Saturday, August 02, 2008

My Day So Far (by Phila)

I woke early, just like my hypervigilant ancestors did back in the Pleistocene. I considered getting out of bed, but then I realized that I ought to read for a while. After all, being able to display a wider range of knowledge than the next fellow could very well enhance my reproductive fitness.

I spent a pleasant hour with Baron Corvo's The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole, which he wrote in 1909 in order to advertise his health and virility to the wealthy dowagers of Venice. Afterwards, I decided to go downstairs and see how things stood on the Internet. While it may seem to you like a medium of communication, I see it as a battlefield. Yes, a battlefield! For it is there that I go to overawe my male rivals, and dazzle those members of the fair sex who strike me as adequate receptacles for my precious seed.

As usual, the conflict was ferocious. Supporters of Barack Obama sought to improve their chances of passing on their genes by defeating supporters of John McCain, who were hoping that associating themselves with a powerful, aggressive male would help them to attract mates. I waded boldly into the fray; with my help, the tide was soon turned, and McCain's supporters retreated as quickly as a frigate bird with an undersized chest pouch. A pleasant stirring in my groin told me I had done well.

My wife was tending to the garden, meanwhile...just as one would expect, given the typical division of labor among our ancestors. (I think she may have spent a little time on the Internet too, but if so, it was probably just to get tips on gardening, or knitting, or the menstrual cycle.) After making a mental note to knock her up, I turned my attention to the world of Science.

And that's how I learned that Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico has solved the riddle of music (and, in so doing, made himself that much more appealing to prospective sex partners).

Here's how the whole business works:
[W]hy do we find musicians and singers so attractive? Looking at things from a biological point of view, we would normally expect women to be attracted to men with qualities that indicate good genes that can be passed on to her children or those that show he can look after a family, like a wad of cash for instance. Music doesn't seem to serve any practical purpose.

Musical ability, along with other creative skills, are rather like a human version of the peacock's tail; something that has no survival value, but has evolved precisely because it is found attractive by the opposite sex.
The gist of it is, men became creative in order to attract women. Women, by contrast, have learned to dabble a bit in the arts "because the ones that could entertain their men could keep them around to help raise the kids."

You'd think that'd be the last word on the subject. But male rivalry is as endlessly productive in science as it is in every other civilized endeavor, and so Miller has already been elbowed aside by John Manning of the University of Central Lancashire, who claims that "men who make lots of good music make lots of sperm" (thanks to testosterone), and that women accordingly flock to them like flies to dogshit.

If you question the logic here, consider these statistics, which certainly didn't come out of nowhere:
If men can advertise their prowess through music then we'd expect a lot more men than women to be making it. Manning points out that in a sample of more than 7,000 jazz, rock and classical albums, there were ten times as many male as female musicians.

Classical orchestras also show a preponderance of male musicians, but when Manning and a colleague looked at the gender ratio of the audience it was a different story. Those sitting closest to the orchestra during performances were much more likely to be female than male, lending support to the idea that the music might be serving some mate advertising function.
If experience is any guide, I may be taken to task for presenting too crude a picture of Evolutionary Psychology. But I think I have a long, long way to go before I'm as crude as some of its professional advocates.

The Stranded and the Mobile (by Phila)

An article in the Toronto Star argues that rising airline costs could signal the start of "a new, global class divide between the stranded and the mobile."
In Europe's late medieval period, the labouring masses rarely travelled further than a few dozen miles from where they were born. For them, travel was dangerous, onerous and slow.

But wealthy aristocrats travelled far and wide in the name of diplomacy, meeting leaders from other countries and extending their power and influence.
Of course, such a divide already exists, since air travel has always been beyond the means of countless people around the globe. The article's analogy between the late Medieval laboring class and the "U.S. leisure travel market" is problematic at best, as is its conflation of homeowners in Newfoundland with "the masses." But it's apparently preferable to discussing currently existing forms of strandedness, many of which are on display in countries that the leisure travel market advertises as escapes from the pressures of modern life.

To the limited extent that this reference to the late Medieval period is anything more than shorthand for some vague, ahistorical idea of privation, it's applicable to a sort of life that's not only being lived all around us, but is often held up as exemplary of progress away from poverty. In Sao Paolo, Brazil, shoppers take helicopters to department stores in order to avoid slum dwellers (whose opportunities are greater than ever, thanks to globalization). In China, the poor are being hidden behind makeshift walls, in deference to the aesthetic delicacy of leisure travelers. And here in the USA, we're contemplating building a border wall to restrict the mobility of migrants who are desperate enough to cross the Sonoran desert on foot (despite their excellent chances for advancement in post-NAFTA maquiladoras).

