Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Suppression Of Clearly Bigoted Words Is A Necessary Step by Anthony McCarthy

As entire classes of people are still subjected to destructive inequality and the protest against that inequality has been made to seem passé, the far easier to assert equality of words seems to have become entrenched as an assumption. This is, to not mince words, stupid.

Words aren’t enumerated as a class having rights under the Bill of Rights, The Civil Rights amendments or the Civil Rights Act, they are not all created equal. They are not all “perfectly good words”. Some of them should be suppressed. Some should be hunted to extinction, remaining only as mounted, academic specimens.

Achieving the suppression of the language of bigotry is straight forward, you suppress it. You make the use of the words uncomfortable and an invitation to be hassled. For example, the blog boys use the word “cunt”. The way to make them uncomfortable is to constantly call them on it when they use it. It’s simple as that. They refer to women in that way, you make that uncomfortable for them, you harass them whenever they say it. You make it not worth their wile to use the word. When they whine about your calling them on it, you just do it anyway. They pout about you ruining their fun and boy bonding, you ignore it and keep calling them on it while taking pleasure at their discomfort. Their discomfort is a sign your plan is working, I see nothing wrong with enjoying it, privately. Of course, you've got to give up using language like that yourself, you've got to have credibility.

Whenever you propose something like this you can count on two things happening. The first is the invocation of “freedom of speech” or “The First Amendment”. I’m happy to report to you that we are not bound in our personal lives to uphold the “speech rights” of bigots. As I never tire of pointing out, we are not the government. You’d think the left has been out of power long enough to not suffer from that mistaken idea. If a commercial establishment can suppress the use of profane language on its property, individual people certainly have that right in the common ground of life. Those we target for this kind of coercion have no recourse to constitutional relief from us. When it comes to bigots, it’s a mistake to worry about their right to promote the violation of other peoples’ rights. Let them do the worrying. And it gets better, there is no reason for us to treat bigotry as equal to other modes of human interaction. It intentionally hurts people, it has no rightful place in the world. And, let it not be forgotten, strident objection to hateful words is just as much an expression as bigotry, only it doesn’t try to harm entire groups of people on the basis of who they are.

The second thing brought up is whether or not it is the most important issue, the matter of priorities. Who knows what’s “most important”? This election season has certainly shown that it isn’t a little problem, IT HURTS MEMBERS OF OUR CAUCUS. If the protection from harm to our members isn’t a priority for us then we’ve got to rearrange our priorities. It also divides the left, it harms our efforts to make progress. This is a big deal, as well, because it prevents other important things from happening. This is a fact to use against blog bigots as well. Calling Ann Coulter sexist names doesn’t hurt her but it hurts her opposition which then has to deal with the division of the left due to the childishness of these jerks. It’s not as if we’ve got a rip roaring huge majority to work with as it is and can spare the members or time spent trying to patch things up. If anyone wants to be on the left, the minimal requirement is that they not divide and distract those who are doing the real work and so enable our opponents. If they choose to run their mouths at our expense, kick them out. It’s not as if the Coulters of the world aren’t vulnerable onhg the basis of things they say, themselves, many of those on the grounds of bigotry. Being a bigot in response weakens your position against someone like her.

Those words and similar ones shouldn’t be tolerated no matter what comedian or pop star has used them in their act, no matter how gratifyingly transgressive they make the user feel. People using them have to be made to feel too hot to mistake it as ‘cool’. The soft-handed, man-talkin’, tough guys who, in reality, risk nothing in life more serious than repetitive stress should be derided and made to feel the fools they are.

Not using those words is a part of removing bad habits of thinking from the common discourse. If I was planning a strategy I’d say go after the clear cut offenses first, the easiest ones to target. Just getting rid of those annoyances would be worth the effort, I’d think. I don’t want people thinking in those terms and I do think that is important. I don’t think pay equity or Title Nine or the equal right to public accommodation would have ever become law if those terms were an acceptable default way to think about the covered classes in the voting public. It was certainly no coincidence that gay rights legislation finally started making it out of committees as it became less acceptable to target us with bigoted language and that those reforms fail in those places where verbal gay bashing is still tolerated It really matters.

I’ve never been much on adopting the language of the enemy. I never believed that it would subvert the intentions of the ones who really meant it. You can’t redeem a term of hatred in common use by using it yourself, you can’t capture it and change its meaning. Words obtain their meaning by their history and their contemporary common use. Words of bigotry are defined by bigots who use them. No matter what the language-pop-sci folk would lead you to believe.

The use of bigotry in “comedy” isn’t funny, even when used by otherwise funny comedians. Though it will get you a cheap laugh from other schmucks. Hearing bigotry freely expressed makes it seem acceptable and it influences the thinking of those who might go either way. It gives permission.

It certainly snowballed on the blogs of the left in ways I’d never have believed before last year. It was a real shock that even anti-gay invective is less accepted than the most revolting terms of misogyny. But I’ve also seen real racism, religious bigotry, ethnic bigotry and other forms of expression destructive of the effort to promote real equality and freedom. It all has to be called, it’s not as if we don’t have real ideas and problems that need to be addressed. Making all forms of bigotry out of bounds is helpful to making any form of bigotry unacceptable. The partial acceptance of bigotry is a stupid blunder.

