Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Teetering On The Edge

It's like middle-class tightrope walking, this current economic scene in the United States. You step on the rope, hanging on to your balancing umbrella (that 401(k), that employer-provided health insurance policy, perhaps parents with some money) and you lift the other leg up in the air while the audience oos and ahs, watching the rope swing ever more violently under your foot.

And then the umbrella disintegrates, spine by spine, and there you are, trying to balance yourself with a stick.

One illness may be the exact distance which separates a middle-class household from poverty. Or one divorce or one job loss. When all these happen at the same time, kiss your ass goodbye (as they say in polite circles).

And none of this is worth complaining about, because in the side-rings of this grand circus of ours are the poor acrobats, trying to afford both bread and enough money to fill the old banger of a car so that they can get to work to earn that meager salary. Watch them let go of the bar, watch them fall, fall, fall towards the other swinging acrobat! Will their hands meet in time? You know, there is no safety net beneath them now.

You don't like to work in this circus? Then leave. There are plenty of desperate workers in China, India and Pakistan to take your place.
This is what caused my musings.

A League Of Their Own

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League some fifty years ago made the players play in skirts. They were also taught make-up skills and how to act feminine. Despite all that, the League folded in 1954. Television had brought men's baseball to homes and cut back on the numbers of possible spectators at the games themselves:

Popularized in the movie, A League of Their Own, the AAGBL teams played for twelve seasons. Over six hundred women played for Midwestern teams like the Rockford Peaches, the Muskegon Lassies, and the Racine Belles. According to the book, Women at Play by Barbara Gregorich, "For those who actually saw them play, the women of the AAGBL changed forever the unquestioned concept that women cannot play baseball. For their managers, they played the national pastime as only professionals can . . . . They were equal to the game . . . more serious than the skirts they were required to wear, more intelligent than the various board directors who would not let them become managers."

The All-American Girls Baseball League played its last season in 1954. Television was bringing men's major league games into people's living rooms, and there just wasn't enough audience for the women's league to continue.

In June of 1952, shortstop Eleanor Engle signed a minor league contract with the AA Harrisburg Senators. George Trautman, head of the minor leagues, voided the contract two days later, declaring that "such travesties will not be tolerated." On June 23, 1952, organized baseball formally banned women from the minor leagues.

There it crops up again, that formal banning of women from a field in which they are assumed not to excel anyway. I have always found that intriguing.

Anyway, the reason for this ramble down the history lane is that when I read about the WNBA teaching their players how to use make-up and how to dress I recalled the same services being given to those old time baseball gals:

As a skilled instructor guided them, the WNBA's new class of rookies spent part of their orientation weekend learning how to perfect their arcs.

The trainer demonstrated how to smooth out a stroke, provided an answer to stopping runs and showed them how getting good open looks can seem effortless.

It was not Lisa Leslie or another veteran teaching basketball fundamentals but a cosmetics artist brought in by the league last month to teach the rookies how to arc their eyebrows, apply strokes of blush across their cheekbones and put on no-smudge eyeliner to receive the right attention off the court.

As part of the rookies' orientation into life as professional athletes, the WNBA for the first time offered them hour-long courses on makeup and fashion tips. The courses, at an O'Hare airport hotel, made up about a third of the two-day orientation, which also featured seminars on financial advice, media training and fitness and nutrition.

"I think it's very important," said Candace Parker, the Naperville product who was the league's No. 1 draft pick out of Tennessee. "I'm the type who likes to put on basketball shorts and a white T, but I love to dress up and wear makeup. But as time goes on, I think [looks] will be less and less important."

The reasons behind these marketing moves are probably the same, too: To make the players look more sexually appealing to men and to reassure everybody that they are not lesbians. That those moves also make the women come across as less serious athletes doesn't seem to matter.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

John McCain may look like a cuddly great-uncle, but he does not have your best interest in heart:

Highlighting an issue he plans to use aggressively in the general election campaign, Sen. John McCain on Tuesday decried "the common and systematic abuse of our federal courts by the people we entrust with judicial power" and pledged to nominate judges similar to the ones President Bush has placed on the bench.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee said that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. "would serve as the model for my own nominees, if that responsibility falls to me," highlighting the gap between Republicans and Democrats on the question of who should sit on the Supreme Court. Both justices have established strong conservative records since Bush appointed them, and the appointment of one more conservative to the nation's highest court could tip the balance on issues such as abortion, discrimination, civil liberties and private property.

Are you one of those readers who loves sports metaphors? If so, McCain is proposing to have all the umpires decide for the other team. Property owners will win. There will be no justice for those who have been the victims of discrimination at work or at school. Civil liberties will only be about the right of religious people to act religious, nothing else. And corporations will win most everything.

This is one of the many issues at stake in the coming general elections: Whether the powerless and the poor have any legal recourse at all, whether there will be anything resembling justice in this country for the next few decades.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Wolff In The Land Of Dry Pussies

Michael Wolff has written an interesting meditation on the difficulties of being a middle-aged man in the United States. Suddenly, in the midst of life, he walks into a dark forest of despair and depression, and why? Not because of those cholesterol values or that mortgage payment or all those youthful plans he once had, plans, which are now as dry as the dandruff on his stooped hard-working family-man shoulders, no. It's because he can't get wet and gushy pussy anymore, young and bouncy and eager pussy.

