Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bela Bartok: Selections From 27 Choruses For Women’s or Children's Voices posted by Anthony McCarthy

Don’t know what the young womens’ chorus is named or where they are from but they are very good. See also.

Anyone Know The Plural For This Word? by Anthony McCarthy


Two Nyckelharpor

Thanks for the information, Echidne, Doug.

Mistakes in newspapers (by Suzie)

       In the 1990s, a lot of newspaper journalists talked about improving policies on correcting mistakes, to boost the credibility of the profession. They encouraged readers to report errors,  and they ran corrections where readers could find them easily. The New York Times still has such a policy, for example.
       At other newspapers, the enthusiasm for correcting mistakes has waned, along with job security.
       Newspapers contribute to the historical record, and a lot of people assume what’s printed is true. Errors were bad enough in the days before home computers, when researchers had to sort through yellowed clippings or microfiche to read past articles. Now that many articles are online, research is much easier, but it's also easier to spread errors.
        As an example, I’ll use the St. Petersburg Times, a large and respected newspaper in Florida. Wednesday, I posted a link to an excellent article the Times ran on Zora Neale Hurston. The newspaper had run a column a few weeks ago that said Hurston “always considered herself a ‘Womanist.’” I called to correct that. Alice Walker coined the term, first using it in print in 1983. Hurston died in 1960.
        If the Times corrected the column, I can’t tell it from its Web site. The column isn’t changed, nor is there a correction appended. If editors thought I was mistaken, they could have called or emailed to tell me so. 
     Last year, I cited a few examples of this problem in a local “alternative” newspaper. A story on Hooters, a restaurant chain known for buxom servers, implied that the corporation didn't feel comfortable contributing to the fight against breast cancer until one of its beloved employees got publicity for her battle with the disease in 2006. I posted a comment noting that Hooters financed the "Owl's Den," a conference room near the old breast-cancer clinic at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa before 2006. This questions the premise of the story, but only those who read after me saw my post.
         Also last year, the Times wrote about a principal who was retiring because she had metastatic leiomyosarcoma. She had the same diagnosis that I have, and we both went to Moffitt. There was a good chance we had the same doctor; Moffitt had only one medical oncologist who focused on leiomyosarcoma. The story included the phrase: "Doctors later explained that her form of cancer does not respond to chemotherapy ..." Actually, Moffitt gives chemotherapy to leiomyosarcoma patients all the time. I got complete (albeit temporary) remission from chemotherapy. I passed along an email from my doctor – an expert in the treatment of sarcoma with chemotherapy – explaining why the Times was wrong. The Times chose not to run even a clarification.
        I’m more familiar with errors in the St. Petersburg Times because I used to read it daily. This is not just a problem at the Times, however. It’s an issue at my former newspaper, which competes with the Times, as it is at many other newspapers.
        Letting readers correct stories in the comment section isn't sufficient. People who don't read online won't see the comment, and even those who do may miss it. At the Times, many stories and their comments can be found by searching its site. But if you search its archives, the comments are not saved. Other newspapers have different policies on how they save or display stories and comments.
       Telling readers to write a letter to the editor is a lazy way of correcting errors. First of all, the reader doesn't know if the letter will get printed. A letter also implies that the error is a matter of opinion, not something journalists can verify.
        Everyone makes mistakes. The issue is how we handle corrections. As a blogger, I’ll do my best to correct mine.

Women's Bodies And Lives As Means Of Outsourced Production by Anthony McCarthy

Children as Products

Ellen Goodman’s column about the outsourcing of industrial pregnancy - by fact of biology to a 100% female workforce - gives a microcosm of much that is wrong with our legal system and culture.

As one woman put it, "We give them a baby and they give us much-needed money. It's good for them and for us." A surrogate in Anand used the money to buy a heart operation for her son. Another raised a dowry for her daughter.

Nevertheless, there is - and there should be - something uncomfortable about a free-market approach to baby-making. It's easier to accept surrogacy when it's a gift from one woman to another. But we rarely see a rich woman become a surrogate for a poor family. Indeed, in Third World countries, some women sign these contracts with a fingerprint because they are illiterate.

For that matter, we have not yet had stories about the contract workers for whom pregnancy was a dangerous occupation, but we will. What obligation does a family that simply contracted for a child have to its birth mother? What control do - should - contractors have over their "employee's" lives while incubating "their" children? What will we tell the offspring of this international trade?

Looking closely at this trade in human beings, the contracting of the use of womens’ bodies and lives as temporary incubators of a product, a human child, has the potential to help understand what happens, more generally, when people become objects in commerce.

