Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mother Pelosi and Father Frank (by Phila)

Phil Harris has written a chilling dystopian fable, about a time not long from now, in which the Obama Revolution has been accomplished.

It's about an old man -- formerly a preacher and a hunter -- who dares to tell his grandson about the Good Old Days, when churches existed, and there were still some restrictions on abortion and faggotry, and you could own...well, not as many guns as you wanted, maybe. But a lot.

This quote will give you a general idea of the tone:
“But Grandpa...the statues of Mother Pelosi, Father Frank, and Father Reid looking up at the Leader all look very happy,” insisted Max.

“That’s because they are happy Maxy,” Grandpa John replied.
Unfortunately, the narrator's dim view of Teh Leader has come to the attention of Timmy's Two Dads, who believe themselves to have been charged, in this topsy-turvy world, with upholding the moral order:
“Why were you talking about me with Timmy’s two dads? Don’t you remember when I told you it would be best to keep our little talks between us?”

“Sorry Grandpa,” Max replied, “I forgot.”

“It’s okay Max,” said Grandpa John, “don’t worry about it.”
But the damage is done. Obama's goon squad is already at the door:
“You have been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor child,” answered the officer. “Sir, you should be ashamed of yourself for filling this boy’s mind with hateful thoughts. Now he will have to undergo retraining.”

John closed his eyes and sighed. He knew that Timmy’s two dads had probably called him in.
It's easy to laugh at this little story; it's kitschy, maudlin, and jaw-droppingly stupid. But given that sentimentalism tends to be a prelude to violence, I think it's worthwhile to look beneath the veneer of silliness, and consider why the story is actually pretty effective on its own terms.

Its theme is the loss of power over other people. Timmy's two dads should be quaking in fear that their perversion will be made public. Instead, they're sending the authorities to a Christian's house, with the aloof arrogance of people who feel themselves to be perfectly secure. It's not the violation of privacy that's the problem, or the fact that a man whose way of life is thought to endanger children is hauled away by the state; the problem is that it's happening to the wrong people. The freedom that has died is the narrator's freedom to do to gays and women what gays and women are now free to do to him. Harris actually goes to some trouble to underscore this point:
“Shut your mouth old man,” replied the female officer, who was now standing at his side. “Speaking of the Leader in a disrespectful manner can be a capital offense. If you keep talking like that, we will add it to your charges.”
For all his griping about the passing of the Glory Days, the narrator is not a hero, by any means; he's quite passive when the officers come into his house and take him away. What's missing, obviously, is a gun; without it, the narrator is feminized and weak, and "tears fill his eyes." This is castration anxiety with a vengeance: Not only has Grandpa forfeited the moral right to lay down the law to queers and women, he's also lost the physical ability to defend himself, as an individual, against the diseased collectivity represented by the statues of a woman, a homosexual, a black man, and their pathetic white male courtier.

Both these problems boil down to a lack of firepower; the moral of the story, pretty much, is "don't wind up like this loser; get them before they get you." (Or as James Adkisson put it, "If life aint worth living anymore don't just kill yourself. do something for your Country before you go. Go Kill Liberals.")

The other thing that's worth noting is the assumption that as soon as you stop oppressing people, they'll seek revenge. This echoes white fears about what might happen once the slaves were freed, as well as this remarkable argument from the London Times, in regards to the perils of Irish emigration:
[N]o longer cooped up between the Liffey and the Shannon, he will spread from New York to San Francisco, and keep up the ancient feud at an unforeseen advantage...To the end of time a hundred million spread over the largest habitable area in the world, and, confronting us everywhere by sea and land, will remember that their forefathers paid tithes to the Protestant clergy, rent to absentee landlords, and a forced obedience to the laws which these had made.
Thus, oppression in the past mandates oppression for the foreseeable future...unless, of course, you'd prefer to live out your days as the plaything of Timmy's Two Dads, by order of Mother Pelosi and Father Frank.

Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition!

When Men Are “Men” Someone Needs To Get Killed? by Anthony McCarthy

Around the new year, Suzie and I posted pieces about the male mystique and nostalgia for the time when men were men and women were their support staff, at best.

This op-ed from this morning’s paper started out having me wondering if Jay Atkinson had been cribbing from us but it didn’t take long to be assured that he wasn’t.

IN ITS PUERILE, lowest-common-denominator way, Hollywood has always reflected society. The movies "Taken," starring Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA operative, and "The Wrestler," with Mickey Rourke as an aging grappler whose life and career have reached terminal velocity, share in their depictions of the Alpha Male* separated from his kin by the vicissitudes of the warrior profession.

Atkinson goes through the two movies concentrating on the main characters macho conduct.

In "Taken," Neeson's Mills pursues the mobsters who have kidnapped his 17-year-old daughter. Midway through, Mills accuses a former colleague of skimming money from the bad guys, asking the man why he'd do such a thing. I have to take care of my family, says the sleazy agent.

Mills notes that he's doing the same thing, and then shoots the man's wife to clarify his point. "It's only a flesh wound," he says.

Real men shoot women to punctuate an argument? And this is supposed to be, what? A model of behavior?

The Ram's [Mickey Rourke’s] situation is trickier, and sadder. It was his job to make a spectacle of himself and now, tired, arthritic, with the sagging muscles of an old circus bear, he wants his little girl to take care of him. But she won't, so the Ram starts training for another bout. He's a man who gave the world nothing, and has nothing left to give.

At this point I still expected Atkinson to break into the largely unexplored territory to talk about how macho men have always required women to act as their servants. The ultra-macho, field and stream equivalent of office mommies. Mommies they had sex with at the end of the day or between assignments. But no.

