Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bitter As Hell, The Left's Real Problem With Elitists by Anthony McCarthy

Things I'm tired of reading on the comment threads of leftist blogs:

1. The people are too stupid to govern themselves.
2. The people are superstitious and ignorant because they don't agree with me.
3. We're smart, "they're" stupid.
4. I'm too cool to think there's any hope.
5. This is a new one from just yesterday. We can't tell the people the truth about x because they won't do what we want them to do if they know it.

Now, at personal peril, it's your turn. What do you see way too much of on the comment threads of leftist blogs?

Tran Quang Hai posted by Anthony McCarthy

The first recording of Vietnamese music I’d ever owned was "Landscape of the Highlands”, zither music played by the distinguished professor, Trân Quang Hai. * So it was his name I was looking for when I wanted to post a piece of music played on Dan Tranh. I didn’t find a You Tube of him playing that instrument but he had posted his playing on Jew’s harp and the spoons. He does amazing things with both and manages to make music at the same time.

Two Vietnamese tunes on Yakut Jew's harp

A demonstration of the dan moi or “baby Jew’s harp.

Spoon playing techniques

An improvisation by Prof. Tran Van Khe, Prof. Tran Quang Hai and Mrs. Pham Thuy Hoan and Hai Phuong

An improvisation on the Nam Xuan Mode by Prof. Tran Van Khe (drum), Prof. Tran Quang Hai(spoons), Hai Phuong (zither dan tranh)

The look of these three virtuosos as they really get into it will be entirely familiar to any musician. It is a revelation to find out about whole worlds of music around us, complete with a fully developed musical culture, that are routinely ignored by those outside of them. This is very good music that should be widely known.

If you’re interested, check out his amazing demonstrations of more spoon playing and his remarkable singing techniques he has posted on You Tube.

* “Landscape of the Highlands - Trân Quang Hai", edited by Music of the World, Chapell Hill, USA, 1997

Tracy Sharpley-Whiting on Basic Black by Anthony McCarthy

This conversation between Professor Tracy Sharpley-Whiting* and Basic Black host Kim McLarin about Sharpley-Whiting’s book Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip-Hop's Hold on Young Black Women is worth listening to, it takes about a half an hour. I hadn’t known about her until seeing the program Thursday night and now her book is going to the top of my “to read” stack.

Many of the points in the interview about the impact of an increasing view of sexual and other human relationships in terms of commodities and consumption are in line with a lot of what I’ve come to conclude is the core of what is wrong with our culture. The impact of the media driven hyper-masculinity of the general culture and in its most blatant form in hip-hop culture are central issues for us. Sharpley-Whiting’s point about Harvey Mansfield’s idea that women are equal to men, but not entirely, makes the connection between his work and that of a rapper named Nelly. Nelly apparently achieved what passes as coolness these days when he swiped his credit card through the buttocks of a black woman in one of his videos.

"I think that's what people really find troubling about many of the relationships in the hip-hop generation in the larger culture that relationships are becoming increasingly transactional," .... "And for most people, that particular moment [in the video] clarified it."

These images and prejudices are being marketed to all of us continually. While a lot of that is selling us other things through sex and self-indulgence, I can’t believe that there isn’t some more basic intention of nudging the culture backwards by a concerted effort. It all looks like part of the same backlash against human rights to me.

She says a lot of things in the interview that just aren’t supposed to be said in progressive circles these days. One is that teenaged girls, from 13-19, are particularly vulnerable to the influence of negative and demeaning depictions of women in the context of sexual allurement. What they see on the screen and what they hear does have a real life influence on their behavior. Just as importantly, their experience is not separate from the behavior towards them from other people who have also been influenced by the same media. That children go through puberty at a time they aren’t intellectually or emotionally able to protect themselves and to avoid exploitation counts as little when there is massive profit to be made by pretending that they are “young adults” who have abilities that they do not yet possess. Passive acceptance of the media selling them a degraded image of themselves through sex and mnemonic hooks is something that is clearly inviting trouble. Women are not the only group being sold on self-debasement, indeed, on self-destruction. Clearly these images are marketed to black people in America. Other minority groups are also sold similar roles for themselves. I’ll be expanding on that idea in a different context soon.

If you watch the video please notice the speed with which ideas are brought up by the two women, the sophistication and complexity of the ideas and the rarity of many of them. This wasn’t just an exchange of pre-digested sound bites. Basic Black is one of the few TV programs where you can hear this kind of adult conversation on TV. Wouldn’t you like to hear more of it?