I am just about certain that the real names of the ideals of liberalism, freedom, equality, yes, especially, love, would be considered more outré than the words of real, explicit, misogyny on some blogs of the left. And racism on others, While that might be due to their overuse in some rather gooey contexts, their intrinsically negative context doesn’t seem to have rendered the hateful words unfashionable in the same way. Though they’ve certainly gotten old.

It's one of the more irrational aspects of this that those words, the sure sign of childish, lazy thinking, are, somehow, mistaken to be a sign of adulthood. I don't know what you can do about that except to refuse to go along with that stupid idea.

So feel free to be inventive, be clever, be scathing in your suppression of the “c” word and others worthy of destruction. If you don't like it, you have every right to say so. And do it every time.

Addendum: There is a third thing that can happen in this kind of effort.

I firmly suspect that there is a constant temptation in people to be as bad as they figure they can get away with, though some people regularly seem to be able to resist. This effort can’t be seen as a license to do another stupid, divisive and time wasting* thing, inventing convenient, imaginary implied slights.

In our pop-psych addled age, the temptation of those on the losing end of an argument is sometimes to go from what’s explicitly stated to conveniently asserting things like “body language” and “unconscious intentions”, which aren’t stated explicitly. Usually it is the minutia of nuance beloved of some leftists that elicits that response rather than in the important, commonly agreed to, difference. Occult, interior motives are asserted to be the unseen taint, the mark of the bad seed, in otherwise sound leftists, asserting their otherwise reasoned arguments to be functionally unsound for the vaguest of reasons. I’d say that splitting those hairs should wait until the explicit expression of bigotry is effectively eliminated. That’s going to be a big enough job to start with. Effectively targeting those who are explicit bigots might help to eliminate those in the second tier of bigoted expression without spending time on them.

As anyone who has ever played cards knows, it’s a hallmark of the unexpressed idea that you really don’t know what it might mean or even if it’s there to begin with. Maybe it exists only in your imagination. If it’s really there it will find explicit expression, if it doesn’t you are free to assume that the interpretation more favorable to you is what was intended all along and to act accordingly. I’ve found that assuming that sometimes has the gratifying result of avoiding a pointless argument and sometimes actually turns things in a more productive direction than angry confrontation over the imagined slight. On many occasions, when the assumed interior intention becomes clear, it was quite harmless anyway.

* I’ve noticed in meetings of non-profits something like this often takes the form of “not wanting to set a precedent”. Who hasn’t sat though twenty-five minute of loftily vicious and absurd argument about just such a “precedent” issue? Well, unless explicitly stated, non-profits can pick and choose on the basis of individual merits and their own contemporary situation without worrying about precedents of that kind. I’ve never yet seen the bylaws of one that forbids that.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Obama, Ayers and the New Left (by Suzie)

          For a moment, forget all the other stuff about Obama and William Ayers. I want to know: Has Ayers apologized for being a sexist schmuck? Why aren't more people talking about Bernardine Dohrn?
          Later in this post, I also want to discuss how the New Left’s vision of feminism influences the discourse these days.
          Conservatives may think all ’60s radicals thought alike, but people on the left should know that sexism among radicals helped spark the women’s liberation movement, and that tension remains.  Jesse Lemisch, history professor emeritus of City University of New York, wrote that Ayers’ 2001 memoir "Fugitive Days" is
full of archaic sexism, littered with boasts of Ayers's sexual achievements, utterly untouched by feminism. ... "Hostility to feminism," writes Dan Berger in a new history of Weather, "characterized the organization from the beginning" …
          Daisy’s Dead Air calls Ayers a boring dork.
what? huh!? ... he is this big dangerous "terrorist" in a Sarah Palin speech ... while his wife Bernadine, the one always running the joint, isn't mentioned at all, is she?
          Dohrn was a founder and leader of the Weathermen.  Some of her old male colleagues still talk about her leadership in terms of sex appeal.
"It's a completely sexist point of view," she says. "Nobody would talk that backward way about men. I find it outrageous, really outrageous, and I think women in all walks of life, not just in public life, still receive that dual treatment."
          In recent times, Dohrn also said: “I wish that I had bridged the feminist movement and the anti-war movement better than I did.”
          In addition to opposing the Vietnam War, Weathermen talked of white privilege, showing disdain for a lot of working-class whites whom they considered racist. Not surprisingly, they had little use for white, middle-class feminists.
         In 1970, Jo Freeman described a feminist divide:
The original issue was whether the fledgling women's liberation movement would remain a branch of the radical left movement, or be an independent women's movement. … The New Left women's groups serve much the same function as traditional ladies auxiliaries.
          In 1969, for example, Dohrn had attacked the women’s movement for being middle class and for focusing on sexism, instead of “integrating (not submerging) the struggles of women into the broader revolutionary movement…”
          This critique echoes through feminism today, especially among academics and those who identify as the third wave. Many women think feminism must fight all oppressions equally, instead of focusing on gender. They think the feminism of the ’60s and ’70s benefited only middle-class white women, and they know little about the wide range of issues and activism back then.
          Whatever else the New Left accomplished, its vision of feminism took hold.

