Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Staggering Injustice (by Phila)

Having started the day by deciphering the Voynich Manuscript, hoisting a crate of doubloons from the Oak Island Money Pit, and solving the riddle of the Delhi Iron Pillar, I'm ready to tackle Mona Charen's article on George W. Bush's "unrequited love for blacks and other minorities."

Bush, she says, has an "unwavering interest" in the poor, which reminds me of J.B.S. Haldane's gag about the Creator's inordinate fondness for beetles. But despite this interest, the poor, the downtrodden, and the oppressed have so far refused to come down from their ivory tower and humble themselves in the dust at his feet.

Which the Dear knows is bad enough. It gets worse, though. Blacks became frustrated when Bush did absolutely nothing to live up to their image of him as an archetypal White Devil, and so they took yet another page out of Tawana Brawley's book and falsified the evidence against him:
When no other opportunity for tarring President Bush presented itself, his detractors seized upon Hurricane Katrina as the catch basin for all the free-floating bile against the president.
Some people might find it somewhat...inelegant to use metaphors like "catch basin" and "free-floating" in regards to an event that left the corpses of black men, women, and children floating through the flooded streets of their city (especially while suggesting that the president was the real victim of that tragedy). But in my view, the fact that Charen has forgotten human decency to this extent shows how deeply she's been touched by the plight of this misunderstood man.

Know what else Bush did for these goddamn nappy-headed ingrates? He "practically bankrupted the treasury by spending on AIDS treatment in Africa," that's what. And what did he get for his trouble?
[T]he normally voluble African-American community has been virtually silent on the matter.
And as everyone knows, it's when the drumming and chanting stops that it's time to worry.

Charen complains that a liberal magazine says "Bush's AIDS Program is Failing Africans." This seems like a perfect occasion for her to ascertain whether there's any truth to the charge. But she can't be bothered. Which means that for the first time in the history of this troubled globe, a policy of "bankrupting the treasury" in order to help blacks has received no skeptical conservative scrutiny.

Just for the record, the "liberal magazine" in question notes that "the White House's AIDS prevention mantra...prescribes abstinence and marital fidelity, with condoms only for 'high risk' groups like prostitutes and truck drivers":
"We are now seeing a shift in recent years to abstinence only," [Beatrice Were] said. "We are expected to abstain when we are young girls and to be faithful when we are married to men who rape us, who are not necessarily faithful to us, who batter us."
Such ingratitude, after all that "AIDS treatment" we gave these bloody heathens. It makes you wonder why "we" bother.

Minorities (you know who you are) should also be grateful to Bush for the No Child Left Behind Act...which may or may not have worked, but it's the thought that counts!
It's impossible to gauge how much, if any, of this measured success is due to NCLB...But this much is certain: If scores had not improved or had declined, NCLB would be universally blamed.
In other words, if American test scores had gone down, certain irrational people might've questioned the efficacy of a program that was intended to make them go up. Behold the prospective intolerance of the voluble African-American community! (You can behold it here, too.)

In summation:
The excitement at the prospect of the first African-American president is natural and understandable. But the total contempt shown by the African-American community toward this president is a staggering injustice.
Although conservatives like Charen have taught me to distrust the "culture of victimhood," the evidence here is overwhelming: black Americans have unconscionably oppressed the President over the last eight years.

I say we give him forty acres and a mule, just as soon as his shackles are struck loose, and he's freed at last from the long nightmare of executive power.

The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear (by Phila)

A religious group called Christian Voice is angry about a new, "sexually suggestive" outfit for Barbie:
“Barbie has always been on the tarty side and this is taking it too far. A children’s doll in sexually suggestive clothing is irresponsible – it’s filth.”
In Georgia, meanwhile, a woman who was convicted of sodomy at 17, because she had oral sex with a 15-year-old boyfriend, is finding it hard to settle down.
[Wendy] Whitaker, 28, has moved twice because of the sex offender law's restrictions that say an offender cannot live within 1,000 feet of places where children congregate. Whitaker was recently told by a sheriff she must move again because her home is within 1,000 feet of a church.
Ms. Whitaker is currently seeking legal remedies that will allow her to remain in the home she and her husband just bought. On Thursday, the state attorney general's office filed a motion reminding interested parties that:
"Assuming there is actual enforcement of an existing provision of the sex offender statute, [its] purpose ... is to protect the most innocent of victims, Georgia's children"....

Scared, Exhausted, Hungry, and Distraught (by Phila)

A woman named Maria Ventura was recently arrested in Maryland North Carolina on a traffic charge, at about 2 AM. Because she was in the United States illegally, and had no driver's license, she was taken to jail; the deputy who arrested her left her three young children on the shoulder of Interstate 85 for eight hours.
The father, Antonio Perez, said he got a cell phone call from the sobbing children around 2 a.m. They had been headed from their home in Western North Carolina to visit him in Maryland. Perez, who doesn't have a license and had to get his uncle to drive him, arrived at 10:30 a.m. to find his children scared, exhausted, hungry, and distraught over the loss of their mother.
The officer in question left the children with a member of their church who happened to be getting a ride with the family; he abandoned them shortly after the police left.