* From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degrading Images : Sharpley-Whiting’s statement to the Congressional Subcommittee on Commerce

An edited transcript of an interesting conversation she had with Mark Anthony Neal published in Duke Magazine.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Critter and Nature Blogging for Friday: The Desert Spring Edition

These are by Doug.

For the critters, check out Ntodd's Pack Blogging. It's lovely, with all sorts of "Peacable Kingdom" pictures.

Protecting our rights from “marriage amendments” (by Suzie)

           Last Friday, I took a humorous look at the proposed Marriage Protection Amendment to the Florida constitution. Other states have considered similar amendments, and some people want to pass a federal one.
          Some straight people think the amendment would affect “only” gay people. In a recent debate, however, Nadine Smith pointed out that the religious right isn't all that keen on heterosexuals living in sin, either.
          Nadine Smith is executive director of Equality Florida and co-chair of Fairness for All Families. The Orlando Sentinel reported that she
focused on two things: 1) that gay marriage is already illegal in this state. ("The day before this election, same sex couples can't marry," she said. "The day after this election, same sex couples can't marry.) 2) And the fact that this amendment could actually take away rights from unmarried couples (straight and gay) when it comes to things like healthcare and end-of-life decisions. ("You do not protect your marriage in any way by taking away other people's rights.")

When biology is destiny, once again (by Suzie)

         When people tie biology to the desire to change genders, this affects more than transgender people. It also has repercussions for women who are not trans. After all, biology has been used for millennia to discriminate against women.
         In a recent column, Mercedes Allen said science is “close to isolating the ‘gay gene’ and possibly a biological source of gender identity disorder.” Although the disorder is considered a “mental health issue,” she said, therapists agree that
this is only because a specific biological trigger has not yet been determined (although there is ongoing study of both genetic "brain sex" and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals which appear to possibly lead to a better understanding of its origin).
          I wonder how scientists will determine "brain sex" in a world that is so highly gendered, without a nongendered control planet.
         What would a Planet Without Gender look like? People would be born with different genitalia and develop differently, in regard to such things as hair, breasts, musculature, etc. But no one would think twice if someone with a vagina had some facial hair or someone with a penis had ample breast tissue. Any child could wear a frilly pink dress or overalls. Anyone could play with a doll or a truck. Anyone could grow up to be president. On this planet, could someone be born with a penis and yet feel alienated from his body and long to have a vagina? Sure.
          On Earth, however, when a young boy wants to cover his breasts, have babies, use his sister’s things, etc. -- as described in a Barbara Walters special – that doesn’t prove anything about biology. Those are cultural artifacts.
          I’m not saying that there is no biological trigger to gender identity disorder. What I’m saying is that cultural stuff, such as a boy wanting to wear a dress, is not proof.
          This sort of talk reinforces stereotypes about what it means to be male or female. I’ve been irritated about this since I read a newspaper article on Susan Stanton, who was fired as a city manager last year when it was revealed that she would transition from Steve to Susan. The newspaper printed my letter to the editor, but snipped a bit of the snark. I’ll reinstate it for this blog. Here are snippets from the article, with my responses:
  • "Steve needed a helmet wig, pancake makeup and foam breasts to be a woman." I lost all my hair during chemotherapy. When I wasn't wearing a wig and makeup, did I stop being a woman or did my breasts save me?
  • Stanton shakes hands and speaks more softly. Does that make someone more of a woman?
  • She says hormones have softened her personality. Does that mean that women who are jerks would be nicer if they got a hormone patch? Is Stanton equating softness with being female? If so, does that make a female soldier or athlete less of a woman? Some cancer survivors take drugs to suppress estrogen. Are these lesser women?
  • Stanton "still" speaks like a city manager. Is this yet another false dichotomy, like "strong but soft"?
  • Stanton folds her "hands in a girly way." Please print a diagram. I missed the lesson on girly hand-folding in my class on How to Be a Woman.
  • "Steve-Susan loved evening gowns. Steve-Susan loved the clothes a man would choose for a woman. Now Susan is learning to dress for herself." Men predominate as fashion designers, and many women dress to please men. I'm glad Susan has broken free of outside influences, except for her handlers who tell her ...
  • That shirts with collars are "mannish." I'm getting dizzy. Does this mean that other women can't wear collars or just women who were once men? Fashion writers tell women how to be attractive, but I don't remember them addressing collars. Earlier, the story disparaged a "pack of lesbian lawyers" for advising Stanton. Apparently, it's wrong to tell her what to say, but it's fine to tell her how to dress.
  • Stanton can't find clothes that fit well. Unlike the rest of us women who can easily find clothes that fit perfectly.
  • Now she understands the need for a bunch of shoes! Women who don't must be downright unwomanly.
  • "Susan flopped on the bed in tears. Steve would have never cried over his hair." I've never cried over my hair, even when it came out in handfuls. Did I miss a lesson on womanhood?
         I oppose discrimination against transgendered people, and I know many do not talk this way. Susan Stanton was conservative as a man, and it doesn’t appear that she took Feminism 101 as part of her transition. I hope the rest of us will be careful when we link biology to cultural practices.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Betty Carter

Lonely House. So lovely.

