Saturday, March 07, 2009

School's Out Forever (by Phila)

In America, anti-government conservatives continue to insist on the moral and practical effectiveness of state-administered abstinence education. In Sierra Leone, local authorities have taken the logical next step:
New local laws being passed by village chiefs in northern Sierra Leone decree when a school girl is impregnated by a male student, both must drop out of school, causing concern among child protection experts....

The laws are designed to build stigma around teenage pregnancy and dissuade girls from becoming pregnant, according to Maud Droogleever Fortuyn, child protection director at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Sierra Leone.
So not only do you end up with uneducated teenaged parents, by law, but the parents of male children can formally blame the girl for ruining the boy's prospects; after all, she's the one who failed to be "dissuaded" by the legal consequences.

Unless the boy is lucky enough to avoid being recognized as the father, somehow:
Hannah, 16, from Makeni...said her uncle, who was paying her school fees, withdrew his support when she became pregnant. “Life is not simple for me now. I stay at home alone to care of my baby. My father is very angry with me.”

Hannah told IRIN the child’s father – a student at a different school - has denied responsibility.
Enforced ignorance as a punishment for sex, in a country where contraceptive use is practically nonexistent...what's not to like?

Look for it in the 2012 GOP platform.

Dogma and Zealotry (by Phila)

Jeff Jacoby is the latest conservative commentator to discover that the northern hemisphere can get pretty cold in winter:
The United States has shivered through an unusually severe winter, with snow falling in such unlikely destinations as New Orleans, Las Vegas, Alabama, and Georgia. On Dec. 25, every Canadian province woke up to a white Christmas, something that hadn't happened in 37 years.
Arguing that this disproves global warming would be like saying that evolution is false because there are still monkeys. And to his credit, Jacoby doesn't go quite that far. He's no fanatic, after all.
None of this proves conclusively that a period of planetary cooling is irrevocably underway, or that anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are not the main driver of global temperatures, or that concerns about a hotter world are overblown. Individual weather episodes, it always bears repeating, are not the same as broad climate trends.
See how a fair-minded, rational person approaches the question? Jacoby has generously conceded that cold weather in the northern hemisphere, in winter, doesn't "conclusively" disprove AGW. So why can't the Warming Cultists be equally generous, and admit that they might be wrong, too?
Considering how much attention would have been lavished on a comparable run of hot weather or on a warming trend that was plainly accelerating, shouldn't the recent cold phenomena and the absence of any global warming during the past 10 years be getting a little more notice?
Seems to me it gets more than enough notice, considering that it's a lie. But from Jacoby's standpoint, it could be repeated in every op-ed column in every newspaper from now 'til Doomsday without losing its status as a Dangerous Truth that the media don't want us to hear. As he sees it, any real or imagined scientific uncertainty about the threat we face obliges us to assume that everything will be just fine, and to accuse anyone who disagrees of being a crypto-religious fearmonger who hates Capitalism. To do otherwise would be to fall prey to alarmism.

The important thing to understand here is that no one knows very much about anything.
There is no shame in conceding that science still has a long way to go before it fully understands the immense complexity of the Earth's ever-changing climate(s). It would be shameful not to concede it.
We have a long way to go before we understand the "immense complexity" of the human body, too; that doesn't mean I'd go to Arby's for brain surgery.

I must say, after years of hearing conservatives scream their heads off about "postmodern relativism," it's pretty funny to see them clinging to epistemological nihilism as though it were the Rock of Ages:
The climate models on which so much global-warming alarmism rests "do not begin to describe the real world that we live in," says Freeman Dyson, the eminent physicist and futurist. "The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand."
You can take this on faith, because Dyson is a scientist, and ought to know when scientists in fields other than his own are doin it rong.

Also, you should respect Dyson's status as a "futurist," even though he's unwilling to commit himself to an opinion on what the future will actually bring (except inasmuch as it'll probably be much more pleasant than we expect, given that systematic scientific misconceptions always lead to overstating risk).

Although no less an authority than Freeman Dyson has questioned whether what we don't know can hurt us, some people stubbornly refuse to admit that ignorance is safety as well as bliss. While they acknowledge that we don't know everything, they also point out that this means things could turn out to be worse than we predicted, and that either way, the global experiment inactivists are proposing is an fantastically risky one.

