Saturday, April 26, 2008

Debussy: Sonate En Sol Mineur

Mvt. 1

Mvt. 2-3

Frida Bauer - piano
David Oistrakh - violin

Response To A Rude E-mail Received Just Now. posted by Anthony McCarthy

I am trying to think of how many pieces I’ve posted here on the subject this month and am counting one. How many have PZ and Orac and the other big name ScienceBloggers posted about this topic this month? How many news stories have you read or heard about Ben Stein’s movie this week?

Everyone has the right to comment on a topical subject, I’m not giving up that right because some people don’t like what I say about it. You think everyone likes what your hero, PZ, says about things? You don’t hear me telling him to “shut the fuck up,” do you?

Excuse My Jaw Down There On the Floor posted by Anthony McCarthy

Never heard of Lazare Levy before happening by this last night and I still can’t believe it. This might be the best Debussy playing I’ve ever heard in my life.


The recording was made in 1937 and has a very high noise to signal ratio but the playing is astonishing and he just about certainly heard the style from Debussy or those close to him first hand.

It’s A Dirty Political Brawl. Adapt or Die. by Anthony McCarthy

With a note about the ScienceBlogs.

I don’t remember when it was that someone broke the news to me that Ben Stein was going to be in an anti-evolution movie to be released this election year. “Oh, jickit”, I said, “Not the damned Darwin wars again, already”. I’m afraid I really did say “jickit”.

But in following up on other blogs and reading things about the current go round on the issue, I think I’ve figured out something that has puzzled me for a long time. How can the side for evolutionary science, the side with all the scientific facts, so consistently lose the political argument. I think it is because they so consistently mistake this for a scientific fight when it is, in fact, a political fight. You can’t fight a political fight expecting the same rules as you use in science, or even in a criminal court. If you try to win the evolution argument using those tools, arrogantly refusing to face the nature of the fight, you will lose and lose badly.

It’s one of the great disabilities found on the left that so many of us take refuge in the comforting myth that our opponents are stupid. Well, unfortunately, they aren’t. They’re dishonest crooks and like all successful crooks they’re smart and they’re crafty. They knew that they could possibly rally an effective part of the religious right during an election year by waving a paper mache head of Darwin on a pike with little cost to themselves. That was the smart part. And they knew that when they dissed Darwin that they could count on a knee jerk reaction from a side they could pin on Democrats and that reaction might, as well, encourage the Republican right to come out and vote. That was the crafty part.

How many times does it take for them to play this kind of trick before the left catches on that they’re not playing by the standard rules printed up, so nice and fair, in Hoyle?

Well, they’ve released the movie and they’ve gotten many knees to twitch in sync. While, I gather, there are other things in the movie, it’s the reputation of Darwin I’ve heard most talked about. The slights against the sacred name of Darwin can always get some of our side going and once they’re started there’s no reasoning with them. It’s a sort of St. Vitus dance of political death. If it was an important issue you might stomach it better. But it’s always something vastly unimportant, like the mythic Darwin, or something unattainable. You can name your pick of those hard fought for futilities.

Knowing from experience that an inoculation attempt* won’t stop the disease from spreading I’m not going into it here again. I’m going to only talk about the politics of it because that is all this is, a matter of politics.

Read the creationists’ websites, the more literate ones, and you’ll see they’ve got scads of material, much of it taken directly from Charles Darwin himself as well as his closest associates. Look up their citations if you think they made it up. You will probably find some are inventions but probably no more than you will find in any blog community dedicated to polemics. They’ve read their Darwin, all of him, not pretending that he stopped writing in 1859 like so many of his most devoted fans seem to believe. And, like everyone, they take what they need and they leave the rest.** The assumption, that in the past 90 years, the side which uses Charles Darwin as the major figure in their war against evolution wouldn’t have gotten around to reading and taking detailed notes on his complete works - as well as on everyone associated with him - only allows you to deceive yourself into complacency. And its surprisingly unobservant of the self-defined, “science side” of things.

One thing you have to understand is that they don’t care about evolution, not at all. They don’t care about your arguments for it and they don’t mind lying about the subject. They certainly don’t intend to observe scientific methods any more than they do basic rules of honesty about the written record. That doesn’t mean that they’ve got nothing they can use when they fight dirty on this issue. Most people either can’t or won’t master the science, but they can understand the historical record quite separately from that. Not knowing what that consists of is a big mistake.

In the arguments I got into on the subject at Orac’s blog this week I got the feeling that many of the staunch defenders of Darwin re eugenics were unaware that Francis Galton, the inventor of the word “eugenics”, who is customarily presented by the Darwin fan club as an evil distorter*** of the great man, was actually a life long colleague, friend, confidant and the cousin of Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin, far from discouraging the path to eugenics, encouraged his cousin’s work at its inception and and cited and lauded it in his own published work. When Darwin died, Galton and Thomas Huxley were the ones who planned his grandiose funeral*. Francis Galton was the first president of the British Eugenics Society and the author of some pretty awful and bigoted junk but he wasn’t the figure from outside the Darwin circle that he’s generally presented to be in modern myth. Galton was a Darwin circle insider as he was building his eugenics and after he first used the word. Galton names Darwin as his great inspiration.