In this case there are two distinct people who are transformed into commodities, the women who become pregnant and the children after they are born. No matter how well intentioned the contractors, the fact is that both become items of commerce, they become subject to the worst obscenities of contract law in all its pretended impartiality.

The anger and discomfort of people who may have relatively pure motives in initiating the transaction at having this pointed out doesn’t change that fact. Even if they, themselves, might never press the issues stemming from these contracts to their worst ends, more than just reminiscent of the worst of legalized slavery, it is just about certain that others will and that with the crop of judges we’ve got now, things will just about certainly go to the bottom fast.

Contracts seem to have replaced the concept of inalienable rights in modern morality and, so, law. Doesn’t the idea that “consent” in an actual or ‘implied’ contract is the only relevant issue in human interactions negate the idea that human rights are inherent and inalienable? How can someone’s inalienable rights be rendered non-existent even by signing a contract with a signature, never mind with a fingerprint as Goodman describes? How can an individual lose their most basic rights by legal agreement? What dangers does allowing people to trade away their rights pose for the rest of humanity?

How can anyone pretend that a, powerless, illiterate person, motivated by the most horrible poverty and need, perhaps in a country with even worse laws than here, is an equal party in a contract, when her consent is to an agreement formed by people with resources, sophistication and with the knowledge of a legal system that will willingly be gamed to suit their ends? *

None of that contractual agreement with the woman whose body is rented** addresses the child who is the product being produced and their own, inherent, inalienable rights. Neither the woman who is compelled by poverty to produce the child nor those who see it as a product would seem to be dependable guardians of their rights, though in some cases either one side or both may have only the child’s rights and well-being in mind. You have to wonder if the buyers weren’t satisfied with the product how many of them might have their best intentions turn bad. And isn't the law supposed to address the worst cases?

All of this is profoundly troubling. It makes apparent and compelling the consequences and complex range of problems that come from the law treating people and their lives as objects of trade. Our society is increasingly urged to give up any legal protection in favor of throwing us all up to be winnowed by the winds of commerce. We are increasingly led to consider the lives, as well as the rights and well-being of those blown away as mere chaff.

I don’t know what left anyone else belongs to but my left is unalterably opposed to allowing that.

* I suspect that those judges who consider the lives of the people put at risk as more or even just equally important to the sacred contract are an endangered species. And trade groups and lobbyists are always at the ready with an ad campaign to get unprofitable laws changed when those kinds of decisions are made.

** I think it was Katha Pollit who pointed out that it's illegal for women to rent out their Vaginas for a half hour but legal for them to rent out their entire bodies for nine months.

A Fun Toy To Try: My First Therapy Session With Eliza by Anthony McCarthy

In an idle few minutes I tried the Eliza* program found here. I wonder how steeped in the faith of psychobabble you have to be to mistake it as a thinking entity and what this might indicate about the reliability of the fabled Turing Test, the nerd equivalent of an imaginary friend. If “nerd” is still used.

Unmarked lines are Eliza, the ones with >> are my responses.

>> Hello.
How do you do. Please state your problem.
>> I'm a coward.
Is it because you are a coward that you came to me ?
>> No, I just thought of a problem I had in response to your question.
Are you saying no just to be negative?
>> No, because it is the answer to your question.
You are being a bit negative.
>> I don't think so, your question required a yes, no answer. It contained the possibility that you had misunderstood my motives in coming here.
Don't you really think so ?
>> Maybe the problem is that you want to explore motivations that aren't germane to the answer you asked for.
You don't seem quite certain.
>> Well, how could I be, it was your assumption that I could be being negative when I was merely answering your question.
Why do you ask ?
>> I didn't ask anything just then, you don't seem to be very good at understanding the difference between a question and a presentation of possibilities.
You say you didn't ask anything just then ?
>> Well, I didn't ask anything just then.
Can you elaborate on that ?
>> That's what I've been trying to do. How did people mistake you for a thinking entity?
Does that question interest you ?
>> Mildly, though what it tells about the gullibility of allegedly educated people isn't news.
What is it you really want to know ?
>> I was just satisfying my curiosity about what I'd read about you.
Were you really ?
>> Well, although I'm not entirely satisfied, it is becoming amusing.
How long have you been not entirely satisfied ?
>> I think the problem began when they shined that bright light in my eyes in the delivery room.
Your eyes in the delivery room ?
>> Well, yes.
You seem to be quite positive.
>> Well, aren't I the best judge of the answer to a question about how long I haven't been satisfied?
Do you say aren't you the best judge of the answer to a question about how long you haven't been satisfied for some special reason ?
>> No, I was asking you if it wasn't apparent that I would have to be the best judge of that.
Why not ?
>> Exactly, why not.
Are such questions much on your mind ?
>> No, but I'm not helpless when someone else wants to go on a wild goose chase like that one.
Why 'no' ?
>> Becuase it happens to be the answer to your question.
Why are you concerned over my question ?
>> No, but I think you might have fallen for some psychological clap trap leads further into a labyrinth of no return.
Are you saying no just to be negative?
>> I'm positive.
Do you believe it is normal to be positive ?
>> About things like this it's possible to be positive.
But your eyes in the delivery room .
>> But me no buts, they were there.
You are being a bit negative.
>> I was positive my eyes were in the delivery room, they happen to have been attached and working.
Why do you tell me you were positive your eyes was in the delivery room now ?
>> I think it might be a lack of experience on your part that makes that question come up. Maybe that's the problem with most shrinks.
That's quite interesting.
>> Yeah, and this way I don't have to pay three figures an hour.
Why don't you have to pay three figures an hour ?
>> If you send me a bill for this tripe I am positive that it's not going to be paid and you have no standing to sue for it.
Do you think its likely that I send you a bill for this tripe you are positive that it's not going to be paid and I have no standing to sue for it ?
>> Only if you're as stupid as you seem.
Do you wish that I are as stupid as I seem ?
>> I'm indifferent as to that question.
Do you enjoy being indifferent as to that question ?
>> Yes, as a matter of fact I do.
You are sure.
>> Oh, yes, I'm sure
I see.
>> Finally.
I'm not sure I understand you fully.
>> And you never will.
We were discussing you -- not me.
>> I think you're being a bit defensive.
What makes you think I am being a bit defensive ?
>> Human experience.
Please go on.
>> No, I need to do my chores.
Why not ?