These days, it's no longer fashionable to be a man - to inhabit one's masculinity as previous generations have done. Compare baseball star Alex Rodriquez, under scrutiny for using steroids, with Red Sox great Ted Williams, who sacrificed the prime of his career to serve as a Marine aviator. (Williams flew 39 combat missions in Korea and crash-landed after taking small-arms fire.) Williams's baseball statistics, including a lifetime batting average of .344, compare favorably with A-Rod's. And in this age of the pseudo-man, it's hard to imagine Rodriquez visiting the troops in Iraq, let alone volunteering to serve there.

Interestingly, departing from his theme, Atkinson doesn’t seem to remember that there were better examples of celluloid warriors, exemplars of the warrior mystique who studiously got no closer to battle than shaking hands with their stunt double. And as the John Waynes and Ronald Reagans were doing that, there were others in the movies who, though having seen actual combat, didn’t choose to become ads for the Military-Industrial Complex.

CIA agent Bryan Mills and pro wrestler Randy the Ram worked long hours, far from home; as "real" men, their wives and children expected them to be intrepid, warlike, and venturesome.

This sentence strikes me as being deeply weird. Is there really a part of the psycho-CIA agent and the pro-wrestler of the “Ram” variety that is motivated primarily by the heroic idol they think their wives and kids see in them? Somehow, I tend to doubt that’s their primary motive, though it might be a wishful afterthought. I think it’s probably more realistic to suspect that the macho image has always been deeply narcissistic, motivated by an overgrown ego that adults outgrow. The glorious, heroic image that they want to see in the eyes of their wives and children is of themselves, after all.

Atkinson’s use of the baseball players is inappropriate for a deeper reason as well. Though I’m not a baseball fan, being from New England, I learned a lot about Ted Williams and his youngest son’s tragic stories. I think investigating the son’s sadly bizarre inability to break free from the heroic myth of his father and his inability to live up to it might shed a lot of light on that kind of heroism. That’s not to take anything from Ted William’s service during the Second World War, but that wasn’t what primarily defined his mythic image. And while he was a hero, he was also a rather unattractive person too.

Getting back to Atkinson:

Today, the American warrior is an anachronism - witness how we outsource some of the fighting in the Middle East to companies like Blackwater, then turn their operatives into pariahs when they come home with blood on their hands. In yesteryear, suburban dads taught their sons how to kick a football, or pitch horseshoes. Nowadays, they hire private coaches and personal trainers, then stand aside for these professionals. Meanwhile, soldiers and airmen in nondescript Virginia office parks kill aspiring insurgents half a world away, via predator drones.

This mess of a paragraph requires a longer commentary.

Notice two things, how the mercenaries of Blackwater who have done so much to deserve their status as pariahs, are equated with someone like Williams who volunteered to be a combatant in a provked war. And that Atkinson wants us to sympathize with the mercenaries who have “blood on their hands”. There is a fundamental contradiction in the “warrior” image, of someone who is honored for doing something awful, killing.

Atkinson, like most people, don’t differentiate in why the killing was done. America’s involvement in the Second World War was due to an attack made on our country and to defeat the allied fascist-Nazi forces who were set on conquest and imposing a brutal regime of continual war on the world. Iraq was an unprovoked war based in lies and with the clear goal of controlling the oil resources of the country. There is a world of difference in the two wars and the motives of a volunteer and a mercenary in either one. The blood on the hands of those who fought Imperial Japan in the 1940s and those who contracted to protect the Imperial administrators of the conquered Iraq isn’t the same. While it is impossible to describe every single act in the two wars and come to a black and white distinction, ignoring the reasons that produced the wars, the motives of the “warriors” and the victims of the violence they committed and other aspects of it, produces nothing but a tidy lie of convenience. That, thanks to science, some of the thugs can do it from a desk, out of harms way, doesn’t sanctify the thuggery of those who lack the technical skills required to use predator drones.

Warriors have only one possibly legitimate role, that is to protect a society from an unprovoked, outside attack. It isn’t to provide fantasy heroics for desk jockeys and the entertainment industry. That kind of dirty work is a world removed from truly filthy work of imperial conquest and rule. Mercenaries are highly paid thugs. In a democracy it’s the role of the warrior to re-enter civilian society. It isn’t to act as an advertisement and bulwark of an imperial system. It is right that a those required to repel that kind of attack are respected and compensated for their service. Parades and the phony honors substituted are both the cheap way out and a danger to a civilian democracy.

By the time Atkinson gets back to making the absurdly tenuous link between homicidal mercenaries and suburban dads who leave their SONS’ training in vicarious combat to professional coaches, it has veered into the totally surreal.

Considering how he began with the Ram’s desire to have his estranged DAUGHTER take care of him, you would think that the dad’s failures re co-ed activities would be more relevant. Though the absence of the daughter in this passage is revealing, isn’t it.

Here is how Atkinson finishes his wild ride into nostalgia.

There are a few holdouts. Recently I met an out-of-work carpenter in Fitzwilliam, N.H.; because of the poor economy, he and his ex-wife and three children continue to share their modest, two-bedroom home. To give everyone a break, the carpenter, an avid hunter, goes out and sits in the woods until dark; he's killed two deer that way, dressing them out on the back porch so his kids could see how it's done.

Just can’t get away from killing as the real determinant of manhood, can he.

Any single dad will tell you that family court punishes those men who persist in doing what men were once mandated to do: range wide in hunting, bringing back the kill at irregular intervals, adorned with its blood. In today's world, you must produce the trophy without being the one who kills it. In Hollywood, anyway, the only acceptable role is man-by-proxy: You must get someone else to do your dirty work, or risk losing everything.

So, this is the goal of the piece? The typical “Men’s rights” whine that they can’t get away with trying to live out the fantasies of Walter Mitty when they’ve fathered children? That their play warrior lives don’t tend to jibe with responsible parenting? And that the courts sometimes make them pay up? No, it’s not a matter of getting someone else to do “your dirty work”, it’s to grow up because someone has to take care of the children you’ve produced.