If anything, the attempt to draw some sort of equivalence between reduced access to air travel among the North American middle class and actual abject poverty is suggestive of the detachment from real suffering that was supposedly typical of Medieval aristocrats. Being forced to take a train or a ship instead of an airplane may involve hardships of one sort or another, but it's not the same thing as being "stranded," nor is it necessarily dangerous or onerous. And yet, we're encouraged to view people who have these options and others as "casualties" (but not, unlike the average ghetto dweller, of some inherent self-destructiveness in their culture):
If we are on the brink of a shift toward the local economies and lifestyles long advocated by antiglobalization activists, the transition will not be without casualties.
We'll just have to throw 'em on the pile, I guess.

Mania Contradicens (by Phila)

After responding to a dramatic decline in the population of cactus ferruginous pygmy owls by removing them from the Endangered Species List, and addressing the question of pesticide overuse by canceling the only government program that tracked it, the Bush Administration turns its gimlet eye on the problem of overfishing...and concludes that we need to give the fishing industry power to override the National Environmental Policy Act.
As written, the Bush administration’s proposed rule would undermine NEPA by severely limiting the public’s right to participate in fishery management decisions and even shutting out the public from future participation if they don’t weigh in during the initial round of public comments. It would also allow regional fishery management councils to control environmental reviews. Many of these councils are dominated by fishing interests and have mismanaged our oceans for decades. Additionally, the proposal gives fishery managers the power to make fishing decisions without adequately considering the impacts on other components of ocean ecosystems such as sea turtles, seals, corals, and other precious ocean life.
You can comment on the proposed NEPA rule here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Politics & the golden rule (by Suzie)

         After the UU church shootings, Echidne and others discussed conservative media that fan the flames of political hatred. The question arose: If liberals don’t fight fire with fire, what do we do instead?
        As a journalist, I grew disgusted with colleagues who wanted to make issues black or white, with no grays. They presented “both sides,” not a multiplicity of views. The worst examples were on the op-ed pages.
        Simple is easier to do than complex. Plus, simplistic and outrageous stuff sells. As long as the public buys it, people will sell it.
        I like that Echidne is more likely to raise questions. Her civility stands out in a blogosphere where anger and ridicule rule. I don't want liberals to stoop to the level of the conservatives who say hateful things and twist facts. If we do right, will this change those doing wrong? I’m sort of doubtful, but I still want us to do right.
         I want to apply the golden rule to politics. (Not as a rule, but a guideline.) If I object to people demonizing me, then I better think twice about demonizing them.
        If I employ a certain strategy, I can’t complain about that strategy if it's used against me. For example, I’m happy to boycott most of talk radio and its sponsors. But I have to understand that conservatives also run boycotts of media that they consider harmful. I can criticize their political views, and I can support my own, but I can’t talk about them stifling free speech if I use the same tactics.
        This week, the RNC put up a web site that parodied Obama. Bloggers on Kos suggested people flood the site with pro-Obama posts, and a few comments urged people to get the site to crash. If Republicans tried to crash Kos, these particular Kossacks could not argue that what the Republicans were doing was wrong, without being hypocrites.
         Yeah, I know. I’m no fun.

Public vs. private terror (by Suzie)

         People have discussed whether the shootings at the UU church in Knoxville should be considered terrorism since the shooter hated liberals. Joe Lauria writes:
Even if this man hopefully acted alone it is chilling to all progressive people and groups ... Are we free to express our views …?
          The possibility that the killer targeted this church because his ex-wife had been a member carries less cache because domestic violence is so common. In December, a member of the Clearwater, Fla., UU church killed his two young children, his ex-wife and her new partner before shooting himself. This crime did not attract the same publicity. But can’t we ask the same question Lauria did: Isn’t a crime like this chilling to all women who want to leave abusive men and start a new life?
          Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” It’s debatable whether the killings in Clearwater or Knoxville fit this definition. In regard to Clearwater, the killer appears to have systematically used fear and abuse to coerce his wife to do as he wanted, a pattern common to domestic violence. It’s quite likely that he did not think how his actions would affect others. But they do. A lot of women restrict their actions because of the threat of male violence. Why do I end up repeating this in post after post? Because a lot of people fail to see the political implications of what happens in private.
           Our culture ties masculinity to financial success. When some men fail at that, such as the unemployed and struggling killer in Knoxville, "they have to find a plausible scapegoat," says Brian Levin, professor of criminal justice and director of the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
"They will take that intense personal feeling of emasculation and failure and find some societal or political overlay that makes the failure seem not of their doing."
          Or, they may blame a woman. 
          Perhaps what happened in Knoxville disturbs men more than what happened in Clearwater because men were shot in Knoxville. Random killings may be scarier to both men and women because they feel powerless to protect themselves. With domestic violence, however, women can convince themselves that it would never happen to them, they would never get involved with a violent man, they would have done things differently. This may reassure some women. It does not console me.