It was a bit of fun, if you think of it as a toy, a more complex 8-Ball oracle. I’d rate Eliza as more fun than most on-line tests with results given. Come to think of it, it was a pretty good simulation of quite a few of the blog brawls I’ve been in.

* Here is what they say about Eliza.

Eliza (Weizenbaum 1966) is the first chatterbot -- a computer program that mimics human conversation. In only about 200 lines of computer code, Eliza models the behavior of a psychiatrist (or, more specifically, the "active listening" strategies of a touchy-feely 1960s Rogerian therapist).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Critter Blogging

All these pictures are by the Vermont Way Back blogger. The first was taken on the Galapagos Island, the other two are swimming pictures from Vermont.

Just in time for Mother’s Day (by Suzie)

        A PR firm sent out this news release: “Plastic surgery has become extremely common among mothers with young children. In 2007 more than 400,000 women with young children underwent elective cosmetic surgery in the U.S. alone. As any parent will tell you - children are very perceptive. It is nearly impossible to hide a plastic surgery transformation from your children. Board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Salzhauer takes this contentious topic head on with a new children’s book, “My Beautiful Mommy,” to be released nationwide this Mother’s Day on May 11th – there is no book like this out there. This book is designed to celebrate beauty and to explain to your child what to expect when a parent undergoes plastic surgery - from the initial consultation to the final result. For children ages 4 to 7.
         "Synopsis: Throughout the plastic surgery process young children can become confused. During the initial consultation they may ask themselves questions such as: “Why is Mommy going to the doctor? Is Mommy sick?” If these questions are not addressed the child will often imagine fantastical scenarios to fill in the gaps of information they are lacking. This phenomenon becomes more pronounced after the surgery. Once mommy is home and the child sees that mommy is bandaged and bruised, they can become even more worried and inquisitive. Finally, when the bandages come off and mommy looks somewhat different, their confusion may lead to responses that adults may find inappropriate or hard to understand."
          Publisher: Big Tent Books. $24.95
          I don't need to comment, do I?

Reform vs. revolution (by Suzie)

         A sign lit up the darkness: “Revolution is here.” I thought, “Finally.” Then I realized it was just a veterinarian advertising a flea killer. Although disappointed in the scope of this revolution, I do favor the killing of fleas.
         Like many feminists, I feel the tension between reform and revolution. I would prefer radical change, but I’ll take what I can get.
         This reminds me of a quote from Naomi Wolf’s “Fire With Fire”: “Even given all of capitalism’s injustices, pending ‘the revolution,’ women are better off with the means of production in their own hands.”
         Debate if you want.
  (This message was approved by Ginger the Chihuahua, who monitors my computer monitor, which took this photo.)