I’m sorry if this piece is all over the place but the habit of simplifying and conflating so many aspects of the masculine mystique is deeply embedded and the destructive results are a major problem for us all. Masculinity is a mess, you can’t deconstruct it without getting your hands dirty.

* Can’t help but noticing this bit of ethological clap trap, adopting the language of assumptions made about animal behavior for our society. It really isn’t very useful when trying to change things for the better, is it.

Saturday Kitties

Emma (on the pedestal) and Pippin posing for your enjoyment. Courtesy of FeraLiberal:

Friday, February 27, 2009

HaloScan Is Down

The comments have not worked for a few hours now (you may be able to read but not add to them). The problem is with HaloScan and not with this blog, though I have written a letter to the folks at HaloScan. Sorry about that.

UPDATE: According to Haloscan, users can now read comments but not write them or edit them. It will take up to 24 hours to get those facilities back.

Friday butterfly blogging (by Suzie)

This is another one from the Butterfly Rainforest. Can anyone identify it? ('Cause I've gone through pages of pictures and I give up.)

A white woman of color (by Suzie)

          I’m talking about one of my sisters, and I don’t mean that in some sort of all-women-are-my-sisters way.
         Our white parents adopted her a few hours after her birth. We heard that her birth mother was a blue-eyed blonde, but we know nothing about her biological father. Because my sister has a cafĂ©-au-lait complexion and dark curly hair, people speculate on her background. She finds it rude. Why should she have to detail her family history for strangers?
         When she lived in a smaller town, she could tell people that her family was Jewish, and that seemed to satisfy them. Many of them had never known a Jew before, and our Jewish father did have tanned skin and curly black hair.
          Now she lives in a city with a large Mexican-American population, and people often assume she's Hispanic. She thinks it’s likely that her biological father was Hispanic. On official forms, she checks off white, the race listed on her birth certificate, but informally, she has come to consider herself a person of color.
          As I’ve mentioned before, the U.S. Census and other government institutions consider Hispanic, Latino, Chicano, etc., to be an ethnicity, not a race. There are a number of people who see themselves as both white and Hispanic or black and Latino or other combinations. (You may want to read the comments on the previous post.)
         The Census doesn’t recognize Arabs as a separate race although they were once grouped with Jews as Semitic people. (Of course, liberals don’t view Jews as a separate race, although some others do, most notably white supremacists.)
         But the term “people of color” is commonly applied to Hispanics and Arabs. Thus, my sister is not the only one who thinks of herself, at different times perhaps, as both white and a person of color. There are other people who were adopted who can only guess at their ethnic background. I’ve written about my mother, who heard that her biological father was American Indian but knew few details.
         No one knows her complete genetic ancestry. People who trace their genealogy can go back only so far, and even then, the official record is no proof of biology. 
         No matter how my sister identifies, some people will view her as a person of color, while people often saw the Irish in my mother, because she had red hair and green eyes, but not the Native American.
       These perceptions influence the identity that some choose for themselves. A biracial person like Obama may call himself black because he knows that he will be seen that way. Others of us choose our ethnic identity based on what we know about our ancestry. Thus, a biracial person who appears white may still identify as black. If the same person identified as white, she could expect grief from all sides for trying to deny her heritage.
"Person of color" is a synonym for "non-white" only in the sense of racial classification, not actual color. An albino can be a person of color, depending on his parentage.
         Nor is it the same as "minority," because there are other ethnic minorities in the United States, such as immigrants from Eastern Europe, who are white but face discrimination.
          Just as white feminists have been criticized for speaking of “women” without considering all the world’s women, those who refer to “people of color” must remember that there are many (millions of?) people of color around the world who have never heard the term and who don’t think of themselves in solidarity with everyone else of color. 
          Geoffrey K. Pullum writes:
[I]t seems like an unwholesome capitulation to the old apartheid idea that there really is some meaningful division between people who are white and people who are not — it seems to presuppose and endorse the stupid idea that there really is some way of determining whether some random Armenian or Azerbaijani or Albanian or Afghan or Argentinian or Ainu or part-Aboriginal Australian is or is not a legitimate claimant to the label "person of color".
          Despite all this, I sometimes use the term “people of color” because I try to call people by the labels they choose. But I hope the day comes when we can talk about culture and ethnicity without putting people into the false categories of race.
         My thanks to the reader known as "dude" for our long conversation on these issues.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thursday's Echidne Musings

Do I repeat myself too much? What do you do when you think you have said everything you want to say but doubt that it stuck? Repeat it again and again? Heh.

This ties to something else I have been thinking, which is the role of individual feminist blogs. The blogs seem to have grown an almost-natural division of labor so that some bloggers focus on news about women, some on reproductive issues or women-and-sex or women-and-religion or on questions of race-and-gender etc., and sometimes I think I should fill in one of the gaps that still exist in the feminist blogosphere. One of those gaps is the lack of a good expert blog on the way women are viewed in academic research and its popularizations, and I, for one, would read such a blog. Not so sure about writing it, though, given that I'm not an expert. Which means that I'm going to start asking for experts to volunteer. You could even write for this here blog.

There's also a need for blogs which provide support and validation, as well as blogs which just analyze issues critically and let the comments be argumentative. Right now this blog is mostly in the latter camp. Should it stay there?

I'm always in the winter of my discontent, being a goddess of gloom, sigh. It's sorta enjoyable if you are melancholic by nature. But I'm serious about always wanting to do better and to have more and more conversations with you, my erudite and sweet readers.

On Aspirin, Booze, Women and Men

Remember when those studies first came out which recommended taking small amounts of aspirin to prevent heart attacks? The early studies were all done on men but the results were usually generalized to apply to everybody though some reports did note that the studies had not actually looked at women.