When Spring Is In The Air...

"In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love." Even a somewhat older man's fancy, it seems. Just watch this clip of Gordon Brown declaring his eternal love to George Bush. Gah.

These guys are SO emotional.

My Feminist Pet Peeves: Condescension

This is one of those topics an old-time feminazi might have taken up at a CR session, while absent-mindedly scratching her hairy armpits: The experience of being the object of benign condescension from certain types of men. Not all men practice this art of sermon-giving to women, but some do, and the experiences always tend to be memorable.

Rebecca Solnit, an author with many books under her belt, tells about one encounter with such a condescender at

I still don't know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at forty-ish, passed as the occasion's young ladies. The house was great -- if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets -- a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave, when our host said, "No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you." He was an imposing man who'd made a lot of money.

He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, "So? I hear you've written a couple of books."

I replied, "Several, actually."

He said, in the way you encourage your friend's seven-year-old to describe flute practice, "And what are they about?"

They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. "And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?"

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I'd somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book -- with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, with a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me, with my infinitely generous younger brother, with splendid friends of whom it could be said -- like the Clerk in The Canterbury Tales I still remember from Mr. Pelen's class on Chaucer -- "gladly would he learn and gladly teach." Still, there are these other men, too. So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, "That's her book." Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

But he just continued on his way. She had to say, "That's her book" three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn't read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless -- for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we've never really stopped.

It's hilarious, of course. It could also be the case that this particular man always holds forth, always condescends, both to men and women. It could well be. But I've never had a woman condescend this way to me yet. Only some men have done it, and the condescension seems to have a cultural dimension to it so that I can almost predict that men from certain countries will do that while being charming and polite, exactly in the way one would talk to precocious children. Also, it is more likely that an older man will assume this particular attitude.

So I think the attitude has to do with expectations. Expectations about women being rather silly and charming creatures who really don't know very much about anything important. But well, we have to live with them and to be nice to them because of that damn sexual reproduction thing.

What really rung the bell in that quote from Solnit's article was the associated deafness of the pontificator, his inability to hear what Solnit's friend was saying. Because what she was saying was not a simple correction of information. It was something that tipped over his whole thought edifice. Or tried to tip it over.

I've had many, many experiences with this selective sort of deafness myself, ranging from trying to make contractors hear what I want to be done with the house to telling someone that yes, indeed, I'm familiar with the theories in an introductory economics course, given that I have a terminal degree in the field. But the deafness is an obstacle here and yelling very hard or kicking the person in the groin would make me look worse than the idiot I'm dealing with. Sigh.

McCain: No More Corporate Welfare?

I bet you don't want to hear about taxes right now, but that's the topic of this post. Or more precisely, I want to write about John McCain's plans to give extra help to corporations should he become the president of the United States:

In yesterday's speech, McCain played to his maverick image, taking corporate chieftains to task for their "extravagant salaries and severance deals." He even called out by name Angelo R. Mozilo, the chief executive of imploding mortgage giant Countrywide, and James E. Cayne, former chief executive of Bear Stearns, which was bailed out by an emergency line of credit from the Federal Reserve Board.

"In my administration, there will be no more subsidies for special pleaders, no more corporate welfare," McCain said.

But much of what he detailed was a corporate special pleader's dream: a cut in the corporate income tax rate, from 35 percent to 25 percent, a proposal to allow businesses to write off the cost of new equipment and technology from their taxes, a ban on Internet and new cellphone taxes, and a permanent tax credit for research and development.

He promised to remove the "myriad corporate tax loopholes that are costly, unfair and inconsistent with a free-market economy," but he offered no specifics.

Note the last two paragraphs, because they are important to remember simultaneously. Conservatives tend to argue that American firms cannot compete abroad because of the high corporate tax rate in this country. What conservatives forget to mention are those loopholes. They are so big and comfortable that the taxes American firms ultimately pay are the fourth lowest as a percentage of the GDP of all OECD countries. It's hard to see how that tax burden would keep U.S. firms from being competitive.