In defense of marriage (by Suzie)

      This fall, Floridians will vote on the Marriage Protection Amendment to the state constitution.
      When I was married, I didn’t realize other people’s rights could jeopardize my marriage. To me, the greatest threat came from my husband displaying his collection of baseball cards in our bedroom.*
      I’m not a Bible-fearing woman. In fact, I fear people who fear the Bible. They’re the ones pushing this amendment to make sure that same-sex marriage becomes even more illegal that it already is.
     If they want to protect marriage, why stop there? Why not outlaw adultery, for example? Unlike same-sex marriage, the Bible has plenty to say against adultery. Even one of the commandments forbids it.
     Let's urge politicians to take a stand on the issue - before they’re caught. Are they pro-adultery or anti-adultery? If my state can issue a “Choose Life” license plate, why not one that says, "Faithful," with the proceeds going to programs on fidelity. If we can give poor people incentives to marry, why can't we give people a tax credit if they can avoid cheating for a year?
     I understand temptation. But I went to a reorientation camp where I learned to change my desires. Once I learn a gorgeous hunk of man flesh is married, I no longer feel any interest in him whatsoever. I have been cured of this sin.
      Perhaps you think I'm being absurd. But I think we should ask politicians and pastors why they want to outlaw some sins and not others.
*My good-natured ex-husband approved this joke.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Fluff Post: On My Muse

He is called Erato, to be distinguished from the other Erato. He wears leather and big zippers, always left half undone. He's green-skinned, has fangs and is covered with tattoos of snakes and swearwords, but his eyes are the bluest of the blue and angelic. When he's home he is very, very good, but when he's out carousing he is horrid. And mostly he carouses, these days.

Traditionally the muses of writing are seen as female, but I have a male muse. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, if it's still allowed anywhere on earth.

Anyway, the idea of a muse is just a summary way to explain the inner water-hose which fuels my writing. Most days it's just trickling. Some days it's off completely. A few blessed, euphoric and totally exhausting days it blows water at full speed, so fast that I don't have time to take it all down. Those days I end up shivering and breathing very hard, wondering what it was that just happened.

Usually nothing very much happened, but that's how it felt. What comes out of the water hose may be just mud or tadpoles, but the experience is exhilarating.

I suspect that all this make-believe is just another way of writing about "the zone", the kind of state we all enter when something totally takes our concentration, when the game seems to play itself, when every dart we throw hits the bull's eye. It's in the zone that hours disappear, when work is play and play is a strange silent place of utter joy.

Or it might be just Erato writing, when he bothers.

So Very Funny

I came across an interesting study in the Times of India:

According to the study's lead author Thomas E Ford of Western Carolina University, "Sexist humour is not simply benign amusement. It acts as a 'releaser' of prejudice.

"Our research demonstrates that exposure to sexist humour can create conditions that allow men — especially those who have antagonistic attitudes towards women — to express those attitudes in their behaviour."

The researchers came to the conclusion after analysing two experiments. In the first one, they asked a group of male participants to imagine that they were members of a work group in an organisation. In that context, they either read sexist jokes, comparable non-humorous sexist statements, or neutral jokes.

They were then asked to report how much money they would be willing to donate to help a women's organisation.
"We found that men with a high level of sexism were less likely to donate to the women's organisation after reading sexist jokes, but not after reading either sexist statements or neutral jokes," Ford said.

In the second experiment, the researchers showed a selection of video clips of sexist or non-sexist comedy skits to another group of male participants. In the sexist humour setting, four of the clips contained humour depicting women in stereotypical or demeaning roles, while the fifth was neutral.

The men were then asked to participate in a project designed to determine how funding cuts should be allocated among select student organisations. Ford said: "We found that, upon exposure to sexist humour, men higher in sexism discriminated against women by allocating larger funding cuts to a women's organisation than they did to other organisations."

I haven't read the original study so I can't comment on the research itself. But when I Googled for it using the hints this article gave me I noticed something very funny: The study has been out for a few months already, in the sense that it had been accepted for publication in December of 2007 and the press information had been sent. Yet none of the major U.S. or U.K. newspapers had anything on it, as far as I could tell.

This is not how they act in all cases concerning studies about women and men. For instance, when one Richard Lynn, well known for really wacky theories about intelligence, told that he had a piece accepted for publication about women being less intelligent than men I heard that on the BBC. On the BBC! And this at a time when it was not possible to read the piece yet to argue back against the message!

It's all very funny, in a sad-clown way.

More Personal Promotion

If you are interested in the economics of executive pay, check out my post at the Nation's Passing Through blog.

The Hillary Clinton Video

You may have seen this on other blogs (I got it from Shakes Village). I wasn't sure about posting it at first, because the last four minutes are a campaign commercial, and in a way the whole nine minutes are, too. But the first five minutes are well worth watching, because they give a quick and visual summary about the way Hillary Clinton has been treated in the media. If you watch carefully enough you can spot the bits which are pure misogyny and which therefore could be applied to almost any woman running in politics.