Women & rock 'n roll (by Suzie)

          In the 1980s, Rolling Stone published a few of my poems. It didn’t bother me that the magazine was paying next-to-nothing for poetry to use as filler. I understood that most of the writers, editors and musicians were men, but I was proud that women were infiltrating the ranks.
          Any hope that mass-market music magazines might have any concept of gender equity was dispelled by this MarketWatch article on Blender, whose editor, Joe Levy, spent 10 years at Rolling Stone.
         Blender is about “sex, more sex and rock and roll,” Jon Friedman writes. He uses the word “sex” repeatedly as a stand-in for women dressed and posed sexually. In other words, the magazine is all about women as the objects of men’s sexual desire. Women = sex. Friedman defends it:
Blender is more than just a string of babes adorning the covers. It features whimsical writing and analytical reporting.
         So, guys, don’t worry. You can say you subscribe for the articles.
         Friedman writes on economics, but doesn’t seem to see the market effect on women. If women are seen first and foremost as sex objects, they are less likely to reach parity with men in the music business.
        In other Rolling Stone commentary: Deeky notes that the magazine commented on Ludacris's rap on Obama, without mentioning what he said about Clinton. I guess it considered her irrelevant.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Google is telling some bloggers that their blogs are going to be deleted unless they can convince Google that the blogs are not spam. How does one go about convincing Google about that? I'm a vegetarian, for goddess' sake!

In any case, I'm not locked out yet, as this test proves. But some people with honest hard-working political blogs are. What's going on?

How Fair Is Your Paycheck?

It might be hard to tell, given that Americans think talking about their earnings is worse than having porn on their computers at work. Or so it seems sometimes to me.

A new bill tries to make women's paychecks fairer:

Today, the House will consider the Paycheck Fairness Act, H.R. 1338.


The Paycheck Fairness Act:

* Requires that employers seeking to justify unequal pay bear the burden of proving that its actions are job-related and consistent with a business necessity.
* Prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers.
* Puts gender-based discrimination sanctions on equal footing with other forms of wage discrimination – such as discrimination based on race, disability or age – by allowing women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages.
* Requires the Department of Labor to enhance outreach and training efforts to work with employers in order to eliminate pay disparities.
* Requires the Department of Labor to continue to collect and disseminate wage information based on gender.
* Creates a new grant program to help strengthen the negotiation skills of girls and women.

These are important points. Just think what happens if the Department of Labor stops to gather earnings data by gender: That would make it much harder to know if women are paid fairly, wouldn't it now? And I especially like the first point on that list, because it's the employers who have all the necessary data for that proof, and also the second point on that list, because I have never understood why stealing on the basis of sex is a lesser crime than stealing on the basis of race, disability or age.

Georgie will veto this bill, of course. The W in his name stands for women, as his campaign used to say. Only it's short for "war against women."

Being Britneyfied

I had planned a feminist blog post on the recent McCain advertising campaign which tries to associate Obama's celebrity status with that of the celebrities we all love to hate: Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. They just happen to be women, too. But someone has done the work for me. Or at least most of it:

Again, I'll leave the analysis of the ad's claims about energy policy to Factcheck—who says they're false—and just look at the semiotics of that opening few seconds, which, as Michael Scherer writes elsewhere at, is becoming a major thrust of the McCain argument. "He's the biggest celebrity in the world," the female voiceover intones, intercutting footage of the massive Berlin crowd chanting "O-bam-A!" with the pop of flashbulbs and Britney Spears and Paris Hilton:

* There are a lot of celebrities out there. Why those two? The message: sure, he may draw a big crowd. But he's a lightweight. He's famous for doing nothing. (Actually, I'd argue that conclusion about Britney, who, whatever else you can say about her, worked insanely on her career since she was a child.) Oh, yeah—and he's a girl.

* Seriously, why not contrast him with some male celebrities? (A McCain spokesman did compare Obama with Tom Cruise in a statement, but Maverick didn't make the cut in the TV ad.) It may say something about the attack: that it wants to question Obama's masculinity, in connection with the ad's overt attack on his leadership. Or it says something about our culture: right now, the celebs most mercilessly mocked in the tabloids and blogs—Spears, Hilton, the Olsen twins, Lindsay Lohan, etc.—are mainly women. (Spencer Pratt? Maybe not the most recognizable figure to McCain's target demo.)