Once upon a time this was all different. Powerful middle-aged men had mistresses, and nobody ratted on them:

J.F.K., so incredibly priapic so long ago, was protected not just because men protected their own (which they did) but also because at that time you literally couldn't describe what he had done. (There is a story Gore Vidal tells about J.F.K.: having sex in the bath, he liked to suddenly push a woman's head back underwater, causing her to fight for air, just as he was about to climax.) Now it's all good sport and entertainment.

What is now good sport and entertainment? Trying to drown the woman you are fucking in the bathtub? No, that was caused by my hapless clipping of the quote. What Wolff laments is the way the media hounds perfectly priapic middle-aged men into the limelight, there to be ridiculed and destroyed by the post-sexual cadre amongst us. Those would be older women, women in the Hillary Clinton mold:

The Hillary story is—and how could it not be?—largely a sexual one. This is not so much a sexist view as a sexualist view: What's up here? What's the unsaid saying? What's the vibe? Although it's not discussed in reputable commentary, it's discussed by everyone else: so what exactly is the thing with Hillary and sex, with the consensus being that she simply must not have it (at least not with her husband; there are, on the other hand, the various conspiracy scenarios of whom else she might have had it with). It's partly around this consensus view of her not having sex that people support her or resist her. She's the special-interest candidate of older women—the post-sexual set. She's resisted by others (including older women who don't see themselves as part of the post-sexual set) who see her as either frigid or sexually shunned—they turn from her inhibitions and her pain.

Isn't it all marvelous? The piece is like a long and painful erection, a love-song to the past which was full of sexually sated powerful middle-aged guys. They stuck together, covered for each other, and even if people found out nobody minded, because the world was their oyster. Of course, Viagra wasn't around those days and the rates of erectile problems seem to be fairly high without it among the middle-aged wolves in the land of dry pussies. But brush that off with your dandruff brush! We are talking about male lust here.

What about female lust? What? I can't quite hear you through all those wolves howling before going off hunting for some prey. Those young pussies are all waiting, ready to open and close, open and close, for the right middle-aged hunter. Yeah. That's the story.

Well, the second line of the title of the piece does talk about "human desire." It's just very, very hard to turn that into male AND female desire, so Wolff doesn't try. Women are mostly an obstacle to getting young pussy. Either they are wives who stop the middle-aged hunters or they are members of the dry pussy brigade or both. Then there are the women who moralize and make it difficult for the middle-aged pussy hunter to stay hidden from the limelight. Then, of course, there is the young pussy itself, but that doesn't seem to think about desire, either. It's a body part, after all.

The saddest part of Wolff's lament is here:

The argument pits empowered soccer moms against guilty dads, a prosecutorial matriarchy against a nolo contendere patriarchy. The erotic life of a man who holds most of society's financial and political power is now, in public parlance, only pitiable, or corrupt, or comic. A generation or two ago, there was, in so many of the greatest American novels, the figure of the middle-aged man liberated by sex or heroically jousting with it or making a separate peace with it—but those were written by men (Bellow, Roth, Updike, Cheever), and men neither much read nor much write novels anymore. The middle-aged man's middle-aged experience, lacking sympathetic and firsthand interpretation, has become mere reality TV—just about humiliations and buffoonery.

Why sad, you might ask. Because the same writer sees nothing sad in the view of most older women as post-sexual, as dry pussies without desire, and because that is exactly how older women have been portrayed, for centuries and because those older women who have been exposed as sexual creatures have surely been labeled as comic and pitiable. Remember the stories about Catherine the Great and the horses? Remember how Queen Victoria was rumored to hump her Scottish servant? To not see any of this is sad, but then wolves are far above pussies in that odd land the author inhabits.

For better analyses of the piece, check out Lance Mannion and Digby.

PTSD v. Combat

Which will kill more U.S. military?

It might well be PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental condition ("failure to cope") which can follow difficult experiences such as childhood abuse, rape, car accidents or being a participant in a war:

The number of suicides among veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may exceed the combat death toll because of inadequate mental health care, the U.S. government's top psychiatric researcher said.

Community mental health centers, hobbled by financial limits, haven't provided enough scientifically sound care, especially in rural areas, said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He briefed reporters today at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting in Washington.

Insel echoed a Rand Corporation study published last month that found about 20 percent of returning U.S. soldiers have post- traumatic stress disorder or depression, and only half of them receive treatment. About 1.6 million U.S. troops have fought in the two wars since October 2001, the report said. About 4,560 soldiers had died in the conflicts as of today, the Defense Department reported on its Web site.

Based on those figures and established suicide rates for similar patients who commonly develop substance abuse and other complications of post-traumatic stress disorder, ``it's quite possible that the suicides and psychiatric mortality of this war could trump the combat deaths,'' Insel said.

There are reasons which make the second Iraq war especially likely to create PTSD. There are no safe places in that war, no time to relax. The military must always be super-vigilant, always alert, always scanning for bombs or possible enemies hiding in the crowds, tour after tour after tour. All that puts enormous pressure on the nervous systems of the soldiers.

Had I been one of the people in charge of this war I would have budgeted for lots of mental health care for the coming wave of PTSD sufferers. But then nothing about this war/occupation appears to have involved much planning, except for the victory celebrations.

Today's Funny

No, it's not that ad I get every time I check my e-mail, the one which says "Zap Belly Fat and Boost Libido Fast. As Seen On Fox Tv," matched to a bikini-clad woman who swells up like a balloon, then shrinks back, then swells up again and so on. That one is meant to make me lose the last few seeds of sanity inside my girl brain.