Would something of similar viciousness be applied to a male candidate? I'm not sure. But it would not be about him being a man.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Stature Gap

What do you think that is, eh? Like how short a presidential candidate might be? Not in this case. It's all about how McCain looks most like a commander-in-chief:

From the April 8 edition of Fox News' America's Election HQ:

KELLY: All right, let me ask you quickly: Just observing the dynamics, Hillary Clinton cross-examining, John McCain, Barack Obama -- your thoughts?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think there's a stature gap when you look at the three senators. I think that Senator McCain by far looked like he was the best prepared to be commander in chief, and that he had the best intuitive understanding of the issues. I think Senator Obama here was kind of at a -- groping for words. He was nowhere near the normal eloquent Obama he usually is.

KELLY: And a lot of Republicans think that if we go forward into a general election with McCain on one side and Obama on the other, we'll see more of that, because their feeling is he's better on the stump than he is in a debate forum.

Remember this video which shows McCain's intuitive understanding of the issues?

Who pays these guys for their opinions, I wonder?

Zora Neale Hurston on TV tonight

   You may want to catch a documentary on her tonight on PBS. Here's an excellent article on Hurston and the filmmaker.

On Cleaning Your Room And Sex

Two articles on marriage and who does the housework pretty much show the old pattern that women do a lot more hours of housework than men do, even if both have outside jobs, but also show the newer pattern that men are now doing more than their fathers did at home.

Of course that newer pattern is linked with the other newer pattern that women work in the marketplace for more hours than their mothers did.

I have written about the economics of housework before, so I will spare you this time around (or I'm too lazy to talk about it again). But it's interesting to note that one of the articles links housework by men to sex:

Husbands who pitch in around the house get more sex than those who won't help clean up, researchers say in a study that could turn lazy guys into Ty-D-Bol Men.

The mop-and-glow report by the Council on Contemporary Families suggests men who wash the sheets have a better chance of turning their wives on under them.

"If a guy does housework, it looks to the woman like he really cares about her - he's not treating her like a servant," said psychologist Joshua Coleman, who is affiliated with the Council.

Coleman cautioned that the flip side could be worse than scrubbing the toilet.

"If a women feels stressed-out because the house is a mess and the guy's sitting on the couch while she's vacuuming, that's not going to put her in the mood," said Coleman, author of "The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework."

I'm not sure what this quote is suggesting. Perhaps that housework is payment for sex? But the next part of it explains the fatigue aspect of excess housework and how it might make a person feel less interested in lovemaking.

What the quote doesn't suggest is that when two adults share a household and both work outside it an equal sharing of housework might make ethical sense. You know, fairness and all that.

But I do admit that a guy carefully wiping wiping windows on a hot day can look very delicious.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Music For The End Of The Day

Betty Carter

Fritz Kreisler

Deep Thought For The Day

Being a feminist blogger is an excellent way to learn humility and also a way to convert one's skin into a turtle shell or to die in the process. It's not an excellent way to earn loads of money or to become the Queen Of All She Surveys.

Only feminist bloggers would have trouble with this fantastic ad for a Honda motorbike, for example. Only feminist bloggers would dare to wonder if woman=bike isn't just a really fun and sexy way to sell transportation. Too bad that feminist bloggers are such party-spoiling prudes, even if they admit that such an ad might not be too bad in a world where in other ads a handsome naked young man turns into a toaster, say.

Beauty And The Eye of the Beholder

That's where beauty is supposed to be: in the eye of its beholder. On the whole women don't see themselves as beautiful, even when the outside society might deem them so. Is that true about men, too? Do men dislike their bodies as intensely as many women seem to dislike theirs? That would be a good research project to do, to find out what men of all ages and races and physical conditions think about the physical attractiveness of their bodies. Or do they think about it much at all?

And if they don't, how much time and energy and bad emotion do women spend on musing over what is wrong with their bodies? What could be done with all that released energy if we could all make peace with our hard-working bodies?

A new book on how women feel about their bodies (not good) has just come out. But the book negates those feelings by showing photographs of bodies which truly are beautiful, in different ways and in different idioms of beauty. A quote from the review:

The self-criticisms by the women photographed in the nude have a universal quality in these days of constant media assault by perfect female bodies (often digitally enhanced). But the surprise of a powerful first book by Seattle photographer Rosanne Olson is: Many of the harsh self-criticisms come from women who might seem to have little reason to complain.

Consider Jessica, 23, with long blond hair and a lithe young body, attributes that many other women could surely covet. Jessica wishes she could change her smallish breasts and her imperfect stomach, but concedes, "We women think we're either too fat or too skinny -- that we aren't what we wish we were."