I bolded that last bit for your attention.

The most hated celebrities are women, both in the U.S. and in the U.K., even though it wouldn't be that terribly hard to find equally hateworthy male stars. Why this is the case is indeed something worth thinking about. My guess is that lots of free-wheeling misogyny can be safely expressed by framing it as something about a couple of silly famous women. Sadly, this is done by both men and women. And note how those women-we-love-to-hate are always picked carefully to reflect something "unearned" about their fame, something about their good luck they don't deserve. Something about them not knowing their proper place, perhaps?

Sniff. Nobody Gives Me Any Talking Points

I was watching Andrea Mitchell interview McCain's campaign manager who implied that all liberal blogs were talking about the same thing this morning, that they were all getting their talking points from some central evil computer. But I never got those instructions. I'm out of the loop! I'm gonna cry.

Of course it could be that I'm never up early enough to get the talking points. Nah. They could have e-mailed me. Now I'll have to go for a walk to kick some rocks.

Bogus Degrees

Reading about people buying several false doctorates by mail tickles my funny bone, until I read about the ones who got such mailed degrees in gynecology and obstetrics. I guess a degree in, say, plumbing or electrical engineering would be pretty scary, too.

How odd that I'm not as perturbed by false doctorates in theology or in economics or in crime fighting. I probably should be. That I'm not might show something about the effects of this culture and its strong strain of anti-intellectualism. What do you think?

I once knew a university librarian who collected false degrees from all over the world if they were cheap enough. He had them all framed on the walls of his cubicle. I never thought that his little joke might have caused him legal trouble. Or perhaps collecting those degrees is OK as long as you don't try to use them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Queen of the Orcs And Other Stories

Ludacris has produced a political song in support of Barack Obama's campaign. Sadly, the song is not one which the Obama campaign could support. Indeed, the campaign expressed its disapproval in the strongest possible terms.

And what did they disapprove? For example, these lyrics about Hillary Clinton:

Hillary hated on you, so that bitch is irrelevant

That made me wonder if she would be a relevant bitch had she and Barack not been campaign rivals, or if she then wouldn't be a bitch at all or if all women are bitches, only some are irrelevant as they are supposed to be and others are -- what? Relevant?

Is it possible to be a relevant bitch? And am I going too far with these thoughts? Of course I am! After all, I support Barack Obama's campaign as the best chance we have of slowing down the Destruction Train, and I probably shouldn't write anything at all negative about anyone who also supports that campaign.

And I do remember that John McCain is rumored to have called his very own wife a cunt and a trollop once. There are so many cute titles for women, probably because women are so very loved. You know, a beloved child has many names.

Which brings me to the fantasy book The Queen of the Orcs, by Morgan Howell. I read it on a train trip some time ago, and found the treatment of gender relations in the book very interesting, because the majority of men (as opposed to the orcs) in the book had a view of women as things to fuck and as things to use or as things to conquer with violence. Misogyny, in short, was the setting for the story, and only the orcs (who were brought up in a matriarchal society) and only a few odd human men (including the hero) were free from it.

What struck me after finishing the book was that I don't recall another fantasy book, feminist or not, with such a dismal view of men. I also wondered if the views expressed in those other books I've read weren't part of the fantasy, because the women in them were so often treated a whole lot better than they would have been in real life. They are hardly ever called irrelevant bitches, for example, when they reach for the brass ring in those fantasies.

Imagine my surprise when I found that the author of this dystopian fantasy, Morgan Howell, is a man. Interesting, is it not?

Campaigning, Campaigning

Following the presidential campaigns leaves me out of breath, mostly because of the sheer boredom of it all and so I forget that breathing part. In any case, McCain has decided to step into the morass in his latest campaign twist:

I note with interest today, John McCain's new tactic of associating Barack Obama with oversexed and/or promiscuous young white women. (See today's new ad and this from yesterday.) Presumably, a la Harold Ford 2006, this will be one of those strategies that will be a matter of deep dispute during the campaign and later treated as transparent and obvious once the campaign is concluded.

But what I'm most interested in today is the new meme the McCain campaign has been pushing for the last few weeks that Obama is presumptuous, arrogant and well ... just a bit uppity. Ron Fournier picked the ball up early in his reporting for the AP. And John King was pushing it over the weekend on CNN. Is it arrogant or above Obama's station for him to meet with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve? If I'm not mistaken he is a sitting United States senator and also the presidential candidate of the Democratic party. Such meetings are actually the norm.