I was encouraged by the new views (Darwin’s) to pursue many inquiries which had long interested me, and which clustered round the central topics of Heredity and the possible improvement of the Human Race.

How are you going to say Galton was wrong about who inspired him? Read Chapter XX in his memoir (found at this site), it’s mandatory reading for those wanting to understand the political issue. Especially notice Darwin’s glowing letter to Galton about "Hereditary Genius" and then look at "The Descent of Man" to see that Darwin didn’t change his mind about it.

To complicate things for the effort to beat the eugenics rap, when Galton stepped down from the presidency of the British Eugenics Society his place was taken by Leonard Darwin, Charles’ son. How can you beat the charge that Leonard Darwin followed his father’s legacy in his eugenics? I mean how can you beat it so as to be politically effective, not how to take the twists, gyrations and turns necessary to support the incredible claim that he didn’t understand his own father as well as you, who have never met or talked with him. You would need contemporary condemnations from people closer to Darwin for eugenics to counter the political weight that this unpleasant fact has.

There are letters and documents from and to Leonard Darwin that make some very disturbing reading including communications with the infamous Charles Davenport, but I am not going to go into those here. Believe me, the creationists already know about them.

A lot of people who believe themselves to be on the left who are taking umbrage over Ben Stein’s lies, distort history as much in defense of what they mistakenly believe to be the truth. Well, surprise, Ben Stein is a big liar, a Dick Morris who can fake gravitas, and so is annoying. But hearing people distort and deny the historical record in a refutation attempt can be kind of grating too. Most aggravating of all, though, is to see them falling for the bait yet another time and risk getting us hooked into a transparent election year set-up job.

It would be nice if this was not a potentially effective political tool for the Republican right because I’d really rather deal with things that were important, like global warming, nutrition programs, universal health care and the neo-imperialist wars the Republicans are waging and planning to wage. But enough leftists might fall for the bait for this to be a political issue for us during a crucial election. All the Republicans need to successfully use this distraction is to get out a small number of religious-right voters who would have stayed home to come out and vote. They don’t need to covert the entire population to creationism. We are not their intended marks.

Charles Darwin has been dead for well over a hundred years. His importance in evolutionary science now is dwarfed by the scientific work that has happened in those years, he is only a brand name today. As a brand name he is used by those who sell fish pins and the such but he is also a trademark of the anti-evolution industry. And he’s worked a lot better for them than for the Darwin fish peddlers. The effort to protect his reputation has failed politically.

Claiming that they haven’t got a smoking gun won’t help. The evidence doesn’t support the defense on a standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Insisting on that hasn’t worked for most of a century, it’s not going to work in the future. Even lesser standards of evidence in the trial of the mythic Charles Darwin won’t help because the creationists have pretty well demolished that for a majority of the population. Getting all arrogant and condescending about The People being stupid and ignorant isn’t going to do much but help the creationists increase their majority in the opinion polls.

You would think that looking at the political environment that the ultra-Darwinists would be the first to understand that their choice is to adapt to the real, political environment they work in or face extinction. If they want to save the teaching of evolution in the public schools and the funding of the science, they are going to have to give up the “one great man of evolution” story that the public promotion of evolution has relied so heavily on up till now. The mythic Darwin that PR campaign depends on has been a political failure, it was always condescending. The public relations of evolution should have relied on the hard science of evolution and not on myths of the melding of evolution with the muck of the social sciences. That’s just Social Darwinism in modern dress.

The promotion of evolution should have moved on with the science and left Charles Darwin as increasingly less common footnotes in little read books. The real Charles Darwin, as seen in his writing and the writings of those around him, was always going to be a public relations problem. And the record was there to be seen as the social and political climate changed and the more appalling parts of those dealing with gender, ethnicity and class stood out. That record will always be there to cause problems, it hasn’t decisively won the case for evolution after a hundred years of effort, it has been a millstone around the neck of science. Evolution in 2008 doesn’t need the Charles Darwin of myth, it’s going to have to deal with the Charles Darwin of fact. That is if promoting evolution was their real priority.

Note: I’ve decided to stop laying out the fact of my accepting evolution in posts about these subjects from now on. It’s demeaning to have to keep doing it and it will be ignored by those who don’t like what is said, anyway. Anyone who is interested can read the archive at Echidne’s or my blog to see what I believe on the subject.

* You will remember the inoculation attempt earlier this year.

** Call it “quote mining” if that makes you feel any better about it, though the charge won’t keep them from doing it and it will not prevent those quotations from being politically effective. It’s certainly worked for them, so far.

I’m kind of tired of hearing “quote mining” in this debate. Show me someone on any side who doesn’t choose those quotes that are most useful to their arguments and to de-emphasize those they don’t care for. No side in the Darwin dialectic is innocent of it, neither side is honest about it.