Fast forward to today and the new study about alcohol and women. Here's how its findings are explained:

For years, many women have been buoyed by the news about one of life's guilty pleasures: That nightly glass of wine may not only take the edge off a day but also improve their health. Now it turns out that sipping pinot noir might not be such a good idea after all.

A new study involving nearly 1.3 million middle-aged British women -- the largest ever to examine alcohol and cancer in women -- found that just one glass of chardonnay, a single beer or any other type of alcoholic drink per day increases the risk of a variety of cancers.


"No one study is ever sufficient to make a recommendation," said Linda Van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University who is chairing the committee revising the guidelines. "But it will be added to the body of literature that will be reviewed."

In the meantime, several experts said women should consult with their doctors about whether they should drink.

Perhaps we have now learned not to generalize studies beyond their subject group? But I think we also regard studies about men as applying to humans and studies about women as applying to women. Hence this study is not seen as giving men any kinds of warnings about alcohol.

Indeed, I spot something rather different in those opening lines I quote above, something which suggests that alcohol is not a general health question but one only for women, and the picture the Washington Post chose to go with the article reinforces that idea. This could be because I'm a feminazi, always seeing nastiness behind perfectly innocent health commentaries. But somehow I get the 'gotcha' feeling from those first sentences.

And Etna Erupts

Paul Krugman has a very useful lesson of Econ 101 on his blog about Bobby Jindal's jeering at volcano monitoring:

Traditionally, the division between conservatives and liberals has been over the role and size of the welfare state: liberals think that the government should play a large role in sanding off the market economy's rough edges, conservatives believe that time and chance happen to us all, and that's that.

But both sides, I thought, agreed that the government should provide public goods — goods that are nonrival (they benefit everyone) and nonexcludable (there's no way to restrict the benefits to people who pay.) The classic examples are things like lighthouses and national defense, but there are many others. For example, knowing when a volcano is likely to erupt can save many lives; but there's no private incentive to spend money on monitoring, since even people who didn't contribute to maintaining the monitoring system can still benefit from the warning. So that's the sort of activity that should be undertaken by government.

So what did Bobby Jindal choose to ridicule in this response to Obama last night? Volcano monitoring, of course.

Volcano monitoring is called a public good (whether impure or pure) because private for-profit firms can't elicit enough voluntary payments for it to provide the service to the degree that people really would want it provided. The problem is not that people don't want the service (if they live near volcanoes) but that everyone can figure out that the service can be obtained without paying for it (think of the old-fashioned lighthouse services). So the logical thing is not to pay for it and get the service anyway, except that everyone might have the same logical response and thus the service would not be provided at all. (Do you see some similarities to the troubles the music business is suffering right now? Internet technology is giving it some aspects of a public good (the difficulty of excluding those who don't pay) and the outcome could be less music in the long run.)

Why does the public sector do any better in the provision of public goods? The answer is an unpleasant one: It has the power to tax people.

Was that too boring for you? I also liked the Eschaton commenter who argued against volcano monitoring and signed the comment: Bobulus Jindalus, R-Pompeii.

Fun With Statistics

I was reading this article yesterday:

The percentage of American households with children under 18 living at home last year hit the lowest point — 46% — in half a century, government data reported Wednesday.

The trend reflects the aging of the Baby Boom generation and younger women having fewer children, demographers say.

The article does point out that earlier percentages rose because of the same Baby Boom generation. When large age groups have children you get lots of them. When smaller age groups have children you get less of them. I'm not sure what the impact of more older people living alone might be on all this might be. It would raise the total number of households without raising the numbers of those with children, for one thing. Come to think of it, divorce does that, too.

Note that the cause is seen partly as "younger women having fewer children." Not "younger families", say. I know that the terminology has its reasons, but I'm irritated when I read that women have too many children in India and too few in Italy. Those dratted women! They never get it quite right, while men never make such mistakes, except for getting older when they, too, can be blamed for everything.

Anyway, that wasn't the fun I intended to have with statistics. It's this part of the article:

In 2008, about 35.7 million families (46%) had children under 18 at home, the Census figures show, down from 52% in 1950. The percentage peaked in 1963, when about 57% of families had children under 18 at home.


The data also show:

•About 5.3 million "stay-at-home" mothers and 140,000 such fathers.

If you put together those numbers of households with children under eighteen and stay-at-home parents you get a ratio of seven to one. Around fourteen percent of all families with children have a stay-at-home parent (SAHP). This is worth pointing out, because the popular culture and much of our public conversations pretty much assume the traditional pattern, and an alien from outer space would certainly conclude that it's the predominant child-rearing arrangement in this country.

If the data was more detailed we'd probably find that most of the families with a SAHP have very young children and that once the children are at school both parents work again. I'm not sure if the culture truly has taken this into account. It seems that the local schools here, for example, expect parents (read: mothers) to be available during daytime hours for all sorts of unpaid chores.

Those data also tell us that about 3% of SAHPs are fathers. Until that grows to a much higher percentage we will not see any general policies to help SAHPs to get better retirement benefits or help when wanting to return to the labor force. That's what I think.

A dog for the White House (by Suzie)

        The Obamas have been looking for a dog that would be less likely to cause allergies. Michelle says she wants a Portuguese water dog. Barack has said he's considering that breed or a Labradoodle, a mix of a Labrador retriever and a poodle.
        Both dogs have coats similar to the hypoallergenic poodle, without the French connection and the association with the effete. 
        In a previous interview, Barack said he wanted a "big, rambunctious dog," not a small "girly" lap dog.
        The Obamas say they will get a rescued dog. I checked Petfinder, which turned up only two Portuguese water dogs in the country available for adoption. Both are mixes. At right is Bear, a mix with a Lab. What a great compromise! He's described as house-trained, very obedient and laid-back. 
      Although I know that all rescues do not use Petfinder, it does appear that there aren't a whole lot of Portuguese water dogs out there. The Obamas should understand that they will help popularize any breed they choose, and the breeders will crank up their operations. A mix would send a great signal. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Now No Napolitano

Janet Napolitano used to be the Democratic governor of Arizona. She vetoed quite a few bills aimed at decreasing women's reproductive rights. Now that she has moved on, Arizona politicians didn't wait very long to get all that anti-abortion bidness done:

Hoping a new governor means a different result, abortion foes have combined three separate — and previously vetoed — abortion measures into a single bill.
HB 2564 would:
• Require women to wait for 24 hours before terminating a pregnancy.
• Allow health professionals, hospitals and pharmacists to refuse to perform abortions or provide "morning after" pills or even to "facilitate" a woman getting access to either.
• Specify what factors a judge may consider in determining if a minor is mature enough to have an abortion without first getting parental consent.