How we define feminism (by Suzie)

        In 2000, I interviewed young women in my women’s studies classes for an article on third-wave feminism. One question was: “For you, what does feminism mean?” Here are two representative replies: 
“It is the study of, practice of, and consciousness of inequalities in society/history. This applies to race, gender, age, class, disability, sexual orientation, etc. I believe that each person should be able to live without oppression of any kind.”
“It means fighting ALL oppressions for ALL minorities in the white male heterosexist society in which we live.”
         I hope all feminists oppose oppression. But I'd prefer that feminism focus on gender because not everyone fighting oppression will "remember the ladies." Focusing on gender does not mean ignoring the ways that it intersects with other factors. For example, when I work on behalf of sarcoma patients, I don't consider that feminism, even though half of them are women. But I do consider my work feminist when I look at ways that women with sarcoma may get short-changed in the health-care system.
         (Echidne has written on this topic, including this post.)

Friday sunset blogging (by Suzie)

David Lubin, M.D., shot the historic Sulphur Springs Water Tower in Tampa. He notes that this photo is "real, no manipulation."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Hound That Did Not Bark In The Night

This is about the air quotes John McCain used when talking about whether the woman's health should be taken into account in deciding on late term abortions. The hounds? They are the mainstream media who much preferred to hang out with Joe the plumber.

I. The Right To Go Out

This is the first post on a new series about the reasons why I am a feminist. My aim is to look at the lives of women on earth from a newly-fresh point of view, forgetting all those years of study and all those policies and soundbites and keywords. Instead, I want to go back to the very basics, to pretend that I have just landed on this planet and that I know nothing about humans except that they are usually divided into men and women, boys and girls.

Why am I doing this? Because I have learned that those very basics have become so obscured that many men and women no longer see them at all, no longer regard sexism a problem and no longer think that misogyny is a serious matter. I learned this during many recent discussions about Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, about sexism and racism in politics and about the post-feminist era we supposedly now inhabit.

In one of those discussions this was said:

Which is why, if I had to choose simply on this basis and no other, I'd rather see a black man in the White House than a woman.

Women don't get stopped in their cars by cops just because they are women.

The reference here is to racial profiling, and it is a serious problem. So is religious profiling of Muslims or those who are suspected of being Muslims or Arabs. It's not my intention to downplay the particular problems of racial, religious or even gender-based (read: male) police profiling. But I was dumbstruck by this comment, just dumbstruck, because my first reaction was that women would be a lot less likely to be out driving their cars in the first place, especially alone or late at night. My second reaction was the realization that people mostly don't see that female fear of the outside as a civil rights issue or a human rights issue. It's just How Things Are.

Yet the difference in our ability to go out, alone and fairly safely, is highly dependent on whether we are men or women. In some societies women are not allowed to go out alone at all, but only in the company of a male relative. In other societies women may be allowed to go the stores and such on their own but cannot travel abroad without their husband's permission. In many societies women who go out alone are regarded as prostitutes or fair game for any sexual molester. In most societies women who go out alone at night are at greater risk than men who go out alone, because women have to deal not only with the risk of getting mugged but also with the risk of getting raped. They are seen as prey. So women adjust to this, accommodate themselves to this, stay at home and agree to live lesser lives because of their sex.

I have never met a woman who isn't aware of this difference, who isn't used to carefully mapping out routes to new places, who isn't cautious about going anywhere at night on her own. But despite this and all those take-back-the-night marches the idea that women should somehow have the right to go out alone and not be at any greater risk than anyone else is -- what? A stupid idea? Impossibly idealistic?

Whatever it is it is also a human rights issue. But for some reason we have lost sight of that and other similar issues I will cover in this series.

On Joe the Plumber

The media has decided that Joe the plumber is the crystallizing moment of the third debate. It's all very silly, because Joe voted for McCain in the primaries (so how undecided is he?) and because nobody seems to know if the 250,000 dollars he mentions as his income is revenue or profit (which is what he'd be actually taxed on) and so on.

Still, we are supposed to see Joe as the composite American, the average guy, whose life is exactly like the lives of everybody else! Exactly! Except that Joe is white and can never worry about the health exception to abortion, say. And I'd bet that people who write about how very average he is have rather little in common with Joe.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My First Thought On The Last Debate

It is always extremely distasteful to watch two men discuss what should be done about abortion. Always, never mind what they say. Men don't have to worry about someone forcing pregnancy and/or childbirth on them, and I cannot help focusing on that fact whenever I have to watch an all-male debate on the topic.

That John McCain then appeared to ridicule the idea of a health exception for women who want an abortion caused my scales to rise up and my fangs to protrude.

More on the debate tomorrow.

Ben Bernanke Must Have Read This Blog

Because he is finally calling for greater regulation:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Wednesday warned that the economic slowdown is growing worse and called for greater regulation to prevent future crises like the one now menacing the nation.

I have written about the need for better regulation for a long time.

In other news, Massachusetts is cutting back on spending. I can understand why, but this is about the worst time for a state government to do that, because it increases the economic shrinkage (make of that whatever you wish).

In even further news, I will watch the debate tonight, but honest, I should be paid for doing that. I'm not a masochist.

The Thirty Percent Solution

The fierce debate on comments threads further down this blog made me read this blog post on the 30% solution. The idea is to get enough women elected into the Congress, whatever their political views and platforms, to make the total number of women at least thirty percent. That way women's issues will not be neglected in the work of the Congress. As evidence of this it's possible to point out the work legislative organs do in countries where women have indeed reached that critical mass (which may or may not be 30%) where it's no longer possible to ignore them.