*** Herbert Spenser too. Unfortunately, Charles Darwin called him “Our great philosopher, Herbert Spencer” as he cited him favorably in his work in The Descent of Man. Clearly the distance between Darwin and Spenser is a lot less than today’s myth presents. Please understand, there was a time not too long ago when both eugenics and “Social Darwinism” were respectable and people didn’t automatically assume that these connections didn’t exist.

**** A rather grandiose one for Darwin, who the romantics think was some kind of shunned radical figure in Victorian times. Odd, for a radical instigating a “spirit of rebellion against all ancient authorities “ (as Galton said) overturning the very firmament of the establishment. How many geographic features, towns, etc. got named after him?

It’s just as odd how quickly eugenics took off, became an established part of university curricula, organizations, public policy and even Supreme Court law. Only it’s not odd since eugenics complimented the most powerful elites, especially the Anglo-Saxon elite, and that its costs were borne entirely by the underclass and powerless ethnic groups. Eugenics “science”, flowing from the Darwin circle, was tailor made for popularity with a self-interested elite. Also not odd was that it was born and nurtured within that privileged elite which just about all of its figures were part of.

I’ve been looking for the contemporary fans of Darwin who tried to distance him from eugenics in the period before the Second World War became inevitable and am not having much success. If anyone knows of Darwinists, from the period when eugenics was still reputable science, without the quotes around science, who successfully made the case that the eugenics movement, including Darwin’s own son, were distorting his work, I’d love to have citations.

This is politically important only because the other side has already got the goods eugenicswise. I’m afraid that to be politically effective, you’ll have to present citations from associates as intimate as Francis Galton and Leonard Darwin, who, unlike anyone alive today, had access to the private, certainly more candid, Charles Darwin. Otherwise, I’m afraid that they are going to be accepted as more reliable authorities in the matter of his inspiration for their own eugenics. You going to prove they didn’t know who they relied on, themselves?

Post Script: There are bloggers who post at the ScienceBlogs who I like, though I seldom go over there. I don’t like the coercive Sci-jocks who infest the comment threads, enforcing a rigid set of orthodox boundaries beyond which no one is allowed to speak. I resent it when they bleed over into the generally better informed and more realistic leftist political blogs and try to enforce their thought code on us.

It was especially infuriating this week to see one of the more realistic Science Bloggers, Chris Mooney, the author of one of our most important books about the Republican suppression of science, viciously attacked for just pointing out that Stein’s movie wasn’t doing a bad business at the box office. It was, pardon the expression, ScienceBlog McCarthyism at its worst.

As I mentioned indirectly here last week, I had one of the readers of the ScienceBlogs tell me that even though I’d made a strong argument, with citations, in this area that I shouldn’t talk about it because it would be “bad for the promotion of the institution of science”. Science that relies on the suppression of evidence. If you thought you’d heard it all before.

I never agreed to follow the Sci-jock’s Index of Prohibited Thoughts and if they don’t like that they can go get jamped.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Joy Posting

FeraLiberal's Pippin contemplating the world:

And a story to make you feel good.

As always, check out Phila's Friday Hope Blogging, too. This is from last week but there's usually a new one every Friday.

Added: Here is today's Hope Blogging.

Lingerie football comes to my town (by Suzie)

       In 2003, Echidne wrote about the Lingerie Football League, whose motto is “true fantasy football.” 
       Christopher Martin, its business affairs director, says Tampa will get a team next month. A newspaper article says, "He rejects the notion that women bashing against each other while wearing a bra and panties is in any way degrading." No, of course not, they are empowered.
        If it's not degrading, why don't men play sports in their underwear? If it's not degrading, would all male viewers be happy if their mother, wife, sister, daughter played in such a league? In addition to mixing sex and violence, part of the ick factor is knowing that some men get a sexual charge from watching women do things that the men find degrading.

Feminism & film (by Suzie)

      After many years of promiscuous movie-going, I now avoid ones that don’t have at least one significant female character. I prefer ones that revolve around women, written and/or directed by women. I’m voting with my dollars.
      This baffles some friends, who don’t see gender when they look at a movie like “No Country for Old Men,” but accept the idea that men won’t – or shouldn’t – like a “chick flick.” (I hate, hate, hate that term and “chick lit,” which mark stories by and about women as trifles that could not possibly interest men. Ugh, now I have to wipe the foam from my mouth.)
      A few years ago, a feminist friend was trying to get me to see “The Perfect Storm.” I argued, “But it’s all about men.” She replied cheerfully, “But in the end, they all die!” The movie is an interesting commentary on the construction of masculinity, but then again, there’s no shortage of movies about men who die while doing something dangerous, adventurous or heroic.
       To find movies by and about women, I like Melissa Silverstein’s Women & Hollywood blog. This week on DVD, I saw Julie Taymor’s “Across the Universe” and Amy Heckerling’s “I Could Never Be Your Woman.” About Taymor, Silverstein asks what it takes to be an “auteur.” (A penis seems to help.)
        In another post, Silverstein explains why “I Could Never Be Your Woman” was released last month, direct to DVD. In the movie, the character played by Michelle Pfeiffer worries about getting too old to be competitive in Hollywood. You might think: “She’s Michelle Pfeiffer, for the Goddess’ sake!” But Heckerling told Entertainment Weekly: ''There was some concern about doing a movie with an older female protagonist — not anybody's favorite demographic.''
         In an interview with the AV Club, Heckerling talks about women trying to look young to keep their careers alive.
It's been that way from Sunset Boulevard on. Hollywood is the dream factory, and no one dreams about older women. It's a youth-and-beauty-obsessed place that sells a certain image. Of course I have sympathy. If you look at all the pictures of women in magazines, everybody's got a forehead that looks like a billboard. Completely blank. When I was 20, I had these furrowed lines between my brows, because I was always angry. And I was 20. I don't think that was a mark of age; it was just my personality. Yet these people think that when you have a completely blank head, you can put advertising on it. That's not youthful. What is that? Some of these young girls that I find and put in films, I see them in a magazine a year later, and they've got big fat lips and stick figures. And you go, "Why? Why are you buying into this?"

