Saturday, January 10, 2009

'She's grace on the streets.' " posted by Anthony McCarthy

I never met Stella May Brown Weaco but reading her obituary and watching a TV report of her memorial lunch at Women's Lunch Place, I wish I had. The people who knew her testify to a life of dignity, kindness, profound politeness and consequence from a destitute street person. I’m just going to give you some of those quotes.

"I remember seeing her on the coldest, snowiest night you could imagine," said Dr. Jim O'Connell, president of Boston Health Care for the Homeless, who first encountered Stella in 1985. "We would be frightened for her health, but she would politely decline our offers to take her someplace to spend the night. She was robust in the true sense of the word."

"Stella was a ray of sunshine - that was her nickname, 'Sunshine,' " said Kate Ebbott, a volunteer at Women's Lunch Place

"I think she knew everyone's quirks by sitting and looking," said a tall woman who dined there with Stella for a decade. "She'd look at you and you'd almost feel she knew things about you."

Said Julie, who was taking refuge from Wednesday morning's chilling rain, "It was uplifting to be in her presence."

"We would offer her food and a blanket, and she would always be exquisitely polite and always smile,"

"Stella was a great woman who quietly taught people life lessons. Those eyes - I used to say, 'How can you say no to her smiling eyes?' "

"As I was leaving, I asked Stella if she wanted me to get her anything," Reilly said. "She looked at me and said, 'You know, Sharon, I don't need a thing. I have enough.' "

Reading this article and hearing this report were uplifting. Considering what people said about Stella Mae Brown Weaco, her grace seems to transcend her death. To hear that such a person, someone who had the ability to touch so many people so deeply while living on the lowest level our society lets people fall to, was a lesson in practical optimism. Here is an example of the reality that dignity and worth can be created out of the humblest of resources by a single person of transcendent good will.

Our Silence Buys Death For Others, Not Us. by Anthony McCarthy

Note: This was originally written the other day just after reading the column referenced. This mornings letters in the Boston Globe show I wasn’t the only one who was thinking along these lines.

Laziness is an endemic disease among newspaper columnists. Having to produce three pieces a week, trying to go through the motions of being a journalist while not doing any of the actual work of producing accurate information - the job of the real journalists, the reporters - the lesser columnist will often fall back on repeating themselves, and others, and of making the same tired arguments provided by propagandists for various interests . Successful bloggers, not hired by publishers or editors, but sustained only by their ability to attract non-paying readers, often do a better job than the columnists. The good blogs are regularly better than the paid opinion scribblers, even those at some of our most prestigious papers and magazines.

As such, Jeff Jacoby’s attempt today to equate criticism of Israel’s attack on Gaza with classic anti-Semitism is a pretty threadbare tactic wielded automatically to silence the critics of Israel’s government and military. Though he tries to muddy the waters by disclaiming what he does in the rest of the column, he puts criticism of the Gaza invasion in the basket marked anti-Zionism and calls that the equal of anti-Semitism. He even quotes The Rev. Martin Luther King jr. saying pretty much that in 1968. Well, raise your level of skepticism when Jeff Jacoby quotes MLK, and take into account that even King’s words, taken out of their context and applied to a situation forty years after his death might not mean what he might have concluded today. The equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism was inaccurate even back then, though both often exist in the same person. An anti-Semite is regularly also a paranoid anti-Zionist. The undifferentiated equation of the two ideas, though, is a habit that should have been broken in the time since then. It survives because it is useful to those who don’t want an unbigoted, rational, factually informed body of critics of Israel to be heard. Certainly not here, in the United States. It is the tool usually used to silence those of us who are not anti-Jewish but who can’t see how the present situation, aided and abetted by the United States, can do anything but make things worse.

First, anti-Zionism isn’t the same thing as the pathological hatred of Jews. I once heard an old Jewish man in New Hampshire tell the mild joke that “A Zionist is someone who thinks YOU should move to Palestine”. There are Jews who haven’t thought that the establishing an Israeli state was a good idea. Some even citing religious reasons for that up to this day. Such anti-Zionists can’t be considered to be anti-Semites, certainly. And there are those who think Zionism wasn’t such a great idea.

And there are non-Jews who have deep misgivings about the location of Israel. I’m one of those who, at times like these, regret that the Jews who wanted to escape persecution in Europe and elsewhere weren’t given a part of the United States to create a state after the war. Or, even better, I wish they were offered American citizenship as humanitarian refugees. I’d have preferred a history of the world in which Jews were allowed to come here BEFORE they were slaughtered in Europe by the Nazis and others. It is instructive to remember who would have opposed the mass immigration of Jews to the United States at that time, many of them were the ancestors of those who pretend to be the greatest friends Israel has today. And one of the great reasons they would have been opposed, other than their virulent hatred of Jews, is because Jews have largely been a great force for liberalism and progress here. A lot of the far-right Jewish activity here is the direct consequence of having a state created out of war and sustained only at the cost of nearly constant war. I don’t think the influence of those right wingers has been good for the United States or the world in general. So, would someone who wishes that Israel had never displaced Palestinians but who wishes that Jews had come here instead belong in Jacoby’s basket?