On the face of it this proposal isn't that different from the work Emily's List and other similar organizations do. They all try to get more women elected so that our legislative institutions better reflect the actual population proportions of women and men. But the 30% solution is actually something much more radical: It advocates voting for women over men even when the women are anti-feminists in their beliefs and platforms, even when they advocate banning almost all forms of abortion, even when they might be opposed to federal parental leave or the right of women to sue employers or schools for sex discrimination.

If I understand the idea correctly, the 30% solution would encourage me to vote for Ann Coulter if she ran for office, despite the fact that she'd prefer to see women's suffrage abolished, because she is a woman and her presence would make women's issues of greater concern to the Congress. I don't think Ann Coulter cares about women's issues at all. If thirty percent of the Congress consisted of Ann Coulter clones women would be in deeper trouble than now.

It is certainly true that more women in politics are needed. But what those women stand for is also important. The countries which have at least thirty percent women in their legislative houses are rarely countries with a strong anti-woman fundamentalist minority of the type the United States has. Thus, those thirty percent blocs don't have many women whose mission in government appears to coincide with the mission of the Aunties in Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale: to keep other women under patriarchal control. The 30% solution seems to encourage all women to vote for the Aunties, just because they are women. It's as if their gender alone would make them sensitive to women's rights.

There is a sense in which a thirty percent bloc of women (any women) in the Congress would almost automatically reduce sexism, but it's not in the legislative arena. Rather, as Virginia Valin points out in her book Why So Slow, once women stop being a small minority among the job applicants for a particular job, say, they also stop being seen first as women and only second as the workers with the necessary skills for the job. Having more female politicians changes the image of "a politician" people have and is likely to make the treatment of individual women fairer in Congress.

Now, that would be nice. But not nice enough for me to root for the Aunties.

That Such Poverty Could Exist

I once read a story about some British king a long time ago who saw a napkin ring somewhere and inquired about its possible uses. When a lackey explained that it was used for storing and identifying each family member's napkin between meals the king exclaimed:"That Such Poverty Can Exist!" The king's napkins were naturally changed, washed and ironed after every single meal.

The story may be apocryphal, but it reflects something which is quite worrying about our current political system: To be a politician on the national level mostly requires that you are very wealthy. Once you are very wealthy you no longer truly understand how the poor live. Or even how the relatively affluent live. No health insurance? Just pay with a check!

This story is what provoked these musings:

A handful of top executives from American International Group Inc. spent thousands of dollars during a recent English hunting trip, even as the New York-based insurer asked for an additional $37.8 billion loan from the Federal Reserve.

The news comes as New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday told the insurance giant to do away with golden parachutes for executives, golf outings and parties while taking government money to stay afloat.

Cuomo said he has the power under state business law to review and possibly rescind any inappropriate AIG spending as long as the Federal Reserve is propping up the huge insurer with almost $123 billion in loans announced since Sept. 16.

"This was an annual event for customers of the AIG property casualty insurance companies in the U.K. and Europe, and planned months before the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's loan to AIG," company spokesman Peter Tulupman said Wednesday morning.

Of course all such events will be canceled right away and every single CEO will have to have a napkin ring! But this doesn't change the fact that the rich are different from the rest of us (as we are different from the very, very poor of this earth). To have the rich do most of our politicking isn't terribly smart.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lessons From Economic History

Re-reading books can be fun. Here's John Kenneth Galbraith in Affluent Society discussing the post-war economic developments in the United States:

The market revival brought no very drastic action. Desirable as sharp curtailment of federal regulation or civilian spending might be in principle, it was something to be approached with circumspection in practice. Only much later, in the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater, did the ideas of the market revival -- the elimination of social security, an end to the farm programmes -- become a programme and many wiser men were prompt to warn their candidate that action was never intended. By the time of the Nixon Administration, it was accepted that the government could simultaneously endorse competition while doing all possible to secure the favored from its effects. The sincerity of such market evangelists as Professors Milton Friedman and George Stigler of the University of Chicago was conceded but it was not imagined that they would be taken too seriously in practical matters.

They were meant to be studied, perhaps called on for advice, but not too seriously followed. Still, in Washington and in statehouses, city halls and school districts across the land, the case for public spending became the case against freedom. This added powerfully to the older arguments about the grievous burden of taxes. In the deeper intellectual wastes of Orange and Harris counties, attitudes were more severe. To be for new schools, against air pollution or in favour of stronger zoning laws was to be in support of the first awful step down the steep slippery path to communism.

Meanwhile, and remarkably, these ideas were meeting no very effective attack from liberals...

(I seem to have a British edition of the book.)

Economic history also teaches us to not focus on every day's financial market numbers as signs of either recovery or not. We need data for longer time periods than that to tell what's happening, especially because volatility is to be expected in the kind of crisis situation we are facing now.

Who Does God Root For?

I never thought I'd write a title like that one for a blog post. It sounds like blasphemy, even to a minor Greek goddess (of snakes, mind you, not of humans). Still, some men of god from the Islamic to the Christian religion are quite comfortable with the idea that their god is the stronger one, that their god is not the same god as the enemy's god, that their god would prefer to see those enemy humans squashed and destroyed for good. For good. Get it?