Gyn cancer, with an analogy to feminist politics (by Suzie)

      I missed the first National Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Symposium and Gala last Friday, and so, apparently, did the media.* Congress has mandated a public awareness campaign about gyn cancers, but the media will not be bossed.
     “You cannot make us write about women and cancer unless we can illustrate the story with a young, thin, naked, pretty white woman coyly covering her naughty bits while looking anywhere but into the camera,” the media yells from the ramparts.
     “Give me a celebrity or give me death … or better yet, a dead celebrity!” the media shouts. “Or, at least, an inspiring individual whose story we can tell without doing any real research.”
      I don’t mean to sound righteous. I didn’t care much about this topic until I got diagnosed with gyn sarcoma. When I went to Web sites on “women’s cancer” or “gyn cancer,” I found few included sarcoma.
      I know oodles of women with gyn sarcoma. We allegedly represent only a teeny-tiny fraction of gyn cancer, but some sarcoma doctors think sarcomas are undercounted. (For those interested in statistics: A lot of health-care professionals will use the diagnostic code for "uterine cancer," for example, when a woman has endometrial stromal sarcoma, carcinosarcoma or uterine leiomyosarcoma. Later, statisticians may translate "uterine carcer" into endometrial carcinoma, the most prevalent kind of uterine cancer.) 
       Last year, Bush signed Johanna’s Law: The Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act, which mandates a federal campaign to educate the public. In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched Inside Knowledge: Get the Facts About Gynecologic Cancer. There’s no mention of sarcoma.
       More examples: On my behalf, friends donated to a program that funds research for "gynecologic cancer." But I found out nothing went to sarcoma research. At least the coordinators let me switch my friends' donations to sarcoma. The American Cancer Society focuses on major cancers, and has given little or no money to sarcoma research. The ACS doesn't mention that, of course, when seeking donations from sarcoma patients.
        I get angry at these exclusions and want to yell, “Ain’t I a Woman?” How can people address gyn cancer without mentioning women like me? Official information that excludes sarcoma makes it that much harder for women with sarcoma to get the proper medical treatment or find support. Women with other types of cancer don’t have to fight my battles, but if they speak about "women's cancers" or "gyn cancer," I wish they would acknowledge my existence.
        On the other hand, I realize there may be women with even rarer forms of cancer that I’m failing to acknowledge in my work. We can never speak for everyone.
         Even when advocates fail to mention sarcoma, their work may benefit sarcoma patients. For example, women with ovarian carcinoma have made it more acceptable to discuss gyn cancers in general. Techniques for genetic analysis of ovarian carcinoma are now being used to analyze sarcoma. Aromatase inhibitors given to breast-cancer patients now are given to some women with sarcoma, notably endometrial stromal sarcoma.
          Last month, I wrote about plans to attend the annual meeting of the Society of Gyn Oncologists. I stalked doctors with chocolate in one hand and brochures in the other. I was thrilled that some doctors sought information on sarcoma advocacy, including the director of Gynecologic Surgical Services for the National Cancer Institute, who invited the Sarcoma Alliance to attend the national awareness day. I hope to go next year.
          In the meantime, I’ll look for a thrift-store cocktail dress and figure out ways to work with other women.
*If you saw an article, please let me know. I could find nothing on the Internet.

Sign petition, raise money (by Suzie)

The U.N. Foundation will contribute a dollar for every signature on this UNIFEM petition calling for an end to violence against women.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Social Engineering, Republican Style

Once upon a time "social engineering" was a nasty term the conservatives applied to almost any liberal proposal that looked like increasing civil rights or human rights. It wasn't the place of the government to dictate such matters, the story went.

It may come as a surprise that now it is the conservatives who practice social engineering, and with a vengeance. The government has programs which promote marriage and programs which promote abstinence as the only solution to that hormone-driven dilemma of teenage years: what to do about sex.

You would think that something as noble and pure as abstinence would be cheap and easily promoted. The reverse turns out to be the case:

Proponents of abstinence education argued that society should set high standards for teenage sexual behavior. They would prefer, they said, that programs focus on the emotional, physical and societal repercussions of sex outside of marriage.