Police spokesman Randy Jones says, "I can't find anything wrong with what the officer did."

Granted, no one asked these kids to be born. And no one can deny that Ventura broke the law, which is behavior that no real American tolerates from any nonwhite person who earns less than $100K per annum.
Alamance County participates in a federal program, called 287(g) for a section of law, that allows jailers to check immigration status and begin deportation proceedings on those they arrest. Many sheriffs, including Alamance Sheriff Terry Johnson, tout the program as a way to stop violent repeat criminals.
What kind of person wouldn't support that? Violence is a tragedy, after all; it tears families apart and traumatizes children.

Priorities (by Phila)

As you may or may not know, roughly 400,000 rape kits remain untested. The ostensible reason is a lack of funds, though Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch is undoubtedly correct that the backlog stems from "a failure to treat rape as seriously as other violent crimes."

In 2004, Congress passed a bill mandating the testing of backlogged rape kits. However, as Ms. Tofte notes:
[T]he program has been expanded to allow states to test backlogged DNA evidence from any crime. Even as the proportion of rape victims who report their assaults is increasing, the processing of rape evidence is still backlogged -- and the arrest rate of rapists is decreasing.
One can only imagine the chain of custody issues that could be raised in regards to a rape kit that's several years old. Wouldn't it be strange if this objective evidence ended up becoming as "unreliable" as the unsupported testimony of the women from whom it was taken?

The bill is also complicated by an effort to gather DNA evidence on all felons, and on people who've been arrested but not convicted:
The House version of the reauthorization risks diluting the program's effectiveness by requiring states to expand their DNA databases to include all felons and certain arrestees. Adding people who have not been convicted of any crime to DNA databases raises civil rights and civil liberties concerns, adding unnecessary controversy to the program.
I wonder which of these efforts will receive more attention and funding, ultimately? Tracking down rapists, of course, simply gratifies the lust for revenge of women who -- for all we know -- may've asked to be raped in the first place; it's a way for them to have their cake and eat it too. But expanding our DNA database of arrestees could solve or even prevent all sorts of high-impact crimes, from gas-station holdups in the ghetto to eco-terrorism in suburban developments. I mean, if you're going to throw a bunch of money at a marginal problem like sexual assault, why not get something useful out of it? It's a simple matter of priorities.

Incidentally, the comments on Ms. Tofte's article are about as illuminating as you'd expect, giving our status as a civilized nation. One commenter suggests that women ought to carry little knives, and says that "a sufficiently ruthless and frenzied defense will give the rapist little opportunity to take the weapon away and use it against her." And if not, well...death before dishonor!

Women who don't carry knives, or are insufficiently ruthless and frenzied in their use of them, obviously like the idea of being raped, on some level.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Support I-VAWA (by Suzie)

The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) is an unprecedented effort by the United States to address violence against women globally. It directs the U.S. government to create a comprehensive, 5-year strategy to reduce violence in 10-20 diverse countries identified as having severe levels of violence against women.
          This comes from Amnesty International, which has ways to take action. Here’s a Washington Post article on the subject.
          I-VAWA needs your help because men’s rights activists and other conservatives are marshaling forces against it. Here's an example. The basic arguments: We don't need an international version of VAWA, which has broken up families in the United States. Violence against U.S. women is overblown, but the system is biased against men. It gives financial incentives to women to report men, and then law enforcement reacts aggressively, “even when a brief cooling-off period will suffice” or the woman has lied about violence. Women get divorced and get custody of their children, perhaps not even allowing fathers to visit. Many men don’t want to marry anymore because they fear false accusations of domestic violence. In the end, children suffer because they need two-parent families.
            As Twisty might say, I don't want no MRAs arguing with me. If you don't know the facts, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence or read today's article by Marie Tessier.

Participatory medicine (by Suzie)

           Wednesday was the sixth anniversary of my first surgery for leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer. I never thought I'd forget that date, but I was startled when I got an automated message of congratulations from Hyster Sisters, a Web site run by women who’ve had hysterectomies.
          Groups like this exist, in part, because of the grass-roots women’s health movement of the 1960s and ’70s, which encouraged women to learn about their bodies, rather than defer all decision-making to doctors. (Read more here and here.)
           Related to that movement is the new “participatory medicine.” Through the Internet, people can now access much more medical information as well as connect with patients in distant locations. Health-care professionals need to “learn to love” new sources of information, including patients who are experts, writes Gilles Frydman, founder and president of the Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR). He says informed patients must be involved in all decision-making. 
           I belong to an ACOR list for leiomyosarcoma, and I volunteer in peer-to-peer programs. I support the concept of participatory medicine.
           In any revolution, however, a danger exists that one tyranny will replace another. We must be careful not to become what we wanted to replace. When people set themselves up as experts, when they are convinced that they know what’s best for others, then they resemble the old model of doctor as deity.
           We fall into these traps so easily. Those who are more educated, articulate and literate, who have more credentials, who have the time and interest, need to make space for the voices of others. We should not create new orthodoxies; we should remain open to challenges, to new ideas. 