Jacoby has a few choice names for people like these:
When Al Gore insisted yet again at a conference last Thursday that there can be no debate about global warming, he was speaking not with the authority of a man of science, but with the closed-minded dogmatism of a religious zealot. Dogma and zealotry have their virtues, no doubt. But if we want to understand where global warming has gone, those aren't the tools we need.
Of course not. What we need is blind faith that climate science will turn out to be fundamentally wrong, blind faith that it'll be wrong in precisely the way we'd prefer, and blind faith that we can do whatever we like in the meantime. Anything else would be irrational.

The Corporate Media’s Attack on Fairness Is The Least of It by Anthony McCarthy

Right-wing media personality Robert Zelnick doesn’t like the Fairness Doctrine and, like all right-wing media personalities are these days, he’s in attack mode over talk about restoring fairness to the publicly owned airwaves. The most amusing argument in their full throated attack on mandated fairness on the PUBLICLY OWNED airwaves is that it’s not needed any more. Zelnick cites the plethora of “new media”

Today we have cable, DirecTV, satellite radio, the Internet, blogs, and Twitter. Obviously it's a breathtakingly more communication-friendly world than that of 1949, or even 1987, when the commission voted unanimously to repeal the doctrine. It had become a rule without a reason. Today it is even more so.

Breathtakingly, changing the subject, Zelnick lists all of these without mentioning that all of them are largely unavailable without paying a fee, while the PUBLICLY OWNED airwaves are used by the media only on the condition that they serve the public good. That is a real difference. The Fairness Doctrine only applied to public property, the use of which was granted to corporations in the business of making a profit. It's our property that they're using, our representatives have a right to set the terms of that use.

The Fairness Doctrine was killed by Republicans for blatantly partisan motives, the immediate ascendancy of Republican hate talk radio followed. Corporate media, freed of the requirements that they not become self-interested, profit promoting propaganda organs, became self-interested organs of right-wing propaganda. The right-wing possessing the ideology that would best ensure the profits of media companies. None of that was a surprise to anyone of average intelligence, anyone who denies that was the clear purpose of destroying the fairness doctrine is a liar, with no right to expect honest people’s serious consideration. As anyone with even less than average intelligence would conclude, they will have little trouble working in the corporate media or The Hoover Institution. Or the once great and now sadly diminished Boston University. As seen in previous weeks, they’ll also get column space in the once great Boston Globe too. It’s like that in a decayed republic.

The lie that burgeoning “new media” has made the Fairness, public service and diverse ownership requirements moot is made most manifest, ironically, by the pandering of Republicans to Rush Limbaugh over the past month. The Republicans, the fawning servants of property, now find themselves to be subjects of King Rush, the Idi Amin Dada of Republican talk radio. If the gargantuan of Republican hate-talk radio wasn’t a danger, they’d be able to get that embarrassing burden off their back. They only have themselves to blame for the ridicule that they have so richly deserved.

As a former “free press” absolutist, I was once snowed by these kinds of arguments. But there is a higher purpose than “press freedom”, and that is the right of a people to govern themselves and the fact that a legitimate government is impossible unless The People choose it on the basis of accurate information. Those rights constitute the sole means of having a legitimate government. The only available alternatives to that kind of representative democracy are a range of disasters from absolute monarchy to oligarchic (and always patriarchal) plutocracy, to military despotism. In the past thirty years we have had a graduate level course in what happens when The People are propagandized into voting against our best interest*.

I have held for a while now that the right of The People to govern themselves is an inherent right, ours by the fact of our birth. The press is a series of corporations, they don’t have natural rights. Corporations have only those rights which The People give them when that is necessary for us to exercise our real, natural rights. That service is the only reason for “freedom of the press” to have been given. There is no spiritual necessity for it, there is no basis other than in political necessity. When the corporations serve their corporate interests in opposition to the right of The People to accurate information, we have no obligation to defend the now only theoretical rights. We have no obligation to defend the rights of the media to lie and propagandize so that an ignorant population will consistently vote against our own interests. I think we have come to the point in the destruction of democracy when media that actually wants to inform is at a disadvantage because the media has sold itself to the highest bidder. A reporter who wants to tell an unprofitable truth will be marginalized to blogging or some minor organ of the media. The press isn’t free because it prostituted itself for money when it should have been upholding democratic reality.