But Zionism is largely a moot point today. Israel as a strong military and nuclear state is there and has been for sixty years. It’s there and it isn’t going to disappear without taking the millions which comprise Israel and many other millions with it. If Israel used nuclear weapons on its neighbors, the position of Jews world-wide would become incalculably more dangerous than it is now. While there are those insane enough to risk that, using that fact as a gambit in some demented political chess game, they cannot be allowed to control the situation. The Bush II policy in that region doesn’t seem to even achieve that level of responsible consideration. Bush-Cheney have produced the most irresponsible record of American nonfeasance in the history of that horribly serious crisis. The disasters of Lebanon and Gaza are just some of the results. That disaster, the reactions, back and forth, will continue into the future.

The creation of a Jewish state in Palestine was supposed to provide Jews a place where they could live in security and safety. Has it worked? Is there any evidence in the sixty years since the creation of Israel that Jews there are safer there than in many other places in the world? Did Zionism deliver on what it promised? In some ways, certainly. The resurrection of Hebrew, the focus on a single location, a Jewish nation and in many other ways Zionism delivered some of its intended results. But that state has never been secure, the idea that it will is decreasing as time passes but the dangers don’t diminish. Some of the worst cases of anti-Semitic violence, such as the bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, are motivated by the existence of the Israeli state. This is hardly the first time that fact has been noted.

I haven’t been able to find figures on the post-Stalin Soviet Union, one of the major cases of anti-Semitic practice in recent history. Were more Jews killed or maimed there than in Israel itself during those years? I wonder if anyone has ever examined the record of Zionism in those terms. I have a suspicion someone in Israel might have. If they had the bravery to translate into English and risked the enmity of those who want an iron wall of silence on questions like that in the United States, I’d like a citation. If Zionism is supposed to make Jews more secure in the world, it hasn’t been an unalloyed success.

But, as stated above, that is all entirely irrelevant to finding a way to stopping the killing, now. Israel is there, it is going to be there. The Palestinians are there too and they are not going away. Alas, Israelis are not going to be offered the deal to come here to live in security and peace. I’m absolutely certain that many of the safe, secure ultra-Zionists, those quickest to pull the anti-Semitism card on any but the most primitive dichotomous thinkers on these issues, those who replace loyalty tests with attempts to find a way out of the killing, would be among the strongest opponents of such an idea. In the reverse- chop logic of that kind of ultra-Zionism, the wish to have more Jews living and voting in the United States would be “anti-Semitic”. Many of the right-wing “christian” “friends of Israel” would suddenly find that they wouldn’t welcome Jews with open arms under that non-violent, anti-apocalyptic scenario. That peculiarly American , right wing dynamic , the alliance of the American far right with the domestic Israel lobby, is getting people there killed.

The exercise of wishing that things done in the first half of the 20th century is something I gave up on a while back. Though I did think about emptying out Mississippi and offering it as a “New Israel” after one of its politicians proposed the genocide of another country and that the land be given to Israel. You have to wonder what the "christian" fundamentalist reaction to that proposal would be. Certainly it would get more opposition than the proposal that started that fantasy in my mind.

In the mean time Palestinians are getting killed, as are Israelis, but many hundreds of times more Palestinians than Israelis. I think the Olmert government, one of the more incompetent in Israeli history, a chief ally of the United States, invaded Gaza largely for political reasons. The upcoming elections there, which his party might well lose and the outgoing Bush regime here, which gave that government tacit permission to do just about anything, are certain to have figured into the timing. As stated before, I want to see as many of the people are yet to die in this invasion live full lives and die of natural causes. That’s my bottom line in judging any policy. I don’t think the present situation will become anything but worse and that the Bush II administration and its policy of letting the Olmert government invade Lebanon and now Gaza is one of the worst ideas that worst of all American Presidencies has had.

A lazy, dishonest columnist, such as Jeff Jacoby, slopping “Jew-hater” tar over people who have had enough of this situation, plays a crucial role in keeping failed policies going. It’s time we asked people who do that what their bottom line is. It clearly includes hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of people getting killed into the far distant future. That is certainly more important an issue than the awful words some ignorant people in angry opposition to the invasion of Gaza spout before going back to their comfortable, relatively secure and affluent lives. I’m not answerable for any anti-Semitic ranters of the kind he catalogues in his tiresome and dishonest column. I’d have no problem if every one of them miraculously lost the ability to speak or act. They are as much an impediment to finding our way out of insanity as the right-wing Israel lobby here is. Indeed, I’ve declared that I have no intention of defending bigots’ rights to free speech here or anywhere, early and often in my blogging life. I will, however, exercise my speech rights on this topic without worrying about the likes of Jeff Jacoby trying to associate me with neo-Nazis. I will condemn Israel’s disproportionate response to the rockets fired from Gaza or their refusal to take a chance on Palestinians having what their ideology claims as the right of all people, a real state to call their own. I will also condemn any other side which, for political gain, gets people killed.

Instead of reading Jacoby’s stenography, you might rather read this article.

Yet American politics moves in a parallel, disconnected universe when it comes to the Middle East. Here, being “pro-Israel” requires only mouthing scripted talking points about staunch support for Israel, the special American-Israeli relationship and the shared bond in the war on terrorism.

For the sake of Israel, the United States and the world, it is time for American political discourse to re-engage with reality. Voices of reason need to reclaim what it means to be pro-Israel and to establish in American political discourse that Israel’s core security interest is to achieve a negotiated two-state solution and to define once and for all permanent, internationally recognized borders.

