Saturday, May 31, 2008

What's obscene? (by Suzie)

          Trigger warning.
          Paul Little is on trial in Tampa for obscenity. The St. Petersburg Times explains
         Little, also known as Max Hardcore, and MaxWorld are charged with five counts of using a computer server to sell obscene matter and five counts of delivering obscene matter through the U.S. mail.
         Little, well-known in the pornography world, has acted in more than 130 movies, directed more than 100 and produced about 30, according to the Internet Movie Database. His films show men inflicting pain or humiliation on women. The movies have scenes that include urinating, vomiting and defecating. Adult actresses in the films are often made up to look like young girls.
          A few people have left comments that the porn sounds disgusting. But most say this is a waste of taxpayers' dollars; it's a violation of the First Amendment; it must be great fun to watch porn in a courtroom; people have different desires and we shouldn't judge them; porn (i.e., sex) is better than violent movies; the women in the film liked it, or liked being paid, or should have known what they were getting into, even if they did get hurt. (Hey, I wonder if I could devise a bingo game around porn rationalizations.)
           Someone by the name of Chuck says freedom of speech is being "raped."
           GVan: "As long as the girls claim to be 18, it should be allowed. At least no animals were harmed."
           MSmithJr: "Hey, they serving popcorn or tissues?"
           But no one says: "You know, it's just a tad creepy that there are so many people who enjoy watching men inflict pain and humiliation on young women. I wonder if this says something about our society as a whole?"

A Music Moment

A Finnish guy singing about being messed up. Not from rock-n-roll, not from booze, but from you. Love, yanno.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Father Pfleger and privilege (by Suzie)


        I was reading a thread over at Shakesville, and I realized: I don’t have to keep commenting. I’ve got my own blog! I’m privileged. (And I mean that. Well, I mean that about privilege, but not having my own blog. I’m an auxiliary Snake who posts at the pleasure of the Goddess.)
        I want to hone in on privilege and us-vs.-them politics. But first, let me bring up points made by Tamura Lomax, who described herself as a religious scholar, historian and feminist theorist. She wrote that others were taking the Rev. Pfleger’s comments out of context. She noted that black churches have always mixed politics and religion. This argument also has been brought up in reference to the Rev. Wright. But it ignores the fact that religion and politics have been mixed in many places and many times, not just in the African-American Christian tradition. Also, there are many whites who respond in exuberant ways, including speaking in tongues and handling snakes. (I'd be remiss not to mention that on a blog titled “Echidne of the Snakes.”)
         Lomax wrote that whites have ignored the black church tradition. Some others who defended Wright also suggested whites are ignorant about black churches. It’s true that many whites have never attended a black church service. On the other hand, the traditional preaching style and call-and-response have been represented so many times in the media, especially movies, that some whites may think all African Americans pray the same way. That would be a disservice to those who don’t, and here, I’m thinking especially of my former minister.
         Lomax wrote that she enjoyed seeing Clinton attacked for white privilege. She has written about this on her Web site, in which she goes after Clinton for floating the idea of herself as vice president. She attributes this "audacity" to the unrelenting privilege of white women.
… Clinton is a white woman and history shows that white women always have their “turn” after white men but before black men …
          I attribute Clinton’s attitude to the privilege of a candidate who has run a close race, in which Democrats have talked at length about having both candidates on the ticket. For a while, I think Clinton was sure that she was going to win, just as Obama now seems confident that he will win. To the opposite side, this can seem arrogant. But I don’t think Obama is gloating that he has beaten a woman any more than I think Clinton thought she was entitled to win because she’s white.
          As I’ve said before, there’s a danger in talking about white women as if we are all privileged in the same way and to the same degree. (The same goes for thinking that male privilege works the same for all black men.) This disappears other factors, such as age, class, ability, sexuality, etc.
         There also is the issue of leaders who set up an us-vs.-them dichotomy. The Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, president of Chicago Theological Seminary and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, preached at Trinity United Church of Christ on the same day as Pfleger. (Thanks to "Aphra Behn" for posting the link.) Thistlethwaite later wrote this:
The idea that you should inflame people’s hatred of one another as a way to mobilize voters has been dominant since 1972 and very powerful. But it has produced near paralysis in Washington and disastrous foreign policy. But hate dies hard and while people want to find unity, they can easily fall back into divisive rhetoric, especially when it is disguised as humor. This is bad at a dinner party; in the pulpit it is shameful and wrong. … Apparently the way Pfleger understands race or gender is through conflict and opposition, not through unity, common ground and certainly not as “sacred”.
          Encouraging a sense of us vs. them does help to unite “us” for action, including voting. But it has the unfortunate consequence of uniting “them” as well.