But several witnesses emphasized that despite 11 years of federally funded abstinence programs, at a cost of more than $1.3 billion, teens are still having sex and becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Those who support comprehensive plans said teens should get the information they need to protect themselves.

A study released in December by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a rise in the teenage pregnancy rate in 2006, the first such increase in 15 years. Between 1991 and 2005, the rate dropped 34%.

Astonishing. Someone is making quite a good income out of abstinence education, but as far as I can figure out the message boils to a Nancy Reaganesque "Just Say No." How can delivering that cost so much?

Just kidding, of course. The money spent is really a handout to one part of the conservative base, and the fact that best studies show no real effect from the abstinence policies is a mere irrelevancy. The program works in the way it was planned to work.

John McCain Loves Women. Really, He Does.

Here he tells us about the many ways he loves us:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who skipped a Senate vote seeking equal pay for women last night in order to campaign for president, said he opposed the measure because it would prompt a flood of lawsuits.

Senate Republicans defeated the bill yesterday on a vote of 56 to 42, by blocking a full debate and vote on the bill. Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) both returned to Washington in order to support the measure, which is aimed at responding to a recent Supreme Court decision that sets a deadline on how quickly workers must sue over pay discrimination. The presumptive GOP nominee is visiting poor communities throughout the nation, including towns in Alabama and Appalachia; today he toured New Orleans' Ninth Ward.

"I am all in favor of pay equity for women, but this kind of legislation, as is typical of what's being proposed by my friends on the other side of the aisle, opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems," McCain told reporters yesterday. "This is government playing a much, much greater role in the business of a private enterprise system."

"Opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems." How would McCain achieve pay equity for women without any lawsuits? Perhaps if women ask very prettily?

Stage One: Begin Poking at a Study

Some of you may have seen the reports of a new study which finds that the diet of a woman at conception affects the likelihood that the resulting child is either a girl or a boy:

The report, from researchers at Oxford and the University of Exeter in England, is said to be the first evidence that a child's sex is associated with a mother's diet. Although sex is genetically determined by whether sperm from the father supplies an X or Y chromosome, it appears that a mother's body can favor the successful development of a male or female embryo.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, shows a link between higher energy intake around the time of conception and the birth of sons. The difference is not huge, but it may be enough to help explain the falling birthrate of boys in industrialized countries, including the United States and Britain.

The reason food intake may influence the development of one sex of infant rather than another isn't fully understood. However, in vitro fertilization studies show that high levels of glucose encourage the growth of male embryos while inhibiting female embryos.

Note how some of this cannot be understood without seeing the actual study, and most people don't have access to it. What does it mean that the sex is determined by the mother's diet? That bit "it appears that a mother's body can favor the successful development of a male or female embryo"? How does it favor this?

Most confusing. Because to me that would read as implying that the woman would miscarry more of either types of embryos, depending on her diet. I don't think the study included women who had conceived but who then miscarried. So how is it that the woman's diet has these effects?

What about the man's diet at the time of conception? Did they look at what he was eating in, say, the month before? I think lots of married couples, for instance, might eat very similar foods, as they tend to have meals together. To me it might make more sense that any effect found here would come from the one who makes the sperm, given that the sperm is made regularly and might be affected by the man's nutrition.

So I'm throwing out the thought that what might really affect the sex of the future child is what the guy eats, and that what the gal eats correlates in the study with the child's sex because the parents tend to eat similar diets.

Perhaps the study did look at the diets of the future fathers, too, and found that they had no impact. Perhaps. But I doubt that, very much, because studies of these types always focus on the women. It's most likely that we have no idea if the man's diet affects the sex of the future child or not.

The practical implications of a mistake like that (the one I'm speculating about here) might be serious, by the way. You'd be barking at the wrong tree if you tried to tell women to eat certain things to get a boy, if all the time it was what the man ate that made a difference. Then in the more traditional societies the woman would be blamed for not birthing more boys, even after all that extra good food was wasted on her.

This study sounds like those studies which try to find a sex-ratio change in human populations at birth as a response to environmental effects such as famine or war. Some other animal species give birth to more daughters when times are bad.

It would seem to me that if this is the hypothesis the researchers had in mind it would be much more relevant to look at the sex ratios at birth in a country which is suffering from famine, say, or to analyze the birth statistics from the era around WWII in the U.K.., compared to an era when war didn't make good food scarce.

I have just thought aloud here, asking the questions reading the study creates and wondering about the alternative ways results like the ones in the study might come about. To look at the study itself and the methods it used would be the next stage at the poking.

Now Returning to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Thank you very much for your most generous contributions. You are quite wonderful.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Fund Drive

I have never had one for this blog, so I thought it might be time, given that I need to get a new computer. Also because I'm out of money right now.

This fund drive will not be like the ones that the PBS does, the ones where all the programming is changed to something intended to catch certain donor groups and where you just see a person asking for money the rest of the time. Nope. I'm just asking once, while nervously poking a rock with my red tennis shoe. Or with the snake tail, if you like.