Olson's "This Is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes" (Artisan, 116 pages, $25.95) is a slim little volume with the lofty goal of helping to change that, one mind at a time.

Its revealing photographs and startling interviews provide a devastating look at women's dissatisfaction with their own bodies, often born during young womanhood and lasting decades afterward. But this remarkable book also offers a persuasive argument for greater acceptance and compassion for one's own body, as well as those of other women with other shapes.

Mmm. Where does all this dissatisfaction come from? I'm not sure, but the popular culture surely has its role to play by showing so many apparently perfect (though often photographically enhanced) women and by using a particular relatively rare body type (tall, slim but with large breasts) as the only beautiful one.

The body fixing game is one that nobody will ever win. By the game I mean the belief that if only something had been fixed life would then be perfect. If I got smaller/bigger/perkier breasts or a tinier nose or whiter teeth or if I lost ten pounds or managed to grow my legs five inches, then, but only then, life would be wonderful! It won't be. For one thing, something else would immediately look like it needs fixing next. For another thing, we age and then the battle against wrinkles and gravity would start. It's a rigged game, a hopeless game, a game which only benefits the sellers of all those fixing materials.

This is not to say that it would be easy to step out of the game and to refuse to play it. Books showing different ways to see beauty are useful in that, and so is just trying to refuse to play the game. Sure, take care of your body, exercise it and decorate it and honor the fact that it has taken you to this point in time at least. But it will not take you to paradise through the fixing game.

Monday, April 07, 2008

From The No Comment Files

Transcript here.

I don't get whatever the joke is that Hitchens thinks he just made. Wasn't he supposed to be the go-to-guy on humor?

Meanwhile, in Texas

You may have followed the events taking place at the polygamist Mormon retreat in Texas, one built by Warren Jeffs who has been sentenced in Utah for his role in the rape of a fourteen-year old:

Days after authorities removed 219 children and women from the polygamist retreat in Eldorado, Texas, police still were not sure if the teen whose call prompted the raid was among those who were safely removed.

Authorities told the Associated Press the 16-year-old had called and reported physical and sexual abuse on the ranch last week. She claimed to be married to a 50-year-old man.

It is as yet unclear what might have taken place at this religious retreat. But if it is forced marriages for minor girls it is against the law.

While reading about these events I couldn't help thinking that they offer an extreme example of something which happens fairly often: the clashing of religious and human or individual rights. Consider that Jeffs' sect practices polygamy for reasons that they regard as religious. Then consider the consequences of this practice: young girls being forced to marry much older men, young boys thrown away as surplus to the needs of a polygamous society.

Yes, the above example is an extreme one. But milder versions of these clashes of rights happen all the time, and one important role for the government and the court system is to decide how to weigh one group of rights against another group of rights.

An example of a Supreme Court case which favored the religious rights is Wisconsin v. Yoder. That case, in 1972, decided that

Amish children could not be placed under compulsory education past 8th grade, as it violated their fundamental right to freedom of religion.

I doubt that it was the Amish children who pursued this case or that those same children were then free to have as much elective education as they wished once they had finished eight grade. No, the decision was not about the children's rights but about the rights of a religious community to survive.

The Bush administration has chosen to focus on the enforcement of religious rights within the wider program of civil rights enforcement. What does this mean when human rights and religious rights clash and no laws prioritize one over the other? I'm worried.

A Lovely Bit of Research

Or a lovely popularization of a bit of research is this one:

A new brain-scan study may help explain what's going on in the minds of financial titans when they take risky monetary gambles — sex. When young men were shown erotic pictures, they were more likely to make a larger financial gamble than if they were shown a picture of something scary, such a snake, or something neutral, such as a stapler, university researchers reported.

The arousing pictures lit up the same part of the brain that lights up when financial risks are taken.

"You have a need in an evolutionary sense for both money and women. They trigger the same brain area," said Camelia Kuhnen, a Northwestern University finance professor who conducted the study with a Stanford University psychologist.

Their research appears in the current edition of the peer-reviewed journal NeuroReport.

The study only involved 15 heterosexual young men at Stanford University. It focused on the sex and money hub, the V-shaped nucleus accumbens, which sits near the base of the brain and plays a central role in what you experience as pleasure.

When that hub was activated by the erotic images, the men were far more likely to bet high on a random chance game that would earn them either a dollar or a dime. Each man made more than 50 gambles under brain scans.

Stanford psychologist Brian Knutson, a lead author of the study, says it's all about the power of emotion and arousal and our financial decisions. The trigger doesn't have to be sex — it could be chocolate or a winning lottery ticket.

So we learn what financial titans feel from looking at the brain scans of fifteen heterosexual young men at a university? Ok. And then we learn that "You have a need in an evolutionary sense for both money and women. They trigger the same brain area."