          ETA: Tamura Lomax has accused me of being a liar. I did not intentionally misrepresent her. I encourage readers to see what she has written at her Web site, on Shakesville and in the comments section.
          Lomax accused Clinton of white privilege in suggesting Obama be her vice president earlier in the race. I apologize for getting that wrong. But my reasoning remains the same. I still think Clinton was speaking as a politician who thought she could win the popular vote, not as someone who thought that her whiteness entitled her to triumph over a black man.
         Lomax also says: “I wouldn't "enjoy" seeing anyone "attacked" for any reason.” 

"Holding commercial sex buyers accountable" by Suzie

         Equality Now has a new action aimed at the trafficking and prostitution of women in India. The action is aimed at the passage of legal amendments that would decriminalize prostitution but penalize buyers. Some people support the former, but not the latter, arguing that legalization and regulation of prostitution would increase the use of condoms and lessen the abuse of women. Equality Now argues:
In fact what happens in countries where prostitution has been legalized is that the illegal sex industry has blossomed in parallel and trafficking of women increases to meet the demand for prostitution. It would be more effective to address the HIV/AIDS crisis, as well as the life crises of girls and women ...
          Making it illegal to buy sex may be the only way to wake up a lot of men, who do not want to “get” that the women they’re buying may be enslaved or abused. In talking to male friends who’ve used prostitutes, some times I’m astounded by their ignorance. I’ve come to think that it’s important for them to ignore facts to avoid feeling guilty.
          I’m thinking of the men who told me that the women really liked them, really found them attractive, and really wanted to have sex with them. I ask, “Did she still charge you?” I’m thinking of the men who say they really treated the women well, which means they didn’t physically force them or call them names or fail to pay. It never occurred to these guys that there was any chance these women might have been trafficked from their hometowns or that the women had not freely chosen this work.
           I’m also thinking of a friend who attended the Summer Institute on Sexuality, Culture and Society in Amsterdam. She was eager to check out the women in the Red Light District. She lost her desire when she saw bruises on a woman’s wrists.
           A travel site promotes the district, “where women, of all nationalities, parade their wares.” A site on trafficking notes working conditions.
        I understand that prostitution is a hotly contested topic among feminists, many of whom consider it no more demeaning than other work. People can debate that in good faith. But if you call me an uptight prude, you’ll just make my friends laugh.

Douglass, Stanton and the 15th Amendment (by Suzie)

          I’ve posted recently on Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the 15th Amendment. The politics of the abolition and suffragist movements fascinate me.
          I highly recommend a NYT article on the subject by Debby Applegate, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Henry Ward Beecher. (If you read the whole article, which you should, let me note again that, when Stanton referred to the “lower orders” of men, she was talking about the poorest and least educated. Socioeconomic class became entangled with racial and ethnic bigotry.)
         ... there was no intrinsic reason both blacks and women couldn’t attain the rights of citizenship or suffrage at the same time.
        Of course, it wasn’t black men or white women who decided that there wasn’t room for them both to enter. After all, neither group could vote in the ratification process. Stanton and Douglass may have had a lot to say to each other and the press, but neither of them had any say in the wording of the amendment.
        Instead, this was decided by a coalition of Republican politicians in Washington who supported black suffrage — and thus the creation of a sure new population of black Republican voters — as a way to shore up their precarious majority in Congress. (There were nobler motives as well, but the timing of the amendment was all politics.)
         The exclusion of women was also a partisan decision, since enfranchising white women would run the risk of creating as many new Democratic voters as Republicans. The Republicans’ public line, however, was that the amendment would have no chance of ratification if it were so bold as to offer universal suffrage.
         … The 15th Amendment marked the end of the public’s commitment to major social change. Within the decade, the Republican Party had shed its progressive activism to become the party of big business and laissez-faire policy.
         …. if history offers a lesson here, it is not that Americans cannot handle too much change at one time or that we must inch our way, one by one, through the door of equality. Rather, it is that opportunities for genuine change are rare and when they occur we must kick the door off the hinges while we can. It is much harder to pry open the public mind once it has shut itself up again.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

I write poetry, I've studied poetry, but the only poem I can recite from memory is:

The Purist
by Ogden Nash

I give you now Professor Twist,
A conscientious scientist,
Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles!"
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile.
"You mean," he said, "a crocodile."