What is funny are the anti-feminist bingo games by Hoyden About Town, from Down Under. There's the original one and then the sequel. Thanks to Linden in the comments for them.

It could be that they are not quite as funny for someone who doesn't do feminist blogging, but if that's the case for you, consider them educational.

What Goes With A Silver Star?

You know, the third highest medal of honor? If you are a woman who gets it, you will also be removed from your unit. Yup:

A 19-year-old medic from Texas will become the first woman in Afghanistan and only the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest medal for valor.

Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown saved the lives of fellow soldiers after a roadside bomb tore through a convoy of Humvees in the eastern Paktia province in April 2007, the military said.

After the explosion, which wounded five soldiers in her unit, Brown ran through insurgent gunfire and used her body to shield wounded comrades as mortars fell less than 100 yards away, the military said.

The first woman to receive the Silver Star after WWII was Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, in Iraq.

But Monica Lin Brown was taken out of her unit, because of that army ban on women in combat units. The ban makes no sense in Iraq or in Afghanistan where the front is everywhere. Still, she was pulled:

Brown stayed in the field for two more days, while U.S. Apache helicopter gunships attacked insurgents and blew up the damaged Humvee. Within a week, however, she was abruptly called back to the sprawling U.S. base in Khost.

"I got pulled" by higher-ups, she said, because her presence as "a female in a combat arms unit" had attracted attention.

We must keep up appearances, I guess.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Paging Harry Potter

Wizardry is afoot!

Substitute teacher Jim Piculas does a 30-second magic trick where a toothpick disappears then reappears.

But after performing it in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land 'O Lakes, Piculas said his job did a disappearing act of its own.

"I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers. He says, 'Jim, we have a huge issue, you can't take any more assignments you need to come in right away,'" he said.

When Piculas went in, he learned his little magic trick cast a spell and went much farther than he'd hoped.

"I said, 'Well Pat, can you explain this to me?' 'You've been accused of wizardry,' [he said]. Wizardry?" he asked.

So Piculas loses his job.

It's very funny from one angle, and very scary from another angle, the latter angle being all about suddenly finding ourselves in the year 1200 C.E..

At least he won't be burned.

Look In The Mirror!

Do you look like the Ten Most Influential Political Pundits in the U.S.?

Left to right: Mark Halperin, David Brooks, Jon Stewart, Tim Russert, Matt Drudge, John Harris & Jim VandeHei, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Chris Matthews, Karl Rove

White, male, middle-aged and conservative, with a few exceptions to that very last category. The newspaper that did the selecting is the U.K. Telegraph, a conservative paper, so they might well want to see conservative pundits as the most influential ones. But perhaps they really are, especially given the way the media bends over backwards when those dark mutters about it being liberal are heard.

There are no women among the top ten or no people of color. You have to dig further down in the list for those categories, and close your eyes because Ann Coulter is really high up on the list. Of course, women are only the majority in the population, so there's no worries about them not having anyone in the top ten. Besides, women don't WANT to be influential.

That's why the Time magazine only found 25 influential women among the one hundred most influential human beings. That's three times as many men as women. But the cover shows a slightly different distribution, with three women and six men. Perhaps I should count the men and women? Too tired. Sigh.

Every Sperm Is Sacred

June 7 is the day when we all march against contraception! Well, not all of us, but those pro-lifers who are pro-lifers (or pro-forced-birth), because they really are against contraception. You see, contraception guarantees women some partial control over the times and frequencies of giving birth. It's an absolute necessity for any gender equality. So contraception is a Very Bad Thing.

Rhealitycheck has a post on this wonderful new protest day. It is to commemorate Griswold vs. Connecticut, the Supreme Court decision in 1965 which essentially made contraceptives legal. I guess "commemorate" is not the word here, because these people want to make contraception illegal again, and you can see why, from this pro-life quote:

This confusing language, which has no relationship whatsoever to what the Founding Fathers intended, gave married women permission to use the birth control pill. The Supreme Court literally created the "right to privacy" out of thin air.

Isn't that first sentence so very Freudian? There's what the Fathers intended and there's the women who were given "permission"! Perhaps I'm the only one who found that giggle-worthy. But I'm pretty convinced that a very large number of pro-life activists are also anti-woman activists.

All that protesting is about the contraceptive pill and the pro-life insistence that it is an abortifacient, whatever studies show. I remember the first time I blogged about the "pill that kills" here; how very shocked many readers were over the idea that someone might try to get contraception banned, especially contraception that women can control. Now we are used to the thought that many Republican politicians would like to see contraception banned. So it goes.

To Help Women In Congo

Here is a partial list of websites which send money directly to the women of Congo who are suffering:

Congo Global Action

Mercy Corps

Women For Women

These sites look ok to me, but I have not done deep research on them. I also found information on how to send money directly to the Panzi Hospital, but the information never cropped up except on small private blogs so I'm hesitant to include it here just in case it's not a legal way.

More information on what to do about the United Nations can be found in this article.

Unbelievable: Snow Leopards Sacrificed On The Altar of What Passes As Chic Anthony McCarthy.

By way of The Good Roger Ailes:

The New York Times, securing its place in the pantheon of the liberal media, advises its readers where to buy a $2,500-$4,000 photographic "portrait of Andre Leon Talley and Lord Snowdon, both swathed in head-to-toe snow leopard."