What about chocolate, then? The psychologist (as opposed to the finance professor) noted that it's about arousal and not necessarily about sex, but still, the researchers didn't test anything on women. Nada, because they couldn't figure out anything that would arouse women. Not even chocolate!

I find these types of popularizations endlessly fascinating. From the findings we go straight to speculations:

The link between sex and greed goes back hundreds of thousands of years, to men's evolutionary role as provider or resource gatherer to attract women, said Kevin McCabe, professor of economics, law and neuroscience at George Mason University, who wasn't part of the study.

"Risk-taking is a natural way of increasing your relative success, but, of course, there's a downside to it, what we're seeing right now in the economy," McCabe said.

So. Professor McCabe is an economist, by the way. I'm always astonished to find that evolutionary psychologists don't have to have the kind of training I would have expected them to have. You know, something to do with psychology and genetics. Perhaps that is the reason I'm beginning to feel like an expert in that field, too.

To clarify the above criticisms: The study findings do not mean that these speculations have been confirmed. Note, first, that no women were tested at all. Suppose that they had tested women and that those tests would have found a similar relationship to hold for women. Would that then mean that women were the providers and needed to take risks, hm?

If you didn't get my major disgust with this article, read the final quote:

This all makes sense to Harvard economist Terry Burnham, author of the book "Mean Genes." Burnham said it could be all summed up in a famous line from the movie "Scarface."

"In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women."

Yet another economist writing about genes. My, how we do get around. And he's writing about women as something we all get, but only after power and money. That leaves any heterosexual female reader -- where, exactly? As the thing to be gotten, of course.

Today's Question

Provoked by the number of column inches Hillary Clinton's tax record revelations have given us:

When will John McCain release his tax and health records?
We are all eagerly and curiously waiting.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Alwin Nikolais: Electronic Nostalgia Finally Made Flesh by Anthony McCarthy

Having worked in a primitive electronic music lab in the early 70s, the period of patch cords, reel tape that sometimes stretched unexpectedly and other ancient technology, electronic music of that time can make me feel strangely nostalgic.

That’s probably why I originally bought the album, Alwin Nikolais, Electronic Dance Music. Maybe it was the photo of his extravagantly costumed dancers on the cover. The pieces cover a period from 1966 (Chimera: Dance 1) to 1989. The electronic media used seem to be everything from tape samples, the Moog ( Nikolais not only owned the first one but he is said to have startled Robert Moog with potentials he hadn’t imagined.) and finally the Synclavier. The range of expression includes mysterious, dramatic, serene, slap-happy (the delightful Blank on Blank). There is even impressive satirical use of the most obnoxious musical invention of all time, the back beat. Nikolais was a real composer.

Until the other day still photos of his dances were all I’d seen, then, by chance, this You Tube of Tensile Involvement came up in an unrelated search. The video is kind of jumpy but it gives you the whole piece.

Here are two other excerpts from a different production.

I wish there was more to see and hear but I haven’t found much online except still photos.

Other than Milton Babbitt, the great master of the early synthesizer, Nikolais might have produced some of the most compelling music using electronics in the medium’s short history. Maybe it’s because it was created for the necessities of dancing in mind. Some people say that Nikolais was the founder of multi-media. I don’t know, not being more than a musician. But if he wasn’t the founder, he was a master of the actual practice of it.

There is more information at the Nikolais-Louis Foundation for Dance, Inc.

* You’d think with the number of patch cords hooked up that year, I’d be better at untangling my computer and stereo cables. Proving the limits of education.

"With the television coverage has come more interest." by Anthony McCarthy

or This is X-actly What I Mean

Those X-treme fighting spectacles that are so popular on TV have caught on and are being promoted for children who still have their baby teeth. And those parents, the ones who are supposed to be looking out for their health and safety, they’re a big part of the problem.

FALL RIVER - One fighter kicked and threw a punch. The other grabbed his opponent behind the neck. Tyler Benoit and Justin Pereira were locked up now, a tangle of arms and legs, spinning around and finally falling to the mat with a thud, as the crowd watched, rapt.

"Push away, Tyler!" Derek Benoit shouted at his son. "Push away!"

Tyler is 7 years old, his opponent was 8. And their showdown one night last week at Gillett's Mixed Martial Arts gym in Fall River was just practice, just two children sparring, in padded headgear, in front of their instructors - no strikes to the head allowed.

But plenty of Massachusetts youths are dreaming of becoming real mixed martial arts fighters, where the punches are harder and the fights very real. And in Massachusetts, unlike most other states, including Louisiana and Mississippi, there are no laws or regulations prohibiting minors from entering the fray.