For me, this isn’t just an abstract issue of politics or public policy. It is rooted in my family’s history and a generations-long search for safety and for a home for the Jewish people.

Friday, January 09, 2009

More Critter Fun

From a German weather forecast, of all things:

Via Moonbootica.

Today's Action Alert And Cheers

Good news:

Today Congress took a step toward correcting that injustice. The House passed both the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, restoring and establishing basic protections for employees who are subject to wage discrimination. The Ledbetter Act repeals the 180 day requirement, while the Paycheck Fairness Act protects employees from retaliation by employers if they bring complaints and allows them to sue for compensatory and punitive damages. With news today that unemployment this month has hit 7.2%, a 16-year high, any protections for workers are welcome.

Thanks to all of you who contacted your Representatives! Now onwards and upwards to the Senate. Here's a page which lets you contact your Senators.

Friday Critter Blogging: World Peace Possible?

I hope so. These pictures (thanks to hmj) are proof of peace being possible, at least among cats:

Of course keeping the house fairly chilly helps, too...

The gospel of testosterone (by Suzie)

       "Evolutionary psychology gives us a way of understanding our true nature."
       So says former church pastor Michael Dowd, who has written a book, “Thank God for Evolution.” His Web site proclaims him “one of the most inspiring speakers in America today,” and he tailors speeches to different groups, including men’s groups.
       He doesn't just promote evolution. He uses evolutionary psychology to assure men that it’s natural for them to take risks and want sex with lots of women. (Evol Psych often has been discussed on this blog. A newcomer might want to start with Echidne's “Penis Envy.”)
         Dowd writes that “a rise in status will boost baseline testosterone levels in humans and other primates.” I haven’t examined the studies, but it is unclear how long the rise in testosterone lasts, especially because it may depend on a man’s perception of his status. Studies have focused on men; we know less about women.
          Dowd goes on to say:
If we deny our evolutionary heritage, then promotion at work or election to public office will catch us by surprise — and possibly wreak havoc in our marriages and other relationships.
As it turns out, such had indeed been the case for the gentleman who pulled me aside after church. "I've never told anyone this before," he began. "Many years ago, when I was working for a large corporation, I got a big promotion. Immediately, my life began to fall apart. I couldn't understand it. Within a year, I had multiple affairs and my marriage was in ruins. It cost me my job, too." He grasped my hand and said, "Thank you for helping me understand how this could have happened."
          Did this guy really not know that men with money and power sometimes cheat? Or, was he now blaming testosterone? As a Catholic critic argues, “There is no denying that insight into one's psyche helps one make good choices.” But you don’t have to accept Dowd’s arguments to understand that hormones may influence thinking or behavior.
          In a Wired interview, Dowd continues his testimony on testosterone: "The more a person has, the more a person tends to take risks and think about sex."
          Science hasn’t proved a neat cause-and-effect correlation, especially when comparing men with women, as opposed to comparing a person before and after an increase in testosterone. Because men average 40 to 60 times more testosterone than women, someone might take that as proof that men were that much more likely to take risks and think about sex.
          Understanding our "true nature" will help us live more ethical lives, Dowd says. 
[Wired]: Couldn't someone just as easily argue that we ought to obey our base instincts, since we evolved that way?
Dowd: That's where it's important to understand the direction of evolution. When we look at the pre-human world, then at human cultural evolution, we see greater spheres of cooperation, of complexity and interdependence at an ever-wider scale. At first we cooperated with family and clan; then at the level of tribe; then, later on, at the level of the kingdom; and now, at a planetary level. Our list of enemies keeps shrinking, and the people for whom we have cooperation and compassion keeps expanding. Why don't we go act on base instincts? Because it goes counter to this trajectory.
           Many scientists would disagree with his idea of evolutionary progress. The Catholic critic  I cited above notes that belief in evolution does not guarantee that people will do good. Think of the eugenics movement, or all the people who have used biology to justify patriarchy.
          Asked about the risk of turning science into dogma, Dowd responds:
The scientific enterprise tends to nurture humility… it's always open to being corrected…
I hope Dowd will have the humility to consider how he may be wrong.
I’ll be gone for a few days. Please talk among yourselves.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Madoff's Family Values

I have often thought that the conservative view of 'family values' is an odd one in many ways. It's not only shorthand for the subjugation of women and the sole dominance of a family patriarch. It can also be a set of values which are upheld by people who otherwise lead lives of crime (or evil as Bush would say). Think of the Maffia, for instance.

The Madoff case is interesting to me mostly because of what it tells about the torrid affair between Wall Street and those who were supposed to be keeping an eye on the shenanigans of that street. But it's also a glimpse into the mind of a man who thought nothing of embezzling money from the many, whatever the consequences of that might have been, while clearly trying to protect his biological family, beginning with his efforts to leave his sons blameless in the Ponzi scheme.

Then we learn that he is still taking care of his family:

Investigators searching the office desk of Bernard Madoff after his arrest found about 100 signed checks, totaling about $173 million, ready to be sent to family, friends, and employees, prosecutors said.


Prosecutors on Jan. 5 asked Ellis to jail Madoff because he mailed items including a diamond bracelet and watches to family in violation of a court-ordered asset freeze. In a letter to Ellis two days later, Madoff's defense lawyer, Ira Sorkin, said his client didn't know the order from the SEC lawsuit applied to his personal items and that he was merely sending sentimental items to family.