Of course as always, only give if you can.

A Musical Break

Cleo Brown

Things For You To Read

Michael Pollan writes about the reasons to try to do something about climate change, on an individual level. It's called "Why Bother?"

Darfur is deteriorating if that is even possible. Following the events there has been a good refresher course on power and on greed and other very unsavory characteristics, but that we are even trying to do something about all the killing also reminds me that this helping aspect is part of us humans, too. We just have to work on it much harder and we have to start pointing out the power-hungriness and greed as deplorable and ridiculous things.

I first wrote on Darfur in 2004.

If all this is too depressing for you how about reading me going on about the new capitalists at the Nation magazine? I especially recommend the comments there. Heh.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mood: Angry

It's always interesting (to me, natch) to figure out what makes me really angry in that personal and trivial way. I'm not talking about the righteous anger which burns beautifully on the permanent altar inside me, because that anger is just another form of good energy (and lots cheaper than heating oil, these days).

I'm talking about the red-hot kind of anger which makes me want to stick knitting needles in my eyes so that they get some rest from reading teh stupid. I should probably want to stick them in someone else's eyes, and perhaps restraining from saying so is the real reason why the anger sometimes flares up. You know, all that stuff about trying to be polite and calm and nice to everyone so that we get a good conversation going on all the issues. Sort of like trying to be Eliza, that computer therapist.

Anyway. Today's reason for that red-hot anger is a frequently repeating one, the one about how everybody can be an instant expert on feminism by, say, reading an article or two and then jawing it over with the guys at bar one Saturday night. Next step is to write a thoughtful piece on what is wrong with feminism. Because surely thinking and reading on these issues for, say, two decades, leaves lots of gaps which can be filled by an astute thinker over a beer or two. Yup.

A similar thing happens to me all the time on economics. Someone comes along and tells me that women earn less because they aren't out there working but at home taking care of their babies. Duh. If I only had thought about that simple explanation I wouldn't have had to write a three-part series on the reasons for the gender gap in wages at all.

More generally, my anger has something to do with the difficulty of being heard when one is polite. It's like whispering into rush-hour traffic. Pretty pointless, but the work is still the same. From now on I'm going to start writing extreme pieces with lots of fuck-yous.

Of course the real reason for my anger is that I'm still not the Empress of the Universe.

The Mother-Daughter Fights of Feminism

First there were the mummy wars. Now we have daughters fighting mothers and back again, at least according to what I read.

I have very little patience left for any of this, because the real fighting is going in quite different places. Or so I think. And the only ones who benefit from this in-fighting are the ones whose ass we should be kicking.

But there are two points I'd like to make about this generational war:

First, whoever you are, read the major books of "the other generation", to find out the relevant history, the beliefs and the facts that existed at a certain point in time. Then read about feminist strategies and tactics, which ones were followed by which "wave" and how successfully. Getting the information clears up a lot of the confusion, surprisingly. For example, the strategy of supporting women who were the first to enter some male-dominated occupation wasn't just so that uppity rich women could get a leg up on the white-boy hierarchy, at the expense of all the other women. It was also a way to change the stereotypes the society held about what women could and could not achieve, a way to widen those stereotypes, to turn them a little more positive, and therefore something that was ultimately of benefit to all women.

But of course the only women who really got a leg up were the rich ones who were prepared for that next rung of the ladder, and much remained to be done for the class "women" in general.

Second, think carefully what the operative definition of feminism might be for those who participate in these weird wars. For example, Courtney Martin writes at the end of her article on the mother-daughter wars:

My mom and I have agreed: No matter the outcome of the primaries, we'll be celebrating it, then setting our sights on the general election. We believe that the real feminist battles at hand are not mother versus daughter, but injustice versus justice, militarization versus diplomacy, corruption versus democracy. Now that is something worth fighting for.

How does she define feminism to get at those kinds of issues: injustice versus justice, militarization versus diplomacy, corruption versus democracy? Those are all admirable goals but in what sense are they the goals of feminist activity? That stretches the concept of feminism very wide indeed; so wide that it would not have much time for addressing issues specifically about women's rights.

Ok. I come across as all preachy and bitter there, probably because I do feel preachy and bitter. But I'm not your mother and I'm not your daughter (unless you are actually my mom HI MOM!), and I want nothing to do with these arguments.

I'm probably that crazy auntie in your attic.

Imagine This

Imagine that there is a political show on which a radical feminist is an invited guest, repeatedly, while saying stuff like this:

"You know, you started talking about male happiness before, would men be happier and why our women are depressed. Women are depressed, and it's their own fault, because women have allowed men to take over the world. You know, male happiness is an oxymoron."
"The man is not called a rotting prick because he's assertive and aggressive; he's called a rotting prick because he acts like one."
If the man is complaining that he isn't getting enough in the bedroom, it's his fault. And there are two reasons for it: Either, A, he said 'I do' at the altar and 'I don't' when it came to housework, or he married a frigid woman thinking she would become Ms. Fuckidaire."