Now, I note that the Post, which has generally been in McCain's camp, has a front page story today that comes about as close as they feel able to confirming that McCain campaign and McCain personally have spent most of the last week peddling what they knew was a lie about Obama's called-off trip to the US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. And there's also this piece in today's Times noting 'concern' among some Republicans over McCain's increasing use of personal attacks on Obama with what are often demonstrably false claims. How many demonstrable lies does the McCain campaign have to push before it colors the portrayal of his campaign?

If the disseminators of all this misinformation were wimmin we'd call this stuff "gossip." As in "ignore it, it's just gossip." But because the sources are mostly not wimmin we call all this serious politicking.

Let's talk about shoes, next:

If I were a right-wing blogger, and I found out that Barack Obama was wearing Ferragamo loafers that cost $520, I would spend about 50% of my waking hours making sure everyone knew this. I would mock him for being an out-of-touch elitist and make jokes like, "If you think that's a lot, you should see how much his purse costs "

It's John McCain that wears 520 smackers on his little pink feet in the form of Ferragamo slippers. I swear. But his expensive shoes don't clash with his policies, because those say that the rich should have expensive shoes and no tax payments.

Weird, is it not? If you are openly on the side of the moneyed in the class war, you can have seven or eight houses and nobody writes about those. You can even wear Ruby Slippers and nobody writes about that, either. Instead, you are called a maverick and the last honest man and stuff like that. The question then rises why anyone not born with a silver spoon in their mouth would vote for McCain, but that is another question most journalists don't write about.

Now John Edwards. He spends too much on his haircuts and his house is too big, too. And John Kerry married money. Spot the reason why McCain gets a pass on all this?

Could it be that it's OK if you are a Republican?

On International Feminism

I'm fully aware that it's always risky to write about feminism or its lack in other countries or to suggest that feminists in some country could tackle the problems women face in other countries better than the people who actually live there.

But a newish aspect complicating the question how to write about all this is the following: With greater movement of people across national boundaries the views about women in one culture may suddenly impinge on the lives of women in other cultures.

An obvious example of this is the ways different cultures define what makes a woman a prostitute and how such a woman can be treated. Immigrants bring their understanding of these questions with them and clashes with the new host culture are possible. Some of these clashes can be dangerous for the women in that culture.

But even corporate values can travel, these days. Japanese managers or Russian managers might very well bring with them not just physical luggage but also their views on the proper place for women. Or they might not. But this particular topic should be discussed, I think. Even though it's full of hidden mines in terms of colonialism, racism and so on.

Meanwhile, in Russia

Sexual harassment at work is just fine, because it guarantees the continuation of the human race. That was the conclusion of a judge:

Sexual harassment okay as it ensures humans breed, Russian judge rules
A Russian advertising executive who sued her boss for sexual harassment lost her case after a judge ruled that employers were obliged to make passes at female staff to ensure the survival of the human race.

By Adrian Blomfield in Moscow
Last Updated: 1:12PM BST 30 Jul 2008

The unnamed executive, a 22-year-old from St Petersburg, had been hoping to become only the third woman in Russia's history to bring a successful sexual harassment action against a male employer.

She alleged she had been locked out of her office after she refused to have intimate relations with her 47-year-old boss.

"He always demanded that female workers signalled to him with their eyes that they desperately wanted to be laid on the boardroom table as soon as he gave the word," she earlier told the court. "I didn't realise at first that he wasn't speaking metaphorically."

The judge said he threw out the case not through lack of evidence but because the employer had acted gallantly rather than criminally.

"If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children," the judge ruled.

Since the end of the Soviet Union only two Russian women have won sexual harassment cases in court, and a recent survey showed that 100% of the interviewed female professionals said that they had been sexually harassed by their bosses.

My general impression is that open sexism is pretty much the rule in Russia.

Guerrilla Gardening

It's a very interesting form of lawless flower power, planting flowers and vegetables on public land, parched and sour otherwise, in the middle of the night. It's illegal but really shouldn't be. Anyone who has spent time in some of those neglected areas where the soil itself is screaming its sickness agrees that a few calandulas or grasses would make a world of difference. Just fluffing the soil up a bit and adding some compost would be a life-saving act of kindness, even if you plant nothing there as the birds would.