Those 'sentimental items' were worth more than one million dollars:

The heirlooms included at least 16 watches, a jade necklace, an emerald ring, four diamond brooches, two sets of cufflinks, a diamond bracelet and other assorted jewelry from brands like Cartier and Tiffany.

So he is allowed to go on committing crimes after house arrest? Truly, the rich are different from the rest of us.

"A" is For Amish Men Who Go Out To Work

And use technology there. The New York Times coins this change as the greatest cultural change for the Amish, the religious sect which stopped their acceptance of new technology to that point of time when its members first came to the New World. Buttons, for instance, were new-fangled inventions then and, as far as I know, are still frowned upon. Thus, the Amish don't have electricity or telephones inside their homes. Indeed the Amish reluctance of all things new encompasses the custom of not allowing their children to stay at school past age twelve.

All that was based on the ability of the Amish to make a living out of their self-contained farming communities, but farming is no longer sufficient for making a living. Hence the need for the Amish to go out to work or to start their own businesses:

The Amish move into the world of commerce has been more out of necessity than desire. Over the last 16 years, the Amish population in the United States — mostly in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana — has nearly doubled, to 230,000, and the decreasing availability and increasing cost of farmland has forced many of these agrarian families, especially the younger generation, to gravitate to small business as their main source of income.

The businesses, which favor such Amish skills as furniture-making, quilting, construction work and cooking, have been remarkably successful. Despite a lack of even a high school education (the Amish leave school after the eighth grade), hundreds of Amish entrepreneurs have built profitable businesses based on the Amish values of high quality, integrity and hard work. A 2004 Goshen College study reported that the failure rate of Amish businesses is less than 5 percent, compared with a national small-business default rate that is far higher. (According to a federal study, only two-thirds of all small-business start-ups survive the first two years and fewer than half make it to four years.)

Hmm. Quilting is mentioned in that list of Amish skills. Their quilts are world-famous, and for a very good reason as they are superb works of art. I'm pointing this out, because that indirect reference to the Amish women (who are the makers of the quilts) seems to be the only part where women enter the story.

Well, they also enter it indirectly here:

Many Amish have dealt with the collision of modern business technology and old world values by keeping their home and work lives completely separate. Though they still drive horses and buggies, remain off the power grid and wear simple, handmade clothing, some are using computers and power tools and talking on cellphones at their jobs.

"Wear simple, handmade clothing?" And who makes that clothing, by hand?

Mr. Troyer grew up on a farm without electricity, automobiles, telephones or television. His home is still without these modern conveniences but he is comfortable using a phone and computer at work. He does not drive but is willing to ride in a car. He acknowledges that some Amish churches grapple with collision of the old and the new and will not allow their members to use a phone or ride in a car, even at work. "Our community is a little more liberal," Mr. Troyer said.

It is the women whose jobs are at home. So it is the women who still don't have access to modern technology in their work. They make the clothes by hand and cook without gas or electricity and how they wash the clothes I dread to imagine. It's useful to make that clear, among all the enthusing about the various ways the Amish manage to keep their family lives pure of modernistic influence. There's a big difference between wearing hand-made clothes while eating simple meals at home and making those clothes and those meals. The writer of this article took a man's view to the "A" in the Amish question.

Sob. Chris Matthews Will Not Run.

For Senate, that is:

Chris Matthews, the host of the MSNBC program "Hardball," told his staff on Wednesday night that he would not run for the Senate in 2010 from Pennsylvania.

For much of the last year, Mr. Matthews had been considering entering the Senate race as a Democrat in his home state at the same time he was renegotiating his contract with NBC News. He had attended several meetings that had included Pennsylvania representatives as well as some major fund-raisers in the Democratic Party.

But Mr. Matthews, who was once a top aide to the House speaker, Tip O'Neill of Massachusetts, and ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1974, never formally declared himself a candidate, a decision which would have forced him out of his position at MSNBC.

In an interview in October, Mr. Matthews said, "People have asked me about it. I've never told anyone that I'm running."

There has been speculation that Mr. Matthews, 63, was flirting with a Senate run as a way to give him some leverage in his contract talks. According to at least one earlier report, NBC was planning to ask Mr. Matthews to return but wanted him to take a drastic pay cut — from $5 million a year to an amount closer to $1 million.

I'd be willing to mouth off for even just one million bucks a year. I'm certain I can think of something equally obtuse to say on teevee. Things like this one:

While discussing the velocity of money, Matthew suggested that husbands should pay their wives for cooking the dinner, to move money around.

It's not a big thing, of course. Just a teeny drop of obtuseness, one of all those zillions of drops which make up the Matthews Ocean of Obtuseness, which show that he lives in a world where men are men and women are household implements.

So why was I sobbing? How can I pine for Chris if he won't go?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Them Tax Cuts

This bit about the Obama tax cuts is interesting. But what is even more interesting is the question whether tax cuts now would help in fighting the recession.

I doubt it, because of the psychology of recessions. People won't spend those tax cuts, being afraid of times getting worse in the future. I understand that Obama will have to deliver on the tax cuts he promised, but that money would have been better spent through direct public sector projects.

Today's Action Alert

Remember Lily Ledbetter? I got an e-mail today telling us this:

The House of Representatives will vote this week on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Senate will vote next week. These bills will help make pay equity a reality, not just a theory. Let's make sure the House votes FOR fairness to women and FOR helping American families.