Here's HB 2564. Notice that the proposal uses the term 'unborn baby.' This proposal most likely will become law under the new Republican governor.

Nobody Loves Me Like Limbaugh

Limbaugh's being silly after finding out that women don't like him that much:

Now, from Limbaugh's website re: the gender gap found by PPP:

"The gender gap is one of the largest [Public Policy Polling] has seen on any issue it's polled in the last year, with [Rush] Limbaugh having a +19 (56/37) net favorability among men, but a -12 (37/49) with women." I have a 37% approval with women, 49% disapproval. "Thirty-one-point point gender gaps don't come along all that often." Now, ladies and gentlemen, this is an opportunity here, because this takes us to the age-old question: What do women want? Not even Freud was ultimately able to answer the question. Women generally, for the most part, can't answer it, either. But it has never stopped people from asking the question: What do women want? Given this massive gender gap in my personal approval numbers, a 31-point gender gap, it seems reasonable for me to convene a summit.


We'll have a summit of all the women in this audience — or as many of them as we can get into breakout groups — and perhaps devote an hour in an upcoming program to calls only from women who genuinely want to talk to me. They can be liberal, conservative. They could be non-audience members, could be audience members. But I want some of these women to start telling me what it is I must do to close the gender gap — or, if not what it is I must do to close the gender gap, what it is I've done that has caused the gender gap; assuming the gender gap is true and that the poll is true.

He really is a slimy monster from some small puddle of gasoline. That's why women don't like him.

Also because of comments like these:

Limbaugh's views on women are crystallized in this 'Rushbite':

One of my fabulous routines concerns a San Francisco men's club which lost its battle to exclude women from membership. The courts ruled that they had to admit women on the basis that businesswomen were being unfairly denied opportunities to do business. This is specious. How much business did women think they were going to get as a result of forcing their way in?
Anyway, after one year, the female members demanded their own exercise room. They were probably tired of being ogled by a bunch of slobbering men while they pumped iron in leotards and spandex. The men offered to install the first three exercise machines in the women's new workout room. The ladies were thrilled. When they arrived on that first exciting day they found, to their stunned amazement, a washing machine, an ironing board, and a vacuum cleaner. Heh, heh, heh. (The Way Things Ought To Be, p.142-45 Jul 2, 1992)

And comments like these:

As Media Matters has documented, Limbaugh recently referred to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) as sounding like a "screeching ex-wife." On the February 21 broadcast of his show, Limbaugh said that Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter is "a girl" and claimed that Jack Carter, son of former President Jimmy Carter, "has been castrated by the feminization of this culture."

Or comments like these:

From the November 30 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: My cat -- here's how you can get fooled. My cat comes to me when she wants to be fed. I have learned this. I accept it for what it is. Many people in my position would think my cat's coming to me because she loves me. Well, she likes me, and she is attached, but she comes to me when she wants to be fed. And after I feed her -- guess what -- she's off to wherever she wants to be in the house, until the next time she gets hungry. She's smart enough to know she can't feed herself. She's actually a very smart cat. She gets loved. She gets adoration. She gets petted. She gets fed. And she doesn't have to do anything for it, which is why I say this cat's taught me more about women, than anything my whole life. But we put voices in their mouths.

Or comments like these:

So the question is this: Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?

Or comments like these:

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

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

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

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

Mmm. I have 97 posts on this here blog which mention Rush Limbaugh and only one of those shows him giving a pretense-feminist statement. And of course Rush is a joke. But this joke called Rush is taken quite seriously by many, many observers, most of them with testicles.


Atrios linked to a story about a Colorado politician and his views on sexual promiscuity:

Democrats were outraged Wednesday morning when Republican state Sen. Dave Schultheis said he planned to vote against a bill to require HIV tests for pregnant women because the disease "stems from sexual promiscuity" and he didn't think the Legislature should "remove the negative consequences that take place from poor behavior and unacceptable behavior." The Colorado Springs lawmaker then proceeded to cast the lone vote against SB-179, which passed 32-1 and moves on to the House.

Schultheis is clearly unimportant in the wider scale of things. But his views on 'the negative consequences from poor behavior' are fascinating. Here's more, from his own mouth:

Sexual promiscuity, we know, causes a lot of problems in our state, one of which, obviously, is the contraction of HIV. And we have other programs that deal with the negative consequences — we put up part of our high schools where we allow students maybe 13 years old who put their child in a small daycare center there.

We do things continually to remove the negative consequences that take place from poor behavior and unacceptable behavior, quite frankly, and I don't think that's the role of this body.

Dave is a warm-hearted guy. He wants to punish the promiscuous women and promiscuous thirteen-year old girls for having sex, and the punishment includes letting their children get HIV and making further education for the mothers impossible. I bet he'd recommend public shaming of loose women, too, because that would keep the negative consequences of promiscuity fresh and biting.

As I pointed out above, Schultheis' opinions are far out of the mainstream and in some ways not worth discussing. But it's also true that many, many people would like to see women who have sex punished. The punishment could take various forms, true, but forced childbirth is always part of it.