Look, gape, spit then let the nyt wits know what you think. You think that maybe Sandra Ballentine thinks this is brilliantly transgressive?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Quick Listen and Look at The Early Clavichord by Anthony McCarthy

If I was young again I’d learn to make clavichords and play them. Here’s a video showing one, giving a good look at how the simple mechanism works. It’s a series of keys, the ends of levers that cause a blade of copper, called a tangent, to touch a pair of strings, producing very quiet, infinitely delicate notes rich in overtones. The few times I ever got to play one proved that it needs the most careful touch of any keyboard instrument.

The clavichord was a very early keyboard instrument. In its earliest examples a pair of strings is touched by up to four tangents, arranged so none of the notes played on that string would have been commonly played at the same time. That saved on the number of strings needed and the size of the instrument.* As the harmonic language of music changed, later versions reduced the number of notes per string to no more than two, one note per string becoming common near the end of the 18th century.

Here are some of the earliest extant keyboard pieces from the 15th century. Three pieces, the first is Conrad Paumann’s setting of the song Mit Ganczen Willen, well known to music majors since it’s found in the universally used Historical Anthology of Music (ed. Willi Apel). The second is (an anonymous piece?) from the Buxheimer Orgelbuch followed by one by the early organist, Hans Kotter. The player is Ernst Stoltz.

Three pieces by anonymous Italian composers.

Two Miserere by William Byrd played by David Moroney

Tombeau de Monsieur Blancrocher by Johan Froberger, a great composer who isn’t known enough these days. The video of cemetery art is gloomy but no more than the magnificently gloomy music, again played by Ernst Stoltz.

There are other videos with pieces by later composers including J. S. and C. P. E Bach played on clavichord. Both are known to have owned clavichords, C. P. E. Bach was famous as a player and composer for the instrument. A lot of J. S. Bach’s instructional pieces fall within the most common range for the clavichord of his time so it’s possible that those were composed to be played on it.

* For more information about clavichords The Clavichord Society of Boston, not the president, but a member. And, this is a case when wikipedia has a pretty decent article on the subject.

Conclusions About Complex, Ill-defined Phenomena Require Extraordinarily Complete Evidence by Anthony McCarthy

Despite what your experience might be, tall men are less jealous than shorter men and women of average height are less jealous because they’re healthier. Well, sometimes, that is. And this constitutes an “Insight” yielded from the social sciences. I know that because I read it in this morning's Boston Globe “Ideas” section. Here, I’ll give you the whole bolt:

PSYCHOLOGISTS IN EUROPE have found that your height can affect your propensity to jealousy. They asked men and women to indicate how jealous they were in their current relationships and how jealous they would be if they saw their partner talking to someone of the opposite sex. Taller men exhibited less jealousy. But for women, being of average height was associated with lower jealousy, apparently because average height confers better health and reproductive success in women, giving them less to worry about. There was an exception to this rule, though. When confronted with more dominant and higher-status rivals, average-height women were the more jealous ones. It could be that taller women gain some security from being perceived as stronger, which may reflect the idea that, at least in primitive cultures, women literally fought over men. (Wesley Bedrosian for the Boston Globe) more stories like this

Buunk, A. et al., "Height Predicts Jealousy Differently for Men and Women," Evolution and Human Behavior (March 2008).

Um, hum. Starting from the end, “at least in primitive cultures, women literally fought over men”. I had better come clean and say that I didn’t pay to download the published study found at “Evolution and Human Behavior” so I don’t know what this would be based on. I did read the abstract at "Evolution and Human Behavior" which doesn't mention "primitives". My guess is it’s another in the continuing series of “Just So” stories of adaptationist fable. Based on absolutely nothing, to put it plainly, except the wishful thinking of adaptationists and the rubes in the media who just so want them to be right about that. I don't know if it was from the "study" or if it might be supplied by the "reporter".

I’ve read a bit of the less taxing kind of anthropology and am guessing I’ve just happened to miss the majority of “primitive cultures” where it’s Sadie Hawkins day year-round. I don’t think there is the archaeological evidence to support that having been the dominant humanoid folk-way so as to have a dominant evolutionary impact now. You don’t seem to see it as the dominant pattern anywhere I know about today. But even if they could produce those cultures today, they are as contemporary as the folk who wrote this study so they would not be able to explain an evolutionary adaptation any more than a minute-dating service in any major metropolitan area now.

This whole idea of “primitive culture” is pretty condescending to people who aren’t engaged, mostly, in the most savage of all activities, destroying the planet. By the way.

Just looking at this account, and the abstract, I’d guess your study samples would have to be enormous to support conclusions about something this complicated, a lot bigger than those usually included in these kinds of “studies”.

You wonder how many people would have to be studied to really find out if tall men are less jealous and under what conditions you could come to a general conclusion about that. Given that they depend on the reporting of their subjects about their emotional state, the variability in the expression is as much a problem as the variation in what was felt. Maybe more taller men feel pressure to restrain expressions of jealousy, to maintain the facade of emotional detachment. Maybe they feel just as much or even more jealousy as short men but feel pressured to lie about it. To live up to their height, as it were. We have seen that men lie about sex, after all. Lying about their emotions? Are men never known to do that?

Or maybe the study didn’t control for differences in perception of threat. If you knew your spouse favored a certain type you might feel less threatened by a man with a different look. You would have to screen for differences in the threat of perception, wouldn' t you, to come up with a reliable measure of tendencies to feel jealousy? And even trying that would run into the same problems of relying on subjects reporting their emotions. In a small sample the difference in response to those factors could skew the "findings" rather dramatically. You’d have to make it a very complicated study to get past those barriers to accurate “findings” .