Perhaps McCain really intends to close all those loopholes while also intending to cut the tax rate. Who knows. But adding new corporate write-off rules doesn't look like getting tough with corporations.

International competitiveness is not the only argument conservatives propose to justify giving firms "tax relief." They also point out that firms with lower taxes will have more money left over to invest, to expand and to employ more workers. Thus, ultimately the workers will benefit from this help to someone else.

Except for two tiny snags: First, the firms don't have any obligation whatsoever to spend their tax savings on employing more people. Second, even if they do use the savings in that manner the employment effect might take place in Pakistan, India or China, given the ease with which jobs are outsourced these days.

There are better and more effective ways to give American workers some relief. But McCain's proposal is a pretty good one for continuing a policy of corporate welfare.
Cross-posted at the Nation magazine's Passing Through blog.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Night Hell Iced Over

Even two conservative bloggers noticed how very conservative the bias in our so-called liberal media actually is while following tonight's debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Here is what Andrew Sullivan says:

9.32 pm. No questions on the environment, none on terror, none on interrogation, none on torture, none on education, none on spending, none on healthcare, none on Iran ... but four separate questions in the first hour about a lapel-pin, Bitter-gate, Wright-gate and Ayers. I'm all for keeping candidates on their toes. But this was ridiculous.

And here is Jonah Goldberg at the conservative Corner:

I'm no leftwing blogger, but I can only imagine how furious they must be with the debate so far. Nothing on any issues. Just a lot of box-checking on how the candidates will respond to various Republican talking points come the fall. Now I think a lot of those Republican talking points are valid and legitimate. But if I were a "fighting Dem" who thinks all of these topics are despicable distractions from the "real issues," I would find this debate to be nothing but Republican water-carrying.

It really was a travesty of a debate. Atrios suggests that we complain about it. A lot.

Benign Sexism

Now I've heard it all. There is something called "benign sexism", and supposedly Chris Matthews is only guilty of that type of sexism. What the fuck is it? Is it like a benign tumor which might hurt or inconvenience you but which is a lot better than having a cancerous growth?

No. It seems that ogling and leering at women is benign and so is treating them like not the experts they are on your show but as eye-candy brought there for the purpose of giving you a stiffie. This is benign, because the women should be flattered by the nice things Matthews tells them. Of course the nice things he tells them are totally inappropriate on a political talk show. It's as if he interviewed Henry Kissinger and spent the whole time admiring Kissinger's weird eyeglasses and pontificating on them as the windows of some weird conservative world, while Kissinger desperately tried to get a word in edgewise.

Here's the quote which annoyed me:

Yes, the Times profile acknowledged the fact that critics, including Media Matters for America, have accused Matthews of sexist behavior. But the Times quickly cordoned off that discussion to mostly mean that Matthews leers at women.

In a typical passage from the Times profile, Matthews tries to flirt with actress and Obama supporter Kerry Washington, whom MSNBC head Phil Griffin invites on Hardball at an event. "He wants you on because you're beautiful," Matthews said. "And because you're black." Matthews handed Washington a business card and told her to call anytime "if you ever want to hang out with Chris Matthews."

New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer blog, in an item praising Matthews, picked up on that passage and suggested:

Places like Media Matters will doubtless point out this interaction as further evidence of Matthews's demeaning attitude toward women, but they'd be missing the point. Matthews is a sexist in the same benign way your grandfather is, but at least he tells the truth.

First off, "benign" sexism? That's an interesting notion. Is that sort of like "benign" racism? (Just asking.) Secondly, New York Magazine completely misses the point, because it adopts the same premise The New York Times does: this idea that Matthews is sexist because he ogles women both on and off the air.

Yes, that sort of behavior is problematic and inappropriate for the host of a political news program. (Am I not stating the obvious here?) But what the media conveniently ignore is the hateful, gender-based language Matthews uses to describe prominent (Democratic) women. It's behavior commonly referred to as misogyny.

Boehlert's whole take on how misogyny has paid off for Matthews is worth a read. Perhaps he will actually be listened to. Us wimminfolk are not.

What Molly Said

Molly at Whiskeyfire reads Maureen Dowd so that you don't have to.