If you don't know the difference, get educated at the Web site of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, one of the oldest zoos in Florida. It's on the National Register of Historic Places. These photos are from 1992. Alligators like lying together in the sun. The bottom photo is of a crocodile being fed. Not just any crocodile, though. It's the late, great Gomek, 17 feet, 9 inches, the largest crocodile in the Western hemisphere. He was a saltwater crocodile from Papua New Guinea. He has been "preserved" at the zoo. 

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Michelle Malkin and Dunkin Donuts

This is quite the funny story. Michelle Malkin was upset by an ad Rachael Ray did for Dunkin Donuts, this one:

Notice the scarf Ray is wearing? It looks like a kaffiyeh, a common scarf in many Arab cultures. But according to Malkin Dunkin Donuts is supporting islamofaziterrorism with this ad.

The kaffiyeh, Malkin wrote in a column posted online last Friday, "has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons."

A statement issued Wednesday by Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin' Brands Inc., however, said the scarf had a paisley design, and was selected by a stylist for the advertising shoot.

"Absolutely no symbolism was intended," the company said.

As is clearly proper, Dunkin Donuts has withdrawn the offending ad. We all know that what we wear has a political meaning, after all.

Let's apply this to Michelle Malkin herself. Here she is shown wearing (embracing!) a leather jacket:

According to Wikipedia:

Leather jackets were also popular with the Russian Bolsheviks and were nearly a uniform for the Commissars during the Russian Civil War and later for the members of the Cheka. This practice is said to have been initiated by Sverdlov.

Oh my! Quick! Someone tell Michelle that she has been the victim of fashion designers and ignorant popularizers of a COMMUNIST piece of apparel! She must, must abstain from wearing one in the future.

If she does not, we all know whose side she is taking in the great ideological wars.

A Clusterfuck

You may have heard about that draft for an international treaty about banning the use of cluster bombs, the one which 111 nations have approved. Cluster bombs are extremely nasty creatures. The unexploded bits are later often found by playing children.

You may have also seen the list of those countries which still love them dearly:

... the United States has been joined in its outright opposition to the ban, and in its boycott of the Dublin conference, by a group of military powers that includes China, Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan and Brazil.

Now it could be that it's in the interest of the United States to hug these weapons to her/his/its chest, because all that prevents the certain deaths of mother, apple pie and good C&W music might be those demonic weapons. It could be. If you choose to forget that the U.S. spends more on weaponry than the next four highest spenders together. Or if you choose to forget the idea of the United States as the home of democracy, the leader of the free world, a mature country.

The militaristic, crabby and fearful attitude reflected in this latest saga about the United States in the Bush era is not what the rest of this world's people would look up to and admire. It's hard to pretend to lead others when at the same time you are hoarding cluster bombs behind your back so that you are ready to kill them.

I'm not naive enough to assume that just being noble and enlightened would somehow make a military force unnecessary. But the U.S. already has a gigantic military force, with nuclear bombs which can kill all of us many times over. To then try to hold on to something as nasty as cluster bombs comes across mean-spirited, selfish and stupid.

Fighting For God

It can be tricky for atheists in the U.S. military, at least according to Army Specialist Jeremy Hall:

Army Spc. Jeremy Hall did two tours in Iraq, saw his share of fire and came back in one piece. Too bad he needs a bodyguard to keep his fellow soldiers from attacking him now that he's back in the States.

Hall's problems started in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner in 2006, during his second tour. One of the men at Hall's table asked that they pray together. The soldiers joined hands — except for Hall. Most didn't know he was an atheist until that moment.

"I joined as a religious person," says the 23-year-old Hall, who is now stationed at Fort Riley. "Then I met some other people with different ideas, and I actually read the Bible. It didn't make any sense to me, so I decided for myself. It really doesn't matter anyway. You're going to die and pay taxes either way."

Hall kept those opinions to himself at the dinner. He says he declined to pray as respectfully as he could. When word got around the tables that he wouldn't pray, he was confronted by a senior-ranking staff sergeant, who demanded to know why. Hall explained that he was an atheist — then explained what an atheist was when the sergeant didn't understand.

