Saturday, August 16, 2008

Get Who’s Calling Obama “Exotic” By Anthony McCarthy

You aren’t surprised. The Republican Party is going for the racist vote, as they always do. The effort of their soundboard, the media, to make Obama’s vacation trip to Hawaii an “exotic” location is clearly part of a campaign to whip up white racists. Visiting his infirm grandmother in the one of the 50 great states she lives apparently ranks lower in strangeness levels than The Bush Crime Family buying a massive estate in Paraguay*. Visiting an old grandmother is more sinister than buying a large chunk of a country famous as a haven for WWII era war criminals. Our media seem to be populated by folk too innocent of modern life to notice that Crawford del Sud would make a good refuge from indictments crimes against humanity or to shelter from those who might, someday, try to recover the billions plundered from the taxpayers of the United States.

Hearing the “exotic” line recited by Cokie Roberts last Mondy has to rank up there with Sally Quinn on marital propriety. There is no one more exotic than Cokie Roberts, whose family left New Orleans, a perfectly normal city, to morph into the most alien life form, the DC insider. Her brother’s a DC lobbyist, her husband, another DC media pod person. The talking heads are service droid mannequins more believable as Sci-fi Channel filler than as sources of information about life in the United States.

One of the more important aspects of this campaign of racism is whether or not white people, especially those in “the heartland”, will be played for chumps as the Republican racial strategy wishes them to be. You would think that people who live in the mid-west would be tired of that role, especially as many of them are fully as progressive and sophisticated as anyone who works on either coast. I’ve known many people from states that start with an I who are more enlightened than any member of insider Washington and New York City. I’d be hard pressed to think of a mid-westerner I’ve known who isn’t more aware of real life than anyone who gets asked to yack on the cabloids. People in the mid-west aren’t consigned by fate to assume roles in perpetual I-Hop commercials. They should punch anyone who tries to force them into that square in the mush and in the only way they will stop it, by overturning the corporate establishment that creates these roles for them.

Obama’s campaign must point out how insulting and condescending those Republican campaigns are to the people who live in the fabled “heartland”. I’ll bet there are millions of white mid-westerners who are just waiting for evidence that they are not eternally consigned to the role constructed for them by snobs in the media and publishing elites over the past century*.

The announcement by the Census Bureau that the United States will be white minority about the middle of the century makes me wonder if it isn’t part of the effort by the Bush Regime to scare white people. But that’s one of the problems with this kind of thing, once you get used to seeing it used, you get suspicious of everything. Doesn’t mean your suspicions are wrong, unfortunately.

* The first elected government in Paraguay in about sixty years is in serious trouble with next to no notice given by those obsessing about Georgia’s defacto partition. The timing in Paraguay seems a bit too convenient to me. We will know after the election if the Bush compound there was conceived as a continuation of that dark history. Call me suspicious if you want to. More about the situation in Georgia later in the week.

** The real history of the “heartlands” reveals a much more sophisticated and complex reality that is never told in the corporate media. Mid-western progressives, progressive populists and radicals have a rich history to reference and promote. I’d be proud if New England had a record to match it.

The Soporific Values of PBS by Anthony McCarthy

Sitting with a convalescent a number of evenings, I was reminded just how god-awful PBS entertainment programming has become. Foyles War? Inspector Lindley*? On our local affiliate they’re showing Miss Marple. If there have been more than two series of Miss Marple made to please what they condescendingly believe the American audience wants, please point it out so it can be avoided.

Is there Brit kitsch so bad that they won’t show it on some Yank public TV station? And where is the American produced stuff they were promising us a while ago? Has anyone seen anything produced in America for PBS in fresh memory? Wait. Cancel that. Do we need a clone of CSI dressed in tweed and elbow patches?

While sitting through one piece of Brit trash recently, I was reminded of a tiresome joke repeated on one of the blogs a few months back about Canadian TV shows and their superior quality. It’s supposed to be ironic, trouble is, its not. Living where I do, I’ve seen a bit of Canadian stuff over the years, a lot of it back when I used to get the French language station out of Quebec. Some of it is garbage, but some is better than what you’re going to see here unless you buy it. Omerta, for example, or the wonderful English language series, Slings and Arrows**.