The Fourth Wave?*

The New York Magazine has an article on a possible feminist revival, caused by the sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton in these elections (note that I'm not saying that all the criticism Clinton gets is sexist or undeserved, but I am saying that she has gotten a lot of misogynistic and sexist criticisms). A taste of the article:

Not so long ago, it was possible for women, particularly young women, to share in the popular illusion that we were living in a postfeminist moment. There were encouraging statistics to point to: More women than men are enrolled at universities, where they typically earn higher grades; once they graduate, those who live in big cities might even receive higher salaries—at least in the early years of employment. The Speaker of the House is female, as are eight governors and 16 percent of Congress (never mind that this is 11 percent fewer than Afghanistan's parliament). Many women believed we had access to the same opportunities and experiences as men—that was the goal of the feminist movement, wasn't it?—should we choose to take advantage of them (and, increasingly, we just might not). There was, of course, the occasional gender-based slight to contend with, a comment on physical appearance, the casual office badminton played with words like bitch and whore and slut, but to get worked up over these things seemed pointlessly symbolic, humorless, the purview of women's-studies types. Then Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy, and the sexism in America, long lying dormant, like some feral, tranquilized animal, yawned and revealed itself. Even those of us who didn't usually concern ourselves with gender-centric matters began to realize that when it comes to women, we are not post-anything.

This reads like a letter from some foreign country to me, you know, because I spend my days watching that supposedly tranquilized feral animal, sexism. The reason so many women don't see it is that a) it's a domesticated pet in too many households and b) they have learned to not see it, because seeing it is painful and life is short. Then of course there were all those articles about the death of feminism, the new post-feminist era of complete equality (with one female Supreme Court Justice in the U.S. for instance and zero female Popes ever), the era when feminism was icky and old-fashioned and real women didn't want it anyway, because something else was the new fad of the day.

But I do get the deeper point, of course, and I'm being unfair to the author, because the article is on the whole excellent in describing the psychological consequences of the sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton by the media and of the attempts to discuss it around the waterfountains and at the kitchen tables. It also asks why sexism is not taken seriously in the public discussion (it is not, on the whole), and notes that the learning experience the recent events have offered is an eye-opening one for many younger women.

And here is the really interesting question in the article:

The past few months have been like an extended consciousness-raising session, to use a retro phrase that would have once made most of us cringe. We've parsed the gender politics of the campaign with other women in the office, at parties, over e-mail, and now we're starting to parse the gender politics of our lives. This is, admittedly, depressing: How can we be confronting the same issues, all these years later? But it's also exciting. It feels as if a window has been opened in a stuffy, long-sealed room. There is a thrill at the collective realization. Now the question is, what next?

Why would the concept of a consciousness-raising session be something to make young women cringe? There it comes again, the idea that feminism of the 1970's was something rather icky, something outdated, something perhaps even dangerous. How very well the Rush Limbaughs of this world have done the job of painting feminism in unacceptable colors.

But I digress again. What I really wanted to say is that the article suggests a possible new feminist awakening. The alarm clocks of the media pundits have rung in too many American living-rooms, it seems.

Perhaps. But note that the vast majority of Americans, women and men, don't follow this political bickering at all. The vast majority of American women are not upper-class educated women who could compare their own career problems with those of Hillary Clinton. It could be that the next wave begins with incidents like this one. But something more is needed for feminism to spread into all parts of the society.
*On the title of this post: I doubt that history would count a new feminist reawakening at this point the fourth wave, but I'm going to use that term because it is currently the one people would choose.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pope Posting

Holden Caulfield pointed out the red shoes the Pope wears in this picture. What are they all about? Part of the uniform? And why red shoes with a white dress? Though I do like them.

Kathryn Lopez at the Corner of the very conservative National Review has the oddest post about the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal and Ratzo's visit:

The Church has been through a great humiliation, yes. What was done to children is inexcusable and a grave sin and shame. The pope knows this, acknowledges this, prays for forgiveness and renewal, and leads the way toward forgiveness, renewal, and a renaissance of orthodoxy. The pope genuflecting to CNN and the Boston Globe isn't going to do anyone any good, however. As officials with a worldwide view of the Church note, the Catholic Church in the United States is, in the big picture, a story of some great successes — in education, health care, etc. The Church has to continue to do what it does best — serve, teach, preach, love. And Benedict's top priority while being here is shepherding. And that's what we'll be seeing more than anything these next few days of his visit — with his rod and his staff ....

Is she really trying to crack a very iffy joke here? That's how it reads to me. Perhaps I'm just very very naughty today.

Six Moon Dance And Friends

While cleaning my study yesterday (yeae me for cleaning, finally!), I noticed that I own quite a few fantasy and science fiction books which ask questions about gender relations. Some of those I've written about before, but the topic is of endless interest to me. (Probably not to you, but I suffer from blogging fatigue, so this is what you are getting today.)