So is the world full of gods who fight each other? I thought this was the assumption in only polytheistic religions (well, not necessarily the fighting bit). But if there indeed are several competing gods, are most human beings pawns on the divine chess board? And how do the bishops move?

But I digress. In fact, I've digressed from the very beginning, because I really wanted to write about the related idea that god or gods very much care about who it is who will win the American presidential elections and that god or gods might even intervene by selecting the candidate or candidates which they love best. This sounds like theocracy.

In any case, it appears that the fundamentalist god has selected Sarah Palin as his candidate. We know this because that god spoke to one human being and that human being told not only the Palins but us. See how it works?

A Gift For You

Sometimes large miracles come in tiny packages.

Click on the picture to see it better. Gift by pj.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The C.U.N.T. Guy

You can watch Roger Stone, a Republican political consultant, being interviewed on television about the great dangers of Barack Obama. He's the C.U.N.T. guy. He's totally kosher! No problem interviewing him on television after that C.U.N.T. thing.

No, what he did is not at all sexist, you silly little goddess, and if it is, well, sexism is FUNNY and you have no sense of humor because you haven't been laid enough. Oh, and you're ugly, too.

Mommy Dearest

This is the name of a book by the adopted daughter of Joan Crawford, the movie star. The book argues that Crawford abused her child and in general was the Mother From Hell. The title has taken on a meaning of its own after that time, being used to denote Bad Mothers in general.

Now, you can be a Bad Mother in so many ways that an ancient goddess must sit down and take a glass of nectar just to try to count the ways. For instance, you are a Bad Mother if you have too few children, because it means you are selfish. You are also a Bad Mother if you work for money. You are a Bad Mother if you don't have a husband and especially if you are on welfare. You are a Bad Mother if you have too many children.

You are certainly a Bad Mother if you spend too much time away from your children, but you are also a Bad Mother if you hover over them. That's a Helicopter Mommy. The other kind is just a Mommy from Hell. You are a Bad Mother if you don't play your children classical music and chauffeur them from one child-enriching event to another, but you are also a Bad Mother if you don't let your children just hang out and be children. You are a Bad Mother if you don't protect your children against possible pederasts behind every bush and tree, but you are also a Bad Mother if you are overprotective.

You are a Bad Mother if you don't encourage your child all the time, but then you are a Bad Mother if you spoil and pamper your children too much. Most importantly, you are a Very Bad Mother if you delegate any of the childcare duties to another adult. Not that those duties are yours to delegate, despite the implicit assumption that it is the mothers who are responsible. They still can't delegate.

Of course there are bad mothers, just as there are bad fathers. But it's lots easier to qualify as a bad mother than a bad father and almost impossible not to qualify as a Bad Mother in someone's eyes. This might not matter much if it wasn't the case that mothering is something everyone and his nephew think they understand well enough to criticize from the outside. Mothering has no privacy boundaries in this culture, and the only type of mothering that could not be criticized is perfection.

Oddly enough, you don't even have to be a mother to earn the title of "Mommy Dearest." Some years ago the Washington Post reported on a study which analyzed the child-rearing worth of women who had married men who already had children from a previous marriage. These second wives, according to the study, were the people who were responsible for the childcare of their husband's children when those children visited, not the fathers themselves. The report on the study was titled "Mommy Dearest!" Now you can be a Bad Mother without even being a mother and without ever realizing that you are viewed as one. Neat.


This post has been fertilized by the criticisms of Sarah Palin's mothering skills I have seen in all sorts of unexpected places, stretching from feminist listserves to the comments threads of progressive blogs. It was nurtured by the realization I had that Joe Biden could be commended for being a single-father who didn't give up on his high-flying political career while his sons were recovering from the horrible car accident that killed his wife and daughter, but that an imaginary Jane Biden would not have been so commended, because women still can't delegate parenting (without being judged for that) while men can.

The picture is of a mommy doggie, having a well-deserved siesta in the tropics. Courtesy of pj.

Michelin Stars And Other Angry Thoughts

Today a radio program interviewed all sorts of restaurant owners and chefs who have been given those much-coveted Michelin stars in the U.S.. All those interviewed were men, on both sides of the awarding process. I'm sure that female chefs and restaurant owners have also received those delicious little stars, but not in any reasonable proportion to the numbers of women actually cooking on this earth.

And why does listening to that show make me angry? Because. Because imagine that there was something like the Michelin Star system for the best authors of books about how to take care of your infant or your young child. What do you think the sex distribution of those star-awardees would be? Once again, it would be almost completely male.

Here's the reason for my anger: Those who believe that the two sexes have inherently different tasks in this world (whether for god-given or genetic reasons) always assign women the tasks of cooking and child-rearing and nursing the sick. Yet the leading figures in these most womanly of fields are men. I have even read about radical feminists who eagerly consult books written by men on how to take care of their babies. Note that these men were never actually required to spend any hands-on time on childcare. They could become experts from a distance! Without actually spending years alone in a house with a child!

It's not actually the gender of these "experts" that makes me angry, but the pretense that a sex-segregated society of the type both fundamentalists and some feminists imagine could ever be an equal society. It would most assuredly be nothing of the kind. Women would be segregated to their households and every household would have a male boss. To create an equal system under sex-segregation would require something like two separate countries, one for women and one for men, and the trade would consists of sperm parcels and the return of boy babies, with some money and resources also paid by the men given that women have to spend more energy in delivering the babies. I'm pretty sure that no religious fundamentalist anti-feminist would ever approve of such a system should it ever be feasible in any case which I doubt.