If you agree you can write your representatives here.

What A Hoot

This story has all kinds of wrong:

A waitress was barred from working at the Hooters restaurant in Davenport after a violent physical attack left her bruised and unable to meet company standards for maintaining a "glamorous appearance."

The waitress alleges she was fired after taking time off to recover from the assault. Hooters officials say the waitress abandoned her job, but also say that the woman's bruised body made her temporarily ineligible to work as a "Hooters Girl."

An administrative law judge who presided over a recent public hearing dealing with 27-year-old Sara Dye's request for unemployment benefits ruled against the company and awarded benefits to Dye. Judge Teresa Hillary found that Dye's "inability to work due to bruises" did not amount to workplace misconduct.

According to testimony at the hearing, Dye was the victim of several incidents of domestic violence in 2008, the last of which occurred Sept. 3 after she left work for the day. Dye, who lives in Rock Island, Ill., was badly beaten and her assailant - unidentified at the hearing - cut off some of her hair.

The next day, Dye and her managers agreed that at least for the next few weeks she should not be working in the restaurant. General Manager Gina Sheedy testified that Dye's bruises would have been visible outside the Hooters uniform, which is known for being revealing.

"We told her it was probably not in her best interest to work for a while because of the state of her body," Sheedy testified.

The first kind of wrong has to do with the nebulous concept of sick leave, time for a worker to recover before needing to return to work. Yes, it probably isn't something the customers would appreciate to have a server wobble around all beaten up and ill, but I would have thought that the worker wouldn't appreciate going back to work in pain, either.

The second kind of wrong has to do with the way this particular job is defined. It's not just carrying food to waiting customers, nope. It's all about wearing a 'revealing uniform' and more:

Hillary asked Sheedy whether the restaurant would have agreed to a request from Dye to return to work immediately.

"No, probably not," Sheedy replied. "She probably would not be able to work because of her black eye and the bruises on her face. ... Our handbook states you have to have a glamorous appearance. It doesn't actually say, 'Bruises on your face are not allowed.' It does talk about the all-American cheerleader look."

Sheedy said Dye could now resume working at Hooters, assuming she maintained a glamorous appearance.

"And a glamorous appearance to you means you can't have bruises on your face or your body that show outside the uniform?" Hillary asked.

"Correct," Sheedy replied.

You have to look glamorous! Like an all-American scantily clad cheerleader. Actually, like an all-American cheerleader on a date:

Hillary asked Duvall what would happen if a waitress's hair had to be cut as a result of an injury from an accident.

Duvall said that according to the company handbook, a waitress's hair "needs to be styled as if you're going out on a big date on a Saturday night, as if you're preparing for a photo shoot."

So why do we pretend that the women are waitresses only? And if they are waitresses only, why the extra requirements?

The last kind of wrong (of those I can pick out) has to do with the domestic violence that caused Dye's bruises, the hair-cutting incident and so on, and the way this interacts in all sorts of odd ways with the job of looking glamorous and not having short hair and looking accessible to male customers.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sanjay Gupta For Surgeon General?

That's what Washington Post says:

President-elect Barack Obama has offered the job of surgeon general to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the neurosurgeon and correspondent for CNN and CBS, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation

I have no real opinion on what this might mean, but I remembered posting something earlier on Dr. Gupta. It looks like I might have to keep an eye on him.

Very Much Worth Reading

Is this post by Hecate. Do check it out. I'm not giving away its contents here.

On the other hand, anything about Ann Coulter's new book is very much not worth reading.

My New Year's Promises

I am still working on the list, because in the past my only promise has been not to have any, but right now I'm planning to write a book this year. I am also going to blog a lot more on health care, to grow my wonk credentials. And I promise to try to keep this blog going in some form or another for one more year at least.

Now that is said.

Recommitment Ceremonies

Sometimes a really boring topic can be most important to study. This might be the case with the recent modifications of the 'motion to recommit' in House Rules:

The change that has been made, like all fun legal changes, revolves around a single word: In the past, the minority party could recommit the bill "promptly," which returned it to committee. Now they will be unable to do that, instead recommitting the bill "forthwith," which forces an immediate floor vote (after a short debate) on whatever amendment the minority would like to have attached to the bill, preventing the parliamentary maneuver from holding up the final legislation for long.

The 'promptly' was something Newt Gingrich used when the Republicans were last in the minority. Now the Republicans won't be able to kill legislation by using it but must go through a vote first.

I like this, because it shows that the Democrats are serious about getting something done. In the past they have sorta bended over backwards for the Republican minority.

Although I'm now wondering if the Democrats ever used that handy little 'promptly' while in the minority themselves.

The Presumption of "If"-nonsense by Anthony McCarthy

Holding the presumption of innocence as one of the great principles of our criminal law it was a jolt to hear Rod Blagojevich send up the tell tale red flag of guilt on the radio this morning. Thinking of the times I've heard a politician or other public figure taking refuge in that worst of all poems "If" this was something I really could have done without. I can't recall ever hearing someone giving those flaccid lines imbued with pretended principle unless it was to defend themselves for having done something pretty awful and getting caught at it.

Maybe it's a cultural thing. I remember when Ken Lay was convicted and gave that nauseating presser, taking refuge in a public display of religiosity entirely that was at odds with his grand scale theft and swindles, I thought, "In old New England, he'd have his jacket over his head,". Alas, that admirable practice of the guilty and disgraced has been replaced by the PR practice of brazening it out, in public, on camera, yech!