The tricks a writer can use to discuss gender in the without-initial-rules world of alternative reality are not that many. A book could discuss gender the way it is perceived by our current societies, or it could side-step that by having gender be something different altogether (either nonexistent, temporary or officially accepted as multitudinous). This side-stepping was most famously done by Ursula le Guin in the Left Hand of Darkness, but many other applications of that principle apply.

Another way to address the topic is by reversals or by assigning the traditional female roles to men and vice versa. Melanie Rawns tried that in her trilogy Exiles (which still lacks the third book), but I found the reversal unconvincing, perhaps, because the society otherwise looked too much like something from our own history books (with the exception of the magic, naturally). I kept asking how it was that women had so successfully turned men into househusbands in that world.

Sheri S. Tepper's Six Moon Dance is a more believable attempt at a reversal, because Tepper lets us learn, as the book advances, why and how the power balance of gender changed on her imaginary planet, and also because the resulting balance still favors men in many, if not most things. To give you a flavor of the book, here is the opening:

"It's all right," Mouche's mother said. "Next time we'll have a girl."

Mouche knew of this because his father told him. "She said it was all right. She said next time..."

But there had been no next time. Why the inscrutable Hagions decided such things was unknown. Some persons profited in life, producing daughter after daughter; some lost in life, producing son after son; some hung in the balance as Eline and Darhos did, having one son at the Temple, and then a daughter born dead at the Temple, and then no other child.

The reason daughters are so valuable for farmers like Mouche's parents is that there are fewer women than men on this agricultural low-technology planet. Brides cost a lot of money to acquire but are necessary for the continuation of the family line. Farmers who have daughters get lots of money for them, money, which can be invested in the farm and which can be used to buy brides for the family's sons. Thus, daughters equal wealth in this society, even though the family line is centered on the sons.

Poor Mouche. His family has no daughters, the farm is going under, and he is a pretty boy. His parents need money. What to do? They are going to sell him to a Hunk School.

You will have to read the book to find out what a Hunk School might be. Then you will also learn why married men wear face veils on that planet and in what sense the arrangement benefits or does not benefit women or men. It's all quite interesting, providing weird distorted echoes of our society and perhaps letting us see the latter with greater clarity.

A third way of examining the power balance between the sexes might be the one which Barbara Hambly used in her Sisters of the Raven and its sequel Circle of the Moon. The gender rules in her book are initially fairly easy to recognize as what one might call the traditional Mediterranean ones, with covered women and strong male dominance in the public sphere, though she also adds borrowings from other cultures into the mix.

These rules are not changed in the book. What does change is one of the sources for the male power: magic. In the past, Hambly tells us, magic was a purely male ability. Not all men had it, but no women did. It was the men with magic who called in the annual rains, the rains on which the survival of the desert society depicted in the books depended. Then, suddenly, male magic dies and the whole society faces possible death.

At the same time, a few women here and there realize that they now have magical skills. These skills don't appear to obey the old rules, however, and they come into existence at the same time as the death of men's magic.

This setting looks to me like an interesting opening for studying gender power relations, even if it unfortunately sets that power up as a zero-sum game. Hambly doesn't really take that topic very far, perhaps, because she is more interested in the other topics of the books. But I'm hoping that she one day writes a third book on that imaginary society and tells us how it all went.

Here is my last cleaning thought on this topic: I think the best way to discuss gender in speculative fiction would be to take the existing sexual power relationships and their justifications and to apply that whole network to two groups of creatures which are clearly not men and women but still somehow linked in the sense of mutual survival. Doing that could throw some real light on the questions.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Define "Elite"

You could look up a dictionary definition. But the oddest thing about the way American politics uses the world "elite" is that it attacks those who would like to change the current elitist system, even if very subtly. Thus, Barack Obama is now labeled as a snob by the wingnuts and even by some Democrats who are working for Hillary Clinton.

Why isn't George Bush an elitist? He was born into money, after all, and he has always had it. He went to a boarding school and Ivy League universities. But somehow that is not being a member of the elites in this country. The definition has been carefully modified so that being wealthy does not, in itself, give you elite membership.

Even a very poor person can be an elitist, from this point of view, as long as that person is not voting for the Republicans. Anyone drinking lattes is risking being called an elitist. But having eight houses does not make you an elitist, unless you are a Democrat. Actually belonging to the ruling elite does not make you an elitist, either.

This is bizarre.

The Silence of Tax Preparation Time

You can smell it on the Internet. Suddenly it's very quiet, except for the far-distant clicking of keyboards, the muffled swearwords and the sound of papers being shuffled.