I think that Barack Obama will find out that the Fairness Doctrine, public service requirements, diversity of ownership, the breaking up of giant media corporations and the freeing of media from ownership by the likes of GE will be necessary to restore a democratic republic. That the First Amendment doesn’t make clear the distinction between natural rights held by people by right of birth, rights created by a free people for corporations in exchange for vital services and the necessities of a legitimate, democratic government can’t be used as an excuse to allow media corporations to do what they’ve done in the past twenty years. "The Founders" had no idea of how an all encompassing modern media could endanger freedom and good government. The financial resources of corporations make them a powerful danger to both The Peoples’ natural rights and the very basis of their electing a legitimate government to serve us.

The simple slogan “press freedom”, has become so automatic that it obscures the clear reality of what that freedom is for and the only reason it is important. The words that might have rung out brightly are rendered empty by the reality that the “free press” has created in the form of Republican-hate talk radio. The false words don’t change the reality of what was created. Those results won’t be healed by invoking the real service to democracy by media heros of a dead past today’s media are fighting like hell to keep from being revived.

The right of The People to govern ourselves on the basis of reality, the real necessities of what is required to govern ourselves and the means of governing ourselves are superior to any right granted to any corporation by the First Amendment.

* You might want to think, long and hard, about the phenomenon of far-right Supreme Court justices who have upheld restrictions on the right of qualified voters to cast a vote and to have that vote counted while scrupulously observing the modern distortion of “press freedom”. Clearly, they hold that the corporations have rights that are more important to the most basic rights of individual citizens. There seems to be a law of politics that when corporations are ascendant the rights of The People will inevitably be damaged.

Some Night Music

Laura Nyro (of course) and New York Tendaberry:

Friday, March 06, 2009

Name that butterfly (by Suzie)

I'm giving y'all one last chance to tell me that which I do not know. Then, I'll find some other critter photos. 

ETA: ArtHermit identifies it as a blue morpho in comments.

Down with ‘foreplay’ (by Suzie)

           I like a lot of the activities labeled "foreplay." But we need to get rid of the term itself, which is too vague and devalues what it describes.
          Too many people think of sex as penis-in-vagina (PIV) intercourse, with everything that comes before called “foreplay.” They don’t talk about “afterplay” because, if the man orgasms during intercourse, sex is over. Even people who don’t have views this, um, rigid often place more importance on PIV intercourse than other sexual contact.
          A site on sexual counseling defines foreplay as:
A term used to refer to sexual activities other than intercourse. The term comes from the view that some individuals hold that all activities of a sexual nature are merely designed to lead up to intercourse.
          According to the Wikipedia definition, you can “lead someone on” with “provocative clothing” or licking your lips, and that might count as foreplay. But you can’t know what is or is not foreplay until sexual activity is over.
Direct manipulation of naked erogenous zones is not considered foreplay when it is not preparatory for further sexual acts. For example, mutual masturbation and oral sex are often considered final sexual acts; as final acts with no expectation of further sexual congress, these are not considered foreplay.
         So ... foreplay is anything done before intercourse, even though those same acts may constitute sex on their own. If one person comes during foreplay but, within a reasonable time period, engages in PIV intercourse, was what the people did beforehand still foreplay? What if two people planned to have intercourse, but one or both came, and they didn’t do anything else? If a couple has oral sex and then anal sex, was the oral sex foreplay?
          Because of cancer, I had most of my vagina removed. Once, an oncologist gave me a questionnaire to determine my level of sexual dysfunction. My inability to have PIV intercourse hurt my score. (I still like to get good grades, even on a sexual dysfunction questionnaire.) It didn’t matter if my partner and I were having the best sex ever, or if I had a partner without a penis.
          Many women with perfectly fine vaginas cannot reach orgasm with PIV intercourse. For them, what gets defined as foreplay may be much more satisfying, and they would be better served if they focused on those activities. Not surprisingly, PIV intercourse works much better for men. A typical study found 75% of men and 29% of women always have orgasms with their partner. Meanwhile, almost all women can have an orgasm by themselves.
          Heterosexual sex for women? FAIL.
          Or, to paraphrase Feministe, if you think of sex only as PIV penetration, and everything else as foreplay: Yr doin it wrong.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Meanwhile, in Brazil

The Catholic Church is getting its knickers in a twist over an abortion:

A Brazilian archbishop says all those who helped a child rape victim secure an abortion are to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

The girl, aged nine, who lives in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, became pregnant with twins.