Considering what a racist imperialist he was it's not any wonder that Kipling would be the hack of last resort for a crooked pol who got caught. For the rest of us there is Hilaire Belloc's most famous effort.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Nathan's Famous. Ida, Not So Much.

You may have eaten Nathan's Famous hot dogs. The 'Nathan' in the name was the founder of the firm, Nathan Handwerker, a young Polish immigrant who began selling hot dogs in 1916 (or perhaps 1913) in Coney Island, New York. The rest is history, or so one might think. From the Nathan's Famous website:

Politicians, show-business personalities, and sports celebrities are often seen and photographed munching Nathan's dogs, and heard singing its praises. Barbra Streisand, actually had Nathan's hot dogs delivered to London, England for a private party. A trip to Nathan's was the focus of a Seinfeld episode created by comedian Jerry Seinfeld. More recently, the ex-mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani declared Nathan's the "World's best hot dog." Shortly after that, Nathan Handwerker was named to the city's top 100- joining the ranks of Joe Namath, Irving Berlin, Andrew Carnegie, Joe DiMaggio and others. Even Jacqueline Kennedy loved Nathan's dogs, and served them at the White House. In his final last will and testament, actor Walter Mathau requested Nathan's hot dogs to be served at his funeral – they were! The point is Nathan's is not just a hot dog, it has history and it is Americana!

Last year there were over 360 million Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs sold! Today, Nathan's is sold and enjoyed in all 50 States and sold at over 20,000 food service and retail outlets.

I have a paper place mat from Nathan's. Here's what the place mat says:

That summer, at Feltman's German Beer Garden - the very first frankfurter restaurant - two young Polish immigrants named Nathan Handwerker and Ida Greenwald first met. Ida was a waitress, and Nathan was a roll slicer. Well, one night Ida caught Nathan's eye and it turned out to be a match in, well, hot dog heaven.

They soon married and in 1916, on the advice of two singing waiters named Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor, they plunked down their entire $300 life savings on their very own frankfurter stand.

Note the presence of Ida Greenwald in this story. She is mentioned on the Nathan's Famous website, too:

Nathan's Famous was founded by a Polish immigrant, Nathan Handwerker, and his is truly an authentic "only in America story." He started his business in 1916 with a small hot dog stand in Coney Island, New York. He sold hot dogs that were manufactured based on a recipe developed by his wife, Ida.

The place mat elaborates:

Ida provided Nathan her grandmother's secret recipe and Nathan added good old fashioned American value, selling the country's newest favorite food for just a nickel - half the price of the competition.

It is hard not to see this story as the way women are often written out of history, not necessarily from some vile motives but just because women in general are invisible. That Nathan Handwerker was named to New York City's top 100 is deserved. But was Ida Greenwald also named so? The hot dog recipe, after all, was not Nathan's but Ida's. Or Ida's grandmother's.

Not Tonight, Dennis, I Have A Headache

Dennis Prager, a wingnut pundit, has written a two-part series about why wives should spread their legs for their husbands whether they want sex or not. It's great fun to read.

Indeed, I read it so many times that I didn't get to write the tearing-and-rending until today, though really the delay was because I was looking for that one mind fish swimming deep, deep in the murky parts of my head, the one which can open its tiny fish mouth and vomit out the pearl, the gist of Dennis' message to us wimminfolk. That fish woke me this morning.

If you don't care to go to Townhall to read our boy Prager, here is a set of quotes to summarize his argument:

The subject is one of the most common problems that besets marriages: the wife who is "not in the mood" and the consequently frustrated and hurt husband.

There are marriages with the opposite problem — a wife who is frustrated and hurt because her husband is rarely in the mood. But, as important and as destructive as that problem is, it has different causes and different solutions, and is therefore not addressed here. What is addressed is the far more common problem of "He wants, she doesn't want."

It is an axiom of contemporary marital life that if a wife is not in the mood, she need not have sex with her husband. Here are some arguments why a woman who loves her husband might want to rethink this axiom.

First, women need to recognize how a man understands a wife's refusal to have sex with him: A husband knows that his wife loves him first and foremost by her willingness to give her body to him. This is rarely the case for women. Few women know their husband loves them because he gives her his body (the idea sounds almost funny). This is, therefore, usually a revelation to a woman. Many women think men's natures are similar to theirs, and this is so different from a woman's nature, that few women know this about men unless told about it.

This is a major reason many husbands clam up. A man whose wife frequently denies him sex will first be hurt, then sad, then angry, then quiet. And most men will never tell their wives why they have become quiet and distant. They are afraid to tell their wives. They are often made to feel ashamed of their male sexual nature, and they are humiliated (indeed emasculated) by feeling that they are reduced to having to beg for sex.

In short, Prager wants married women in heterosexual marriages to have sex when their husbands initiate it, barring perhaps the day when they gave birth or received chemotherapy or such.

Note this, dear wifely persons:

"A husband knows that his wife loves him first and foremost by her willingness to give her body to him."

I wonder if an ear or a couple of toes would do? A spare kidney? In any case, the first post in Prager's series argues that men will cry, deep inside themselves, if they don't get sex whenever they want it, and this will ultimately destroy the otherwise happy marriage.