Slings and Arrows would be especially appropriate since its theme is a theater company that went through the motions for years, producing correct and boring productions of Shakespear and a bloated and incompetent bureaucracy more interested in sucking after funding than in fulfilling their stated purpose. You get the feeling that PBS and its affiliates wouldn’t be especially eager to explore that theme. Maybe they should notice that the incompetent financial manager has an easier job of selling the stuff when the hack-work artistic director dies and the content of their production gets shaken up.

Theater - including film, however shown - has the chance to tell about life. They have the words and actions to do that. An instrumental musician who deals mostly in abstractions, can get blown away when hearing what a single singer and piano player can do during a recital. It can change the way you see life. It rarely happens, though when it does it makes you certain that it is a useful activity. But it has to be the right singer, the right pianist and the right program of songs. Luckily, the songs, like the plays and scripts, already exist. There are writers and composers who aren’t just going through the motions, they’re generally the ones with a small audience. There are writers who are doing their part against all odds.

With the luxury of using the medium of reality, you wonder why anyone would settle on doing absolutely nothing with it at such great cost for so many years. You can understand people paying for junk if it has some novelty value or spectacle, though nothing gets older faster. That’s what fads are all about. But when a public TV system depends on those who will pay to see the same old junk and new junk of rapidly deteriorating quality, it’s already down the drain. Other than Moyers in the news and less than a handful of other news and history relates shows, PBS and public TV works against its purpose to exist.

Note: By the way, anyone else who is tempted to produce yet another mini-series glorifying Elizabeth I or the rest of her blood thirsty family should read William Cobbett’s THE HISTORY OF THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION IN ENGLAND AND IRELAND first. But for the rest of us, Cobbett’s History is a good antidote to that mildewed line of docu-drama. Note that Cobbett was, himself, a protestant.

When you cut through the establishment propaganda, the Tudor’s destruction of the medieval social support network in order to plunder it and buy support might go a long way to understanding what’s been so rotten about the Anglo-American system. They come off as sort of like the Bush Crime Family with a somewhat better record in arts patronage.

His defense of Mary as the least blood soaked and most beneficent of the Tudors and Stuarts are an interesting change from the line of lies and propaganda that started during her family’s reign and which will probably continue in the fall line up on PBS. Cobbett’s list of the hypocrisies and crimes of “That prince of hypocrites” Thomas Cranmer will come as a real shock to a lot of people brought up to their knowledge of history by PBS. Loved Glenda Jackson but Elizabeth I was no Glenda Jackson.

* That how it’s spelled? I was tempted to look it up but the effort isn’t worth it.

** The writing was great, the actors great. The three major roles played by Martha Burns, Paul Gross and Stephen Ouimette are especially good. Movies and plays about theater people are usually terrible but this series was great.

I probably shouldn’t mention it, but someone has posted the first season on You Tube.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Guest post by Skylanda: Fifteen days of blogging for health care reform

I am a physician. To be more specific, I am a resident, in my second year of training in a rural family practice track. I live and breath health care, more hours than I live any other part of my life. Ask any resident, they will quite likely tell you something very similar.

Doctors battle out the flaws and foibles of the American health care system every day. No matter what their opinion on the solution, few will disagree that we indeed have a problem in this country. Some will tell you we need more free marketeering, less government interference; others lean to the far opposite side, demanding reform toward single payer coverage or even a government-run health care system that directly manages health care workers as its own employees. But find me a doctor in this country who thinks there is nothing direly wrong with health care in America today, and I will find you a chicken who hatches pink bunnies out of its eggs - that is, a rare bird indeed.