I believe that humans need to feel a connection to nature to be healthy themselves. Children need to learn where food comes from, need to see plants grow, flowers open and seedpods develop. Children need to get their hands dirty with the dark, fertile soil which is the real mother of us all. Guerrilla gardening won't accomplish that but at least it puts plants in more places for people to see and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Today's Action Alert

It is about the death of LaVena Johnson in Iraq. Her death has been labeled a suicide:

Three years ago, on July 19, 2005, Army Private First Class LaVena Johnson was found dead in Balad, Iraq. Her body was found in a tent belonging to the private military contractor KBR. She had abrasions all over her body, a broken nose, a black eye, burned hands, loose teeth, acid burns on her genitals, and a bullet hole in her head. The Army labeled Johnson’s death a suicide. But her parents never believed that story. They think she was raped and murdered and are now demanding a full congressional investigation into their daughter’s death.

Join with her parents to demand a full congressional investigation, here.

What Is Happening to Our Wealth?

Krugman makes an interesting point about the Band-Aid Housing bill and something that it is not fixing in the broken housing markets:

After all, the new bill will, at best, make a modest dent in the rate of foreclosures. And it does nothing at all for those who aren't in danger of losing their houses but are seeing much if not all of their net worth wiped out — a particularly bitter blow to Americans who are nearing retirement, or thought they were until they discovered that they couldn't afford to stop working.

It's too late to avoid that pain. But we can try to ensure that we don't face more and bigger crises in the future.

This is an important point, because most people have almost all their wealth in their houses. When the value of those houses goes down so does the average wealth in this country. It's not only people close to retirement who are going to suffer from that (though their suffering is the hardest to avoid), it's also people who planned to take out loans against the house to finance their children's education, say.

Girls Can't Right Write

And if they do they talk about boring stuff like their babies or their love interests or what they had for breakfast. That's the reason why girls are not famous bloggers like some conservative guy* called Robert Stacy McCain. And despite that girly middle moniker, he's a real good blogger because he's a guy and never writes about himself, nosir.

Besides, he covers interesting topics such as why-misogyny-is-good and how us girls can bring him some coffee and date him but only if we develop half a brain (half a brain is 'nuff, it seems, probably because conservatives are used to that much only). Though first we have to do a multiple regression analysis on the number of inches a real guy has to have. Not quite sure why, but statistics and stuff appears to impress this bon vivant and famous writer.

The comments to the bon vivant's blog post help a lot, too, in getting a girl blogger set up properly. We learn that we should be about 21 years old and have a good rack and show pictures of that. See how high we can aim in Wingnuttia! Or we could pretend to be guys and that way we'd be taken seriously. Here I come: Bruce Brutal, the famous he-man blogger.

If I combine all the good advice I'm gonna blog as Mr. Tess Tickle, on a blog which offers frequency distributions of various sexual malfunctions and oddities. And pictures of tits. This blog would probably have to be called Up Yours.
*Click the first link in Atrios' post.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Waffle Time

Made a deadline! Have some chocolate cake and a cool glass of nectar with me and tell what made you happy today or recently.

Picture by Richard.

And today's funnies:

On Responsibility

The man who killed two people in a Tennessee Unitarian Church appears to have hated liberals:

Adkisson targeted the church, Still wrote in the document obtained by WBIR-TV, Channel 10, "because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets."

Adkisson told Still that "he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office."

Adkisson told officers he left the house unlocked for them because "he expected to be killed during the assault."

Inside the house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by talk show host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly.

It could be that he also had books by Gandhi, say, on his shelves, and in any case it is impossible to measure the impact political hate talk shows have. But they are hate talk shows. Where did Adkisson learn his hatred? How many liberals did he know in real life? How much of his hatred was built on listening to right wing talk shows? And what responsibility do those talk show hosts have who are fueling the flames of political anger? Should they consider the fact that mentally unstable individuals might follow their words in the search for a suitable target for their incoherent anger?

These are not just questions to conservative talk show hosts, mind you, though it is those shows which skate closest to advocating actual violence. Even tame phrases like "culture wars" are ultimately violent ones, something that can slowly make you see the symbolic opposition as the real enemy, as subhuman and nasty and in need of killing. Accusations of treason, something that I read frequently against the American left, are another example of this worrisome trend.

But although the right is more likely to engage in violent language the left isn't completely free of it, either. Mostly this is in response to the changes the Gingrich "revolution" caused in conservative political framing, and I'm not sure what alternatives the left really has. It can either answer in some equally strong manner or it can roll over and play dead. There must be a third way. Perhaps Obama will show us what that is.

In the meantime, I hope that political pundits spend some time thinking about the impact they have and about the moral responsibility that goes with that impact.

Some Sad Echoes

The terrorist bombing stories from Iraq, India and Turkey and the story about the man who killed two members of a Unitarian Church in Tennessee are all about violence which doesn't care who gets killed. In a sense there is no "collateral damage", because the target is to cause as much general death as possible. Nameless general death.