"He basically told me to get the hell out of there and that I couldn't eat with them," Hall says. "I just sat there quietly and finished it. A Mormon girl actually stood up for me and said they shouldn't do that, because it's not just me. They give Mormons shit, too."

In July 2007, Hall decided to find out how many soldiers agreed with him. He approached his Army chaplain for permission to hold a meeting of atheists, freethinkers and any other non-Christians. He got the chaplain's blessing and posted fliers for the meeting.

"There wasn't any support for anyone like me, so I just wanted to provide it. Strength in numbers," Hall says. "I wasn't asking for domination, just that we are here, and we are real, and you've got to deal with us."

Hall's fliers were ripped up or defaced. "'Fag, God loves you, you're going to hell,' all kinds of crazy shit," Hall says of the writing on the notices. But the nonbelievers still showed up. So did Maj. Freddy Welborn, Hall says.

The meeting didn't delve into deep questions. The few who attended didn't get much further than who they were and where they were from when Welborn stood up to confront the group. According to Hall, Welborn threatened to use the meeting as justification to keep Hall from re-enlisting, as well as potential action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Jeremy Hall has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that his right not to be coerced by the government to practice a particular religion has been violated.

It's just a little bit scary to wonder if the military might have a religious axe to grind, is it not?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"A" Is For Ambition

And "B" is for The Bitches Who Have It. This I have learned from the political pundits in the media.

Nevertheless, the reason why there are so few women in politics is that women lack ambition. This I learned from Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post:

As Hillary Clinton cracks her head against what she likes to call "the highest and hardest glass ceiling," there's no doubt that she craves the presidency as much as any man does.

But a new report from the Brookings Institution suggests an unexpected reason for the relative paucity of women elsewhere in political office and the dearth of credible female presidential candidates: an ambition gap.

"Somewhat surprisingly," write political scientists Jennifer Lawless of Brown University and Richard Fox of Loyola Marymount, women's underrepresentation "is not because of discrimination against women candidates. In fact, women perform as well as men when they do run for office. In terms of fundraising and vote totals, the consensus among researchers is the complete absence of overt gender bias."

Rather, the "fundamental reason for women's underrepresentation is that they do not run for office. There is a substantial gender gap in political ambition; men tend to have it, and women don't."

This wonderful new gender gap is called an "ambition gap." No, it's not that gap where testicles ought to be found in a politician. It's something women themselves cause. It's all in our little pretty heads:

Sometimes the hardest glass ceilings are the ones women impose, whether knowingly or unconsciously, on ourselves.


That second quote is the way Ruth Marcus finishes her column, a column in which she writes about the many reasons why women might not enter political races as candidates, including this one: Women are held to very different standards in politics. A woman with children is viewed as primarily responsible for them. A man, not so much.

Just imagine the response if John Edwards was the one with cancer and Elizabeth Edwards had announced that she will run for the presidency, despite their two young children and an ailing husband. I think her ambition would have been viewed as very unseemly.

Yet all this is an "ambition gap" between the sexes, something that has somehow germinated and sprouted inside the female skulls without anyone at all feeding or watering that monster plant. Marcus wonders why fewer women than men regard themselves as well qualified for political office, and I wonder what planet she lives on. She wonders why more women than men worry about being inadequately thick-skinned for the political fights, and I wonder if the media on that faraway Marcusian home planet ever showed the treatment that ambitious women in American politics get. It's not exactly a level playing field of insults, you know. Female politicians get the usual insults and then they get the extra insults for being ambitious, selfish bitches whose children have probably died from hunger and loneliness because they have bad mothers, or for being ambitious, selfish bitches who never bothered to have any children at all.

This is kind of fun, isn't it?

Let's look at the definition of discrimination in that Brookings study:

"Somewhat surprisingly," write political scientists Jennifer Lawless of Brown University and Richard Fox of Loyola Marymount, women's underrepresentation "is not because of discrimination against women candidates. In fact, women perform as well as men when they do run for office. In terms of fundraising and vote totals, the consensus among researchers is the complete absence of overt gender bias."