At the same time, few physicians are immune to some personal ensnarement of the health care crisis in America. We straddle two sides of the fence - we are providers, but we are also consumers, and our relative wealth provides only thin insulation from the same traps and pitfalls that plague the rest of the nation. Just out of college, in the midst of the turn-of-the-millennium tech bust, I took a job that required heavy manual labor on offshore construction rigs; I was uninsured, working on subcontracts among union crews of merchant marines, and I was without a hint of worker’s comp coverage - it was simply understood among us contractors that if we were ever injured offshore, the first call would be made to lawyers to start talking settlements, because there would be no other way to pay a medical bill proportionate to the risks to life and limb we took on those rigs. My older sister, meanwhile, waited out ten years without health insurance, during which time a minor (and treatable) skin condition blossomed into inflammation and scarring so severe that it impairs her ability to walk, write, even provide fingerprints required by new employers; by the time she obtained insurance, the condition had become entrenched and largely irreversible. Two years ago, my brother’s school-age child came down with a complicated case of leukemia less than a month after he returned from a year-long tour in Iraq with the National Guard; though her epic hospital stay was graciously covered by the combined taxpayer efforts of Tricare and Medicaid, he now has to closely balance his potential income with Medicaid limits lest his chronically ill and entirely uninsurable daughter lose her only source of insurance eligibility.

These are not sob stories and they are not meant to gain any particular sympathy for a few rough years in my family tree; these are entirely typical stories in America in 2008 (and I don‘t doubt that readers here could share a litany just like them). Few families outside of the shrinking and ever-more-distant elite cannot tell similar stories: grandparents hospitalized for conditions that could have been prevented by medications they were prescribed but could not afford, bankruptcies filed as a last-resort means of coping with unpayable medical bills, choices made between health care and food, health care and education, health care and mortgage payments.

Nor can one pretend any longer that the crisis in health care coverage and access is at all limited to the poorest corners of the social strata. There is nothing acceptable - morally, economically, or otherwise - about a wealthy, industrialized nation leaving any portion of the populace without access to care, but when such problems are limited to the most marginalized people, we can at least pretend that we are on our way to vanquishing the problem, chasing it into darker and darker corners, moving toward something better and brighter. This pretense has no business existing any longer. Extinguish the notion, right now, that we are not losing a fight, in this nation, in this very moment, to the burden of ever-growing numbers of the uninsured, the under-insured, the improperly insured, and people simply pushed so far to the margins that access to care comes only at the door of the emergency room - a door exponentially more expensive than that of your local five-star hotel. Some forty-something million of the former, some uncountable number of the latter, growing every day.

Echidne has graciously provided several of us guest bloggers a platform on which to speak during these next two weeks, and this is auspicious timing indeed. In my adopted state of New Mexico, the governor has called a special session to force the legislature to start addressing this issue of broadening health coverage; at the end of the month, Barak Obama will accept the nomination for the democratic presidential ticket, bringing new hope - and renewed cynicism - to the health care reform table and the litany of other progressive issues. During these two weeks, my contribution to Echidne’s blog will be a series of posts from this one insider’s perspective - and there are as many insider’s perspectives as there are doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, biotech developers, patients, and the like - on some of the key issues and developments that shape and hinder health care reform in America today.

Times are ripe indeed for a profound push toward reform, as they have been ripe and then fallen short before, time and again. But like an addict who quits their cigarettes fourteen times before the quitting takes, one of these times, reform will take hold. The shape of that reform, the effect it will have on the diversity of issues that shape health in America, its inclusive or exclusive nature - those remain to be seen. Stay tuned.

Cross-posted at my blog, Loose Chicks Sink Ships. Please note that all references to patients have been altered and/or fictionalized to protect the identity of those individuals.

The United States of Feminists (by Suzie)