And get this: But for women, being of average height was associated with lower jealousy, apparently because average height confers better health and reproductive success in women, giving them less to worry about.

There is nothing “apparent” about it. If they want to contend that healthy women are less jealous, isn’t the way to test for that to test healthy and unhealthy women instead of basing it on height? There isn’t an absolute correlation of height and health, especially reproductive health. Just assuming that the taller women would have some innate sense of superior health is stretching it beyond reason.

I doubt they can really study something like this and draw any kind of reliable conclusion. They put together a combination of factors too complex in themselves to be easily studied, certainly not without an enormous number of randomly selected subjects.

This kind of stuff looks to me to be mostly a means of confirming the orthodoxy of adaptationism through twisting “findings” and pretending barriers to reaching the conclusions they want to find aren’t there. You would think that someone working for The Boston Globe would at least address these questions instead of acting as an echo of adaptationist ideology. I think I did get an insight, just not the one they might have expected.

* Because male height is associated with attractiveness, dominance, and reproductive success, taller men may be less jealous. And because female height has a curvilinear relationship with health and reproductive success (with average-height females having the advantages), female height may have a curvilinear relationship with jealousy. In Study 1, male height was found to be negatively correlated with self-reported global jealousy, whereas female height was curvilinearly related to jealousy, with average-height women reporting the lowest levels of jealousy. In Study 2, male height was found to be negatively correlated with jealousy in response to socially influential, physically dominant, and physically attractive rivals. Female height was negatively correlated with jealousy in response to physically attractive, physically dominant, and high-social-status rivals; in addition, quadratic effects revealed that approximately average-height women tend to be less jealous of physically attractive rivals but more jealous of rivals with "masculine" characteristics of physical dominance and social status.

Dealing with that number of vectors, you wonder how they even did the math.

Tim Russert Pulls A Tantrum, Arianna Breaks The Brawler’s Glass Jaw by Anthony McCarthy

Big Tim, the big-shouldered Buffalo brawler apparently has revealed his inner big baby over Arianna Huffington calling him a “conventional wisdom zombie” in her latest book. The result is that her book tour seems to have been black listed by NBC. Looking at Russert’s specialty, “zombie” is letting him off the hook rather lightly. Zombies are unwillingly made to do the bidding of those who animate them, Russert doesn’t have to be told what to do, he knows exactly what satisfies his masters and makes him millions. He’s quite a few steps down from being a zombi to being a willing servant and oligarchic wannabee.

David Sirota also has things to say about Chris Matthews, another of NBC’s phony voices of blue collar America.

A recent New York Times Magazine profile of Matthews describes a name-dropping dilettante floating between television studios and cocktail parties. The article documents the MSNBC host’s $5 million salary, three Mercedes and house in lavish Chevy Chase, Md. Yet Matthews said, “Am I part of the winner’s circle in American life? I don’t think so.”

That stupefying comment sums up a pervasive worldview in Washington that is hostile to any discussion of class divides. Call it Matthews-ism an ideology most recently seen in the brouhaha over Barack Obama’s statement about economic dislocation.

The Illinois senator said that when folks feel economically shafted, they get “bitter.” Matthews-ism spun the truism into a scandal.

The Washington Post labeled Obama’s statements “Bittergate.” Tim Russert invited affluent political consultants on “Meet the Press” to analyze the “controversy,” with millionaire James Carville saying, “I’m hardly bitter about things.”*

Living in blue collar America full time, we are bitter and if the wealthy media can’t taste the wormwood yet just wait for the combination of gas and food prices, credit debt, destroyed social and governmental support and the bottomless pit of welfare reform. You haven’t experienced bitter until you see conservatives who find they’ve joined the people they hate in the underclass. Instant Jacobins all. And they'll be a lot harder to reason with than the real, full-time left.

* Sirota is pretty hard on Hillary Clinton’s use of the phony “bitter” scandal. Though I’d point out that she’s a politician running for office, she’s not pretending to be an impartial journalist supposedly restrained by requirements of accuracy and impartiality. I do think she shouldn’t have touched the “bitter” stuff. My biggest complaints about Hillary Clinton’s nomination campaign come mostly in the form of the idiots who have been running it and jerks like Carville speaking on her behalf in the media. Obama’s campaign has done some stupid stuff too and a big part of his online support is openly and disgustingly sexist, but I don’t think he hasn’t been as prone to doing that kind of damage to the democratic party.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

When A Persona Consumes A Life by Anthony McCarthy

Please watch this video of Dusty Springfield singing “The Look of Love” with a slide show of photos of female impersonators of the past, before reading further.

Maybe not the greatest song ever written, but great singing. The slide show raises a lot of questions, the obvious ones being about the manipulation, flexibility and imprecision of the creation and interpretation of appearance, the distance between the image and the life of the person behind the image. And that’s not getting into the more obvious ones of the politics of transgender and the civil rights of people who exercise their right to choose their identity out of those available without regard to taboo. Important as those are.

Now, please watch this one of Dusty Springfield singing “The Son of a Preacher Man” noting her vintage costume and makeup.