Friday Critter Blogging (by Suzie)

        I wish I were as tough as longhorns, lounging in the hot Texas sun. I wish I had spectacular, curving horns. How useful they would be in a crowd: “Excuse me.” “Pardon me,” I would say, swinging my head right and left, clearing my path. Longhorns are smart, gentle and resourceful. What’s not to love?
         This is a photo of the Fort Worth Herd. Tomorrow, Fort Worth is celebrating Cowboy Days. I didn’t see any mention of cowgirls, but I hope visitors will see the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.

The Poor Low Female Libido

I came across a write-up of a study about the lack of sexual desire in women, with these findings:

A study in last week's Archives of Internal Medicine shines new light on the question.

Researchers conducted phone surveys of 2,207 women age 30 to 70 and found that 36.2 percent – or more than one out of every three women – admitted to tepid sexual desire in the last 30 days. All the women had been in a steady relationship at least three months.

The finding is consistent with earlier studies. For instance, when University of Chicago sociologist Edward Laumann asked U.S. women about sex in a landmark 1999 study, also published in JAMA, 32 percent reported having low libidos. (By contrast, 15 to 17 percent of men acknowledged a diminished sex drive.)

Fascinating stuff. Note that men and women may have different incentives to answer questions about libido honestly, because libido is linked to the concept of manliness. My guess is that the actual percentage of men with low libidos is higher than 15 to 17 percent.

What's much more fascinating about the study is this:

(The study was funded by Procter & Gamble, which wants to sell a testosterone patch for women in the U.S. It's already available in Europe.)

A small conflict of interest there? I'm willing to bet a lot that Procter & Gamble wanted to find lots of low libido among women, because they plan to sell testosterone patches to fix it. The writer of the blog post I quoted should be commended for pointing that out. But it might have been good to also point out that the funder's interests make the study theoretically suspect.

Do you want to have some real feminist fun? Go and read the comments thread to the post. You will find a guy suspecting that it's all those uppity career women who have problems, because they get high testosterone levels and grow facial hair and so on. Of course testosterone is the hormone that increases sexual desire in women...

You will also find lots of evolutionary science speculation about the reason why women don't have much sexual desire (note how the one-third figure sorta expands to 100% in many of those comments), and you will find women attacked for not being willing to do their marital duty and so on.

It's a little bit like lifting a rock and watching the creepy-crawlies.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama in Berlin

Attracted over 200,000 to his speech in the Tiergarten. Europeans are thirsty for some smart American leadership, you know. Some of them may not really care that much about Obama's policies, but they see someone who might not bully them mercilessly for the next four years, and that would be a nice change from their point of view. They also don't want all these "pre-emptive" wars. European history has been a harsh teacher about the differences between computer games and real wars.

One Hundred

That is the number of female service members who have now died in Iraq:

Of the 100 female service members who died:

# 97 were troops, and three were military civilian employees.

# 61 of them have been classified as hostile -- occurring during combat or enemy attacks -- and 39 have been non-hostile.

# 12 died in 2003, 19 in 2004, 20 in 2005, 15 in 2006, 27 in 2007 and seven this year.

# 80 of those were members of the Army, nine were Navy, seven were Marines, and four were Air Force.

So the hostile death rate is 61 percent. And women are not engaging in direct combat? That pretense must stop, especially given the character of the fighting in Iraq: it has no front and no safe places.

The pretense is also harmful for female veterans, because they don't get the kind of help and treatment many of them need after returning home. They weren't in combat, after all.

The Grand New Party

That is the title of a new wingnut book by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. It also has a subtitle, natch: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream. I immediately started thinking of alternative subtitles for the book:

The Grand New Party: Why Being a Banana in a Banana Republic Is Good For You.

The Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the War Against the Working Class.

The Grand New Party: Sharks, Dead White Women And Rapture.

And so on, though that last one is a little bizarre.

But the short description of the Douthat-Salam book actually sounds a little interesting:

It's chock full of interesting economic ideas that Republicans can use to better appeal to working-class voters and families. Among them: massively expanding the tax credit for children, a "GI bill" of tuition tax credits for stay-at-home parents who want to get back into the workforce, and government investment in a better telecommunications infrastructure to boost telecommuting.