         Feminists are not a state authority. We don’t have an army, police, courts, judges or executioners. We rarely, if ever, commit violence against our political opponents.
         I just wanted to clear that up, after last Friday’s lengthy arguments. One argument was that feminists who cannot imagine forgiving an alleged ally who abused a woman were akin to Stalinists who held trials with no chance of acquittal. If I choose not to forgive a man, he can still have a fine life. I have restricted him only in his dealings with me. I haven’t executed him or sent him to Siberia.
         This argument is related to the use of “feminazis,” in which we're compared to Nazis because we’re … what? extreme and militant? Not militant in the sense of being violent, of course, but too aggressive. In case anyone is confused, feminist armies have not invaded other countries, nor are we committing genocide against men.
        Some feminists talk of a war on women, or women living in occupied territory. If it’s false to compare feminists to the state, isn’t it equally wrong to compare men to the state? I don’t think so because men predominate in the top rungs of the government, military, media, religion, etc. Men do have much more control over state policy and actions.
        Another argument from last week's post was that some feminists presume men to be guilty until proven innocent, which flies in the face of our jurisprudence. False. The presumption of innocence is a right in U.S. criminal trials, but it doesn’t apply throughout the criminal justice system. If police presumed everyone to be innocent, they’d never make any arrests.
        A related argument is that feminists are stereotyping men if they distrust a man until he proves to be OK. Although I’m sure they exist, I can’t name a feminist who thinks all men are intrinsically bad. We understand some men are great, but we know men disproportionately commit crimes against women, and we cannot always predict who will do what. We have a right to try to lessen our personal risk. 
       Of course, this isn't just feminists. A conservative woman might not open the door to a man she doesn't know.
        Our society sends mixed messages. Some men are hurt and angry if they aren’t trusted. On the other hand, women can be blamed if they trust a man who then abuses them. People may ask: "Why did you go over to his house if you hardly knew him?" "Why did you get in his car?" “Why did you open your door?” These attitudes have a long history in which women are expected to guard themselves from men, or to allow other men, such as their fathers or husbands, to guard them.
        Another argument is that women are gender profiling, like racial profiling. But we're not the police, pulling over drivers, or transportation officials, keeping people from boarding planes, just because they're men. By not opening my front door, or by locking my car door, or by meeting a man I don’t know in a public place, I’m not curtailing anyone’s rights. I'm a person in a less-powerful group protecting myself against the group with more privileges.      
        The bottom line on all of these arguments is that men’s feelings are more important than women’s rights. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Ah. Blessed vacation. For me, anyway. I'm going to be on vacation from today until the end of August. In the meantime you will be entertained and educated by my gracious and charming and smart guest bloggers: Anthony McCarthy, Bleustocking, Hecate, Phila, Skylanda and Suzie (in alphabetical order). My sincere and heartfelt thanks to all of you guest bloggers.

Now, where are those flippers and that beach ball?

Never Again Going to Give The “News” The Benefit of the Doubt by Anthony McCarthy

During this personal hiatus, I’ve been trying to do something about the old writing style. Again. One of the things stressed by those who have thought about the form of effective advocacy is how to place information in a written story for maximum persuasive effect. Not burring the lead idea is high among those. Putting the most important information in the very beginning of the piece is just about universally advocated for written material.

But what about other parts of structuring information to inform? How can you decide when they are doing that and not, in fact, advocating a subjective opinion? And what about the different opportunities and requirements for effective view point promotion on the radio or TV? You can assume a much smaller number of words, to start with, but you probably can count on them all being audible, if not heard. People don’t change the page when listening to the news as opposed to reading the paper.

I got interested in this last week when, during its alleged hard new headlines, I heard a story on NPR that started out to be about Obama’s position on an issue but during which his voice wasn’t heard and none of his words were quoted. However, they did manage to quote McCain and to have a clip of a Republican STATE SENATOR(!) opining on what was alleged to be Obama’s position. You’d think the least they could do was use Obama’s own words or even a position paper, but that was held to be less important in a story about Obama’s stand on an issue than what a Republican State Senator had to say about it.

Funny, once you notice it, you hear that kind of clear bias practice all over the place. Characterizations of Obama’s positions are given, motives ascribed to him based on those characterizations, even alleged campaign strategies “reported” (without verification from the campaign) but the actual quotes and voices are those of Republicans. And, mind you, this is in the alleged reporting sections of alleged news programs, not the vastly longer time given to “analysis” during which are mired all manner of speculation and dispund. Hey, if the venerable NPR gets away with that kind of practice, why should the seamier organs of the media be expected to remain chaste?

And yet they wonder why people are abandoning the traditional news in favor of online sources. At least people on the blogs don’t pretend to be practicing objective reporting while they are advocating a side, certainly not pretending it’s news. At least not in such large numbers.