Now reverse that. Do we call men promiscuous? Do we demand that promiscuous men be punished? Have we ever shunned them, say?

All that is odd, because heterosexual intercourse is not something women do without men. Yet it is the women who are labeled as promiscuous, even though there must have been at least some men who were equally promiscuous.

One might argue that all this is because the role of the promiscuous men used to be invisible or easily hidden before DNA-testing, and that it was the women who got 'caught' for promiscuity. But the society certainly never paid much effort in trying to unearth those fickle shadows of horny men with multiple partners. If anything, prostitution was at least tacitly supported in most societies and plays and books often portray the womanizing man as a hero. The stud, you know.

I think the women were selected as the scapegoats. The whole traditional idea of women as gatekeepers in sex is part and parcel of that same scapegoating. It also ignores the ability of powerful men to force women into sex, whether the women wanted it or not (think of the chamber-maids in Victorian England) and the fact that even today in many parts of the world a woman cannot really refuse a man who is above her in the societal rankings. Come to think of it, the whole concept of promiscuity stinks of sexism.

Parsing The Speeches

That would be Obama's first speech to the joint session of the Congress and the Republican answer by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

My overall impression of the speeches was "awww" and "ouch", in the order that they were given. Barack Obama is a great orator, Bobby Jindal not that much (popping suddenly into sight from around the corner is scary, too). But riding the emotional wave of a well-given speech is insufficient. What the words are matter, too. How convenient, then, that I also liked Obama's words much better than Jindal's words.

Obama hit most of the major points from the expected 'centrarian' angle. He also included some quite lovely progressive bits (health care reform (YEAH!) and getting rid of torture, for example) and a few bits that I wasn't happy about: the concept of clean coal, the support of charter schools and a mumbly reference to doing something about Social Security.

I doubt that clean coal can exist and although American schools need a lot of work charter schools cannot be the answer to the general problems. Social Security is not an urgent problem when compared to, say, Medicare, and had the Republicans had their way with it in the past we'd see the elderly begging on the streets today.

Jindal, on the other hand, used the Katrina disaster to demonstrate that the government cannot work! That this was because George Bush didn't let it work appeared not to occur to Bobby.

But mostly Jindal kept repeating that Americans can do ANYTHING. To be fair, Obama also flattered the American people. I have to check if this behavior is common among politicians in all countries. Somehow I doubt that. But if there is a time for excessive stroking of citizens it probably is now, because we want to turn confidence up a notch or two, at least consumer confidence.

To add something trivial to my criticisms, I dislike the term 'working families' and wish it to die a painful death. It brings to mind images of little children toiling away in sweatshops and nineteenth century mines and it omits everyone who lives alone as well as those who are retired. I know why the term is used. I just dislike its artificiality.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Some Good News

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgh is back in court:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the Supreme Court bench yesterday with a wide smile and a long list of questions for the lawyers appearing before her, resuming her duties less than three weeks after surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Ginsburg, who will turn 76 next month, smiled broadly as she walked into the courtroom with her eight colleagues and turned slightly to look directly at reporters who chronicled her Feb. 5 surgery and diagnosis of early-stage cancer.

She was a vigorous participant in yesterday's two oral arguments, and even teased veteran Supreme Court practitioner Carter Phillips about whether an opinion she wrote in 2003 had misstated the justices' intentions.

I raise my divine winged helmet to her. She's tough. Like a diamond is tough. And her presence was already noted in the decision about guns and domestic violence.

Then Hilda Solis was confirmed as the new Labor Secretary:

U.S. Representative Hilda Solis, the daughter of two union members, was confirmed by a Senate vote today as the nation's 25th labor secretary.

The nomination was approved with bipartisan support after Republicans ended efforts to delay a vote over concerns about her ties to union groups and tax liens on her husband's business. The vote was 80-17.

This is a major change from the Bush administration which ran lots of these departments on the basis of the fox guarding the chicken coops and of course absolutely loathed organized labor. Not organized capitalism, mind you, but only its counterveiling power.


This is a sneeky post, because it is actually about window shades. Not about politics or feminism or anything fun. I'm too exhausted right now to write proper posts. Also, I need some good advice on this important aspect of life: How to cover the windows.

The back story: I need to buy new roller blinds or something similar and the number of windows to be covered is fourteen. They are all narrow old-fashioned windows, three or two making a larger window so to speak, but the narrow windows need separate blinds.

The problem I have is this: I hate the cheapest kind of roller blinds, the vinyl ones. They are the wrong color and shine too much and collapse too fast. But then I hate slats, too, because you really cannot wash them without taking early retirement and spending your life and all your tootbrushes on them. BUT: I cannot afford the new honeycell shades or similar types.

My old ones were cotton-based and not bad ones. They are no longer amenable to my repairs (I got by for a few years by re-sewing them shorter to use up the unrolled good bits at the top), and I cannot find the same brand name in the stores or on the net. All I can find are roller blinds which would look good and do the job but which would cost me around sixty dollars per window. Multiply that by fourteen...

All my windows are slightly different widths so ready-made shades which can't be altered will not really work properly.

Do any of you have some ideas what I could do? What do you have in your windows?

Well, No.

That's the answer to the question the LA Times poses in its headline for an article about Michelle Obama's possible First Lady role:

Is Michelle Obama really in the kitchen?

She is not in the kitchen. Someone else cooks the White House meals. Probably a large number of someone elses. And of course the article doesn't mean that Michelle would herself cook and clean and do laundry. No First Lady ever did those things, unless that's what they got their kicks from.

The article is not about the real lives of many women who actually do cook and clean and wash clothes every day. It's about the metaphorical meaning of "wife" in the American society and about the roles that women are or are not allowed to play. That has always been the hidden function of the First Lady's job, and an important part of that job is to soothe the subconscious fears of so many that women are somehow getting out of hand and will no longer be willing to be just helpmates.