My anger is over the pretense that "separate but equal" is possible for men and women under the present systems of cohabitation. It is not, and nothing good follows from pretending that it is. We have to learn to integrate the sexes better.

Three Cheers For Paul Krugman

He just got the Nobel Prize in economics. Most of you know him much better as a political columnist at the New York Times, but it's really important to understand that he didn't get the prize for that. He got it for his squiggly (maths) work in international trade.

I've met him in person and he seemed like a very modest and approachable guy.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Newsflash: Self-proclaimed hockey mom decidedly unpopular at actual hockey game (by Skylanda)

That Sarah "Pitbull with Lipstick" Palin would be booed on the Philadephia ice at the Flyers game on Saturday was entirely - almost boringly - predictable. It was predictable because Philadelphia is not exactly a Republican stronghold. It was predictable because booing anything on the ice is a de riguer part of any actual hockey game, the prelude to any actual hockey game, and - quite frequently - the post-victory festivities of any hockey game. One would think, as a, ya know, hockey mom and all, she would not have needed to be apprised of this phenomenon in advance.

Which makes it kinda weird that she brought her school-aged kid onto the ice with her. Now, far be it for me to criticize Sarah Palin's mad mommy skillz; I've railed against this bizarre brand of sexism here and elsewhere, and I stand by that. I am also fully in favor of exposing kids to the great wide world of wacky humanity from more or less whatever tender age won't traumatize them into nightmares that you don't want to have to comfort them through at three in the morning, so I don't hold it against Palin on principle that she brought a six-ish year-old to a hockey game, even if the last hockey game I went to (in the terribly tame venue of a semi-pro team in the Pacific northwest) had more bloody noses and broken jaws than a Steven Segal movie - and that was just in the stands. (Though I do have to ask: geez, are these the same people who were criticizing the Obamas for exploiting their two daughters with a controlled, pre-filmed TV spot?)

What is so jarring is that anyone at all was surprised by the jeers, the boos, the prevalence of middle fingers, the whole crazy drunken scene. Or that anyone is so outraged by it. Or that anyone buys that the kid was brought for any reason other than to try (unsuccessfully) to preempt the absolutely assinine specter of a self-proclaimed hockey mom showing up to a city in which she is rabidly unpopular and expecting the rowdiest crowds this side of a British soccer match on a national holiday to treat her daughter like a lady.
Moreover, that anyone is actually trying to compare jeering Palin at a pro sports venue to the frightening and reactionary display exhibited by McCain supporters last week. You remember - that was the rally where reporters openly filmed McCain supporters shouting that Obama is a terrorist (and if you don't remember, scroll down a few days to echidne's post for a five-minute few screen shot of the rally in question), and another in Florida where "Kill him!" was heard echoing in the crowd, though with some apparent ambiguity as to whom we should actually be lynching on behalf of the shouter of said threat. Racist, threatening epithets hurled by people in political venues does not equal being booed on the ice at a hockey game. There are some salient differences, in case one needs to hear these pointed out. One is that no one - at least by all reports, including those from Fox News - made threatening remarks toward Palin. Two is that no one equated her with terrorism due to the nature of her middle name (Obama's is Hussein, spoken of course with a sort of spit and acid meant to make clear that his sort is not welcome around these parts). The third is that if you choose to appear in a venue where booing is practically a rite of honor, fer chrissakes, suck it up and enjoy the show...although maybe not with the kid in tow.

It kinda makes you wonder if the "hockey mom" schtick isn't just about as hollow as the rest of the McCain/Palin schtick: one more attempt to connect with the down-home, real folks of America by pretending toward something that your actions prove you know surprisingly little about.

P.S. Another fun part of this story: watching the McCain-ite blogosphere trip all over themselves arguing simultaneous that a) she wasn't booed that loud - it's just the biased liberal media over-reporting a couple of jeers; and b) that hockey-going liberals are a bunch of boorish thugs for booing a woman and child so vilely. It's amusing, really.


Pictures by hmj.

Profound Intrinsic Ability (by Phila)

According to a groundbreaking new study, cultures that value mathematical ability in women produce women who are good at math:
Do females intrinsically have less ability than males to excel in mathematics at the very highest level? Conventional wisdom seems to say yes. Harvard University president Lawrence Summers also seemed to give credence to this notion in 2005 when he suggested that it might account in part for the very small number of women professors in elite university math departments.

But a new study proclaims a resounding "no", providing a fact-based case to back up this conclusion. The study, "Cross-Cultural Analysis of Students with Exceptional Talent in Mathematical Problem Solving," appearing in the November 2008 issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, brings together decades of data from several extremely high-level mathematics competitions for young people. These data show that there exist many females with profound intrinsic ability in mathematics. What is more, whether this ability is identified and nurtured is highly dependent on socio-cultural, educational, or other environmental factors. In the United States, these factors keep many boys as well as most girls from developing their mathematical talents to the fullest.
So as anyone who has thought honestly about the situation for ten seconds already knows, America's basic contempt for education hobbles males and females, but only females are accounted to have some inborn flaw that prevents them from excelling. I suspect that the conservative ideologues who find evidence of divine handiwork in mitochondria would have a great deal of trouble detecting a guiding inteligence behind this outcome, even as they work indefatigably to maintain and justify it.