You wonder what it might have cost Dusty Springfield to play the part of a straight woman in her singing career, especially since she was one of the first, semi-officially, out lesbians in show business. With the way she could sing, the way she could put meaning even into banal lyrics and move an audience, you wonder if she might have liked to sing a song about loving a woman. I don’t know if the stories about her self-destructive behavior would have been different if she could have just been herself throughout her whole life but it must have taken some tole.

Later in her career Dusty Springfield went with a more natural look, there are You Tubes showing that period. She was a great singer, though some of her material and arrangements didn’t match her abilities. She was a lot like Patsy Cline in that.

Though I often didn’t care for her material, I always respected Dusty Springfield. She had no problem hearing the genius of and promoting black artists who were still dealing with the differentials of the bottom line, the most real and potent color line of them all, even today. And this as she dealt with the one there for even straight white women. That’s what she was doing in a period when other white singers were still ripping black artists off, left and right.

You read that some people said that she was “difficult”, especially the musicians that worked with her. But almost anyone who is a perfectionist in the arts uses what power is at their disposal to get the results they are trying for. She wouldn’t have been the singer she was without trying very hard to realize her ideas. Men generally wouldn’t have faced the same charge from the same behavior. What’s a vice for a woman in relation to men, would get turned into a virtue for a man. No one here has to be told that is generally true.

Remembering the way that Peggy Lee sang the Gershwin song “How Long Has This Been Going On”* and looking for a video to post here a couple of weeks ago was where this piece began to form. Please watch it. You might find the makeup, yellow hair and false eye-lashes a little disturbing. I did, which was the reason I didn’t post it then. But listen to how Peggy Lee could float and hang a phrase in time without it coming down and then rest the next phrase on it with no effort at all. I can hear her do it, I couldn’t begin to tell you how she does it, no matter how many times I listen. I couldn’t imitate it anymore than I could Billie Holiday’s phrasing.

Peggy Lee was a fine artist, by that time an accomplished and experienced professional, who also had problems in life despite her success. Looking at the video, the makeup and look, matched with the steely eye and the icy persona, you might consider that those were taken as an expression of power, back then. Even as the song talked about surrendering to emotion, Peggy Lee was portraying a woman who was putting any man interested on notice that she was her own person. But it’s a rare person who can match that image in life.

Watching all three videos, the two singers and the female impersonators, brings up a lot of ideas about image and the how we portray ourselves to the world, or try to. You could contrast the high level of control the female impersonators had over their elaborately presented images, that of a lesbian who had to portray a straight woman to have a successful music career and a straight woman who had to maneuver through what would have then been explicitly considered and stated to be “a man’s world”. **

You have to think about what it might tell you about how we see ourselves and the ability of an image as seen by other people can overtake our intentions. Once something is out in the public, even an experienced adult has only a limited control of how that image is seen and even used by other people. Making a mistake in presenting an image of yourself is easy to do and hard to put behind you. The audience is fickle and a show business career depends entirely on its audience. Choices aren’t always made wisely or even shrewdly.

I’d heard the name Hannah Montana before this week but had assumed she was an animated character. I hadn’t known there was a 15-year-old Miley Cyrus until now. You have the sick feeling the scandal of the week could be the beginning sign of a too familiar kind of trouble.

Entertainment corporations chew up and spit out young women, who take the brunt of this kind of stuff, at an incredible rate. The age of those spit out seems to get lower all the time. There are scores of lives and careers that get damaged by the insistence on girls living up to a false front, along with the follies of their promoters trying to keep them current in publicity as they grow up. Just growing up is hard enough without people three or more times your age trying to use you.

A 15-year-old girl is not a woman, she isn’t an adult, as pointed out here the other day, she is a child. No one has the right to pretend they believe that she is going to have the maturity, self-confidence and experience to protect herself against the attack of celebrity. Pretending she is able to robs her of the most basic civil right of all children, to protection by adults and by society in general. I include Annie Leibovitz and Vanity Fair in the charge of using her recklessly. Their alibi that her parents were in on the photo-shoot doesn’t suffice. Possible irresponsibility by parents doesn’t make a child fair game for the media. The photographer and magazine have more experience than just about anyone in what can happen when the image they publish is an attempt to gain publicity by breaking an image of innocence, real or artificial. A tediously superficial, and rather repetitious attempt at that most commercially superficial of all modern virtues, ‘transgression’ by flirting with the conventions of soft, antique kiddie porn is what I take from the published images.

For the life of me, I don’t understand what it is some people on the left don’t get about Leibovitz and those who pay her. If she was a sleazy, cigar chomping man four times older than Miley Cyrus, taking exactly the same images, no one would have much problem deciding exactly what to make of it. But she’s Annie Leibovitz, using a girl a quarter of her age to make a splash and sell some pictures. Do these pictures tell us about reality? Can they come close to the celebrity portraits of Lotte Jacobi? No. While part of that is the depth of the subjects, she is no Jacobi.

To lay the responsibility entirely on the parents and others in the entourage of a young girl, doesn’t erase a national magazine’s irresponsibility of joining in a publicity stunt that risked possible damage to a very real girl. “Journalism” isn’t an excuse for using a real, live child like that. Neither is art. What might be a matter of clear cut press freedom without infringement on other peoples’ rights if no real children are used becomes a compromised image when a real child is made use of like this.

* And just because it is great playing, here’s Ben Webster playing the same song.