How odd. The book actually proposes government money to help ordinary people! Like those middle-of-the-roadies do, the ones wingnuts usually call commies. Or like the progressives tend to recommend. Indeed, the proposals make these Republicans come across as -- Democrats!

But a closer reading of the list of recommendations reveals something even more interesting: All these things are meant to bolster the traditional family arrangements, to keep mothers at home and to encourage high rates of fertility. The summary description doesn't tell us what support, if any, non-traditional families would get. I bet there would be none, even though the members of those non-traditional families would still be paying the taxes to fund the programs.

I may be overly suspicious. Probably not, though, because the authors are social conservatives, after all.

What Ails Economics

A woman in Taunton, Massachusetts, has committed suicide because she had lost her house and it was going to be auctioned off later on the day of her suicide. She lived in the house with her husband and at least one adult child, but it was she who had managed the bills and her husband didn't even know about the foreclosure or the auction. So he came home from work to find her dead, with a suicide letter by her side suggesting that he should use the life insurance money to keep the house.

It is such a horrible story. We are unlikely to know all of it, of course. She may have been suffering from mental illness or depression, for instance. But the story highlights the tragic and devastating aspects of the housing crisis, the human aspects of that crisis. To lose your home is to lose the shelter against storms, snow, excessive heat, violent humans on the streets. To lose your home dislocates you not just in concrete terms but in the landscape of your mind. It can label you as a failure, as a drifter as someone with no protection and no power.

And none of this is really and truly addressed in the economic discussions of the housing crisis, because economics cannot measure and quantify these aspects of human suffering, except in the most rudimentary and glancing ways. That inability to measure costs which are not easily converted to dollars and cents has in practice meant that economists tend to ignore those items or at least weigh them less than the billions lost here or gained there.

Once you ignore the psychological costs in various markets it's easy to start thinking that losing a job, say, is just a question of searching for another one. And if all the jobs you have been trained for go overseas, never mind. Just go back to college for another four years and get a different job!

Now, the advice isn't bad, but it ignores all those psychological costs having to do with job loss: the need to move your family, the broken connections to your previous community, the friends your children lose, the loss of meaning in your own life and so on. Once those costs are ignored it's just one short step to pretending that they don't exist, that market transitions are frictionless and that there are no transaction or search costs, either.

Then you get the idea that markets are free and hum along like an expensive car, and if you don't want to drive in one of those, get the bus to the welfare office or walk.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Try This One

I got my thoughts into that downward spiral after reading Joe Klein's comment on John McCain's campaign strategies. This one:

John McCain said this today in Rochester, New Hampshire:

This is a clear choice that the American people have. I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.

Klein didn't like that statement at all, because it attributes quite nasty motives to Obama and replays that idea of McCain as The Last Honest Man, I guess.

Now try to understand what McCain is saying. It's fun. First, he'd rather lose a political campaign than a war and Obama would rather lose a war than a political campaign. OK. But do you see what's so wonderfully weird about that? If McCain decides to lose the political campaign in order to win the war, who's gonna be the president, eh?

Right! Obama. And he will then lose the war, according to McCain. So McCain's noble promise to step aside makes no difference. Which means that he's every bit as campaign-focused as Obama.

None of that makes any sense, but I enjoyed it. That's the reason I remain a minor political blogger goddess.

On Non-Lethal Weapons

Giving a weapon that reputation may actually make it lethal. Take tasers:

Winnipeg police say a 17-year-old male who died after being hit with a taser stun gun was brandishing a knife when he was confronted.

Police say they asked him several times to drop the knife before the taser was deployed. They joined two local citizens who flagged down a police car while pursuing the man after receiving a call related to a theft from a car.

The Winnipeg Police Service confirmed the details Wednesday at a press conference.

The teen was taken to hospital in critical condition and later pronounced dead. The cause of death has yet to be determined pending an autopsy.

That was in Canada. In Louisiana the tasered man was lying on the ground and in handcuffs. He was still given nine shocks:

Louisiana authorities are awaiting the results of a state police report before deciding whether to file criminal charges in the Taser death of a handcuffed man.

Baron "Scooter" Pikes, 21, was shocked nine times by officer Scott Nugent after being arrested on a cocaine charge in Winnfield earlier this year, CNN reported Wednesday.

You should read Rorschach's personal story about taser use by the police, too. It will make your hair rise up for all sorts of reasons, especially racism.

It's hard to know how common taser deaths are, because to measure that we'd need to know how often tasers are used and how often they are used in extreme ways. But my guess is that the very idea of tasers as non-lethal is likely to encourage over-use.

The Liberal Media Strikes Again

CBS News edited out a faux pas by McCain.