The second post elaborates on all the reasons (eight of them) why women's libidos don't matter in this business of deciding when to fuck. Here's the first reason:

1. If most women wait until they are in the mood before making love with their husband, many women will be waiting a month or more until they next have sex. When most women are young, and for some older women, spontaneously getting in the mood to have sex with the man they love can easily occur. But for most women, for myriad reasons -- female nature, childhood trauma, not feeling sexy, being preoccupied with some problem, fatigue after a day with the children and/or other work, just not being interested -- there is little comparable to a man's "out of nowhere," and seemingly constant, desire for sex.

Don't you just love that list explaining our frigidity? Too much work! Too many memories of sexual abuse! Better just lie there and think of England, because there's no other way for a gal with a husband to get aroused, is there? Hmm.

Prager has most likely written these posts to inflame the minds of goddesses like me. Controversy always pays in these debased times of ours (though all times are debased), and his arguments have all the essential points for controversy about gender roles:

Presenting men as victims of both horrible feminist ideas and their innate animal natures while at the same time demanding that those victims get everything they ask for, including total dominance at home. Women, on the other hand, are not portrayed as victims of their own animal natures (they don't have them) or of late patriarchy. Rather, they emerge as victors, too, though victors who willingly submit themselves to the demands of their husbands. They get to stay married! Happily! Though they have to do sex work.

I wouldn't have given Townhall hits for just the fun of blurting out all that. What makes this post worthwhile is the deeper observation it offered me, chrystalized in these two quotes from Dennis:

Every man who is sexually faithful to his wife already engages in daily heroic self-control. He has married knowing he will have to deny his sexual nature's desire for variety for the rest of his life. To ask that he also regularly deny himself sex with the one woman in the world with whom he is permitted sex is asking far too much. Deny him enough times and he may try to fill this need with another woman. If he is too moral to ever do that, he will match your sexual withdrawal with emotional and other forms of withdrawal.


Why would a loving, wise woman allow mood to determine whether or not she will give her husband one of the most important expressions of love she can show him? What else in life, of such significance, do we allow to be governed by mood?

What if your husband woke up one day and announced that he was not in the mood to go to work? If this happened a few times a year, any wife would have sympathy for her hardworking husband. But what if this happened as often as many wives announce that they are not in the mood to have sex? Most women would gradually stop respecting and therefore eventually stop loving such a man.

I have bolded the sections of importance in these quotes, and important they are. The first one tells us the sacrifices men make to be married: denying their desire for variety. Note the implicit assumption here that women are not making a similar sacrifice. Thus, this male sacrifice is part-and-parcel of what men relinquish for the sake of a long-term relationship with a woman; something they need to get paid for to make the bargain equal-sided. And that something is those spread legs of wives.

Danielle Crittenden (one of those IWF conservative anti-feminist gals) made a similar argument in a book I once somehow ended up reading: Because men give up so much (those other women) to be married, women must give up something equally valuable. In Crittenden's book it was a career that women should give up.

The bolded part in the second quote above tells us more about what it is that women get in the marriage contract conservatives envision: They get money from the work of their husbands, and just as the husbands are expected to go on working whether they want to or not, the wives are expected to go on fucking whether they want it or not.

That the majority of married couples are not of the kind where the wife stays at home is ignored in that argument, of course. Still, it's an interesting revelation about how Prager views the kind of marriage where the woman works at home. Her work there is not seen as the equivalent of the husband's market work. Her real work takes place in the marital bed.

The conservatives have accused some radical feminists of comparing marriage to prostitution, but here they (or at least two of them) seem to make a very clear case for just that interpretation of marriage: Men give up sex in general for sex in particular. They pay for it with long-term financial maintenance and women are expected to be sexually available on a fairly non-stop basis. How very interesting!

Do you believe in synchronicity? I was reading Evangeline Walton's The Mabinogion Tetralogy last night and came across this quote about the new-fangled idea (in the book) of a permanent marriage in that society:

"No good thing in the end," said Gwydion. "Bondage for the women of Gwynedd such as already lies on those of Dyved. To be bound to one man and from looking at all others, forever, and to have your body always at your lord's pleasure whether love burns in you at that hour or not. That is what they call morality." said he.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

I Hope This Is the Last Word I’ll Ever Have to Write On This Subject by Anthony McCarthy

I would hate to be the tabloid media, the hate talk radio jocks, or anyone else who harasses or attacks the Obama sisters, at least if my mother is any indication. She’s in love with those girls but, as she put it, she hopes she hears little about them or sees much coverage of them. She wants them to be entirely hands off by the media and she’s already fuming about the little coverage they’ve gotten. She wants them left alone to have as normal and happy a childhood as possible under the circumstances.

If Rush or anyone else attacks them the way they did Chelsea Clinton I think they might have instantly earned the hatred of millions up to and including those who might go to war over it. I’m not talking figuratively, either. So, that’s my last word on the subject, leave those girls be, don’t mess with them, they are off limits, they’ve got many millions of eyes out for their welfare.
And that’s the last word I’ll have on this subject unless the media are as stupid as I’m afraid they might be.

Update: The Death of a Small, Little Noticed Tree by Anthony McCarthy

Going out that way this morning, for the first time since the ice storm almost a month ago, I saw that after it standing for longer than anyone can remember in the old cemetery, the hydrangea tree I wrote about last summer is broken in half and lying like a shadow in the snow. It feels like the whole past died with it, somehow. It feels like the death of nature.