We don't have such a political show. But we do have its reverse, where one Mark Rudov can spout on his wide theories about why women suck. Or rather, why they don't when they should. And what are his qualifications for all this? Here:

Rudov is the author of The Man's No-Nonsense Guide to Women: How to Succeed in Romance on Planet Earth (MHR Enterprises, 2004) and Under the Clitoral Hood: How to Crank Her Engine Without Cash, Booze, or Jumper Cables (MHR Enterprises, 2007). The "about the author" description that accompanies The Man's No-Nonsense Guide to Women at reads: "Marc Rudov is an investment banker and business consultant residing in Silicon Valley (Bay Area), California. Although formally educated in engineering and business, he possesses a vast informal education in relationships with women."


Monday, April 21, 2008

Today's Action Alert

From the National Women's Law Center:

Please call your Senators today at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to vote "YES!" on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. To find your Senators' names and direct contact information, please search our database.

When you call, the Capitol operator will connect you to your Senators. Please tell the person who answers the phone in your Senators' offices the following:

1. I am a constituent. My name is ________.
2. I am urging the Senator to vote yes on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
3. This bill is important because it will help to ensure justice for women who have been subject to pay discrimination.

Thank you for taking action, and for everything you do to support the rights of women and families.

You can find your Senator here.

The Feminist Majority Foundation gives a different (toll-free) phone number:

Call your senators immediately to urge them to vote yes on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act! The vote is expected Wednesday, April 23. There is not a moment left to lose! This toll free number, 866-338-1015, will be available Monday through Wednesday. Call now!

The House has already passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to correct the recent Supreme Court decision that guts the ability of women workers to sue for wage discrimination. Celebrate Equal Pay Day by calling your senators toll-free at 866-338-1015 today!

Lilly Ledbetter worked at Goodyear for nearly 20 years before she discovered that men in the same job were paid more. The Supreme Court ruled that wage discrimination complaints must be filed within 180 days of the initial discriminatory salary decision, even if the victim is unaware of the discrimination until much later. This 5-4 decision by the Bush Supreme Court reversed decades of precedent on wage discrimination cases decided under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

It is imperative that the Senate pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Call your senators toll-free at 866-338-1015 today! Tell them to reverse the Supreme Court's assault on women's right to sue by voting for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

Extraordinary Circumstances. A Book Review

Cynthia Cooper was one of the three whistleblowers Time named as the Persons of the Year in 2002. Now she has written a book: Extraordinary Circumstances on her time in WorldCom (where she ran the internal audits department) and what went on in the firm before the revelations you may still remember about the shoddy accounts and outright fraud the firm had employed.

The book provides a fascinating glimpse at the utter emptiness of what was behind the WorldCom success story, up to the minute of its final collapse, and it's worth reading for that. I suspect you need some familiarity with business or economics to get the most out of the tale, but even someone quite unfamiliar with those might notice that all Bernie Ebbers really did was to buy firms like someone suffering from an unsatiable hunger, and that the reason the firm grew so very rapidly was that simple fact. There was very little evidence of any of the purchased firms providing good business opportunities, over and above the kinds of opportunities that a new industry always initially offers. Yet almost everyone seemed to be blind to this fact, most certainly including the banks and financial companies which both funded these adventures and which also seemed to help the firm along. Of course, any expansion caused by such a buying spree must stop at some point. And that's when the difficulties started.

I found the odd interplay of Christianity and ruthlessness fascinating. Almost everyone in the book goes to church all the time and gets advice from a minister. Yet some of them commit pretty serious crimes, and the dissonance appears invisible even to the author. Perhaps this is a cultural difference and not something that other readers might notice. But the combination of faith and murky business thinking came across as rather nauseating to me.

Those who seek information about being a woman in a male-dominated industry don't get a lot from the book, at least from the point of view of someone who has read in feminism. Cooper includes a few anecdotes of the gentle kind of sexual harassment and a few meditations on the difficulty of being a working mother, but these are not central to the book. Neither is there any analysis of the wider labor market or corporate culture and how those affect the treatment of individual woman workers. Still, it's possible to read a little bit more between the lines than Cooper perhaps intended.

I'd imagine that this book would be useful for someone who wants to delve deeper into that whole business ethics scandal of the early 2000's. Isn't it funny how we have already forgotten most of it?

Who Would Joe Sixpack Vote For?

Read me at the Passing Through blog of the Nation magazine. It's even a feminist piece.

Overheard on Saturday

While getting my groceries checked out at a store. It was latish and the workers were chatting with each other. The young woman adding up my bill said to the young woman who was packing the groceries:
"I hate to be a girl. Guys have all the fun, and my dad says that men aren't supposed to do dishes."

The packer:
"Yes, if I could just decide to wake up as a boy tomorrow I would."

Imagine that. Based on the name tags I'd guess that one woman's family came from Russia and the other woman's from India. Is this why they were so bitter? Or could a conversation like this take place between two women from a non-immigrant background?