Here's what these great patriots have accomplished for their country:
American children of immigrants from countries where math talent is highly valued — notably Eastern Europeans and Asians — are much more likely to be identified as possessing extraordinary mathematical ability.

The pipeline for nurturing top math talent in the U.S. is badly broken beginning at the middle school level. Eighty percent of female and 60 percent of male faculty hired in recent years by the very top U.S. research university mathematics departments were born in other countries.
Meanwhile, over at Phi Beta Cons, which is National Review's blog on higher education, George Leef responds to the news that "the latest generation of adults in the United States may be the first since World War II, and possibly before that, not to attain higher levels of education than the previous generations."
Chill out, say I. Like most higher-ed cheerleaders, Broad attaches far too much importance to years of formal education...People who spend four or more years and lots of money, often borrowing heavily, may wind up doing mundane work that calls for no academic preparation.
Some might say the solution is to make education more affordable, if not free, while increasing our investment in job-creating fields like -- oh, I don't know -- environmental science and engineering. But that would require renewing a social contract that Leef and his ilk have rejected, and it could also lead to a national realization that certain American social inequalities are "due, at least in part, to a variety of socio-cultural, educational or other environmental factors that differ significantly among countries and ethnic groups and can change over time." Which would be inconvenient, to say the least.

In other news, it seems that pregnancy doesn't actually make women stupid, after all. But it can cause them to miss out on educational opportunities.
Pregnancy and motherhood may make us all go a little gooey [???], but it's not turning mums' brains into mush, according to mental health researchers at The Australian National University.

The study – conducted by the Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR) at ANU – suggests that despite fears mothers may have that pregnancy affects their cognitive functions, there is no evidence to suggest that is true....

"One thing we did observe was that women who have children become marginally less well educated than women who don't have children in their 20s. While this is hardly surprising, as having children will interrupt education, it is something to watch in the future as early mothers may be disadvantaged later on if they do not continue with further training," she added.
Then again, they're probably going to "wind up doing mundane work that calls for no academic preparation" anyway, so they might as well save the money they would've spent on higher education and invest it in something worthwhile, like the stock market. Yet another reason to choose life!

III. Democracy Is Hard Work, It Isn’t Diverting or Glamorous by Anthony McCarthy

How serious are we about this democracy? Do we think that government of the People, by the People and for the People is important enough to save?

George W. Bush says that he is sending Americans to die for democracy in Iraq. He says that's why he is sending them to die in Afghanistan. Apparently he likes sending them to die for democracy so much that he is looking for a third place to send even more. He says it so often that those words are some of the rare ones practiced enough to come out clear. To paraphrase one of our finest writers; he says and says and says those things, he says them but he lies them. We know he's lying because there is no prospect for democracy in Iraq and once he invaded there the possibility of setting up any real government in Afghanistan disappeared. Even if he hadn't invaded anywhere he had begun the dismantling of democracy in the United States before the ballots were counted in Florida. Republicans have proven over and again that they are determined to see democracy perish, if not from the face of the earth, certainly here.

But that's them. How much do we value democracy? What do you think of these three ideas?

- Anyone convicted of intimidating voters, vote tampering, vote rigging, voter fraud or any other crime against the right of the People to an honest election should receive a mandatory twenty-five year sentence with no possibility of parole. Considering the consequences we are witnessing, twenty-five seems like a light sentence for the crime.

- It will be an impeachable offense for any judge or Supreme Court Justice to prevent the counting of a legitimate vote cast by an eligible voter in any election. The right of the People to cast a vote and to have it counted overrides any state or local regulations. Too many of those are clearly designed to lessen voter participation to begin with. A judge who hampers voting has violated the most basic right of a citizen and is unfit for the office in a democracy. The same holds for any other office in any part of the government.

- No President or governor should have the power to pardon someone who has tampered with an election for them or their party. If someone was to be convicted in the thefts of Ohio, Florida or in the forgotten irregularities in New Hampshire, Bush will pardon them and a deal for their silence will be worked out as quickly as you can say Cap Weinberger. If you doubt this look at the millions of dollars the RNC gave the recently convicted James Tobin. And that was just for some petty phone jamming in a Senate race. I'm just about certain that the idea of a pardon after the fall elections will have been considered.

As mentioned in part II, the scholars, such as are always called upon to lull us with the assurances that we are wrong about things going to hell, rhapsodize about the three branches. The three branches in balance that protect our liberties, each keeping the others in check. Here's something that always seems to be lost on those brilliant thinkers, branches die without roots. The voters keep the whole thing alive. A tree that gets cut down might send up new growth, if the roots are destroyed the whole tree rots in place. Our roots are shriveled. They require attention and I mean now. The branches are loaded down with leaves. You want to keep that tree, it's time for emergency pruning. June 2006

Update 2008

Being a life long resident of a small town in New England, I’ve gone to dozens of real town meetings. Both regular and special. Our town has had more than three thousand residents my entire life, it has about eight thousand today. Seeing how that fabled and mythic form of “self-government” actually works, I don’t hold any illusions about it.

First, you will not get more than a tiny fraction of the voting population to come, it is inconvenient to the point of being a hindrance to participation.