They want people to trust them, they can cut this kind of crap to start with.

Weight & health (by Suzie)

         I count fat as a feminist issue because there are so many messages in society that pressure girls and women to be as skinny as possible. That’s why I was happy to see this article, which says:
A new study suggests that a surprising number of overweight people - about half - have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while an equally startling number of trim people suffer from some of the ills associated with obesity.
         Unfortunately, the article began with the idea that only “trim people” “can look great in a swimsuit.”
         My mother, who was “trim” into her 80s, had high cholesterol and died of a heart attack. Thanks to genetics, I had high cholesterol even when I was thin. I wish more people understood that thinness does not guarantee health.

In the 21st Century

Nations don't invade other nations. That's what John McCain said about the Russian invasion of Georgia. Now, he could have meant the statement as a positive one, meaning that nations don't indeed invade other nations now that the time stamp starts the century with a "2". If so, he was wrong, and a simple counterexample is the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Or he could have meant it as a normative statement, arguing that nations shouldn't invade other nations in our current era. If so, was he as outspoken against the earlier U.S. invasion of Iraq? I don't recall that.

Yes, all this is boring and about something trivial. I'm just trying to fill the enormous gap that exists in the media triviality account balances when it comes to McCain. Obama we get a lot about, from Maureen Dowd onwards. But poor McCain? Isn't he interesting enough for some trivia scandals?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Two Takes

On the new Democratic platform about reproductive choice. First, Digby sees a fundie touch in the developments. Second, Linda Hirshman sees the development as good for women's reproductive rights.

I'm too tired to chime in but some of you are probably not.

What Is That Smell?

Here we go again:

While several factors can send a woman swooning, including big brains and brawn, body odor can be critical in the final decision, the researchers say. That's because beneath a woman's flowery fragrance or a guy's musk the body sends out aromatic molecules that indicate genetic compatibility.

Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes are involved in immune response and other functions, and the best mates are those that have different MHC smells than you. The new study reveals, however, that when women are on the pill they prefer guys with matching MHC odors.

Best mates? What sort of research is this based on? What is the frequency distribution of these smells in the general population?

And do the guys prefer different MHC smells from their own? Do the parents apply these rules in societies where marriages are arranged? What about those cultures which favored cousin marriages? How often have women had the chance to pick their own mates?

Here's more on the study:

Past studies have suggested couples with dissimilar MHC genes are more satisfied and more likely to be faithful to a mate. And the opposite is also true with matchng-MHC couples showing less satisfaction and more wandering eyes.

"Not only could MHC-similarity in couples lead to fertility problems," said lead researcher Stewart Craig Roberts, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Newcastle in England, "but it could ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pill, as odor perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners."

Sexy scents

The study involved about 100 women, aged 18 to 35, who chose which of six male body-odor samples they preferred. They were tested at the start of the study when none of the participants were taking contraceptive pills and three months later after 40 of the women had started taking the pill more than two months prior.

For the non-pill users, results didn't show a significant preference for similar or dissimilar MHC odors. When women started taking birth control, their odor preferences changed. These women were much more likely than non-pill users to prefer MHC-similar odors.

Well, it could be interesting that the smell preferences of some of the women on the pill changed. But note that the women not on the pill apparently didn't express a preference for dissimilar MHC odors. Doesn't that sorta affect the basic thesis and all the speculation that follows?

And what is "much more likely" in that study? How many of the pill users changed their preferences?

Pardon me for sounding suspicious, but it's hard to take the evidence of "past studies" completely seriously because those studies were in this same field of evolutionary psychology, looking for the same kind of stuff, and often popularized with the same extreme language.

Oh My! You People are Exotic!

Most of the presidential campaign coverage makes me vomit. The part which is all about Barack Obama somehow being too uppity or too foreign or a secret mole for the Islamofascists. If the so-called liberal media in fact was at all liberal it would also cover similar silly stories about John McCain. About his famous temper (well, those stories might even be legitimate), for instance and about the eight houses he owns. Having eight houses sounds really exotic, uppity and foreign to me.