**Extra Credit: Mae West singing “My Old Flame”, observe and draw your own conclusions.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Giving voice to fertility (by Suzie)

A new study says men and women find women's voices more attractive at the time of the month when the women are most fertile. You may be able to access the full article, by Nathan Pipitone and Gordon Gallup of the State University of New York at Albany, here.
Studies like this are great for the media because they can be illustrated with sexy women or just parts of sexy women, such as open, red lips. Plus, reporters get to write about the "battle of the sexes" as if we were on a level playing field. But wait, there's more science to report, courtesy of New Scientist:
The fact that men notice the differences in vocal attractiveness suggests that there is a subtle evolutionary battle of the sexes going on, says Gallup: as women evolve ever more efficient ways to conceal fertility - to avoid unwanted attention - men become increasingly sensitive to the tiny changes that do occur. Other women also pick up on the changes, perhaps to keep an eye on the competition, he suggests.
How do we know that this whole women's-voices-tied-to-fertility-and-men-sense-it thing has changed over time? Maybe it was always this way. Why would evolution help women conceal their fertility? Wouldn't it make sense that the women who shout from the rooftop, "Hey, I'm fertile! Let's have sex!" would be the ones most likely to pass along their genes, as compared with the women who are busily evolving ways to conceal their fertility? Why would women rate voices as "attractive" in women with whom they are trying to compete? Why would women be attracted to the voice of a competitor?

Friday Critter Blogging

By John JS (I don't know the name of this beautiful creature):

By swampcracker (a courting snowy egret):

And the next two are by Doug (Doug's doggie(s)):

Interrogating Headlines

Doesn't that sound very academic and studied? I'm chiming in to Suzie's earlier post.

Imagine that there was a gruesome murder story about cannibalism, about someone who kept the victims in a cave until ready to be eaten. Would the headline about it be something like:

Austria searches soul after gourmet meal dungeon

Yet this is an actual headline about the Austrian rape-incest case:

Austria searches soul in sex dungeon aftermath

And do check out this post by Shakespeare's sister, on the trivialization of issues having to do with violence against women.

Deconstructing news releases (by Suzie)

          News releases open a window onto our culture, and sometimes I’d like to toss the writers through it. A friend sent me a sample from her inbox:
          Subject: Top 10 Tips for a Successful Bake Sale
Share Our Strength’s Fifth Annual Great American Bake Sale® is in full swing this spring! The national campaign, working to make sure no kid in America grows up hungry, is helping to feed the 12.6 million American children currently suffering from hunger and food insecurity. Registrants can sign up to hold their own local Bake Sale at
          This makes me think of a slogan popularized by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom: “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need, and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”
         Another interesting aspect of this news release: The writer knows that many journalists love lists of tips; they think readers - especially women - are too busy to read stories.
         Subject: Snacks in the City: Get the Dish on the 'Snack-Tasking' Scene
Whether running from one meeting to the next, joining gal pals at the movie theatre for that long-awaited Hollywood premiere, or reading a best-selling “chick lit” book, today’s savvy women are looking for ways to shine in each possible snacking scene.
Pack That Purse: Never be caught unprepared. Take along a smart snack so it’s within reach when cravings strike.
Count It Out: Managing portion control is the key to sticking to a calorie budget. Pick up a snack pack or divide your favorite snack into servings of 100 calories or less and place them in easy-to-grab containers for do-it-yourself portion control.
Turn up the Volume: A light snack with crunch factor can bring added enjoyment to munching.
Live It Up: Indulge those cravings—just don’t go overboard. Enjoying a few bites helps curb desires and prevents overdoing it in the future.
         Women just cannot discipline our desires and our bodies enough. (I'm not immune. I'm currently keeping a food diary and hey, thanks for these tips.)
          Subject: NEW – Gift for Baby
Cord Blood Registry, the nation's largest and most acclaimed private bank, has introduced a GIFT REGISTRY! CBR's registry provides a convenient way for friends and family to help with the cost of cord blood banking.
  Subject: Perfect Mother's Day Gift: Insect Shield Apparel
As you are planning Mother's Day stories, there is a best kept secret for Mom your readers may not yet know about - Insect Shield Repellent Apparel. Insect Shield clothing offers protection while you are enjoying outdoor pursuits, traveling to buggy locales, gardening or simply trying to relax with family in the backyard.
          I laughed at the headline, and was irritated by the implication that it’s always the mother’s job (not the father’s) to buy clothes and care for kids. But then I read that “Buzz Off Insect Shield works with agencies and international relief organizations that work to protect at-risk populations from insect-borne diseases.” I don’t know the efficacy of this brand, but this news release underscores the provincialism of U.S. journalism. Generally, a reporter would need to find a local angle, such as the clothes are manufactured in their city or a local person would be testing the clothes overseas. The assumption is that readers will not be interested unless there's a local angle. As a result, readers lose out on a lot of interesting stories around the world.
  Subject: Moms Not Taking Kids’ Medical Condition Seriously, Experts Find
PHILADELPHIA, PA, APRIL 24, 2008 - Often wracked with shame, embarrassment and self-loathing, an astonishing number of young girls suffering from hyperhidrosis – chronic excessive sweating – find themselves victimized not only by the disease itself, but also from the difficulty in eliciting their mother’s compassion and aid to effectively treat this misunderstood medical condition. This according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society (IHHS) - a nonprofit offering the most objective, credible and timely information available on the subject along with expert and peer-based community support.
         “Hundreds of thousands of teenage girls around the world suffer from hyperhidrosis, but their emotional and physical suffering is not taken seriously by uninformed mothers who dismiss their daughter’s complaints due simply to being uninformed and unaware,” said Lisa J. Pieretti, executive director of the IHHS. “Desperate, alone, depressed and afraid, far too many young girls ultimately suffer in silence, learning how to live with a condition that could readily be managed if they - and their mothers - only knew how.”
         To help foster dialogue on the subject between mothers and daughters, this Mother’s Day the IHHS will launch “Take 10 for 10” – a disease awareness initiative encouraging moms to take just 10-minutes out of their holiday to conduct a 10-question assessment with their daughters to discern if the child may, in fact, have hyperhidrosis - and to generally discuss how excessive sweating has adversely impacted her daughter’s life. 
           I couldn't find anything on this Web site to indicate that girls sweat more than boys or that mothers are less sympathetic than fathers. But marketing often is done by gender, and someone decided to gear this to Mother’s Day. Because it would seem duplicative and derivative, it’s unlikely they’ll do the same appeal to fathers and sons for Father’s Day. It’s interesting that the nonprofit chose to use Mother’s Day to criticize mothers, telling them about one more way they are failing their children. 
         The Web site does discuss a Harris survey that found that girls and women are more likely to be embarrassed by sweating. Once again, women are under more pressure to control their bodies. Along those lines, I loved a recent comment on the satiric TV show “Ugly Betty.” A female executive runs into Betty in an office restroom and blurts out: "Betty, I'm so sorry. I try to keep up the appearance that I never use the bathroom. I hope you won't think any less of me."