This is not the first time the media has rather openly taken sides in politics. But changing his answer in this way is really very bad. It gives the viewers a false sense of security about McCain's knowledge levels.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some Of My Least Favorite Things

The hot sun right over my head in a car with faulty air conditioning, like being slowly fried in my own sweat. I think of myself as a flounder, floundering, being breaded in pollution dust and filleted by the cocky sun gods. Whose dinner dish shall I be?

Clams in any form whatsoever. They will never be my dinner dish, slimy little buggers as they are. And do they have eyes and do those eyes cause that squeaking sound when you have to bite into them and then swallow something that tastes like post-nasal drip with garlic? If the American Empire is in its death throes it's probably the fault of clams, not of dirty fucking hippies. I bet clams would vote Republican.

The talk of the day in politics. It's interesting the first hundred times but after that it's like pulling quite firmly attached teeth with rusty pliers and makes me wonder why I ever thought politics would be fun to write. It's not fun if you have to follow the stupid rules about remembering to say that your honorable opponent really is the best thing since Ziplock bags even though right now he is talking from his other end. But such a wise thinker, usually. Indeed.

Double-Speak. Waffling. False dualisms. Writing formulas. Falling apart until only sentence fragments appear. So.

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

The influence of money in American politics is a serious problem for those of us who would like to see democracy based on the one-vote-one-person rule. It is also the reason why so many Congress-critters are millionaires or billionaires and why the media can discuss (and discuss) the rich lifestyles and many mansions of presidential candidates: There's no political career without money.

Lobbyists have influence in Washington D.C. because of money. Poor people don't have that influence (though mostly they don't vote, either), and the importance of money is the main reason why the corporations hold so much sway in the actual running of this country. Someone must pay the bills and whoever holds the wallet tends to have a bigger say than democracy dictates.

Yet campaign funding reforms seldom stick. It's all enough to make a goddess want to drown herself in nectar, and a reason to pay attention to Obama's apparent ability to get funding from hordes of small donors:

One thing that is clear is that Obama's vast base of small donors – 1.7 million was the last public count — carries big clout. To date, Obama has reported raising $338 million for his campaign from individuals and 94% of his donations have come in amounts of $200 or less.

If this democratizes the influence of money, I'm happy, though I'd be even happier with properly run public finance of campaign expenses (combined with a time limit on the length of the campaign and a requirement for equal time for all candidates in various media). The bundlers (people who collect and aggregate small donations into larger bundles) could still wield disproportionate influence under the small-donors model.

More on Stud Flicks

This is fascinating stuff:

While writing Female characters exist to promote male leads for network profits, I realized something I had never quite put together in so many words. It's important enough to deserve its own article (thanks, Bellatrys!), so here it is: my screenwriting professors taught me not to write scripts that passed the Bechdel/Mo Movie Measure/"Dykes To Watch Out For" test, and I can tell you why, and this needs to be known.

The "Dykes to Watch Out For" test, formerly coined as the "Mo Movie Measure" test and Bechdel Test, was named for the comic strip it came from, penned by Alison Bechdel - but Bechdel credits a friend named Liz Wallace, so maybe it really should be called the Liz Wallace Test…? Anyway, the test is much simpler than the name. To pass it your movie must have the following:

1) there are at least two named female characters, who

2) talk to each other about

3) something other than a man.

So simple, and yet as you go through all your favorite movies (and most of your favorite TV shows, though there's a little more variety in TV), you find very few movies pass this test.

It's not a coincidence. It's not that there aren't enough women behind the camera (there aren't, but that's not the reason). Here's what we're up against (and for those who have requested a single post that summarizes my experiences in film for linking reference, now you've got it).

When I started taking film classes at UCLA, I was quickly informed I had what it took to go all the way in film. I was a damn good writer, but more importantly (yeah, you didn't think good writing was a main prerequisite in this industry, did you?) I understood the process of rewriting to cope with budget (and other) limitations. I didn't hesitate to rip out my most beloved scenes when necessary. I also did a lot of research and taught myself how to write well-paced action/adventure films that would be remarkably cheap to film - that was pure gold.

There was just one little problem.

I had to understand that the audience only wanted white, straight, male leads. I was assured that as long as I made the white, straight men in my scripts prominent, I could still offer groundbreaking characters of other descriptions (fascinating, significant women, men of color, etc.) - as long as they didn't distract the audience from the white men they really paid their money to see.

The quoted post also explains why there will never be a movie about a snake goddess who draws men to her like wasps to a honey pot, and the reason is that the major markets for movies are seen to be young men and they are not interested in identifying with me. Or with any other female character.

Or so the powers that be have decided. Movies must appeal to men. Hence we call stud flicks just general movies while reserving a specific name for movies which appeal to women: chick flicks. (Note how nicely I restrained from inventing the rhyming name for stud flicks).