It is alleged that she had been sexually assaulted over a number of years by her stepfather.

The excommunication applies to the child's mother and the doctors involved in the procedure.

The pregnancy was terminated on Wednesday.

Abortion is only permitted in Brazil in cases of rape and where the mother's life is at risk and doctors say the girl's case met both these conditions.

Police believe that the girl at the centre of the case had been sexually abused by her step-father since she was six years old.

The story doesn't tell us if the alleged rapist has been excommunicated?

There's an additional detail in the story which we should bear in mind when deciding what killing people means in this context:

Fatima Maia, director of the public university hospital where the abortion was performed, said the pregnancy, which was in its 15th week, posed a serious risk to the girl, who weighs 80 pounds. But Marcio Miranda, a lawyer for the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife in northeastern Brazil, said the girl should have carried the twins to term and had a Caesarean section. "It's the law of God: Do not kill," he said in comments reported by the newspaper O Globo.

Eighty pounds and nine years old...

Credit When It's Due

This report on a medical study about heart disease and depression does notice, at the very end, that the findings may not apply to women given that only men were studied. Which is worth giving credit for.

Otherwise a study like this is hard to interpret. Does depression cause heart disease? Is depression caused by whatever heart disease is caused? Or are the medications used to treat depression causing more heart problems? Or what? And what are we to do about all this?

I'm also wondering how helpful hearing something like this is to people who are depressed.

Not Gonna Work

This health care reform attempt:

A White House forum on healthcare started on Thursday and included a range of players, from health policy experts who want guaranteed health insurance to lawmakers who want to focus on saving money. But any eventual reform is likely to be a patchwork of compromises.

President Barack Obama has said he wants a wide buy-in to whatever plan emerges.

He knows that healthcare reform has defeated many before him. But he also knows he has three big advantages this time: the ballooning cost of private and public health insurance, the economic recession, and widespread agreement that the U.S. system does not work any more.

He is framing his healthcare reform proposals as a way to fix the economy, create new jobs and reduce deficits.

"This time, the call for reform is coming from the bottom up and from all across the spectrum -- from doctors, from nurses, from patients; from unions, from businesses; from hospitals, health care providers, community groups," Obama told the opening session of his meeting.

Yet in almost the next breath, he made clear he is going to allow, even encourage, a debate about how to get there.

And why is it not going to work? Very simply: the goals of universal coverage and containing health care costs cannot be achieved without a single-payer system, and these people will not want a single payer.

A single-payer system is not without its own problems. But without it the costs will go on rising. It's possible to achieve a slow-down in the rate of cost increases and some kind of an intermediate peace. But the problems will come back bigger in a few years.
Funny that the article I quote above calls it a patchwork approach and so does my linked article...

Ban Barbie?

This is a trivial story. Nobody is going to ban the Barbie doll. Neither is anyone going to make a doll that has hot flashes, even though Barbie is now fifty years old. And yes, I'm writing about it so that I make all you comment. It's lonely here, you know.

I remember my Barbies, by the way. They weren't real ones because we didn't have enough money for real ones, and that meant I couldn't actually show them to someone else, without being told that I actually had no Barbies.

One of my not-Barbies had no hair because I cut it off. Instead of hair it had tattoos on its face and earrings made out of pins. You stuck the pin straight through the head! I don't remember actually playing with the dolls, but I do remember being annoyed with the tiny feet permanently extended in some kind of a doll orgasm.

And of course the Barbie is not a reflection of real women. It's a reflection of American beauty standards for women. But it was revolutionary in one sense: It was not a doll intended to be treated maternally.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What We Slobber Over

Now all this is quite funny: Vanity Fair is well known for putting on its covers pictures of nudish women. I notice that every time I walk past the magazine display in the hoity-toity grocery store in my area. If I had never read the magazine I'd think it was Playboy or some other soft-squishy-semi-porn rag.