But nope. All we get is up-close-and-personal stories about only one of the candidates. I'm really tired of them. Tell us at least if Obama used to collect stamps.

All this is in honor of Cokie Roberts who criticized Obama taking a vacation in Hawaii as exotic. Even though Obama's granny lives there and even though Hawaii is part of the United States of America. It's so utterly silly a statement that it must be a feed from the secret wingnut headquarters. Pick your role, Cokie: Either you are silly or you are a secret mole of the Wingnutofascists.

Well, the Hawaiians didn't take well to being called exotic (via Eschaton).

This gives me an excellent opportunity to point out that all you American readers look and sound exotic to me. I remember those wolf-teeth in early television programs (every American guy in the shows had them). And jello desserts! Heh.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Women Have Mouths For

Not for speaking or eating, according to Rush Limbaugh. Those mouths are for blowjobs.

And women should shut up and suck. If that sounds gross, don't blame me. Blame our little friend Rush, because that's what this long ramble means when translated into plain language:

LIMBAUGH: Well, it's -- I mean, at some point, at some point, you gotta exhibit maturity and restraint. You know, and I do that constantly. But -- well, I don't -- look, let me see if I can run you through this and get you to think what I'm thinking without my actually saying it. That might be a pretty big talent if I could do that -- make you think what I'm going to say without my having to say it, therefore if anybody gets in trouble for saying it, you say it.

We know -- we've been told that Elizabeth Edwards is smarter than John Edwards. That's part of the puff pieces on them that we've seen. Ergo, if Elizabeth Edwards is smarter than John Edwards, is it likely that she thinks she knows better than he does what his speeches ought to contain and what kind of things he ought to be doing strategy-wise in the campaign? If she is smarter than he is, could it have been her decision to keep going with the campaign? In other words, could it be that she doesn't shut up? Now, that's as far as I'm going to go.

Well, you're -- Snerdley says he's missing something. If you're missing it, you're going to have to provide it. What are you missing? Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

I can't close the loop on it. I can't close the loop on it. I'm on -- you know, I'm in a little quicksand already today talking about how the chicks are giving us boring pictures of the female athletes from the Olympics. Because I know -- you -- the diversity crowd's going to be upset. They're going to -- "Ooh, do you mean the Olympics are just so you guys can ogle wom--" Yes, because we do not care to watch 'em compete. But back to Elizabeth and the Breck Girl.

I'm sorry, my friends, I just -- I can't. It just seems to me that Edwards might be attracted to a woman whose mouth did something other than talk.


LIMBAUGH: OK, we're back. Ladies and gentleman, my theory that I just explained to you about why -- you know, what could have John Edwards' motivations been to have the affair with Rielle Hunter, given his wife is smarter than he is and probably nagging him a lot about doing this, and he found somebody that did something with her mouth other than talk. I think I can back this up from her.

We have a sound bite. This is February 2007. She was on the tabloid show Extra. And this is what she said. Listen very carefully.

HUNTER [audio clip]: The whole experience was life-altering for me. One of the great things about John Edwards is that he's so open and willing to try new things and do things in new ways.

LIMBAUGH: "Open to new things." Folks, it is what it is. You get mad at me for bringing the truth to you, but it is what it is.

Note that the premise of his whole thesis is missing, because he has no information about the blowjob habits of the two women discussed here. He's simply assuming those, because our little Rush really, really hates smart women who are something more than animated sex aids.

Life Imitating Art?

Well, sort of. The events at the Olympic opening ceremonies in China appear to have imitated Terry Pratchett's fantasy book Maskerade:

A 7-year-old Chinese girl was not good-looking enough for the Olympics opening ceremony, so another little girl with a pixie smile lip-synched "Ode to the Motherland," a ceremony official said — the latest example of the lengths Beijing took for a perfect start to the Summer Games.

If you are unfamiliar with Pratchett's funny science-fiction-cum-fantasy books you are in for a treat. The Maskerade might not be a bad one to begin with. It's a story about the opera (and, as usual for Pratchett, also a story about us ridiculous human beings). A young witch (never mind that part for the purposes of this post) called Agnes has a wonderful voice and wants to become an opera singer. Her voice qualifies her but her body does not, being too hefty. Thus, Perdita (as Agnes wishes to be called) sings from the wings while a pretty little thing lip-syncs on the stage.