You should read the whole linked post as it's most interesting and instructive. It connects the profitability of movies with such odd things as how grating female voices might seem and how men don't really want to listen to women. Or can't hear them when they speak. Or assume that they talk about lipstick or love or some other gooey topic that might give them girl cooties.

There's even a connection to that Sudden Muteness Syndrome so many women have experienced: You make a suggestion at a meeting and it drops like a rock into a pool of murky water. Then some guy makes the same suggestion and suddenly it is discussed, debated and so on. And you leave the meeting wondering why you suddenly seem to have turned into a mute and digging deep inside yourself for all sorts of self-blaming explanations. Until you learn that the Sudden Muteness Syndrome is really common among women who attend meetings, and that it should really be renamed The Sudden Male Deafness Syndrome.

I'm not saying that most young men really are totally uninterested in women as persons or unable to identify with female characters, but at least some teachers of film seem to believe that. So the teaching goes around the vicious circle and solutions to the "stud flickiness" of most mass-market movies will not be easy to find.

Monday, July 21, 2008

An Idle Question

I was watching a movie preview here, all about a guy with a silly mask who nevertheless attracts loads of gorgeous women, and I wondered if that "plot" would lend itself to a gender reversal. Has anyone done one of those? Perhaps.

I also found myself really wanting one of those kinds of movies. It would be for the insecure geeky teenage girl I once was (or for her memory), just as these movies are intended for the insecure teenage boys who comprise a major market for new movies.

The Best Contraceptive Pill

According to the abstinence folks is probably an aspirin firmly held between the woman's knees. Hillary Clinton has written about the recent Bush administration proposal which equates the contraceptive pill with abortifacients:

The Bush Administration is up to its old tricks again, quietly putting ideology before science and women's health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is poised to put in place new barriers to accessing common forms of contraception like birth control pills, emergency contraception and IUDs by labeling them "abortion." These proposed regulations set to be released next week will allow healthcare providers to refuse to provide contraception to women who need it. We can't let them get away with this underhanded move to undermine women's health and that's why I am sounding the alarm.

It's good that Senators Clinton and Murray are raising a bit of an alarm over the proposed changes in the DHHS. These have to do with the health care providers' conscience clauses and misapply the term "discrimination" in a way which I think actually cheapens the term. For more on this, see my piece for Huffington Post.

More Purity Balls

These are not Norwegian meatballs, but those father-daughter dances in which the father promises to guard his daughter's sexual purity until marriage and where the daughter promises to obey him in that. The events are always shrouded in Christianity, including the girls kneeling in front of a sword. Other mythology sometimes includes a locket shaped like a heart and given to the daughter by the father. There's a key to the locket but he keeps it until she gets married. At that time the key is passed to the husband.

Many have written about the things which bother me about these balls: That they have an improper sexual tint, that they are based on fathers owning their daughters sexuality and then passing that ownership to the future husbands of the same daughters, that the focus of these balls is on the daughters and not on the sons (though mother-son balls are also becoming more popular). That last aspect is linked to the old assumption that girls can guard their fortress vaginas against the insistent battering rams of boys, that boys don't have to try to stop battering and that any breaches in the ramparts are her fault, not his.

Now Time magazine has come out with a piece which argues that Purity Balls have many positive aspects, too, such as encouraging teens to delay dangerous sex and creating more caring fathers. gives a summary critique of the article. I want to talk more about those positive aspects.

A quote from the article helps:

If you listen long enough, you wonder whether there is really such a profound disagreement about what parents want for their children. Culture war by its nature pours salt in wounds, finds division where there could be common purpose. Purity is certainly a loaded word--but is there anyone who thinks it's a good idea for 12-year-olds to have sex? Or a bad idea for fathers to be engaged in the lives of their daughters and promise to practice what they preach? Parents won't necessarily say this out loud, but isn't it better to set the bar high and miss than not even try?

Or in other words: Who cares about the means we use to get to the goals we all agree about: less early sex and more father involvement in their daughters lives? That sounds Jesuit to me. But more importantly, it assumes that the goals are correctly reached with Purity Balls, that the daughters will in fact keep their virginity longer, perhaps even until marriage, and that this particular fatherly involvement is what we would like to see in the lives of young girls.

As the article itself notes, evidence does not suggest that Purity Ball vows work, though I doubt that anyone has yet done a proper study of just this particular form of abstinence education. And I'd rather see fathers take their daughters out to age appropriate movies and then dinner where they can discuss the movie and its messages, or out to the backyard to teach them to throw a ball and play games or to the bookstore where they can pick up books they like and share what it is they like about them. And so on.

There is something very sad about fathers who feel that they don't know how to father their daughters, and I can see how something like Purity Balls might give them an opening for closer contact. But do these dances do that? Or are they perhaps the only fathering some of these men give their daughters? And what is the message that would send them? That they are only of interest in the context of their sexuality? That the daughters must dress up in age inappropriate evening gowns (some of them quite revealing) and go out on "a date" with their dads to get their attention? That it is in this odd virginal temptress form that they are lovable?