Those of us who aren’t fans of commercial maiming as entertainment have a lot to learn about this cultural phenomenon.

"I have parents who kind of scare me sometimes," said Gillett last week at his Fall River gym.

"They're in there, wrestling on the mats, helping kids out. Moms and dads getting on the mats working on things: triangle chokes, arm bars, knee bars, guillotine chokes. Moms and dads letting their kids choke them just for practice reasons. The days of Dad throwing a ball with little Billy are over. Now, Dad's on the mat letting Billy put him in an arm bar or a choke hold until he taps."

Apparently “taps” are what are known in the S&M world as “safety words”. You wonder what this means in the ever more violent, ultra-macho, ultra-conformist, shame enforced, tough guy culture. Not much, apparently.

"The culture is to accept pain, rather than report it," he said. "The culture is not to quit, not to tap out."

As always, those who point out that children’s lives, bodies and brains are at risk in this nascent profit making pathological-parent fulfilling industry are accused of “not understanding the sport”. In this world, a medical doctor understanding brain injury and other serious health consequences count for less than the wisdom of gym owners and other commercial promoters. Notice that boxing for 8-year olds and football for 5-year-olds are the excuses given for allowing these newer venues for brain damage in children. Two wrongs apparently do make it all right, when there's a profit to be made.

Read the article and consider the consequences of this being promoted on TV. Doesn’t the left have a moral responsibility to the children whose parents willingly hand them to the commercial cult of The American Moloch whose altars sit in just about every living room?

Murder and Serial Infanticide Were More Acceptable Than Women Owning Their Bodies by Anthony McCarthy

Our local paper has a 25-year's ago article about the case of likely serial infanticide and possibly the death of a public health nurse from the 1950s, the topic of this post from two years ago. It contains some more information giving a picture in what this country was really like in the period before Roe and when effective birth control was either illegal or unavailable.

Aside from the picture it gives of the hypocrisy of the time, including the real possibility of political corruption, you might read it with an eye to the consequences in womens lives and their ability to have a job.

Boyle interviewed Osgood in June of 1983. Osgood supervised Thomas from June 11, 1952 to Sept. 11, 1953. Osgood told Boyle he remembered "Shirley (Thomas) being pregnant on two occasions. On the second time, (Osgood) questioned her about it, and she stated she had a water tumor. She would leave work appearing pregnant and would come back in a few days not appearing pregnant."

When Walter Osgood suggested Thomas get a physical, she refused and left G.E.

Osgood's recollections to Boyle were corroborated by statements made by a G.E. nurse that same June. The nurse had worked at G.E. at the time of Thomas' employment.

Another employee named Muriel Gesis told Boyle she recalled Thomas being pregnant at least four times. Gesis said Thomas took few enough days off that she would not have to take a physical before returning to work. Contrary to company policy, she always worked to full term, angering other working women who followed the rules and left after their first trimester

The consequences of women not being able to control their bodies go a lot farther than being able to choose to have an abortion. This story shows the real risks that will come with the overturning of Roe, it tells us the real cost of abortion being dangerous and illegal, of contraception being prohibited. So many aspects of women's ownership of their lives are at stake with the prospect of abortion and birth control being illegal or unavailable.

This Is The Sound of Hair Tearing by Anthony McCarthy

Edited from a blog comment.

The first job of a Democratic presidential candidate is to win the election, it isn't to defend talk show hosts. Defending talk show hosts, that's our job.

Unless Obama asked the guy to say that McCain is a war monger he has no obligation to defend him at the cost of losing the election, that war monger then becoming president. Keeping the war monger from being president is somewhat more important than this issue, surely. He doesn't have the time nor does his campaign have the resources to deal with non-essential issues like this.

If he forfeited the election over things like this he would also be betraying his foremost obligation, his obligation to those he is asking to vote for him. Candidates asking for the nomination of the Democratic Party make a promise that they will try to win the election. A big part of that obligation is keeping things in perspective and for him and his campaign the defense of this talk show host isn't high on the list. A candidate’s first and last obligation is to The People, not the media.

There are dramatic declarations often made on the blog threads that the cost to the candidate of our support is them living up to some arbitrary and absurd standard of purity over non-essential details. When those demands will likely cost them other, and probably more votes, the threat doesn't do anything productive. It risks losing elections and it marginalizes the left. It produces nothing of value. You have to have the power to deliver more votes in order to demand that the candidate will lose others. We don't have a history of delivering that majority.

Winning the election and getting enough power to change laws is the whole point of representative democracy. In order to change anything you have to win. What is so hard to understand about that which the failure of going on four decades of futile leftist puritanism hasn't taught us?