But I guess someone pointed out that they follow this marketing strategy and so they felt the hot urge to respond. Here is a picture of the original cover (on the left edge of the picture):

And here is the spoof they created of the cover:

Amanda points out some pertinent aspects of why the spoof is unfunny and so do the gals on Broadstreet. That leaves my job so much easier, does it not?

(Takes off feminist skin, plugs in 'female gaze' eyeballs, picks up the whip of matriarchy and female dominance and sits pack comfortably)

You need to show some skin, guys! Get busy there with those dumbells first and suck in those bellies. How many months before the baby elephant will be born? And where is its trunk, in any case? Who the fuck hired the first guys to walk in off the street? I need some muscle here, some stubble, some hazy, smoky eyes and juicy lips.

Hey, you there! Swing those hips for us! Show that you have something to offer to us ladies. Wet your lips, dammit! Imagine cunnilingus! Dammit, NOt like that.

Remember who's paying for things here. No! Not like that! You have to OFFER! Open your mouth. Push out those hips! You are there to be viewed, to be nibbled, to be enjoyed. To serve, fuckit!

I need some women on the edges of the picture, fully dressed, staring at the cocks. Can you do that for me, like yesterday? Right after you get us some real eye-candy to work with, of course.

(Slips back into the feminist skin, slips out through the door.)

On Chairs, Spoons and Toasters

I think I have posted this fragment before. It's an attempt to address the objectification of women (and other living things, perhaps) from a somewhat different angle than misogyny. Because much of what hurts me as a woman isn't really hatred of me but seeing me as a chair, spoon or a toaster. Not sure if the story fragment traps the ideas any more clearly but here it is:

How do you write a letter to someone who doesn't want to read it? Doesn't want to read it not because you are an enemy, a nuisance or a guilty reminder but because you are a complete nonentity, a thoroughly uninteresting everyday object, a piece of the background against which heroes do their stuff.

How do you write to people who don't plan to pay any attention? How do you get their attention? Should we cry? 'Look, guys, a chair just walked in and cried!' Should our words be weapons? 'Hey man, that toaster just tried to cut my throat!' Should our sentences plead? 'Gee, I could've sworn that spoon just begged me for understanding.'

No. All it would achieve is a small surprise, the astonishment that an inanimate thing suddenly acts and feels. This would be added to the list of supernormal events. It wouldn't make us seem any less of a chair, toaster or spoon; only an uncommon kind, a weird chair, toaster or spoon. Something that, for one fleeting second, might deserve curiosity. But not for long.

How do you touch someone who doesn't believe in your existence? Can it be done?

And if not, is it enough to talk to the other chairs, toasters and spoons? To write 'chair books', 'toaster stories', to be exhibited with the works of other spoons? Is this of value?

Perhaps. If you know that at night the chairs dance, beautifully, on one leg, twirling around the kitchen, leaping over the toasters which tell stories about their lost loves and vanished hopes, while the spoons drum a rhythm from misty worlds full of desperate questions and complicated answers. Perhaps . Isn't this life, too? Isn't this a sort of heroism, a type of victory in the war against dying? Isn't this human, too?

So why bother trying to reach the others? Because they are the sitters on the chairs, the eaters of the toast, the stirrers of the spoons. Because theirs is the kitchen in which we dance, whisper stories, sigh and cry. And because when they see us and say 'Such a comfortable chair, such an efficient toaster, such an elegant spoon. What would we do without you?' they turn away without expecting an answer, without hearing us scream.

Check This Baby Out!

I happened to catch this On Point radio program on the question of cyber-harassment. Listening to the program is truly an ear-opening experience. (If you don't have time to do that, read the comments at the end of the above link to find out what it was like).

Four men and one woman discuss cyber-harassment which is presented as something that happens to women much more often than to men. The woman is a professor of law, the men the host, a journalist who has written on the Auto-Admit case, a man who was sued in the case and his lawyer. In theory the host and the journalist were supposed to be sorta neutral which would give us two people arguing that the case was bad and one person (the female law professor) arguing that cyber-harassment is a real problem for women. But in practice she was really all alone on that side of the issue.