This seems to assume that any woman can just announce tomorrow that she will run for office and that she will be supported; that there is no prior grooming of the candidates, no selection process before the actual running takes place, no networking. It's almost as if we looked at a firm with very few female employees and liked the fact that they were paid as well as the male employees for their work while ignoring the question why there were so few female employees in the first place. Or rather, not ignoring it, but deciding that the right answer was that women just didn't bother to apply in larger numbers, for whatever reason. No discussion of the corporate culture perhaps steering women away altogether, for example, no discussion in the many ways one can discourage someone from applying, by "losing" applications and so on.

My purpose here is not to argue that overt discrimination in the form of some kind of gatekeeping is the real explanation for the Brookings findings, but to point out that we can't assume the absence of this gatekeeping the way the researchers appear to have done. It's something to study, not something to assume.

Let's go back to the beginning of the alphabet: Ambition. Are women really less ambitious? Who knows. Doesn't the answer to that depend on how we define ambition? Is a mother who relentlessly drives her children to succeed not ambitious, for example? And doesn't the answer also reflect what characteristics are regarded in the "ideal woman" of this culture? Personal ambition is unlikely to be ranked very high in any list of such characteristics.

Which suggests to me that women might lie about their ambitiousness. It's truly not regarded as a good thing for girls to be. And the "ambition gap" is not a glass ceiling caused by only women themselves. That's very much like all those stories about women fretting over work-life balance, stories, which are often accompanied by a picture of a harassed-looking woman juggling a baby, a big stack of work papers and a cell phone. Note what is missing in that picture: No bosses, no husbands, no society. The woman alone, with the problems she has to solve.

Of course the real explanation is not that simple.

Digby on Chris Matthews

Hendrik Hertzberg has written a piece about what a good guy Chris Matthews is. Digby begs to differ, and so do I in one sense:

It seems to me that if we had a female version of Chris Matthews, say, Christine Matthews, with the same history but with the proper reversals we'd never hear the end of what a male-bashing feminazi she is. But somehow the fact that Chris Matthews has a severe problem in viewing women as human beings, in viewing therefore the majority of human beings as human beings -- well -- that's just a small unfortunate quirk in an otherwise honorable and gentle man.

Now that really should be astonishing. That it is not tells you lots about the society we live in.

On Sex Segregation

Bathrooms. That's probably what comes to your mind if you think about where the sexes are segregated in this country. Bathrooms and physical education classes after a certain age. But there are also sex-segregated schools and the conservatives would like to make those much more common.

The principle they would apply to justify that is "separate but equal", pretty much, according to the legal rule (Plessy v. Ferguson) which allowed for race-segregated public education in the United States until the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of the mid-fifties. That "separate" was not "equal" in that system goes without saying: the black schools were much, much poorer than the white schools, for example.

But it wasn't all the economic evidence which really made up the Court's minds to declare that intentional race-selection was not permissible: It was the stories psychologists told about how black children preferred white dolls over black dolls and how they attributed better personal characteristics to white faces than to black faces. In short, how they breathed in and drank and ate racism every day of their lives.

School integration has not stopped racism, of course, and neither are schools really integrated today. But the situation is not as horrible as it was fifty years ago when the segregation was legally required.

Where did that "separate but equal" decision come from, anyway? The Plessy v. Ferguson, had to do with the question whether trains could legally segregate their passenger compartments by race. The court thought that they could, as long as the seats were equally comfy in all carriages, as long as the conductors were equally polite, and as long as the chances of finding a vacant seat didn't differ by race. But of course all these differed in practice.

That long preamble was an attempt to explain why I don't think that sex segregated education in this country could ever be guaranteed to be an equal education for both boys and girls. Note, for one thing, that if anyone really wants to discriminate against, say, girls in this field, an absolute prerequisite for doing that successfully is to segregate girls from boys. Otherwise it's much harder to require that girls take courses in cooking and household management while boys take courses in physics. Or to spend less money on girls' education in the guise of providing for the different ways that the sexes supposedly learn best.

Segregation doesn't have to result in unequal education, but stopping it from doing exactly that requires great vigilance. In a way segregation is a necessary but not sufficient condition for sex discrimination of the extreme types.

For those types we can turn our eyes to Saudi Arabia, a country in which women live in an almost separate world from that inhabited by men. But note how very unequally the space in that world is divided: women are limited to their homes, pretty much, whereas men have all of the public space as theirs. Even the homes are ultimately men's spaces. It is the men who have the final power at home, too. There's nothing about the "equal" in that "separateness."

