easily, but Gideon’s clear-eyed treatment, matching the language of the test “gazes — as if into Eternities; Deep as thought—“ This is is some of the best vocal writing from the period in which she worked, listening to it this morning it strikes me as some of the best setting of English text . Her handling of instruments is suburb, the contrapuntal writing is magnificent and original, as good as the best of Roger Sessions other students. Only one word of caution, music this powerful and detailed doesn’t lend itself to casual listening. Trying to absorb the entire disc at one sitting is exhausting.

Today one of the bars to the performance and consideration of Gideon’s music is that a lot of it is vocal music which Americans are supposed to not like. And not only is it vocal music but her musical language is more modern than is likely to find general acceptance. It won’t be widely played on public radio which programs music according to marketing surveys which you have to conclude sample people who don’t particularly like to listen to music. You might want to give the disc a really good listen and consider what is gets missed when music of this searing content and intellectual honesty is allowed to remain unused.

II. On The Deaths of Two Singers
It was the death of Luciano Pavarotti and the contrast between the non-stop adulation of his singing and that of Beverly Sills after her death that got this train of thought going again. Beverley Sills was, hands down, no doubt about it, a far better musician and singer than Luciano Pavarotti. Both had great equipment, some of the best anyone has been gifted with. She used hers with intelligence and artistic adventurousness. I was told once by someone who worked at the City Opera while she did that her work ethic was faultless. She was a real pro, an almost uniquely collegial super star.

So, what was the difference between the level of memorial when they died? Both had winning personalities, though I liked her style a lot more than his. It wasn’t the music, her repertoire was wider and more consistently distinguished in its quality than his. Both of them in a demonstration of what a surfeit of talent can lead to, did some really vulgar schlock. Though she seldom sank to the levels he wallowed in. Hers was a classier form of slumming. Sills also had the good sense to go out on top and left a far better quality catalog of recordings.

So, gender, I submit, is the difference in how these two singers are remembered after their deaths, especially by the superficial and ignorant media. I think it also made the difference in how they were seen when they were alive.