A long time ago I read a popular psychology book about parenting teenage daughters. About the only advice it had to give to fathers was for them to model the man their daughters would one day marry. Even then I found the advice to be extremely insulting to men and firmly based on the patriarchal tradition that women don't really matter, as they are something passed on to other families through marriage contracts, that fathers don't have to interact with their teenage daughters, except to the extent of modeling male behavior for them. I imagined all the young girls who were wilting in a world where often the most powerful person in the family ignored their lives so very completely. Reading all that made me both angry and sad, but I hoped that the book was exaggerating.

Now I think it might not have been that much of an exaggeration. Certainly the Purity Balls are an attempt to make that kind of very partial fathering, one seeped in male dominance, into something a little bit more. That's how I read the Time article, and that's why I don't agree with its somewhat positive conclusions. Fathers and daughters both deserve a real parent-child relationship.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

New Victims (by Phila)

Maggie Gallagher is upset with Spain for contemplating the granting of certain "human rights" to great apes.
Spain's proposed rewriting of our own Declaration of Independence reads something like this: All apes are endowed by parliament with certain inalienable rights, among them life, personal safety, limited freedom of movement and the right to claim property through court-appointed (human) guardians.
What this means is that they can't be killed (except in self-defense), can't be used in medical experiments, and can't be compelled to "act" in films or "perform" in circuses. (That's what it means on paper, at least; there are plenty of human beings whose human rights don't seem to afford them very much protection from discrimination, exploitation and murder, and I assume that'll hold true for apes as well.)

Obviously, the part about limiting medical experimentation is controversial, but that's not what bothers Gallagher. Her complaints are a bit more abstruse, as thus:
By now the basic outline of the strategy for cultural power is clear: Begin with one of the world's truly great moral and spiritual narratives -- the civil rights movement -- but take black people out of the heart of this narrative, and insert the new victim d'jour.

Divert the spiritual and moral power of the movement -- for which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died -- to strange new purposes.
See, the civil rights movement existed solely to convince a majority of white people that not all black people are subnormal. And it was marvelously much so that structural racism can no longer be considered an excuse for blacks' failure to thrive. Therefore, the movement can now be viewed sentimentally as one more jewel in America's crown (or better yet, invoked as proof of our basic goodwill, when it comes time once again to civilize some backwards nation).

What we must not do is imagine that this struggle is ongoing, or that it has any connection to debates over the legal status of women or workers or gays or animals (all of whom Gallagher believes either deserve a certain amount of formal oppression, or are better off when subjected to it).

Gallagher also worries that the plea for "tolerance" is intolerant:
Redefine the word "tolerance" so it means: Agree with me or be denounced and driven from the public square.
What "tolerance" has to do with making it illegal to butcher apes, I have no idea. But it seems obvious that legal protections are intolerant by their very nature; they're intolerant of aggression, theft, and so forth. For someone who's perpetually fretting over the breakdown of society and the evils of multiculturalism, Gallagher's rhetoric can be remarkably anarchic.

Enough dallying, though. Let's get to the real question: If we're going to make it illegal to kill endangered apes, why not make it illegal for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies?
Could the next great civil rights movement be to protect the million not-yet-born children each year who are literally never permitted to see the light of day? Could the culturemakers who need to see themselves as participating in this great moral drama that gives meaning to their lives, come to recognize the incongruity of entertaining the idea that apes may have a right to life on the grounds they share "98.5 percent of DNA" while withholding it from real, living, developing human children?
There's enough wrong with argument to fill the Marianas Trench, but the most obvious problem is that unlike protecting an ape, "protecting" not-yet-born children involves directly and formally oppressing women who are able to walk and talk sans an umbilical cord.

Remember how Gallagher was complaining a moment ago about giving lower organisms rights that conflict with the preferences of higher ones, and lamenting that some people are "denounced and driven from the public square" when they fail to agree with such determinations? And remember how she didn't like the idea of taking black people out of the heart of the civil-rights narrative, and inserting "the new victim d'jour"? Well, forget about all that: As long as we insist on the civil rights of fetuses -- as opposed to "new victims," like animals or women -- we can think of ourselves as moral, no matter how many obligations to other living beings we ignore, or which cities full of pregnant women we bomb. Like her sentimentalizing of the civil rights movement, Gallagher's handwringing over unborn life is notable -- and politically useful -- mainly for what and who it excludes.

Here's the punchline:
That guy Jefferson wrote a lot of great stuff, including this: "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."

But in places like Spain, I suspect, they are so over worrying about that.
Spain, as I'm sure you know, is about three-quarters Catholic and accordingly has some of the most restrictive abortion policies in Europe.