All this made me try to imagine what a truly "separate but equal" world would look like in terms of gender segregation, and the only answer I could come up with is that it would be a world consisting of two sovereign states: one for men and one for women. These states would trade in sperm in one direction and baby boys in the other direction. Because these two trades are not equal in effort, the guys' state would also probably have to pay the gals' state for the boys.

Does that sound like science fiction to you? Sheri Tepper has written about that very idea in The Gate To Women's Country, and her book addresses many of the dilemmas present in that solution: How to keep the women's country from being taken over by the men's country, what to do about the grief that the mothers of boys feel when they have to relinquish their sons and how to reintegrate the countries at some future date. But the point she perhaps fails to stress enough is the advantage of that two-state solution: It's the one way that women actually could have institutional power in a gender segregated world.

I should probably stress that this post is an intellectual exercise in thinking about what sex segregation means. I'm not advocating it and neither am I arguing that men on the whole would advocate it or would want to dominate women through it. But pointing out the negatives of sex segregation is a useful thing to do, especially in light of the many proposals to reintroduce it into the American public school system.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Webb as Obama's VP Candidate?

This has been suggested. I shiver and feel slightly nauseous when I hear that or when I read the glowing arguments supporting Webb: He's a real man's man, full of anger and testosterone, a real military guy who will kick the conservatives in the ass (or the elephant).

Never mind that only recently he was a conservative himself and that there are strong suggestions that he still is a social conservative, at least as far as women are concerned. He's not the most aware of guys in that respect, to put it in very gentle and womanly terms. If I didn't want to be gentle and womanly here I might confess to you that my "sexist pig" radar does light up when he appears on my television screen. He may not be one, of course, but he certainly was one some decades ago, and I have not read or heard anything from him that would suggest that his views on women have really altered that much.

Kathy Geier, guest-blogging for Matthew Yglesias, tends to agree. She also points out why appointing Webb as the Vice Presidential candidate might not be Obama's best political move:

Above all, though, I am very troubled by the idea that a man who has held such sexists views, and has done so much to damage the cause of gender equality in the military, would be one heartbeat away from the presidency. I do not think Webb is at all trustworthy on women's issues, and women's issues are very important to me and to millions of others besides. I think it's essential that any Democratic president or vice president have a good record on women's, civil rights, and labor issues. It's not just that women, African-Americans, and unions are the core constituencies of the Democratic party. It's that advancing the causes of racial, gender, and economic equality are the among the most important moral and political issues of our time. These are core values to me and millions of other Democrats, and elevating a man who has been so awful on one of them to the second most powerful position in the party is completely unacceptable.

Stepping away from all that high-minded rhetoric, I'll add that, in practical terms, selecting Webb would be a slap in the face to the Hillary Clinton supporters. I'm not saying that Obama has to pick Hillary as veep (and indeed, I think that would be a bad idea). I'm not even saying that he needs to pick a woman.

But Hillary was the first woman to ever have a serious shot at the presidency, and she came so close. So the Hillary supporters (of whom, to be clear, I am not one) will feel frustrated enough that their candidate didn't win. But for Obama to choose -- out of all the well-qualified candidates out there -- the one person who has a really awful record on gender issues would be like rubbing salt in the wound. It would be seen as a big "screw you" to Hillary's supporters and to feminists in general.

Indeed. That so many people don't see that suggests that women are still not seen as a meaningful group of voters to court.
Added later: There's an odd sense of double layers of sexism in thinking about Webb as the possible Vice Presidential candidate for Obama. On one level, he is the embodiment of all the masculine values that the conservatives say Democratic politicians lack. He is certainly not the Breck Girl John Edwards, certainly not the wind-surfing John Kerry and certainly not female in actual fact! He could save us! He could! Because he was in the military and all that. He's as sexist as McCain!

At the same time, what does that support tell the Democratic women voters? The idea that we need a man who is not effeminate is more important than whether that man actually looks down on women in general.

Worth A Listen

This NPR story about the women in Basra, Iraq. Their freedoms have increased now that the Iraqi military is in control of the city, but most see the relief as only temporary.

I was especially struck by the accusation made against the British troops: that they didn't do anything to protect the women of Basra during their stay.