Of course neither role is much fun. One woman doesn't sing well enough, the other doesn't look cute enough. Now apply that storyline to reality and replace grown women with little girls. Two of them got their dreams squashed there.

But of course the final result was fantastic. In both senses of the term.

Writing About Medical Research Findings

Here's an odd thing: Two reports about the same breast cancer recurrence study were published today. One of them begins like this:

Even early-stage breast cancer patients who complete five years of drug treatment have a significant risk for relapsing, new research shows.

The study included patients treated at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center between 1985 and 2001 who were cancer-free five years after initial treatment with surgery or surgery and radiation.

The other one, discussing the very same study, begins like this:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Women who survive breast cancer for five years after treatment have a relatively low risk of the disease recurring, according to a U.S. study published on Tuesday.

Is the glass half empty or half full? What is it about these write-ups that chose to go either positive or negative? The actual information in the stories is roughly the same, except for the selected emotional tilt.

More generally, I'm not sure what "recurrence" means in the sense of a lot of time passing after breast cancer treatment. Couldn't the new cancer be a totally new one? I doubt that surviving breast cancer means that the woman is then somehow guaranteed a zero risk of it in the future, but I may be confused about that issue.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Let's All Hold Hands So We Can't Punch Each Other

Communitarianism is an interesting political ideology. The first time I heard the word I rather liked it, because it seemed to stand for all sorts of goody-two-shoes values and I love those values. Communitarians want all of us to work for the common good, you see, and that's quite wonderful.

But then I got a few books on the topic from the library and felt sort of let down. One of those books was by Amitai Etzione, one of the big names in communitarianism. Whether it was his book or one of the others I read I can't remember, but one of the books had a long chapter on all the bad things about feminism, including the idea that because women in the past were banned from jobs they did the important charity work instead. Now that many women work for money nobody is doing that important charity and therefore the past might have been a better time for the community. Surprisingly, the chapter had nothing about charity being a task which men, too, could practice.

This whole treatment made me uncomfortable, because it appeared to construct "the community" as somehow not including the women whose free labor was perhaps semi-forced into charitable uses. It also has that odd flavor of communitarianism as the kind of barn-raising where the communitarian prophet tells other people to raise the barn while he sits back and has a beer or two. I've known people like that in the real life, by the way. They're very keen on community efforts and it may take some time to realize that the efforts are to be made by others.

To return to the topic at hand (or, rather, to stay on the topic), I got the feeling that many communitarians want other people to have good unselfish values while they themselves continue working as professors or whatever they do for money. It's a neat trick, that one, because the only way you can really be a selfish communitarian is by leading the movement. Or so I think.

What brought this rant on? Some time ago I read a Huffington Post piece by Etzione on how Obama really is a communitarian:

The nature of communitarianism is best illustrated by contrasting it with identity politics, the rejection of which is both a major theme of Obama's campaign, and is symbolized by his post-racial biography and personhood. Identity politics build on what differentiates us from one another: our racial or ethnic origins; our sexual orientations; our separate past social histories. Identity politics led to attempts to form a 'rainbow' coalition, composed of various groups who considered themselves victimized -- against the declining white, male majority. Other forms of identity politics pitted citizens against immigrants. Some of the more radical versions of multiculturalism also contributed to this kind of divisive politics.


A revival of the American community requires us to spend much less of our energy and resources on fighting one another, and invest much more of it in the common good, in those goods that serve one and all. Hence, Obama seeks not only social justice for the poor, but decent work at decent wages for one and all; he harps less on the uninsured, and seeks a health care system that will encompass all Americans; he is as open to those with a strong faith as he is to those who embrace secular humanism.

I don't think Obama is a communitarian in the Etzione mold, actually. But notice something odd about that quote: The focus on "the common good" that Etzione advocates is great. But he's not saying anything at all about the fact that what "the common good" is might be under great dispute by different groups in the society. Instead, his statement assumes that question to be already solved in some odd way and that solution to assume that no particular group in the community is at all advantaged or required to contribute more than other groups because of that.