Remember the term "culture of death"? This was applied to any secular societies which allowed abortion, for example. I think the term would be much more appropriate for cultures which glorify the killing of already born people and especially of already born people the killer doesn't even know. Of course most cultures would then be given that title. We haven't really gotten very far with anger management.

Where The Women Are: Not On Olbermann's Show

Media Matters of America looked at twelve prime-time political shows, four on each of the three cable networks, during the month of May to see what the race and gender distribution of the guests on those shows were.

Their results suggest that Latino guests are significantly underrepresented. The percentage of Latinos on those shows is less than three percent while fifteen percent of the overall population is Latino. On the other hand, African-Americans were represented roughly in proportion to their population percentage. I'm not sure why Media Matters appears to argue that they were not, though among that group men were slightly overrepresented and women underrepresented.

What about the women in general, then? Thirty-three percent of the guests were female. This is less than the population percentage of us gals, of course. Can you guess which program had the lowest percentage of female guests last May? Countdown with Keith Olbermann. He beat even Brit Hume on the manliness scale! He won (add chest thumping sounds)!

Only sixteen percent of his guests were women. Of course, if rants against Hillary Clinton counted he might have come across looking much better.

Just a small reminder that liberal doesn't necessarily equal feminist.

Not Quite Menopausal Yet

The major papal encyclical confirming the Roman Catholic Church's position against artificial birth control turns forty years old. Articles on this anniversary span the whole distance of opinions from wingnuts arguing that a ban on contraceptives is all that can save Europe from becoming an Islamonazist outpost to articles like this one, about the deaths and suffering the encyclical has caused:

Catholic groups from Europe to the Americas have called on Pope Benedict XVI to reverse the Vatican's opposition to contraception, on the 40th anniversary of a major papal encyclical confirming the Roman Catholic Church's position against artificial birth control.

About 60 organizations signed the unusually frank open letter that was published as a half-page paid advertisement in Italy's largest newspaper—40 years after Pope Paul VI issued the controversial encyclical "Humanae Vitae" that enshrined the Church ban on contraception.

In their letter published on Friday in Corriere della Sera, dissident Catholic groups from countries including Britain, Brazil, Canada, France and the United States, said the effects of Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth) had been "catastrophic."

The groups argued that Catholics should be able "to plan their family life with certainty and in good conscience," saying the Church doctrine has caused suffering among the world's poorest and weakest, put the lives of women in danger and left millions of people at risk of AIDS.

The letter said the impact of the Church position had been "disastrous in the southern hemisphere, where the Catholic leadership exercises considerable influence on the politics of family planning."

I just cannot get over the oddity of celibate men deciding on whether contraception is good or not for others. It makes no sense at all. The arguments the church uses against artificial contraception also ignore the disparate impact of the ban on women. It is women who may be doomed to give birth so frequently that their bodies fail, for instance. Now that is something the celibate men who wrote the encyclical would never have to worry about.

Questions And Stuff

But first, Ella Fitzgerald with One Note Samba

It's happy music for a Monday morning. I find my tail tapping with the same rhythm.

And now the questions. They are about the comments threads on this blog. Should I make up a set of rules which people should follow? And if so, what should be in those rules? I'd be interested in hearing your opinions.

Finally, I found this story about beguinages fascinating.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Law’s Use of “Science” Isn’t Governed By The Rules of Science by Anthony McCarthy

There is an interview in today’s Boston Globe with Victoria Nourse about the dangerous history of eugenics and the general use of shoddy science by the law.

The temptation will be to focus on the Nazi’s use of American pioneering eugenics laws and policies as cover for the beginning of their “solution”. And while doing that, please notice that American eugenicists were emboldened by the early Nazi activities in this area. But the really important thing to notice is the history of eugenics here, in the Unites States, and how it figured into actual law and administrative policy once sanctioned by the Supreme Court in 1927*. For us the most important use of this history is in how these things were allowed within the context of the United States Constitution and the class system in place here.

Q: How did the Depression force the issue of sterilization?

A: There was no money. One way that asylum directors could reduce their populations was by sterilizing "safe" people and releasing them. By 1933-34 Oklahoma decided to enforce its sterilization laws. The governor also declared that criminals would avoid his state if they knew they could actually be sterilized as opposed to other states where the law existed but was never applied.

The, by now undeniable, divorcement from reality of the U.S. Supreme Court and the difficulty of overturning their use of poshly pedigreed trash science has been and will likely be an increasing problem for those of us interested in protecting our liberties and equality. Judges are as prone to the superstition of scientism as anyone else and, as seen in the example of the Bush regime, junk science in the interest of a priveleged elite can rule over both real science and the fact that the junk is, despite its presentation, pseudo-science. Even Supreme Court rulings take effect at a glacial pace as seen here:

Q: Did the 1942 Supreme Court decision end enforced sterilization in the US?