We Hates Them, Duckie

Yes, we do. We hates the woman celebrities, at least in the U.K.:

In a survey this week, by Marketing magazine the respondents' top five most loved celebrities were men - Paul McCartney, Lewis Hamilton, Gary Lineker, Simon Cowell and David Beckham. Of the five most hated, the top four were women - Heather Mills, Amy Winehouse, Victoria Beckham and Kerry Katona.

Heather Mills is probably the easiest dealt with. Many people's main gripe with celebrity is that it offers those without talents a chance to find material wealth through manipulation. For the tabloid media at least, Mills fits the bill.

But it's a bit harder to fathom the rest of the list. Why are these women seen to be so loathsome?

1. Heather Mills - 28.3%
2. Amy Winehouse - 11.4%
3. Victoria Beckham - 10.2%
4. Kerry Katona - 10%
5. Simon Cowell - 4.6%

1. Paul McCartney - 14.9%
2. Lewis Hamilton - 11.2%
3. Gary Lineker - 11.2%
4. Simon Cowell - 9.7%
5. David Beckham - 9.4%
Source: Brands We Love and Brands We Hate, Marketing magazine

The phenomenon is to be tackled in an upcoming gathering of academics entitled Going Cheap?: Female Celebrity in the Tabloid, Reality and Scandal Genres, organised by Prof Diane Negra at the University of East Anglia on 25 June.

Why do I want to write this whole post in the Gollum voice (from the Lord of The Rings)? Perhaps because there is something Gollum-like about the way Britney Spears has been gobbled up, spat out and gobbled up so many times in the American popular media. It's as if she (and Paris Hilton) are here on earth so that other people have a legitimate object for their hatred. We loves to hate 'em, my precious, yes, we does.

A Gandalf voice would be better when trying to understand why it is mostly women who are the objects of hatred, both by men and by women, and why the married couples on that list split so oddly by gender into two different camps. But my inner Gandalf is scared of women altogether and thus would be quiet on this topic of no importance.

If he weren't such a wimp he might ask how celebrities are manufactured. What makes Heather Mills into a celebrity? She has never worked in the performing arts. She just happened to have been married to Paul McCartney, one of the Beatles. Her "celebrity" is completely situational, completely dependent on her connection to him and his celebrity. Add to that a very unpleasant divorce, and there you have it! A woman we all can hate because we love him.

I'm bringing that up as an example of the impact of the media itself on this hating and loving business. The way stories describe a celebrity surely affects how many people hate him or her, and the stories about people like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton usually offer zero compassion or empathy. Is this true of hateful stories about male celebrities? I don't know, but that topic might be worth studying.

The article I linked to above suggests that the hatred of female celebrities might still have to do with the desire for traditional gender roles:

Ms Negra thinks we do hold female celebrities to different standards than their male counterparts.

Ambitious women

"There has been a conspicuous trend in the last five years towards the production of negatively-valued women in the public sphere. People respond to the pleasures of hating these kinds of figures.

"There is incredible ambivalence in a post-feminist culture towards women in the public sphere."

In a nutshell, despite years of equal opportunities, the media - and the people who watch and read - prefer the stay-at-home mother over a woman who lives her life in public, particularly one who is overtly ambitious or successful in making money. There is great satisfaction among many people in seeing them humbled, Ms Negra suggests.

Perhaps. But Heather Mills surely is a stay-at-home mother, and she leads that list of hated women.

Monday, May 26, 2008

He Loved Horses

This is something I wrote for Paxamericana earlier. It seems appropriate for Memorial Day.

He loved horses. When the enemy approached and the village had to be evacuated it made sense that he would go with the horses. Someone had to, and most of the adult men were already fighting the war. He was fifteen, old enough to go alone. And the horses needed someone with them in the train carriages, someone they knew, someone they trusted, someone who could stroke them gently when the bombs went off, someone who could stop them from shivering. Later that time meant for him the frightened eyes of the young colt, the foam around its mouth, the long dark carriage without food for animals or for people. The sound of the engine and the song of the weapons.

He loved horses. The following year he was old enough to go to war, a man now, all of sixteen. He was good with horses, so they made him a messenger boy between the artillery units. He would ride the horses with another boy, someone he made friends with. It was almost a summer camp for them, a lark. They were heroes! They were men now! Until the day when a hand grenade exploded under what only a moment earlier had been his friend on a horse. Red. So much redness. More redness in the world than he could imagine.