Can't Stop the Serenity (by Suzie)

      Since 2006, fans of Joss Whedon have raised more than $160,000 for his favorite charity, Equality Now, by showing his movie "Serenity." I'll be going to one of these screenings in June. Check out the schedule.
       I've long admired Equality Now, which "works to end violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world through the mobilization of public pressure." Its site includes answers to questions submitted to Clinton and Obama.
       If you haven't already seen the video of Joss getting an award from Equality Now in 2006, you must. I insist. You'll thank me later. If nothing else, you may enjoy how he skewers insipid journalists.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Mission Accomplished

That was five years ago. My, how time flies when we are having fun. Not.

Notice the militarized and sexualized image in that picture. War as a computer game where nothing is real, where presidents can pretend that they are bomber pilots, where was is over just on someone's say-so.

The Congo Nightmares

For a few weeks I have been collecting material on the mass rapes in Congo, on the use of war as organized, cold and murderous misogyny, on the scant attention this has received (yes, including from me) and on the best way to address the awful horrors that are taking place there, especially to women.

And during the nights those horrors come back to me, dance their macabre dances in my dreams and make me sit up in bed unable to breathe, internally screaming. I cannot pass that on to you, I cannot. Eve Ensler has written one of the more optimistic articles on the hell that is Congo, one which she begins by stating that she just came back from hell.

So be forewarned, be very forewarned, before you read any of the gruesome descriptions of the lives of the raped women of Congo.

Having said that, I shall now give you a tour of some other pieces which let you learn more about the events there. A useful beginning point is Jeffrey Gettelman's article from last October. From that you can move to reading about Dr. Mukwege's efforts to help the women, about his clinic, and about his trip to the United States to talk about the suffering of Congolese women.

More on the difficulties the survivors have in finding justice can be found in Olivia Ward's recent article. Stephen Lewis gives the United Nations a well-deserved failing grade in how it has addressed this particular case of torture, and Anna Clark explains the difficulties that those face who try to make the rest of the world more informed about the hell that is Congo.

Lisa Jackson's documentary Greatest Silence gives a more visual way of learning about the events:

While my blog also gets a well-deserved failing grade on writing about these issues, many other blogs have addressed them. I find the Diary of An Anxious Black Woman a useful entry point to that discussion.

I hope to write more about the deeper questions that the atrocities in Congo ask all of us, questions that have to do about the causes of the rise in extreme misogyny. But that will be later.

For First of May

This day has all sorts of meanings, but one of them has to do with the celebration of spring. The traditional drink in Finland on this day is "sima", a kind of mead. Sadly, it needs several days to bubble, so you can't make it for today. But I'm going to give you the child-safe recipe for next year:


8 liters water
1/2 kg brown sugar
1/2 kg white sugar
4 lemons
1/4 tsp fresh yeast or equivalent dried yeast
optional but traditional:

What to do:

Boil part of the water and pour on the sugars. If you like a darker color drink, use all brown sugar (one kilo).

Add the rest of the water and the juice from the lemons. (Real recipes chop up the lemons, peels and all and add it all, but juice is fine, too). When the mixture is hand-warm, add the yeast. Let stand for one day in room temperature, covered.

Bottle the following morning. Add one teaspoon of sugar and a few raisins in each glass bottle. Cover (but not too tightly as the bottles will explode over time if you do.) Let stand for seven days in a cool place or three days in room temperature. Consume within a week.

You can make this quite alcoholic but I'm not giving that recipe.

The traditional accompaniment is a kind of a doughnut, made by letting the batter drip into the hot fat so that it creates something which looks like a big knot of threads. You dust the knots with icing sugar.

They are both quite nice. After eating them you can go out to watch the communists march in some countries. Or to watch the students celebrate spring in many countries. Of course, here in the United States this day has been declared A National Prayer Day. Probably to keep the communists away.

Note how very masculine and militaristic that National Prayer Day site is. For instance, this picture is from the site: