Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Intricacies of the Erotic (by Phila)

A long article by Daniel Bergner, evocatively entitled "What do women want?," details the research of female sexologists who hope to solve the "riddle" of female desire.

To begin with, Meredith Chivers measures the relative sexual arousal of straight and gay men and women in response to sexual images that -- for reasons that are not made as clear as one might wish -- include copulating bonobo monkeys.
The genitals of the volunteers were connected to plethysmographs — for the men, an apparatus that fits over the penis and gauges its swelling; for the women, a little plastic probe that sits in the vagina and, by bouncing light off the vaginal walls, measures genital blood flow. An engorgement of blood spurs a lubricating process called vaginal transudation: the seeping of moisture through the walls. The participants were also given a keypad so that they could rate how aroused they felt.
Chivers found that straight men weren't aroused by men, gay men weren't aroused by women, and neither were aroused by bonobos:
Any expectation that the animal sex would speak to something primitive within the men seemed to be mistaken.
So there.

As for the women...well, I'll let Bergner explain:
No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, they showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men. They responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man, and their blood flow rose they watched the apes. And with the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person....

"I feel like a pioneer at the edge of a giant forest," Chivers said, describing her ambition to understand the workings of women's arousal and desire. "There's a path leading in, but it isn't much."
Chivers' conclusion is not that women are inherently attracted to bonobos, but that there's a disconnect in women between physiological response and the "conscious sense of desire":
For the discord, in women, between the body and the mind, [Chivers] has deliberated over all sorts of explanations, the simplest being anatomy. The penis is external, its reactions more readily perceived and pressing upon consciousness. Women might more likely have grown up, for reasons of both bodily architecture and culture — and here was culture again, undercutting clarity — with a dimmer awareness of the erotic messages of their genitals.
This explanation makes no sense whatsoever. But it's child's play compared to what comes next:
[Chivers] is familiar...with the preliminary results of a laboratory study showing surges of vaginal blood flow as subjects listen to descriptions of rape scenes [by whom, and from where?--P]. So, in an attempt to understand arousal in the context of unwanted sex, Chivers...has arrived at an evolutionary hypothesis that stresses the difference between reflexive sexual readiness and desire. Genital lubrication, she writes in her upcoming paper in Archives of Sexual Behavior, is necessary "to reduce discomfort, and the possibility of injury, during vaginal penetration....Ancestral women who did not show an automatic vaginal response to sexual cues may have been more likely to experience injuries during unwanted vaginal penetration that resulted in illness, infertility or even death, and thus would be less likely to have passed on this trait to their offspring."

Evolution's legacy, according to this theory, is that women are prone to lubricate, if only protectively, to hints of sex in their surroundings.
There are lots and lots of problems here, but let's consider the obvious one: given that we're talking about rape, the "sexual cues" to which Chivers refers are going to include forms of sudden, unexpected violence that I needn't detail here. It's pretty reprehensible to suggest that an "automatic vaginal response" to this sort of brutality has an evolutionary upside, not least because women who are raped do often suffer serious injuries of this sort (and others). Bergner's reference to "hints of sex" is particularly troubling in this regard, since it seems to equate rape with overeager mating behavior, rather than specifically misogynist violence.

Chivers' work also suffers from the typical sexological problem of relying on tiny sample sizes that, in the above case, comprise people who are willing to watch porn in the company of complete strangers of various sexual orientations, with a bunch of invasive machinery hooked to their genitals.

Bergner, to his credit, shows some grasp of this problem in his section on the sexologist Lisa Diamond, who studied a whopping 100 women over a period of more than ten years, all of whom were happy to provide "detailed descriptions of their erotic lives."
I called ask whether it really made sense to extrapolate from the experiences of her subjects to women in general. Slightly more than half of her participants began her study in the bisexual or unlabeled categories — wasn't it to be expected that she would find a great deal of sexual flux? She acknowledged this. But she emphasized that the pattern for her group over the years, both in the changing categories they chose and in the stories they told, was toward an increased sense of malleability.
Maybe Bergner is simply garbling her explanation, but it sounds as though she's defending her use of a small, heavily biased group in terms of the results it provided, which doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense.

Next up, we have Marta Meana, whom Bergner acknowledges for her emphasis on "the role of narcissism in female desire" though the desire to be the object of someone else's desire were the same thing as "self-love." Meana goes in for the common EP strategy of saying something reasonably measured and cautious, and then undercutting it with a mixture of anti-feminist ressentiment and half-baked value judgments:
Meana made clear...that she was speaking in general terms, that, when it comes to desire, "the variability within genders may be greater than the differences between genders," that lust is infinitely complex and idiosyncratic.

She pronounced, as well, "I consider myself a feminist." Then she added, "But political correctness isn't sexy at all." For women, "being desired is the orgasm," Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving.
If "political correctness" isn't sexy, then what is? Meana helpfully explains:
"Women want to be thrown up against a wall but not truly endangered. Women want a caveman and caring. If I had to pick an actor who embodies all the qualities, all the contradictions, it would be Denzel Washington. He communicates that kind of power and that he is a good man."
This seems to be too much for Bergner, who wonders, "Could any conclusion encompass the erotic drives of even one woman?" and goes on to spotlight Chivers' heartening doubts about her own theories:
And sometimes Chivers talked as if the actual forest wasn't visible at all, as if its complexities were an indication less of inherent intricacy than of societal efforts to regulate female eros, of cultural constraints that have left women's lust dampened, distorted, inaccessible to understanding. "So many [!] cultures have quite strict codes governing female sexuality," she said. "If that sexuality is relatively passive, then why so many rules to control it? Why is it so frightening?" There was the implication, in her words, that she might never illuminate her subject because she could not even see it, that the data she and her colleagues collect might be deceptive, might represent only the creations of culture, and that her interpretations might be leading away from underlying truth.
One might wish that this concern had inspired her to think a bit more carefully about her upcoming paper on rape...but still, fair enough.

Bergner continues:
[T]he long history of fear might have buried the nature of women's lust too deeply to unearth, to view.
There's progress for you. Having taken a step away from biological essentialism, we seem to be moving towards an equally dispiriting cultural essentialism, in which something called "the nature of women's lust" is not only assumed to exist (in a form that is apparently not "infinitely complex and idiosyncratic"), but also to be inherently beyond women's grasp and control...thanks to a power structure that is no more subject to change and revision than the "underlying truth" of female desire.

A Thirteen-Year-Old Assures Me This Is Not Cool* by Anthony McCarthy

A man took his computer in to be repaired:

- I hope you can fix it.

- What seems to be the trouble?

- I don’t know, it just keeps getting slower and slower and things just stop working.

- Well, let me see. The technician opened up the case and looked in.
Oh, yeah. I figured that might be it. There’s a little man in there throwing manure all over everything.

- What!?

- Here. He reached into the case and pulled out a tiny man with a pitchfork in his hand.

- But! But! That’s..... impossible.... unbelievable.

- Naw, see it all the time. What you’ve got here is your basic farmer in the Dell.

* As she tried to suppress a smile.

End The Phony Morality Of Free Markets by Anthony McCarthy

Having expected that the boat would turn very slowly, it’s going faster than I’d anticipated. Barack Obama has a lot of stuff to overturn even as he makes progress. One thing that is clear from what he’s done so far, he keeps his eye on the goal of making government work for The People.

It was one of the biggest differences between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. For Hoover, his conventional morality about property and economics overrode the welfare of The People. “Sound economic practice” as he learned from the elders of his class, was supreme, If, as had already happened regularly, it produced an economic disaster the fault lay elsewhere. As always, with conventional established morality, The People would have to do the suffering for those principles he held*. He is often cited as being a great humanitarian for his work in famine relief. It is the chief defense of his hagiographers. If he had a great heart which bled for the suffering, it was overridden by his greater observance of scruples, an all too common mortal sin of the conventionally moral. His duty was to those principles, not to The People. Whatever else you could say about him, Hoover liked being a good boy. Perhaps even more than he wanted to alleviate suffering.

For all his faults, and like any human being he had many, Franklin Roosevelt’s greatness as president was that he was able to distinguish between petty, conventional, scruples and the bedrock of real morality. It’s what happens in the real world, to real people, what benefits them and what harms them, that is the genuine test of morality. It’s the only sound measure of a political idea or action, it is the only legitimate test of an economic dogma. If something didn’t work, he abandoned it for something that might work better. If the ambient conditions didn’t allow him to be totally candid, he didn’t allow that fact to keep him from acting to improve things. His lapses were there, but the general theme of his administration was in keeping with the practical attempt to make people’s lives better.

The developing conflict between the Democrats and Republicans over just about every aspect of policy, but especially on economic policy, hinges on these same questions. The manifest corruption and incompetence of the Reagan and two Bush presidencies, the lesson that conservative principles, even when they aren’t a cover for the grandest of larceny, have produced the two greatest economic disasters of the past hundred years. They have failed the test of time twice, they are kept in place due to their utility to the corrupt and the common received morality of our elite. It’s past time that we put up with it, the continuing appearance of the free-market hucksters in the media shilling the Reagan era snake oil that has given us three burst bubbles in the past thirty years. That has to be ended and the media, where I’ve been counting a two-to-one dominance of conservative hacks to one Milquetoast “liberal” is the rule . We have to kill it. Otherwise, the media elite and the Republican pirates have the power to keep the ultimate swindle going. We can’t afford it.

I think that Barack Obama is on the verge of abandoning the present bi-partisan attempt. I suspect he knew it was a necessary fiction when he embarked on it. He’s seen the Senate where Republicans have already tried to block just about anything but the program of their failed thinkers. I think if he doesn’t already know it that he will soon know that those members of his administration who participated in the free-market fantasy are wrong, if they have already let him know they’ve learned from recent history will soon be apparent.

But President Obama is the one in charge, he wants The Peoples’ government to work for us and he is going to have to insist on what works. The People might forgive failures in his attempts to do that, they will not forgive another rerun of the punking handed out to us by Paulson et al. Those critics of the financial bailout who smelled just the last Bush regime opportunity to hand out money to the thieves were correct. That someone as brilliant and astute as Barney Frank was duped by them is a lesson worth considering. His faith in their honesty and decency was wrong. I think that might have been due to his knowing that something had to be done fast and that the Bush regime and the more numerous Republicans in the legislative branch wouldn’t have allowed a bill with real restrictions to go through. I assume he knew more about the possible immediate consequences of waiting than I did, but the swindle that resulted makes the Madoff theft look like a purse snatching.

A criminal investigation of the entire Bush II regime has to be conducted and what money that can be recovered has to be. I don’t know how much if any of the loot Paulson handed to his cronies since October can be recovered, but you’d think any that was handed out on terms other than those designated by the congress should be. But, the law being so often an ass, as well as often the servant of wealth, that might not be possible. But that’s for another time.

But the Democrats are in charge now and they need to play hard ball. They need a handful of “moderate” Republicans in the Senate to keep the worst of that party from blocking what’s necessary. I am sorry to report to you that after running in the fall as a “moderate”, Susan Collins shows some sign that her continuing with that ruse doesn’t fit her career plans. I would guess that she presently sees her future as a presidential or vice-presidential candidate, though she’s a long shot at best. I do think she can be pressured from her constituents, though they have given her a pass up till now. That could change if she is challenged as an obstructionist, making economic distress worse. That’s our best tool with these “moderates”.

* The People are generally the only ones who suffer for establishment morality in all its manifestations. The People being regularly sacrificed for “principle” is an intrinsic part of the true conservative religion. It’s only when The People refuse to play the part of sacrificial sheep that this stops. But they’ve got to have the phony scheme pointed out first. With the constant propaganda of the past 40 years, selling us those lies, that is going to take a major effort in itself.

We Need A Recording of Anthony McGill And Now! by Anthony McCarthy

In a day that provided thrills and inspiration in abundance, one of the highlights for me was the appearance of Anthony McGill in the inauguration festivities. Anthony McGill has been the first clarinet with the Metropolitan Opera for a while now. If you listen to the Met on the radio, you’ve heard him. He is, with little doubt, among the finest clarinet players in the world. I think he’s the obvious heir of the late Harold Wright. Being a frustrated fan of some years, having whined and moaned that there hasn’t been a recording of his solo playing available and I check just about every time I go looking, I hope it’s just a matter of time before someone does something to remedy that.

Until then, you can hear him at this link. I remember hearing his playing of the Poulenc Sonata on this program and thinking it’s the first time I ever found that piece engaging. Most players sort of knock it off like a weary version of American in Paris turned in on itself. The Brahms and Debussy are some of the finest performances those pieces have had.

Despite the alleged outrage of some over the pre-recorded performance of John William’s inaugural piece, I think it was forgivable in this case. A bad performance on out of tune instruments, due to the cold and, likely, a squeaky, frozen clarinet, wouldn’t have been preferable to any but those who wished the occasion ill. If the pre-recorded syncing was objectionable, I’d guess someone would have suggested that the performers played from inside the building with it projected on the screens. If this shows nothing else, it’s that outdoor music in January is a bad idea. A musician’s first duty is to give their best possible performance of a piece in the available conditions. The musician’s met that obligation.

It wouldn’t be surprising if some idiot in the media hasn’t talked about “sync-gate”.


- The carping and distortion about John Robert’s flubbing of the oath*,

- The whining about no TV cameras allowed into the “retaking”,

- The new found interest of the DC based media in governmental openness, after years of “journalistic” stenography and sycophantic acquiescence to the Bush regime.

If this is a scandal, it’s “sink gate” as in the corporate media intends to throw the kitchen sink at this Democratic president, just as they did the last two.

And about Aretha Franklin’s hat, it was thanksgiving and joy made a physical witness in the world. It was entirely fit to the occasion and her part in it. There are some things someone of her stature can carry off that would look ridiculous when others attempt it. She’s the Queen of Soul, she well knew anything less joyous would have been insufficient.

P. S. John Williams’ piece using “Simple Gifts”, giving it a rather complex treatment, was, of course, in the tradition begun by Aaron Copland. And, during the parade, I caught at least one far less than simple band rendition of the melody. The use of the most famous of Shaker spirituals in popular culture, from Appalachian Spring - a dance drama about a wedding**, to the marching band rendition is ironic. It’s a song about self-abasement, of humility and the joy derived from humility. And there isn’t a better rendition of it than that from the Sabbathday Lake Shakers , themselves, though Copland’s setting of the song for solo voice and piano is the second best rendition. Especially the recording made of Jan DeGaetani and Leo Smit at Copland’s 81th birthday recital.

* Isn’t it interesting that the high priest of “strict construction” couldn’t manage the shorter of the two oaths that noon, one of the most famous parts of the constitution he’s supposed to revere. So much for the integrity of that ruse. You’d think the boob would have had a crib sheet considering how important it was go get it right. At least the musicians taking the flack over the “scandal” knew their obligations as performers on such an august occasion.

And isn’t it telling that Robert's lapse, which President Obama caught as soon as it was made, was continually turned into a problem for Obama instead of Roberts, on some programs even after listeners corrected the "reporters". So much for journalistic integrity in the DC media.

** Copland wrote the music before he had any idea what the scenario that Martha Graham had planned for it. You wonder if a Shaker hymn would have come to mind if he’d known it was about a wedding.

Friday, January 23, 2009

What Price Virginity?

For Natalie Dylan, the woman auctioning off her virginity at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch website (no, I didn't make that name up) the price has supposedly climbed up to 3.8 million dollars. I wrote 'supposedly', because there is no way of establishing the veracity of this information. Of course Dylan's own virginity must also remain in the 'supposedly' category, because an intact hymen doesn't necessarily establish virginity. Some virgins have no hymen or at least no intact hymen. Virginity can also be recreated with surgery. Amanda discusses these issues in some detail.

What struck me about the Daily Beast article Amanda linked to was the tone Dylan uses. She tells us that she has a degree in Women's Studies. Yet this is how she summarizes the changes in her values during her undergraduate degree:

This all started long before September. In fact, it started in college, where my eyes were opened by my Women's Studies professors and fellow classmates. I came to understand the role of "woman" spanning culture and time. At the university level, I was given permission to think differently and form a moral code of my own design. College opened my eyes.

Like most little girls, I was raised to believe that virginity is a sacred gift a woman should reserve for just the right man. But college taught me that this concept is just a tool to keep the status quo intact. Deflowering is historically oppressive—early European marriages began with a dowry, in which a father would sell his virginal daughter to the man whose family could offer the most agricultural wealth. Dads were basically their daughters' pimps.

When I learned this, it became apparent to me that idealized virginity is just a tool to keep women in their place. But then I realized something else: if virginity is considered that valuable, what's to stop me from benefiting from that? It is mine, after all. And the value of my chastity is one level on which men cannot compete with me. I decided to flip the equation, and turn my virginity into something that allows me to gain power and opportunity from men. I took the ancient notion that a woman's virginity is priceless and used it as a vehicle for capitalism.

This sounds like a conservative satire of what a Women's Studies graduate might say. What on earth is "the role of "woman" spanning culture and time"? How did "the university level" give her permission to create a moral code of her own design? And do most little girls really get raised to think of their virginity "as a sacred gift" that a woman should reserve for just the right man?

All this smells really off to me.

Indeed, the whole stunt smells bad, because losing one's hymen before the wedding night can still have frightening consequences to women in oppressive societies. Playing games on that theme certainly doesn't sound like something a future marriage counselor should do, and that's the planned occupation of Ms. Dylan (though right now she's of course in the field of sex work).

You may have figured out by now that I don't consider Dylan's stunt a feminist act. If anything, it is an anti-feminist act, reassuring us that women sell sex and men buy it and that the value of a virgin is higher than the value of a woman who admits to having had sex before in the same way a brand new car (or at least one with that new car smell) is more valuable than a second-hand car.

At least she gets to keep the money, you might argue, rather than having to hand it over to her father as is usually the case in traditional societies. Isn't that an improvement? An improvement over what, I might answer. It does nothing to help the women whose lives are at risk if they turn out not to have intact hymens for their husbands and in any case selling off one's virginity is not unknown in prostitution.

And More Friday Critters

An interesting video about a hippopotamus.

And here are Hidey the cat and Speeder the dog, transformed into art. Hidey is surviving cancer and Speeder is fifteen years old.:

This post is dedicated to Mikko (1992-2009):

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Signs of winter: In Florida, Chihuahuas are wearing sweaters, and iguanas are falling from trees

Women and the Cabinet nominees (by Suzie)

           Some people analyze Obama’s Cabinet-level picks by ethnicity, with gender as an afterthought. They write as if every group should get the same-size slice of the pie. But they forget that women are not a minority of the population; we comprise 51 percent. 
           In 2006, non-Hispanic whites made up 68 percent of the population, followed by Latinos at 14.8; African-Americans at 12.4; and Asian-Americans at 4.4.
           Of the 20 people that Obama nominated, 11 are non-Hispanic white, or 55 percent; 4 are black, or 20 percent; 3 are Latinos, or 15 percent; and 2 are Asian-Americans, or 10 percent. This includes Bill Richardson, who declined the nomination for Commerce, making one less Latino. He has not yet been replaced.
           The trend in popular culture is to count Latinos as people of color, even though the U.S. Census holds to the idea that people of Hispanic heritage can be white or other races. If we boil down diversity to (non-Hispanic) white and non-white (counting Latinos), then non-whites are better represented in Cabinet-level jobs than whites. Of course, I don’t think this is a problem because whites have had better representation since the creation of our country.
           As far as I can tell, some ethnic groups, such as Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, have no representation. 
           Of the 20 people nominated, 5 are women, or 25 percent. That’s less than half of the percentage we represent in the general population. It’s a shame that figure doesn’t make the headlines, as opposed to all the stories congratulating Obama on his diverse Cabinet.
At least, the representation of women in Cabinet-level jobs is better than in Congress (17 percent) and among governors (15 percent).
          The New Agenda has a Cabinet Watch

Thursday, January 22, 2009


This is very good news:

A wage discrimination bill that heralds the pro-labor policies of the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House cleared the Senate Thursday and could be on President Barack Obama's desk within days.

The legislation reverses a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that narrowly defines the time period during which a worker can file a claim of wage discrimination, even if the worker is unaware for months or years that he or she is getting less than colleagues doing the same job. It has been a priority for women's groups seeking to narrow the wage gap between men and women.

The House is expected to act quickly to again approve the measure, sending it to Obama for his signature. The House passed a nearly identical version two weeks ago but then combined it with another bill that the Senate didn't consider.

I have bolded the part which made this bill necessary. Or in the words of the article:

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision denying Ledbetter's complaint, ruled that a worker must file a claim within 180 days of the initial decision to pay a worker less, even if the worker did not discover the pay disparity until years later.

'Discovering the pay disparity' is tricky in this country, because Americans rarely discuss their earnings and firms keep that information secret. To expect possible victims of discrimination to file a claim within 180 days of the initial decision would have meant very few claims overall.

That might have been the Supreme Court's intention, of course.
Thanks to all of you who contacted your elected representatives in support of this bill.

The Costs Of Health Care. Part I

Barack Obama mentioned the high expense of health care in his speech as one of the things his administration will address. It's a Herculean task, to be honest, and something researchers and policy-makers have tried to address for decades now.

This is a good time to discuss some of those issues and why they are so very difficult to address. My plan is to write a series of posts on this topic, long enough to make you know more about the topic than you ever wanted! This post sets out the bones of the series.

To bones we move! Or the skeleton of the problem which goes like this:

Health care is expensive in all countries of the world but especially expensive in the United States. Indeed, the U.S. always wins the International Competition Of Highest Health Care Expenditure Per Person! Congratulations to the winners.

So why is this a problem? After all, the U.S. also spends most in almost all other consumer categories, and if you want to pick one good predictor of a country's health care spending per capita (person) it would be that country's income. Perhaps we should just regard high health care expenditure the same way as we regard high expenditure on cars or houses or clothes: a good way for the American industries to make a living?

The answer to this is that Americans don't appear to get the bang for their buck in health care. The U.S. is not leading the statistics on longest life expectancy, lowest mortality rates in general or lowest infant mortality in particular. In short, the money spent on health care may not be spent efficiently or effectively. Or perhaps it is spent on quality of life rather than on its length? Perhaps the reasons why Americans live shorter lives has nothing to do with health care spending but much more to do with reckless driving, violence, poverty or bad eating habits? But if that is the case, what are we really getting with all that money spent on medicine? Especially given the forty million or so Americans who have no health coverage at all?

The skeleton I'm building here appears to have two parts to its spine: The high medical expenditure on the one hand and the way that money is spent on the other, both in terms of its effectiveness and possibly unequal distribution. It's not really feasible to address the former problem without addressing the latter. But addressing both of these at the same time brings up lots of additional problems and the need to look more carefully at what differentiates the American medical system, culture, demographics and economic rules from those of other similarly affluent countries.

This is what I plan to do in this series.

Remove The Global Gag

I haven't seen any reference to this in Obama's first day in the office. Today would be a very good day for removing the Global Gag Rule:

1/21/2009 - The incoming Obama/Biden administration is expected to address several key women's rights issues within the next week. Women's rights advocates are hopeful that President Obama will issue executive orders that rescind the global gag rule and release United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) funding that was authorized by Congress and held up by the Bush administration for years.

The Global Gag Rule prohibits family planning programs receiving US federal funds from speaking about or counseling on abortion. The rule was instituted by President Reagan in 1984, was rescinded by President Clinton, and was reinstituted by President Bush. Government relations vice president at Population Action International Tod Preston told the Los Angeles Times that if the global gag rule is rescinded, it will be a "big victory for women overseas….we know their health has been severely impacted by the cutoff. If you want to reduce unintended pregnancies, abortion and women dying from high-risk pregnancies because they don't have access to family planning, you don't do it by cutting off US assistance."

The UNFPA is a United Nations program that deals specifically with population and family planning and has been denied federal funds from the Bush administration for seven consecutive years. The Bush White House falsely cited involvement in sterilization coercion in China as the reason for this decision, despite repeated investigations determining the accusations to be false.

My New Worry

I suddenly realized how much I worry about something new, something that has built up during the last eight years, and that is a leader who will not change his mind. George Bush took such pride in that, as if hitting your head against a brick world proves your good character, and on the whole we were all powerless against this hard-headedness or unable to get our voices out when others clapped and praised it as decisive leadership.

So now I fear that in an almost post-traumatic syndrome sense. I want to see Obama amenable to listening the viewpoints of others, amenable to learning and adjusting his policies. There are no reasons to suspect that he would not learn or change when needed; it's just something I now fear. It makes me look at everything with a magnifying glass, because an over-confident leader is a dreadful thing for this world.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kudos To The Flight Attendants, Too

This is a nice story:

Pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger has garnered most of the headlines for safely piloting a crippled jet onto the Hudson River, but investigators and aviation workers say there is an unsung group that also deserves praise: the three flight attendants on board.

Sheila Dail, 57, Doreen Welsh, 58, and Donna Dent, 51 — with a combined 92 years of experience on the job — were the ones who opened emergency exits, ordered passengers to don life jackets and directed them out of the plane. All 150 passengers escaped.

"They did everything right," said Mike Flores, who heads the wing of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) union, which represents the three. "Had they made one mistake, we would be talking about a completely different outcome than we saw on Thursday."

The pilot and copilot did great. But that alone might not have saved all the passengers. What the flight attendants did was very important: To stay calm, to act rapidly and with confidence.

Read It If You Dare

I have been spending a few hours reading In Her Place. A Documentary History of Prejudice Against Women, edited by S.T. Joshi. It's not something you want to read when you feel all vulnerable or stripped to the bones or insecure. Indeed, reading it might be a masochistic act, because the book, a collection of influential anti-feminist articles over the last 150 years, has put together more misogynistic food than anyone can digest without getting nauseous.

Nevertheless, I read it, and found lots to be fascinated about. For instance, the arguments used against women's suffrage a hundred years ago are almost identical to the anti-feminist arguments of today: If women change at all the sky will fall! This odd power of women to bring down both Western civilization and god's wrath on his creation is a constant theme in the articles and familiar to anyone who follows anti-feminist arguments of today.

As an example, much of the nineteenth century resistance against higher education for women focused on the fear that educated women would stop wanting to get married or having children. This, in turn, would result in White Racial Suicide and the end of the world as we know it. Echoes of the same assertions are common in current conservative writings about uppity women.

What is also familiar is the way the power of women to wreck everything is combined with their uselessness in all other tasks except child-rearing within the home. Thus, women are seen as emotionally unstable, intellectually inferior and physically puny. This makes them unsuited for any role in the public life, even unsuited for independence, yet admirably suited to be in sole charge of vulnerable young children. Indeed, that is the only role they are prescribed. I have never seen anyone explain how this paradox works. Do the hysterical, capricious and stupid women suddenly get turned into something different when they give birth? Perhaps. And note how that argument ignores the fact that most women have always toiled in the fields or in the barns or in the shops. Even today the 'back-to-home' movement addresses largely the wealthier women.

Not everything has stayed constant in the realm of anti-feminist writings. The conclusions are the same, true, but the evidence given to support those conclusions has changed over time as old evidence has been falsified. This suggests to me that it is the conclusions which provide the starting point in the arguments of women's essential inferiority. Just assume that women are inferior, then look for something that supports it.

While reading the book I happened to also read this recent blog post about "Battlestar Galactica" and the feminization (!) of American culture as well as the attached comments thread. In it I found the same essentialist gender arguments ("Men hand out cigars. Women "hand out" babies. And thus the world for thousands of years has gone' round.") as in the book, with the same fear of the sky falling, the society unraveling, all because of women's refusal to stay in their allotted places.

How powerful and powerless we are. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On The Inauguration: Feminist Stream of Consciousness

Some of my impressions, totally unedited for relevance or weightiness:

The vast sea of celebrating people was lovely to see. Rituals are important and in many ways this inauguration was a cleansing ritual as much as anything else, to me at least. All those human beings served as smudging with sage might have done: Out with the old and in with the new.

Though I'm not much consoled by myth-making or rituals myself I believe that this country needs the myths it is making right now, the honeymoon with destiny it is imagining and the short reprieve from political fighting and bickering. I still think that we need to always look past the words, beyond the surface feel-goodness and into the deeds of politicians. If we have learned anything in the last eight years it is to remain vigilant and ready to point out errors and mistakes.

Despite all that, to see the first African-American president take the oath was wonderful (even with Roberts floundering there). This is not just about feeling good or myth-making but something which affects the stereotypes about blacks and whites and gives little children a better world tomorrow. So I very much believe and that is why I want to see a woman taking that oath one day.

Speaking of politics and women, it is the clothes of Michelle Obama that are the talking point in the newspapers. The unpaid job of the First Lady is an extremely odd one. The White House website blurb on her begins:

When people ask Michelle Obama to describe herself, she doesn't hesitate. First and foremost, she is Malia and Sasha's mom.

Dr. Laura Schlesinger, the conservative radio talk host used to always define herself "as her son's mom". There's a connection here across the political aisle, a connection that men in the public sphere don't share. It's as if fathering is not seen as a job but mothering is. Thus, women must say, again and again, that they do indeed put their children first.

Now, that bit about Mom-in-Chief could be a defensive move. As we all have learned during the last year, uppity women get crushed in the mill of misogyny. That crushing could be especially nasty for an African-American woman who must cope with double prejudices.

Still, I'd love to live in the world where it is taken for granted that parents value their children's well-being above most other things. Then we could avoid mentioning it. Then women wouldn't be judged on the basis of their perceived mothering. Then the sexes could compete on a more even basis. What a dreamer I am, sometimes. Reading about Michelle's canary yellow dress and such makes me wonder why I bother wearing out my finger nails writing on all these topics that few others seem to care about.

Talking about things few others seem to care about, why didn't Rick Warren get a haircut before preaching to millions? And why did he turn up in public in an ill-fitting overcoat and an unkempt beard?

We have a lot of work to do in the future, all of us. I'm happy that the Bush bus was stopped just in time before the abyss and that the tow-truck has arrived. But we are not out of the woods yet.

A Good Day, Today.

Let's Talk About Size

I appear to be writing a lot about sex these days, without ever offering anything delectable to you, my hawt readers. This post is also likely to disappoint, even though I was going to call it "How Long Is Your Penis?"

Here's the thing: When I follow very angry debates in the cybersphere (say, between commenters on a blog and trolls), a common slur against a commenter who is assumed to be a man is to call his penis very short. Here's a random example of this:

Life's a drag when all you have to pull is 4.0, uncut.

The e-mail spam I get also suggests that the market believes men to be worried about the length of their penises.

But why? Long penises are not an advantage in intercourse. Neither the clitoris nor the g-spot are located far up in the vagina. In fact, what IS located there is the very pain-sensitive cervix.

This suggests to me that worrying about penis length is not about sexual prowess but about something else.

Monday, January 19, 2009

We Are All Hookers Now!

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

On Martin Luther King Day

I wish that he and Rosa Parks and many others could be alive today. A viral message on the net says it better than anything else:

Rosa sat so Martin could walk
Martin walked so Barack could run
Barack ran so our children can fly

Today's Funny Post

The gift that keeps on giving is a certain kind of evolutionary psychology, the kind I usually call Evolutionary Psychology, to distinguish it from more legitimate attempts.

The most recent installment tells us that women have more orgasms with rich men! At least in China:

Scientists have found that the pleasure women get from making love is directly linked to the size of their partner's bank balance.

They found that the wealthier a man is, the more frequently his partner has orgasms.

"Women's orgasm frequency increases with the income of their partner," said Dr Thomas Pollet, the Newcastle University psychologist behind the research.

He believes the phenomenon is an "evolutionary adaptation" that is hard-wired into women, driving them to select men on the basis of their perceived quality.

The study is certain to prove controversial, suggesting that women are inherently programmed to be gold-diggers.

Yah. Hard-wired gold-diggers we all are! (Somehow I see the seven dwarves going out to work while singing merrily.)

The actual study is based on data from China:

Pollet, and Professor Daniel Nettle, his co-author, believed, however, that the female orgasm is an evolutionary adaptation that drives women to choose and retain high-quality partners.

He and Nettle tested that idea using data gathered in one of the world's biggest lifestyle studies. The Chinese Health and Family Life Survey targeted 5,000 people across China for in-depth interviews about their personal lives, including questions about their sex lives, income and other factors. Among these were 1,534 women with male partners whose data was the basis for the study.

They found that 121 of these women always had orgasms during sex, while 408 more had them "often". Another 762 "sometimes" orgasmed while 243 had them rarely or never. Such figures are similar to those for western countries.

There were of course, several factors involved in such differences but, said Pollet, money was one of the main ones.

He said: "Increasing partner income had a highly positive effect on women's self-reported frequency of orgasm. More desirable mates cause women to experience more orgasms."

I haven't seen the actual study, so I can't vouch for the correctness of any of these conclusions. But just off the top of my head I'd guess that people with higher family incomes (especially in a country with large income differences and lots of poverty) would be more likely to feel good enough to enjoy sex. It's hard to feel sexy if you spend all your time worrying about where to find the food for the next day.

Now, this type of an income effect might be found whether the income was earned by the woman or her partner or both. This writeup doesn't tell us if the study controlled for the woman's own income or whether a similar effect was found between her orgasms and her earned income. But even if it did so, the incomes of partners are often highly correlated with each other, and this can cause statistical problems in the interpretation of the findings. In any case, the proximal explanation that having more money means less economic worries and that makes a girl horny appears to be totally ignored here. Yet it looks a pretty reasonable one to me.

The funniest part of the article is this:

David Buss, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, who raised this question in his book The Evolution of Desire believes female orgasms have several possible purposes.

"They could promote emotional bonding with a high-quality male or they could serve as a signal that women are highly sexually satisfied, and hence unlikely to seek sex with other men," he said. "What those orgasms are saying is 'I'm extremely loyal, so you should invest in me and my children'."

Why wouldn't orgasms promote emotional bonding with low-quality males as well? Unless we define high-quality males as those who are good in bed (rather than affluent) the statement makes no sense. Neither does the next one about orgasms speaking to the affluent man about loyalty. Those orgasms are every bit as likely to scream: "Hey! This was fun. Let me run out and find more men to do that to me."*

Do you know what's funniest of all? That this wonderful piece of popularization is published in the U.K. Times. Imagine that! The Times suggests that all women are gold-diggers and it's perfectly fine.

*The people who do female genital mutilation to their daughters seem to go for the second explanation.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Guest Post By Mr. Spocko

Having to do with right-wing talk radio and sexism. Here it is (the original has links and a picture, too):

Thursday, January 15, 2009
ABC Radio Host Wants Full-Frontal Nudity from Bush Press Sec. Dana Perino

December 3, 2008, ABC Radio hosts Lee Rodgers, "Officer Vic" and Wall Street Journal Reporter "Buck" McQuillian discuss the possibility of hiring outgoing Presidential Press Secretary Dana Perino to work at top conservative San Francisco station KSFO.

Rodgers wonders if "full frontal nudity" in the studio would be part of Parino's role, to show off her "great rack". (Windows Audio link, MP3, transcript)

Imagine you are a communications professional. You have successfully managed a tough job dealing with complex issues of international importance. Your old job is going away in a few days. You hear that a big communications company wants to hire you, but the men who work there are known for being crude and sexist. How sexist? Their top money maker has said publicly that he wants you personally to provide him and his colleagues with full-frontal nudity in the office. Another guy, whose colleagues you've worked with daily, chimes in that if nudity is involved he's interested!

The job market is tight. This other company will pay you a TON of money. What do you do?

The job offers challenging work and the COO of the organization is one of the most influential women in the industry. They support, defend and encourage this guys' comments. If they can do that, maybe you could too. Of course nobody is forcing you to take this job, but this company works with most of the really important people in your industry.

Everyone tells you that the guys were just joking. You are used to frat boys and their jokes, like gas passing in the office. You know how to hang out with "the guys".

You know that in this environment when someone proclaims "It's a JOKE!" the burden is switched to you to prove it's not a joke. If you challenged them they reply, "What? Can't you take a joke? " To management, not having the "guy" sense of humor about sexist comments is really a bigger problem than what was said. It's almost as bad as being seen as being "politically correct".

Your previous job was with powerful men, this job is with money-making men. Your job is to keep him earning and protect him. He's a producer, you are staff. He's seen as an asset, not a liability. The company has other assets and other earners, but he's made tens of millions of dollars for the firm. In management's eyes as long as he doesn't break the law he's golden (even then they will defend him). He's not going to change.

It turns out almost all the top guys seem to be sexist, even the company's latest hire. The more money the guy makes, the more people support him. What's especially strange is the way people who disagree with these guys still say they will fight "to the death" for this guys' right to talk about you nude. It's like in their universe the normal rules of 21st century professionalism and human resources don't exist.

What is perplexing to you is all the women and decent guys who support this guy. You are told to just ignore what he says publicly, it's just a "shtick", you hear in private he's not that bad. All the big moneymakers are like this, or worse. What do you do?

If you walk into this environment, you can't ever complain to the head of HR or the company's legal counsel they will point out you knew what the guys were like before you joined. If you say anything it will be you who doesn't have a "good sense of humor", is easily offended, isn't a team player, or is trying to be "politically correct."

You talk to your friends about this and they are astonished that this guy doesn't get a talking to from management. You explain that the rules are different in this industry. Management actively hires people who are known sexist and racists, just as long as they generate cash. One of their top earners even insults the nationality and race of the top boss saying that "[For Egyptians and other Arab cultures], lying is as natural as breathing" (audio link) You would think that a combination of racist AND sexism would be a problem, but the boss doesn't worry about what a top earner says about anyone. He actively looks for and hires guys like this. Everyone is afraid to say something that might make the top earner angry because he might go elsewhere.

What do you do? The easy answer is to stay away. But these are your "tribe", they are tops in the field, and if you don't take the job people will think that YOU are the crazy one for taking some joking sexist comments seriously.

Many big commercial organizations want to be associated with him even though they would NEVER allow one of their executives to talk like this.

The rules of 21st century professionalism don't seem exist at this firm or within this industry. It's all about the top earners' "right" to broadcast to the whold world his desire to talk about seeing you naked in the office.

What do you do?


I've asked my favorite feminist blogger, Echidne, to allow me to guest post this on her blog because it was there that it was pointed out to me the ubiquitous of sexist talk on AM radio and how it is ignored, especially as compared to racism.

I'm proud to call myself a feminist since 8th grade. When I look at my life I see that my best friends, biggest supporters and strongest allies have been feminists.

After Sarah Palin became part of the Republican ticket some talk radio hosts suddenly became supporters of women. I think they loved doing the switch because it supposedly caused liberals heads to explode.

If you haven't yet, please listen to the audio. Hear their exact words, the tone, the guffawing. I'm not making this up. I WANT people to hear this. I would especially like the women who run Citadel Broadcasting to hear these three men.

Rodgers' KSFO producer is a woman. Rodgers regularly refers to her as his "executive seducer".
(instead of executive producer. Get it? It's a JOKE!) She knows that she is supposed to be just one of the guys and, like Robin Quivers, is supposed to make stern frowny faces when he goes too far. But for these guys nothing is too far. The host of this program has talked about killing millions of innocent Muslims, torturing and executing a man with multiple arrests, and beating to death protesters. I thought that maybe losing 28 advertisers because of this violent rhetoric would have caught the management's attention. They just kept supporting him. They still mistakenly see him as an asset, not a liability. How much money do these hosts have to cost them? I tried to tell the Disney people over and over again these people are not good for the bottom line.

Old men cackling about professional women having to get naked for their enjoyment. Nothing new there. Tune into any Morning Zoo programs like "Dingo and the Baby" and you might hear something like this, but this program is sold to advertisers as the number one conservative political talk program in the Bay Area. Contrary to my Vulcan appearance, I do know the difference between a comedy show and a political talk show. I know the difference between a journalist and a ideologue.

This show books governors, ambassadors and congress people. They regularly book intellectual heavyweights from the conservative right. This isn't sold to advertisers as wacky sound effects and celebrity gossip. This is "News and views you won't hear anywhere else."

They discuss important issues with:

* Thomas Del Beccaro, the Vice Chairman of the California Republican Party
* John Fund from the Wall Street Journal
* Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family has his own segment during the show.
"Dear Dr. Dobson. My 7 year old boy wants to know what full-frontal nudity is. I can't imagine where he even heard the phrase. We listen to your show faithfully on KSFO in San Francisco."

What if the guy who says this stuff represented YOUR product? What if he read your ads?
What if he was your spokesperson? Maybe they expect all the women who listen to be "team players" who "can take a joke". Maybe they expect no women to listen at all.

I know that there will be a group of women and men who will be disgusted by this but still launch into the mantra, "Rodgers has his right to say what ever he wants on the radio."

But as Matt Zimmerman from the Electronic Frontier Foundation said, "While such radio personalities certainly have a right to air their views, the First Amendment says nothing about a right to advertiser-subsidized speech."

The company Rodgers works for, Citadel Broadcasting Corporation (NYSE:CDL) is the third largest radio group in the United States. It is run by highly-paid professionals. But apparently the rules of 21st century professionalism don't exist at this firm.

Tell me this doesn’t swing wonderfully, or rock, if you prefer.

The Golden Gate Quartet

posted by Anthony McCarthy

Now We Have To Put Up The Ante And Play A Good Game by Anthony McCarthy

Rebirth of the real cool.

We are about to find out what Barack Obama will do as President of the United States. From the media and some of the blog chatter, a lot of people don’t seem to realize that he hasn’t done anything as president yet, but that is about to change.

I’m not the most plugged in person, though I know a few politicians, mostly Democrats. The word on that particular grape vine is that no one should assume their first impression of what he is up to is either complete or what it seems. My state legislator says that the word is Barack Obama’s poker game was one of the most desirable in DC, with people clamoring to get at the table. He mentioned that Harry Truman was the last real poker player-president we’ve had. I don’t know. Having just recently taken up cards again after about four decades, it’s obvious that it could build politically useful skills. Aside from poker, President Obama’s well know basketball suggests he thrives on fast and constant observation and thinking. Those are also qualities that are transferable to politics.

We don’t know what he’s going to do once he has the office but from what I suspect, he’s going to be many steps ahead of most of us and miles ahead of the corporate media. If his guile and intelligence are enough to defeat their concerted and certain and already begun attempts to sandbag him, we will know in a year or two.

Bill Clinton is in the running as the smartest man ever to be president. Despite his brilliance, it took a lot of his effort just to survive the avalanche of lies and attempts to drive him from office. His lack of wisdom and self control handed his enemies material to work with, when they lacked that, they made up stuff and the corporate media ran with it. And some of his appointments and hires were really bad. Several of those cost him dearly when it wasn’t necessary. Louis Freeh, Janet Reno, Dick Morris,....

Barack Obama strikes me as being at least as smart as Bill Clinton and not having some of his personal weaknesses. I don’t think Obama is as worried about people not liking him, though he is smart enough to not go out of his way to make enemies when it’s not necessary. He also seems to be smart enough to know he isn’t under any obligation to tell his adversaries more than he has to. I do worry about his tendency to be cocky. No one, not even the most skilled politician, doesn’t fall down sometimes. There were several of those times during the campaign and he made some good to excellent recoveries on those. But it would have been better if they hadn’t been necessary.

But, from what he’s shown, Barack Obama could be an excellent president, and after the theft, pillage and vandalism of the Bush regime, we need a president of the FDR, Lincoln class. If we are lucky and allow him to be, I think Barack Obama could be that kind of president.

As well as testing Barack Obama, his presidency is an important test for the left which, by and large, supports him. We should consider what we do as an audition to get at the table to advocate our issues and to come to compromises that gets us a good part of those. That part is the best we are going to get from anyone, we got nothing from the Bush regime and less than we could have from Clinton. Now, with Democrats in control of the executive and legislative branches, if we are patient and smart, we could make more progress than we have since the 1960s. No one who isn’t grown up about it is going to get us anywhere, anyone on the left who isn’t reasonable is going to turn into a problem for us. The Election got us a seat at the table, we’ve got to ante up and play the game. We’re not going to win every hand, probably not even most of them but we’re not going to go home flat busted with this administration. Blog thread bellyaching, which has been an epidemic already, isn’t useful. We’re going to be playing by Obama’s house rules and, ironic as this will be, coming from me, that requires real and genuine kind of cool, such as we probably haven’t seen since about the time he was born.