Tax prep time. This is the time when the wheat is separated from the chaff: Those who did their taxes weeks ago from those who are pulling off most of their body hair in an attempt to somehow make sense of those numbers. This is the time when partnerships fall into severe bickering, when the seeds of divorce sprout, when the horrible numbers come back to us in our fevered dreams, when they whisper into our ears in traffic, when all files and drawers and cupboards are turned inside out by the last-minute people among us.

And all this is the lot of the mostly lucky ones, the ones who have enough income to necessitate all the accounting.

Added later: I figured out my hourly pay for writing on politics (not on this blog but elsewhere). Then I sobbed.

On the Size of American Vacations

I have a post on that topic at the Passing Through blog of the Nation magazine.

Just Had To Get This In: Late Addition by Anthony McCarthy

Listening to Cokie and Diane Rehm, just now, wondering about why Bill Clinton is tripping over himself on behalf of Hillary Clinton, have you heard anyone suggest it could be because he doesn’t like hearing people dumping on the woman who stood by him through some of his worst mistakes and ordeals?

What does it say about the American media that they can’t understand that Bill Clinton might be doing what Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, John McCain... etc. so unmentionably , but obviously didn’t do? Stand by his wife? Maybe it’s his, you know, deep feelings of love for her that are making him other than cagey about this.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Nina Simone

Love Me Or Leave Me

Pirate Jenny

Posted by Anthony McCarthy

One Big Plutocracy by Anthony McCarthy

Part Three of Three

Finally, there are the concerns about foreign economic influence. The 2006 brouhaha over a Dubai company attempting to buy a group of American ports focused the public’s attention on the larger issue of state-owned companies and investment funds buying up large segments of the American economy. Today, these sovereign wealth funds hold $2.5 trillion in assets, and Morgan Stanley estimates they could hold $17 trillion within a decade. Many fear that these state-controlled entities, which often operate in secret, could use such assets as a political weapon.

Unlike the typical investor concerned only with the bottom line, foreign governments have agendas beyond making a buck. They could easily push companies to behave in ways that are politically advantageous to the owner country. That nationalist concern has led to congressional hearings, and according to Financial Week, some Democratic legislators appear poised to introduce a bill to strengthen the weak regulatory regime that currently oversees these international economic transactions. Redefining “tax and spend”

ational corporations actually owned and operated by the official rulers or the government of a country are a reality. Contrary to the Chicago School’s doctrinal fantasies, the religion exclusively presented by American media, they can be wildly successful at making money and concentrating power. That’s no surprise, considering the success with which the corporate state here has hijacked the government from The People. Where The People aren’t said to own the government to start with the distinction between public and private doesn’t exist.

The internationalists, representing the interests of the American corporate state in the world, don’t have much of a problem dealing with these state-corporate entities, they’ll do business with anyone if it means they can profit from it. It might even be refreshing for them to stop having to pretend that there is any democratic context in which they do business.

While there will be frictions between the American-corporate elite and these state-corporate entities, those will almost never involve the welfare of The People or the environment. Other than as consumers and lowest possible cost workers, we don’t matter in these things unless we have the power to make them matter.

That the issue mentioned here also tapped into the anti-Arab bigotry common in the United States is unfortunate but not surprising. It could be any of a host of ‘others’. In order to shield themselves from notice, elites are always presenting other, sometimes entirely imaginary enemies.“Easterners”, “New Englanders” and a host of other internal ‘others’ serve the same purpose in ‘other’ regions of the United States. Imagine if The People understood how they are really shafted in these deals between foreign despots and those who have stolen our government imagine how upset they would be about that.

Foot Note: Despite third party and independent pipe-dreams, our only real tool to fight against this are the Democrats. If there are not more Democrats in the House, the Senate and in the White House next year the prospects of fighting these issues are gone for the foreseeable future. Republicans will continue the rubber stamp approach with the help of conservative Democrats. But even conservative Democrats are susceptible to our pressure on this issue. The xenophobic Lou Dobbs aside, Republicans are not going to even listen to us about anything. They’ll just steal more of our money by building another Bushlin Wall.

Threatening to withhold our support has a track record of just about complete failure. As said here last week, we don’t have the power to make those threats. It’s our support that will get us anything, though not everything, not holding our breaths until things turn blue.

The forces we are fighting in these issues have unbelievable power to get what they want. We don’t have time waiting for the millennium that has been on hold for longer than any of us has been alive. The man on a horse isn’t coming to our rescue. Not even the horse is on its way. The choice is between standing there whining and waiting for what’s never going to come, or to use the donkey that’s right in front of us to move ahead as history certainly will.