After that day he grew used to the redness and the war. He did what he was told to do and he survived the war. Peace broke out, and his life was suddenly there, all open, for him to step into. Life. Light and silence or only ordinary noises. He could learn to like it. The war was over. He got a job, a wife, children. The war was over.

Then came the nightmares. They would gallop across his sleeping mind, hooves red with blood, gallop and gallop in a war that never ended. Sometimes he would drink until the galloping stopped. Sometimes he would look into the mirror and see a young man, intact, and then he would think the nightmares were just dreams. Sometimes he would look into the mirror and see himself filled with blood, all blood, ready to explode.

Nightmares cannot be stroked, cannot be made to stop shivering. But he grew used to them. He learned how to live around them, how to forget the war when he was awake. How to be on guard. He never knew what might explode, who might turn into an enemy. He had to be on guard, had to have rage, had to ride it like a horse, towards some invisible goal of safety. Had to ride roughshod sometimes, over people, not around them. Had to. Had to teach the children so that they wouldn't be shocked by the redness or the blood or the trains coming and going. Better they know when they are little. That way nothing can hurt them later, nothing. And had to teach them not to care about the horses or other living things. Too much blood. Too much to care about, too much to leave behind.

He used to love horses.

On Public Intellectuals

I once wrote a mildly funny post on this breed of celebrities. But Daniel Drezner takes them more seriously (click on the document he links to in the post):

The remaining claim is that there are no more Big Thinkers and Big Books. Jacoby repeatedly challenges critics of The Last Intellectuals to name the names of current public intellectuals in order to compare with the past. But this is not a very difficult task. Among periodicals, The New Yorker has Malcolm Gladwell, James Surowiecki and Louis Menand on their payroll; Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, and Virginia Postrel write for The Atlantic; Harper's contributing editors include Barbara Ehrenreich, Thomas Frank, and Tom Wolfe; Vanity Fair has James Wolcott and Christopher Hitchens; Newsweek employs Fareed Zakaria, Daniel Gross and George F. Will. Despite the thinning of their ranks, unaffiliated public intellectuals like Paul Berman, Michael Beschloss, Debra Dickerson, Robert D. Kaplan, John Lukacs, Joshua Micah Marshall, Rick Perlstein and Robert Wright still remain. The explosion of think tanks in the past thirty years has contributed to a rise in partisanship – but it has also provided sinecures for the intellectual likes of Robert Kagan, Joel Kotkin, Michael Lind, Brink Lindsey, Jedediah Purdy, and David Rieff.1 Within the academy, there is no shortage of public intellectuals: Eric Alterman, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Michael Bérubé, Joshua Cohen, Jared Diamond, Jean Behke Elshtain, Amitai Etzioni, Niall Ferguson, Richard Florida, Francis Fukuyama, John Lewis Gaddis, Henry Louis Gates, Jacob Hacker, Samuel Huntington, Tony Judt, Paul Kennedy, Paul Krugman, Steven Leavitt, Lawrence Lessig, John Mearsheimer, Martha Nussbaum, Steven Pinker, Richard Posner, Samantha Power, Robert Putnam, Dani Rodrik, Jeffrey Sachs, Amartya Sen, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Joseph Stiglitz, Laurence Summers, Cass Sunstein, Michael Walzer, Sean Wilentz, E.O. Wilson, and Alan Wolfe.

Note how being of the girly persuasion appears to conflict with being a public intellectual, or at least Drezner can't think of as many female foghorns as male ones. Perhaps there are indeed fewer women who are regarded as public intellectuals, but it could also be that Daniel Drezner can't see them or defines the term in ways which tends to bias it towards men.

I started wondering if we have lots and lots of private intellectuals, many of them women, talking like silent thunder (cp the next post below) and nobody hears them. Then I wondered what makes a person into "a public intellectual." Surely it is more than being an intellectual?

The list Drezner gives doesn't help very much as it seems to consist of both wheat and lots of chaff, the latter including some who blow their own horn very loudly.

Anyway, I created many tentative definitions of the term, ranging from "a shameless charlatan" to someone who is excellent in communicating difficult theoretical concepts to laypeople and who is also willing to participate in public debates. But none of them capture that odd whiff of elitism that I associate with the idea of public intellectuals: Like poet laureates (poets laureate?) that are supposed to tell the rest of us what to think. Yet many people in Drezner's list are ideologues for one field of politics or another.

Today's Koan

Silent thunder.