Hillary Clinton did not do this. That is one of the main reason why she is still so hated by many. Michelle Obama doesn't want to go the same way. After all, the right-wingers already label her as an angry black woman, and "angry" is not what Americans want the partnering word with "wife" to be.

Still, I hope she remembers that she is now a mirror in which every American woman is supposedly seen as reflected. Not a nice job to have, especially an unpaid one.

But a job it is.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Where The Famous Wimmin Are

According to a recent U.S. News And World Report poll powerful women should be running daycare centers. That's because you can't quite say that they should be caring for their own children, I guess, especially given that some the ones to be included are past the child-bearing years.

In any case, the above picture of bobble dolls, intended to portray four famous women, is attached to the poll which then asks:

If you had a choice of four daycare centers run separately by Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi, which would you choose for your kids?

Yesterday Sarah Palin was winning ever so slightly over Michelle Obama. Both Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi fared very poorly in this wonderful poll.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and scream because I've had a dream about the insides of the heads of the editors who put up stuff like this. Well, I don't, actually. Those heads must be fairly empty. But it was fun to imagine doing that.

More fun than analyzing this particular poll. Not sure why daycare centers was picked as the chosen industry here, unless it has something to do with all those uteri. What else could powerful women be good for? Neither am I sure why Michelle Obama was lumped together with three working politicians, given that she is not one herself. Perhaps the idea is that women are judged only on womanly things such as their ability to raise children? It doesn't matter if they are expert in some other fields, too. Or instead of that field.

Now do a reversal of that poll. Let's make the industry landscaping and let's ask which of four famous guys (three politicians and then someone else) you would want to mow your lawns regularly. It's not a perfect reversal, because lawns are not as important as children, but it captures the idiocy of this poll rather nicely.

Sean Penn Speaks

At receiving his Oscar for his role in Milk:

I have no idea if the YouTube link I posted will stay. If it does not, Sean Penn argued for equality in fairly robust words.

The Gender Gap In A Global Setting

This does not refer to the famous gender gap in earnings but to a study which compares men's and women's economic, educational, political and health outcomes by building all that into an index. The index measures outcomes (for example, the labor force participation rates of women and men) and not inputs (for example, the presence or absence of paid parental leave). What is interesting about this particular index is that it doesn't weigh the results by the economic development level of a country. Thus, a poor country can rank high on this index even if it doesn't offer many opportunities for girls to get educated as long as the opportunities are the same for boys and girls. Get it?

Now, no index of something like gender equality can be perfect and neither is this one. For example, it has no data on violence against women or the legal status of women, perhaps because those would be viewed as input measures and not outcome measures. Neither does the index tell us anything about general levels of woman-loathing in the various cultures, though those might in general correlate with the outcome measures it uses.

Having said that, here are the top (most gender-equal) ten countries in 2008:

1. Norway
2. Finland
3. Sweden
4. Iceland
5. New Zealand
6. Philippines
7. Denmark
8. Ireland
9. Netherlands
10. Latvia

The United States ranks 27th. Here are the bottom (least gender-equal) ten countries in 2008

1. Bahrain
2. Ethiopia
3. Turkey
4. Egypt
5. Morocco
6. Benin
7. Pakistan
8. Saudi Arabia
9. Chad
10. Yemen

Yemen ranks the lowest of the 140 countries in the study.

If you want to know more about the index and its parts, check out the original report. It includes versions which split the countries into subgroups by income levels and does the ranking within each subgroup, and versions which look at only employment or only education or only health or only political participation rates.

Some Monday Fun

Just to get going I'm posting these suggestions for new license slogans:


You can see the rest of U.S. states and some Canadian provinces at the link.
Found by Bad Art.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

OctoMom Nation (by Phila)

David R. Stokes wants to know if the "better angels of our nature" are socialists.

After a split second of reflection, I'd have to say...yes, they are. And I suspect Stokes agrees, deep down, given the effort he expends to paint his fellow citizens as a pack of schemers and thieves who will only be further corrupted by "our" misplaced compassion.

What if some people get money who don't deserve it, Stokes asks? Nathaniel Hawthorne had a pretty good answer:
There is so much wretchedness in the world, that we may safely take the word of any mortal professing to need our assistance; and, even should we be deceived, still the good to ourselves resulting from a kind act is worth more than the trifle by which we purchase it.
But what if they not only don't deserve it, but are the sort of horrible, despicable people we hate mainly because it's such an enjoyable distraction from our real, for instance, Nadya Suleman, who's evil because she's crazy, or vice versa?
Of course, the Suleman story is objectionable and infuriating to us on so many levels because she clearly seems to be deranged. Or maybe she is just depraved. Maybe she is a manipulative, scheming, deceiver, who is thinking only of self. I am not trying to bash the lady – that line is really too long.
The line is pretty long...but fortunately, the express window has just opened:
After all, if OctoMom, as she has been dubbed, is indeed trying to “work the system” with the mother of all scams (literally), is she really all that different from many others right now? I’m talking about those who are already slowing down on the personal responsibility side of things because we have a cool new government in place ready to stimulate all of us. Nadya Suleman may be more like the not-too-distant future of America than we might care or dare to admit.
Well, it worked in the Reagan years, so why not try it again? Pick one person, preferably female, paint her as lazy, dishonest, and sexually irregular, and make her the official representative of The Poor. Above all, make it clear that if she "gets away with" surviving, she'll be laughing at us while she lolls around in her Welfare Cadillac, or her million-dollar condo full of ill-gotten babies, or what have you, so that we can displace the rage we should feel at the crooks who are actually robbing us onto our fellow suckers.

Stokes goes on to paint a pretty picture of the world as a den of vipers who are hoping to pick the pockets of the unwary. Needless to say, all of them are at or near the bottom of society, which proves once again that crime doesn't pay.