An extreme example might make my criticism fairer: If communitarianism had been applied in the slavery era of this country, what would its message have been? That both the slaves and the free citizens should just work together without always focusing on identity politics?

I'm not actually opposed to many communitarian values, but the juxtaposition of those with "identity politics" makes me grit my teeth. The kind of communitarianism that Etzione advocates is too easily just a defense of the current status quo in the distributions of income and power, empty in specific details about what it tries to accomplish and far too amenable to a conservative interpretation.

Stoning And The Odd Epidemic of Honor Killings

It is certainly a form of extreme torture, a horrible way to die. You may be glad to hear, therefore, that Iran appears to have suspended the use of stoning.

More generally, stoning people to death for adultery is still legal in quite a few places. Most of those killed that way are women. Why? Here's one possible answer:

Women constitute nearly all those condemned to death by stoning. Why? Because discriminatory laws and customs almost always assign more guilt to women than to men in any manner of action that is seen as violating 'norms' of sexual behaviour, especially any instance of alleged sexual relations outside marriage (zina). Men are entitled to marry more than one woman and can use this justification for sex outside marriage. They are also more mobile and can more easily escape punishment.

This quote comes from the The same page discusses honor killings:

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, so-called 'honour killings' (or rather, dishonourable killings of women) have occurred in countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda and the United Kingdom.

That is a very odd way of putting it, that "have occurred in countries as diverse as." It's not the case that suddenly Italians or Swedes, say, have decided to adopt the custom of honor killings. The custom was imported to those countries with immigrants who already had it, and we should be able to state that.

The website is probably just trying to make the point that honor killings should be of concern to people all over the world. But I dislike the veils drawn over the cultural nature of the problem.

McCain The Pro-Lifer? McCain The Pro-Choicer?

Sarah Blustein has written an investigative piece about John McCain's views on women's reproductive rights. A snippet:

According to one poll, about half of all women voters backing McCain said they were pro-choice, including 36 percent who say they strongly support Roe. More importantly, these women voters think that McCain might agree with them on abortion. The same research found that "more than seven in ten pro-choice McCain supporters ... have yet to learn that McCain's position on abortion is directly at odds with their own." And the issue is not that they don't care. One June poll found that, when Democratic women voters in twelve battleground states learned McCain's position on abortion, Obama gained twelve points among them.

McCain's views may matter especially to Hillary Clinton supporters, many of whom are pro-choice; according to syndicated columnist Froma Harrop, "[T]hey'll want to know this: Would McCain stock the Supreme Court with foes of Roe v. Wade?" But, she writes, "The answer is unclear but probably 'no.' While McCain has positioned himself as 'pro-life' during this campaign, his statements over the years show considerable latitude on the issue."

That, however, is simply not true. There is no "latitude" in McCain's position on abortion. Interviews with dozens of people who have dealt with him on the issue--pro-choice and pro-life activists, Hill staffers, McCain confidants, pollsters, and staffers--along with a two-and-a-half-decade-long perfectly anti-abortion voting record, make that clear. And his record on related issues, like contraception, is no better. "I think it is outrageous that people give him a pass, as they gave George W. Bush a pass," reflects Feldt. "John McCain will be that and worse."

Read the whole article for a better understanding of McCain's position. My impression is that he really doesn't care about the issue at all on a personal level, doesn't follow it, doesn't know much about it, and will vote on the issues solely based on political expediency. The latter means that a president McCain would certainly do whatever the pro-lifers want him to do. Anyone who expects him not to try to squash Roe v. Wade lives in a different place. One where the sky is pink and sausages grow on trees.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Saturday Night Music on a Sunday Night

Sometimes you just have to have cimbolom music

Lakatos Erno Cimbolom Band

Kálmán Balogh & The Gypsy Cimbalom Band in Chicag

Posted by A.M.

In The Olympic Spirit

I wish to present a picture from my family files. This guy participated in one of the early Olympics and you can figure out that he was a long-distance runner, just based on the body type.

I like the outfit.