And I'm glad that you asked: Of course I stuck my foot in. I mentioned that being a woman is just fine; it's the way that women are sometimes treated which is not fine. A little bit of feminist infiltration work there. Go me.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Franz Schubert : Ständchen

Zögernd leise

Juliane Banse, Soprano
Vienna Vocalists

Posted by Anthony McCarthy

The Double Standard In Action by Anthony McCarthy

So, after just about every Catholic Democrat who ran for office having the possible denial of communion over their stand on abortion endlessly regurgitated in the media, Rudy Giuliani , not only pro-choice but serially divorced and remarried, is given communion by The Pope on national TV with little comment?

Every one of the American bishops who carried water for the Republican Party using the sacrament as a political weapon should be grilled about this.

If a single Catholic Democrat is asked about this again by the Republican-mouthpiece media, they have their answer. The Pope gave Giuliani communion against the rules, overlooking the issue of abortion and the Church's own laws about giving communion to those who remarry after they divorce.

Pardon me while I'm given scandal.

Turn About by Anthony McCarthy

What do you think needs to be said on leftist blogs, either in posts or on comment threads?

An Uncool Look At Coolitude by Anthony McCarthy

With A Long Footnote On A Difficult Subject

One of the comments made on a leftist blog thread that has bothered me quite a lot was the assertion that Nietzsche’s inverted morality was cool. Considering that his inverted morality not only overturns the agenda of civil rights including the equality of women, the rule of supermen over masses of helots, the assertion that his supermen will be above any restraint on their selfishness, etc. the assertion of his coolness was pretty much an endorsement of the entire far-right agenda. The comment might have been made in ignorance of what is mistaken for a philosophy. I’ve always thought that whatever cool the psychotic predecessor of Naziism obtained was because callow English speakers thought his name was fun to say. Though his encouragement to those who mistake themselves as potential supermen to act like spoiled brats could also figure into it. But there were those on the same segment of thread who definitely knew Nietzsche’s work, one a university level philosophy teacher, but the statement that a racist, sexist, proto-fascist, psycho was cool was apparently all right with them.*

How much of a price does the agenda of the left pay for the posture of coolness? How does it weaken our efforts and work against us? And what does cool mean, anyway?

Having thought more than is useful about the phenomenon of coolness all I can come up with is that it’s anything that will gain the incipient coolster the approval of a group of people on the basis of something independent of its usefulness or morality. Some things that are deemed cool are innocuous and silly, some are dangerous. I’m shocked to find that 25 years into the AIDS era anal sex** is the new cool among heterosexuals. How a practice that has brought a major epidemic to gay men and their sex partners can be cool is enough to make the concept worth serious reconsideration.

The social pressure that the pursuit of the cool places on people has an inhibiting effect on what gets discussed and followed up on. The declaration that an idea is not cool is enough, at times, to shut down consideration of issues and aspects of issues that are important. The coercive and controlling aspects of declarations of the coolness of something or someone is one of the things that makes adolescent life unbearable and anxious. I’ve always thought that those who did without thinking about cool seemed to be happier than the nervous, competitive elites who didn’t seem to really like anyone. As I recall some of them seemed to avoid the competitive transactions of the cool market and they seemed to be all the better for it.

* As you can guess, I didn’t remain silent and was pressured to remain silent due to my having demonstrated insufficient coolness.

** I’ve been working on a piece about anal sex. It’s not an easy subject to write about even for a gay man who is quite familiar with it. You might want to read this post by Bill Weintraub, though I will warn you that the photos are graphic, including some pretty unpleasant ones, and Weintraub has some ideas that are bizarre and even offensive. I find some of his ideas to be quite sexist. Which is unfortunate because I agree with him on so much of his central theme. I respect that he is one of the very few gay men online who is dealing with anal sex with such frankness. He is, also, a source for information about the negative aspects of anal sex and its health consequences. If his “warrior” concept keeps people from reading about that, it is tragic.

I agree with him entirely that the promotion of frottage as a healthy and mutually pleasurable form of sex is very important. How did the safest, least exploitative form of sex become less cool than anal sex? I suspect it’s for the same reason that people on leftist blogs can find a psychotic proto-Nazi cool, it’s all about domination, the high potential for infliction of pain and, let’s be honest, physical damage. Anal sex is generally seen as an exercise of the will by a dominant person over a submissive person. If that’s cool, I’d rather have it warm and caring and respectful.

Consider the strange ways that people become aroused and reach orgasm. I’ve got to say that using a search engine has been quite an education in a number of those which I’d rather have not known about. One quite innocent search for information about how to take care of my nieces gerbils while her family was on vacation, turned up a link that involved women in high heals stepping on small rodents. Believe me when I tell you that is all you want to know about it. I wish I’d never let my prurient curiosity get the better of me. If the idea of killing mice in a sick attempt at arousal disgusts and disturbs you, isn’t the potential to damage or hurt a human being at least as disgusting?

Achieving orgasm isn’t a good that mitigates the potential for infecting someone, impregnating someone who doesn’t want to be pregnant, or as a kinky exercise of dominance that a psychically damaged person might welcome. An orgasm doesn’t change the concurrent physical reality and respect or negation of rights that are as much a part of the act.