Still, we can't simply throw stones at other least, not without making high-minded excuses for it. We need to understand that "we all bear a moral-DNA similarity to OctoMom" -- even those of us who've managed to avoid dehumanizing the woman by calling her idiotic names. By casting people like Suleman into the outer darkness where they belong, we triumph over the inborn evil they represent, which is why oppressing the poor and the unfortunate is not a convenience so much as a moral duty. (Which might suggest to a better theologian that this outlook is as sinfully self-interested as anything it attacks, since it allows us to profit from creating scapegoats who justify our preexisting meanness.)

Unfortunately, the idea that kicking people when they're down has an ugly side to it, no matter how spiritually gratifying it may be, belongs to what Stokes calls "dominant secularism and sterile religion." Stokes is concerned with grander things: the glimmer of evil in the eye of the homeless mother; the crimson lust that begat the hungry child; the passion for worldly things that inspired the foreclosed homeowner to imagine that her loan broker was an honest man acting under a system of laws. By turning its back on God and capitalism, secular socialism gave up on the Christian idea that everyone is bad, and the capitalist idea that being bad is good. This is what has brought us to the state we're in today, where a single welfare mother threatens us with spiritual destruction to the precise extent that she inspires compassion, which is capitalism's version of original sin.
Do we really want to admire nations where people surrender significantly more than half of what they earn to a government in exchange for state-run services that are chronically insufficient, incompetent, and impersonal?
It shouldn't be done; the mere effort corrupts us all. But to make matters worse, they do it incompetently...which means that they only save some people from dying on the street. And the system is impersonal, too...which I guess means that it tends to take the word of "any mortal professing to need our assistance," instead of piously withholding aid and explaining that suffering builds character (and who asked you to get knocked up anyway, ya goddamn slut)?

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I do admire those nations, at least compared to ours. And I'm just patriotic enough to believe that we can become even more competent than they are at treating people like human beings, once we stop listening to the lunatic propositions of dead-hearted, pietistic scolds like David R. Stokes.

Either because he's completely cynical, or really, really stupid, Stokes wraps things up with a butchered quote from Walt Kelly:
If so, then we need to be fair and concede that, as Pogo might have put it, we have met Nadya Suleman and she is our future.
After reading that, I wished for a moment that Kelly had lived long enough to deal with Stokes. But then I remembered that he did.

Irrational Envy, A Pillar of Conservatism by Anthony McCarthy

The Republican reaction to President Obama’s plans to rescue mortgagees from the ocean of debt came in huge wet gouts this week. The idea is to plant the trope that those helped would be models of the legendary undeserving poor and that bailing them out would constitute a huge injustice to the good, worthy mortgagees who didn’t find themselves out of work with an inflated mortgage crushing them. Just why someone would be advantaged by the house next to theirs being auctioned off in an emergency sale at a fraction of the original price or left vacant to fall into ruin or vandalism isn’t generally considered by the Republican water boys in the media. There’s not much to support that side of the argument. Of course it would cost the good, virtuous home owner a lot more in their houses value to have it next to a decaying shell than the relatively small amount Barack Obama’s plan will cost them. And, if they happen to have a major illness or lose their job, they’ll be the next in line for just that same program. The argument isn’t a difficult one to understand, though don’t hold your breath before you hear a member of the Washington Press Corps making it.

What’s most interesting to me is what this shows about how the conservative mind works. Envy is a pretty low emotion, generally considered a serious sin in traditional morality. It can’t be felt without some degree of coveting another’s goods or position. And in the absence of the sin of covetousness, it merely wishes bad things to happen to others, just for the sake of meanness. Envy is inherently bad spirited. It is often a destructive emotion that hides during development. Watchfully looking jealously as something good happens to someone else, exaggerating or inventing reasons that person isn’t deserving of that good. Steadily inventing some illegitimate, secret means that their neighbor gamed the system or stole something outright. It doesn’t have to be grounded in evidence or reality.

In my town there is a family of the clearly undeserving poor. While I’ve known a few of the family to be rather nice, most of them are not. The nice ones are saddled with the reputation of their relatives, most of them have been unable to escape damage due to that disability. This family, several generations of them, live in a hovel that the police get called to once in a while. A number of those who live there are alcoholics and drug users. I won’t go on with the details. You know families like that yourself. A number of years ago, their neighbors saw that there were some improvements made to their place, a roof, siding, as I recall even some addition put on. It was immediately spread around town that they’d gotten some kind of general assistance to do it, that ‘the taxpayers’ were subsidizing their modestly improved lifestyle. It was even brought up in a Selectmen’s meeting. One of the Selectmen who is a friend of mine took it on himself to do what no one had, he asked the family how they’d financed the project. They had paid for it with their own money. The town clerk had told the people at the meeting that no money had been given to the family to make the improvements, but that there was no program in place they could have taken advantage of. Yet, to this day, the urban legend of how this family of famously undeserving poor people had gotten “taxpayer money” to fix up their wretched house.

But you don’t have to be improvident to suffer the same prejudice. With the constant practice it gets, that kind of envy is a too common part of community life.

The conservative mind set is intrinsically infested with envy and resentment. Disdain for those in need, even those who are in need through no discernible fault of their own, is endemic to conservatism. That is why even before President Obama had released the broad outlines of his plans to stem massive homelessness, the Republicans and their media started nourishing the evil seed of envy in the minds of those susceptible to this form of irrationality. It’s worked for them, Ronald Reagan won office largely on his lies about “welfare queens” and “strapping bucks” on some form of welfare. When someone is talking about the moral principles of conservatism, no one should forget the place that appealing to an emotion as base as envy plays in those.

What we are seeing in the Republican and the media attempts to scuttle mortgage relief is a good opportunity for us to see how, far from being a movement with real morals or even the reason that “enlightened” self-interest brings, modern conservatism is a pretty awful ideology.