Second, the primarily budgetary issues will not be familiar to all but a hand full of those who show up. The arguments at town meetings are typically conducted out of ignorance and without most understanding the figures posted in the town report which everyone has in front of them. In the end, most town meetings typically pass the proposed budget with small, symbolic, changes, if for nothing else, to get it done. The big cuts are often made out of whipped up anger and often, though not always, are ill-advised, often costing the town many times more in following years when the problems created can’t be ignored.

Third, most town meetings are gamed by interest groups and small, interested cliques, many on the town payroll, some at the behest of corporations and developers. Typically the police and fire departments and their families attend, vote in their budgets and leave. Other interest groups do the same. I’ve seen town meetings which were clearly being controlled by the moderator (often the town’s real estate lawyer) and two members of the meeting. The rules don’t prevent that.

Many of the towns around mine are de-emphasizing town meeting because they have grown too big and the interest groups too effective for the results to be tolerable. I’ve had arguments about town meeting government with the romantics on the blogs, it turned out that many of them hadn't actually attended even one. One particularly strong adherent of town meeting government, when I revealed the size of my town, memorably dismissed me as being “from Podunk”. Having dissed irony in another post this morning, I’m not at liberty to invoke it now.

The romantic view of “self government” is a fairy tale, the reality of what is required for real direct democracy is, frankly, a lot more hard work and understanding than all but a few people are willing to put into it*. Those few are mostly someone who wants something, funding or to be allowed to develop property against the common good and the sustainability of the environment.

Governmental structures and practices have to be changed to what will attract the efforts of an effective majority who will put the common good first. What we’ve done, what we’ve allowed out of romantic fantasy and abstract, Jeffersonian, federalist, principle hasn’t worked. It accounts for the failure of our schools and our local government, it accounts for the corruption of our elections and of all levels of government. Having competent, honest representative government is the only solution to the problem of conducting The Peoples’ business. That is true on every level.

The solutions to these real problems of democracy are not promoted by abstract theory or romantic myth. They aren’t diverting, they are only of the utmost importance. It is hard, difficult, often boring work. It isn’t glamorous in the way royalty and other despotic governments can seem. It’s only our lives and freedom in the balance.

* This is one of the reasons that I have the deepest respect for good politicians, those who dedicate themselves to doing The People’s business on behalf of the common good. It is also why I disdain those who make cheap attacks on them when they can’t do it all. Having worked as a campaign volunteer for Democratic candidates, just running is more hard work than the causal carpers would ever expend on the common good.

Two Problems We Have Right Now by Anthony McCarthy

Every Day Should Be Don’t Talk Like A Sexist Prat Day

Yes, the misogynist boys of the blogs are still there, bonding over their hatred of Hillary Clinton and other women. Yes, they are a blight on the leftist blogosphere, they ARE the exact equivalent of the racists in putrid bloom on Republican blogs. The big difference is that they are damaging OUR effort to push the agenda of progressives, liberals and leftists. By attaching themselves like toxic limpets to Barack Obama, they are creating a problem for his campaign. Clearly their boy bonding is more important to them than his winning the election.

They need to be told to shut up and, since they don’t have very long attention spans, don’t care about the damage they do to the left and can’t be reasoned with, they need to be told to shut up repeatedly. They don’t hear women’s voices, they need to be made to hear them.

They divide us, weaken us and give our enemies ammunition to use against us, and most topically, they damage our candidates. They must be made to feel uncomfortable, they need to be inhibited, they need to be given cooties.

Sexism has to be made an unacceptable form of expression just as racism and homophobia does and that depends on us calling them on it constantly. You can depend on them using the “I was being ironic” dodge when you do, don’t fall for that one. Since the word has been stretched out of any coherence, irony is now the lowest form of humor, it is the last refuge of bigots.

I propose that the randomly chosen day, October 18, 2008, should be “Tell Sexists Blog Boys To Shut Up Day”. Having no organizational talent, spreading the word will depend on others. I hope the habit takes and they are made to feel our anger with them.

Hillary Clinton’s Future Is Too Important To Us, We Can’t Allow Her So Called Supporters To Damage Her.

I've been around politics long enough to know a rump of obsessed monomaniacs often follows in the wake of a strong charismatic candidate but, really, I've never known of such a rump effort to persist in nursing its grudges when that fine candidate has moved on to try to make better use of their time and efforts. I don’t believe most of the so-called PUMAs are really interested in Hillary Clinton’s success. On the blogs, I am just about certain that many of them are actually Republican agent provocateurs.

Hillary Clinton's real supporters are taking her at her word and are now supporting candidates who will further the agenda she set out, and that means electing Democrats next month.

The few who are bent on tearing down her party for revenge, and in response to the likes of those addressed above. I’m afraid they are trying to draft her into what's turning into a Nader-style cult, only without a leader. They do that against Hillary Clinton’s own request, against her will. They are using her just as surely as the blog boys use her, for their own ends. They feed on each other and waste our time and effort, that is the reason I am addressing both here.

I respect Hillary Clinton and believe she means what she says. Something that these other most curious “supporters” don’t believe. More important than what we think, she deserves better than that. She has devoted her life and her enormous abilities to Democratic politics, she's too important to allow her to be damaged by those stealing her identity. If it persists, especially if it succeeds, Hillary Clinton will be the ultimate victim of their efforts.