The Natives Are Restless (by Phila)

A spectre is haunting Santa Monica. Austin Hill explains:
While speaking with a friend who is a yacht broker in the affluent Santa Monica coastal region of Southern California, I asked “what do people in your circles have to say about the presidential election? Are they even talking about it? What do they say?”

“Yes, people are talking about it” my friend assured me. “It’s assumed that Obama will win. But if he doesn’t, there’s a fear that South-Central LA will erupt in riots, kind of like what happened after the trial of the cops that beat Rodney King in 1992.”
Not surprisingly, this confirms what Hill already suspected.
I see it in email messages from readers of this column. I hear it from listeners to my own talk radio program at Washington, DC’s 630 WMAL, and the many other talk shows I guest host around the country.
I suppose there'd be no sense in asking black Americans whether they intend to riot if Obama loses; they're hardly likely to be as honest and forthcoming as a white Santa Monica yacht broker. Besides, even if they answered in the negative, we all know how...impressionable they are; if they see a couple of their peers rioting, they won't be able to help themselves.

Obama knows this, of course, and that's undoubtedly why he's taking such pains to rile 'em up:
Think about it. On both implicit and explicit levels, Obama’s rhetoric suggests that the annoyances, the risks, the hardships and insecurities of your existence are the result of various injustices done to you, and that he alone can correct those injustices.

If a business executive earns exponentially more money than you do, this is an injustice and he will correct it. If you bought a house and are now having difficulty making the payments, this is an injustice and he will correct it. If you do not have “free healthcare,” this is an injustice and he will correct it. The fact that nuclear weapons exist in the world is an injustice, and he will correct it. If you purchased toys imported from China that turned out to be defective, that is an injustice and he will correct it (yes, he actually delivered a speech entitled “Safer Toys For Our Children” in Iowa last December, two days after Christmas). And if you believe, as he apparently does, that “rich people” just simply “have too much already,” well that is most certainly an injustice and he will correct it.
I'd be overjoyed if all this were true. But as far as I know, Obama isn't offering "free healthcare." Nor, sad to say, does he intend to send a cadre of Kalishnikov-wielding class warriors 'round to Ira Rennert's place. His campaign rhetoric on nuclear weapons is heavily qualified, and seems to me to favor redundant deterrence for the foreseeable future. While he did complain about "defective" Chinese toys, he's certainly not alone in that; even the Toy Industry Association has requested better regulation.

But facts are stupid things. When it comes to questions of race, we must be guided by fantasy: Obama is promising "his people" that they'll be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon, and we know what'll happen when he's rejected by real Americans for being a Muslim-Hindu-Marxist firebrand: days and nights of rioting and looting, during which no decent white woman will dare to venture out of doors. Four out of five yacht brokers agree!

Though Hill never uses the phrase, it seems clear that the problem here is the same sense of "black entitlement" that has congested our ghettoes with Welfare Cadillacs and our Ivy-League schools with sullen Ebonics majors straight outta Compton.
[I]t’s not difficult to imagine how anything short of an Obama presidency could be viewed by some in America as yet another injustice. And if Obama’s inevitable destiny is disrupted by something so trivial as the American electorate, this could be deemed an injustice that trumps all others.
I'm sure it's not difficult to imagine. I'm sure it's much easier than imagining that Hill's casual, basically approving invocation of racial animus and paranoia in "the affluent Santa Monica coastal region of Southern California" might undercut his theory that injustice is something blacks have invented to excuse their own failings. Like most racial theorists in his "circles," Hill demonstrates what he sets out to deny.

Girls in prostitution (by Suzie)


         This post is the last in this weekend's trilogy on which girls deserve protection from predation. Through the current Carnival Against Sexual Violence, I learned about the documentary "Very Young Girls."
A man who has sex with an underage girl should be prosecuted as a criminal rapist. But there is a loophole: if the child accepts money in exchange for sex, the rapist is now a "john" and rarely is subjected to greater punishment than a fine. For the very same act, the girl is often prosecuted as a prostitute and sent into detention. The average age of entry into prostitution today in the United States is 13 years old.
         Thirteen? Really? Here’s one source, with more information.
         In June, the FBI arrested pimps in a nationwide network of child trafficking. Once again, there's talk of protecting innocence. Here’s more from the FBI in 2005, including congressional testimony.
Juveniles who become involved in sexual trafficking face a myriad of obstacles and enormous needs if they want to leave that life, including very basic needs such as safe housing, subsistence, and schooling. In addition, they may need drug treatment, medical treatment, and mental health services. They may have problems related to victimization prior to their life on the streets. Most cannot return to their family of origin, so they need help to prepare for independent living.
          Some feminists want prostitution treated like other work. In that case, I'd note that we have labor laws restricting work by children.