A: No. It continued for a very long time. I refer to a case in the 1980s where an African-American woman, a college graduate, sued because she was sterilized in this way. Basically they used consent to justify this in the asylums, the welfare offices. But the consent was often extorted, obtained by threats of restraints in asylums, of punishment, of expulsion from the welfare system

Q: What if the Supreme Court had upheld the Oklahoma law?

A: There would have been more violence in the prisons, for one thing. The prisoners in McAlester used violence, to keep the case alive. Sterilization in asylums would probably have increased as a way to save money. I shudder to think.

Having written about my reservations about the pop-law enthusiasm for dodgy-looking cognitive and behavioral science in the past, I’m glad to see that some actual scholars are having doubts about it as well. Since scientists aren’t effectively countering the premature promotion of very preliminary research, it’s probably up to people such as legal scholars to throw up the warning flag.

Q: What are you warning against?

A: The true problem is false genetics, false prediction. I'm thrilled by advances in genetic research, but I get nervous when I read about the "God gene" or the "gay gene" because I can't judge that as a scientific claim. I'm also warning against unanticipated consequences. Most geneticists were pro-eugenics, they believed in the power of their discoveries. Meanwhile eugenicists looked for the feebleminded and found them. There are risks of arrogance in science, but the real dangers lie in the popularization of false science, in convincing laypersons of the inevitability of traits that are contingent. Genetics is a science of probability, not fate.

In the behavioral and allied sciences the history shows way too much of this kind of wishful “discovery”. When that attitude provides pseudo-scientific fodder for political and judicial expediency in pursuit of a goal, the results are very dangerous.

* The besainted Holmes on this provides a lesson in what to look out for when dealing with the myopia of legal and academic thinkers and their propensity to look at people as mere categories instead of as persons having rights of their own. It also shows that when people have a lot of power, you can’t just go on reputation. No decision by a hero with power should go unexamined due to sentimental or even emotional attachment.

The War on Military Metaphors (by Phila)

Patricia H. Kushlis and Robert M. Jeffers are both getting a wee bit tired of our militarized discourse. Here's PHK:
Painting the world in “us-versus-them” shoot-em-up vocabulary precludes dialog. It precludes mutual understanding. It also intimately relates to an exorbitantly expensive and unnecessary militarization of US foreign policy and foreign policy institutions that is at least partially responsible for precipitating the serious economic problems we currently face.
And here's RMJ:
The soldier we are being asked to lionize now is a mercenary who fights so we don't have to: so we can sit around airports chatting amiably and maybe buy a beer and be glad somebody is off fighting foreigners so we don't have to think of them as anything but the enemy we can get somebody to keep at bay.
These are both reasonable points, and they got me thinking about my own reasons for disliking this language (I mean, apart from the fact that its central post-9/11 purpose is to make specific legal arguments for specific extralegal goals).

The main thing that bothers me is that these words are portals to a sort of mythic time in which all "just wars" seem to take place in an emotional present tense, so that the grubby ambitions of the Bush Administration become just another verse in the Song of Freedom (cf. Victor Davis Hanson's Carnage and Culture).

It's also a time in which leaders shouldn't be questioned, and good citizens know what to do, either because they listen to orders, or have internalized them to the extent that they obey without being ordered and without having to think. As such, it's a dumbed-down, popularized version of military discipline that applies more to opinion than action, and risks nothing, and thus can cheerfully ignore realities that actual soldiers usually can't. In other words, it's a tool for "mobilizing" public opinion (which is itself a military metaphor, of course, and a telling one); those whose opinions can't or won't be mobilized are, in essence, deserters.

Last, I object to it because it puts a veneer of seriousness on endeavors that are usually anything but. When we speak officially of launching a "war" on something, it generally means that lots of money will be spent on exacerbating a problem whose causes have been oversimplified to the point of inanity, and for which the wrong people are sure to be held responsible and made to suffer.

I'm not sure whether I agree with PHK that this language "precludes mutual understanding" internationally; I tend to assume that world leaders, at least, understand each other's basic concerns pretty well. But it certainly does try to preclude domestic dissent.

Still, these complaints are somewhat abstract, compared to the legal and political utility of being a "wartime president," or of calling the occupation of Iraq a war. PHK hopes that the next administration will be willing to drop the “War on Terror” metaphor from its vocabulary. I suppose that depends on whether it'll be willing to forfeit the power and judicial deference that go along with it.