The Art of Adulthood by Anthony McCarthy

or Please, Let’s Don’t Have To Go Through That All Over Again

You probably know the feeling. Sitting with my sister-in-law one afternoon a mutual friend of ours dropped in. Over coffee our friend told us about her recent dates, she’d reached after breakup stage where she was dating again. Lucy (not her real name) complained that she’d had a bad time.

My sister-in law said, “I thought you were seeing Bill. He’s a nice guy, has a good job. Didn’t you like him?”
- Oh yeah, he’s all right. He asked me to go out again.
- Well?
- I don’t know.
- Well, why don’t you go out with him again?
- I don’t know. He’s a real good guy. He’s just not very exciting.

My sister-in-law and I had exactly the same thought at that time, Lucy’s last long term relationship had been with a man who cultivated the semi-outlaw image of the motor head variety. He was all right, never in jail as far as I knew. He stayed with Lucy through a child, a decade of mortgage payments and many turbulent episodes providing considerable excitement. He wasn’t physically abusive or verbally abusive. All right, he was fairly good looking but talking with him tended towards noncommital mono-syllables. After he took up with a younger woman, after Lucy tried, unsuccessfully to get him to marry, they split. His phobia to commitment, which could withstand the bonds of parenting* and buying a house together, couldn’t withstand fifteen minutes in front of a justice of the peace. I suspected that at the bottom of it, he couldn’t square that particular and entirely symbolic act with his outlaw image.

We both thought Lucy could do with considerably less excitement than their relationship had provided. As I said, both of us thought it, only I was impolitic enough to say it

My generation was brought up with two dominant models of men. There were the outlaws, cowboys, bikers, the so-called rugged individualists. The other predominant model was the reliable man, the pillar of the community, the family man. In pop-culture you could differentiate them easily enough, cowboys vs. Father Knows Best. As an aside, for a gay kid, it was mostly noticeable in that cowboys on TV wore impossibly tight pants.**

When the 60s arrived the secret agents became sort of cowboys in service to the establishment, creating a third alternative, though one less available for emulation. Then there was the brief attempt to break out of all of them by a lot of us. It was all very complicated and so confusing and the escape from the bonds of masculine identity was hardly perfect even as newer roles developed, a lot of them just pasted sideburns and facial hair on one of the other identities and went right on.

With that background it was kind of strange for me to see the two-generations removed nostalgia for the family man model that the The Art of Manliness blog represents. What’s wrong with a model that tells men that they should be responsible and mature, that they should take care of their families and be responsible citizens? Oh, it’s hard to say. For a lot of people it might work all right. I’d have loved to have someone attend to the details of house etc, I’d probably have been a much better musician if I’d been relieved of those. But it would have been at a cost.

Doing what’s necessary is a requirement to achieving full adulthood. Being able to fix the plumbing (which I can’t do) or shoveling the driveway, taking responsibility for finances and the other petty details of life might be as necessary to any self-respecting adult as being able to stand up and say you don’t agree with the consensus in a meeting and being able to give a rational reason why.

In the world of the 50s, the Father Knows Best ideal was essentially at odds with women achieving adulthood. Men got to be adults, women were supposed to be as vacuous as June Cleaver or most of the roles that Marilyn Monroe was assigned. Even Eve Arden, sardonic and clever, longed for the day she could hand her adulthood to Mr. Right. I think that in popular culture of the time, there being a prohibition on a woman expressing her own sexual desires, it was replaced by the cult of material and social stability. But to get that, women had to give up their status as autonomous individuals, sublimating their ideas under a blanket of husbandly dominance. The trade-off, largely unavailable to those who chose to go with the outlaw model, was that the man was supposed to “be a man” and provide that security. In practice, that was achieved only in some cases.

I suspect my friend was the victim of that model under which she also grew up. She saw her choice between someone who was exciting and undependable or someone who was stifling but dependable. And that’s what’s wrong with The Art of Manliness. It’s a role that could easily fall back into the 50s model, that clearly hankers after that kind of reliable, maybe even benevolent, daddy-husband. The icky Reagan marriage as archetype.

None of the past models of manliness was worth keeping, none of them worked as advertised. The lives of those who tried to adopt them were either shallow and selfish or impossibly burdensome to men. And they all required roles of women which were, if anything, more destructive. No one should be pressured into sublimating their adulthood, no one outlaw men or women, should be relived of the requirement to grow up. The knowledge that you are being responsible that you are giving up transient, personal wants because it is necessary, of doing things for other people, of facing the truth, of being fully grown up, is a human need as much as sex is. Adults, in the absence of some actual mental disease, are kept healthy by acting like adults. They make themselves likable by acting like adults, by doing what’s responsible. They gain the respect and affection of other people through that. And that is a human requirement of all genders, gender orientations, of any ethnicity, whatever condition of life we find ourselves in.

* As I recall, she did most of the actual parenting, until the kid was old enough to pal around with.

* * If real cowboys wore pants as tight as TV cowboys they’d never have been able to do their chores.
Note: I fell down on some ice and sprained my hand yesterday, that's why I didn't post. It's not broken.

I've got to say, it's the only time in my life that I regretted learning touch typing. My two-finger typing brother can do it, it takes me five times longer to type that way.

Anthony McCarthy