For an idea of where multi-party systems can lead, read the depressing news from Italy where the fractured, multi-party left finds having a plutocratic criminal, along with actual, unreconstructed fascists, regain power is more desirable than uniting to keep them from power.

The issue of third parties takes up an extraordinary amount of the left’s limited time and other resources, considering that there has been exactly one successful third party in our 230-year history, the Republicans of the 1850s. It is an irrational obsession. With the examples from Europe and elsewhere with multi-party systems it looks like not much more of a guarantee of progress than what we’ve got here. Maybe if more of us on the left would give up these futile ideas and concentrated on strengthening and pressuring the Democratic Party we’d get somewhere.

“You Ain’t Said Nothing, ‘till You’ve Played The Blues”

Sombat Simlah, Laotian Khene

Laotian mouth organ is about the bluesiest folk music outside of the blues.

Posted by Anthony McCarthy

Holding Out For The Results We Need, Not Acquiescing To The Process They Want by Anthony McCarthy

Part Two of Three
Second, for pacts that do pass, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is developing a proposal that would give nonprofit groups and individuals the same enforcement powers that corporations currently enjoy. Ellison floated a truncated version of this concept during the 2007 debate over the Peru Free Trade Agreement, arguing that if a trade deal gives a corporation the right to sue in international courts for enforcement of investor rights (copyrights, patents, intellectual property, etc.), then individuals and advocacy organizations should also have the same right to sue for enforcement of other rights (labor, environmental, etc.). A Democratic administration could incorporate this forward thinking into the core text of any future trade pact.

This sounds like a good idea provided the parties, nonprofit groups and individuals aren’t run over by the resources of those who benefit from despoiling the environment and subjugating labor. Unfortunately, in this world, you make a heck of a lot more money by destroying the environment and scouring the world for slaves than you do by asking for $35 annual contributions. It’s essential to stop pretending that any court, even those indirectly subject to democratic constraints, is an equal and impartial judge when the resources are just about entirely on one side. That’s a general problem with the law, it favors those with resources normal circumstances. But when it comes to these international treaties adjudicated by courts with little to no connection to restraints by The People and rushed through without real legislative consideration, the law isn’t an ass, it’s an arrogant advocate for hire to whoever can pay the best. And that isn’t us.

Note: But even with that, those who would bring and argue these cases have to change their thinking, from upholding the process to actually getting the results. Let me repeat that, GETTING THE RESULTS. That is the actual legal practice of the rich and powerful going back to before the robber barons into time immemorial. Why shouldn’t the side representing The People and the environment practice ruthlessness, on our side, to match them? No domesticated advocates practicing petty legal scruples are going to get us what we need, never mind what we want. We need attack dogs, not lap dogs who would be welcome to have their heads petted at a DC area cotillion. Or at NPR, as if there’s a difference.

Nguyen Thanh Thuy

Nguyen Thanh Thuy
plays the Dan Tranh after a short interview.

posted by Anthony McCarthy

First Stop Pretending Treaties Aren’t Treaties And Go On From There by Anthony McCarthy

Part One of Three

The “three pronged approach” to changing trade policy in this article by David Sirota is better than what we’ve got now but it needs a few changes in light of experience with this kind of “reform” and how the elites make super-highways out of tiny holes. I’m taking them one at a time.

First, a proposal by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) would make new trade agreements harder to pass “unless they are accompanied by a more thorough financial analysis,” as the Washington Post reported. Their bill would end the practice of flying blindly into the free trade abyss by forcing the government to provide estimates of potential job losses with any trade pact. (That’s right Congress currently makes trade policy without even asking what the consequences are.)

Whoa! Who, looking at the ease with which those assigned to come up with these kinds of estimates lie or, at best, skew their numbers to find what those doing the appointing want them to find, would trust the estimates of potential job losses? I’d simply drop that “unless” loophole and just make these treaties harder to pass, period. You know, as if they were real laws because they are. Since the courts and other super-legal structures set up by these treaties have the proven ability to annul laws in the individual countries they should be called treaties and adopted only by the consent of those with the legitimate power to represent The People, those who we have elected. Putting the ability to bypass legislative consideration in the hands of “analysts” , whatever that can be made to mean, is dangerous and irresponsible.

No undebated, unexamined, treaty, not even if you call them “pacts”, “agreements” or any of the other terms invented to ram these deals through with minimal democratic input should be allowed in a democracy. These treaties have the power, through what amount to Super-Supreme Courts, beholden only to the elites who appoint them, to override laws made with the just consent of those governed by them. At least keep that level of democratic control, that we can vote out those who shaft us.