One of the men suggests that the Auto-Admit case consisted mostly of teenage boys (who happened to be in law school) having a locker-room talk with each other. Innocent stuff! Except that some of it was about stalking, threats of rape and such. I guess locker-room talk is like that? And all innocent, because the misogyny is not really intended or something similar?

Talking about cyber-harassment without talking about the misogyny (and homophobia and racism) that seems to lie at the bottom of much of it just doesn't work.
I wrote about the site earlier.

Lady Skippers

Molly Kool died at the age of 93:

A native of the Canadian province of New Brunswick, Ms. Kool was known familiarly throughout her life as Captain Molly. She qualified as a captain at age 23, and she spent the next five years in command of the Jean K, her father's 70-foot engine- and sail-driven scow. In 2006, she was officially recognized by the Canadian government as the first woman to hold captain's papers.

Hauling cargo up and down the Bay of Fundy and as far afield as Boston, Ms. Kool faced rain and fog, fire and ice, and the violent tides for which the bay is known. She also earned the disbelief, disdain and, eventually, respect of her rough-hewn male colleagues.

Molly Kool (with that cool name) was the first woman in North America to be licensed as a ship's captain. It takes a lot of character and guts to be the First Woman in anything, and we should celebrate the ones who had those guts and that character. I propose a toast of nectar to celebrate Molly.

And to celebrate Brittany Cantazaro, who

is NY Waterway's first female ferry captain and helped rescue passengers on the US Airways flight that crashed in the Hudson River.

She is also the youngest ever ferry captain in that state (only nineteen years old).

These Firsts are important, because they work as machetes, cutting through the jungle and making a rough path for others to follow. But of course I look forward to the time when we no longer have any need for First Women in some new field.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Dogs, Apple Trees and Women

All of those are supposed to get better when beaten. It's an old saying, and many such old sayings are ways to validate the practice of wife beating. Even the Koran allows that, explicitly based on the assumed superiority of the husband over the wife. But as far as I know, no religion or set of proverbs has ever validated husband beating.

That background is important to keep in mind when discussing intimate violence, violence between close partners, especially now that we tend to view family or intimate violence as something which women do, too. It's not that men aren't ever the victims of intimate violence, of course. But the culture has never condoned husband beating or equated it with love (the way wife beating has been equated with love in Russian proverbs, say), never argued that beating your husband or boyfriend is somehow justified. But that is exactly the history of wife or girlfriend beating.

We should keep that in mind when reading all the stories about the most recent case of possible couples violence in the news: that concerning Rihanna (of no last name?) and Chris Brown.

What should feminists say about the case, if anything? That's a difficult question, in many ways. But one thing I'm sure of is that pointing out the deep and important asymmetry in the treatment of wife beating and husband beating is most important, as is pointing out its roots in the power hiearchy within families, in the right of the husband to rule over the wife.

A Quick Economics Lesson

Paul Krugman discusses one theory for the Great Crash of 2009:

If you want to know where the global crisis came from, then, think of it this way: we're looking at the revenge of the glut.

And the saving glut is still out there. In fact, it's bigger than ever, now that suddenly impoverished consumers have rediscovered the virtues of thrift and the worldwide property boom, which provided an outlet for all those excess savings, has turned into a worldwide bust.

One way to look at the international situation right now is that we're suffering from a global paradox of thrift: around the world, desired saving exceeds the amount businesses are willing to invest. And the result is a global slump that leaves everyone worse off.

So that's how we got into this mess. And we're still looking for the way out.

So that's one theory about the reasons for the mess we are in. It's not the only one. The lack of proper guidelines and the almost-total absence of regulations certainly had its part to play. We went into global market anarchy with such a child-like eagerness! It always reminds me of the time I saw someone get on a moped for the first time, riding it around in large circles in the parking-lot and finally yelling, over the engine noise, to ask how you stop the damn thing. mmm.

Today's Unfortunate Thought

A Christian fundamentalist website which collects donations for vasectomy reversals really shouldn't call itself Blessed Arrows. I know that the term refers to the great quiver-full of children men are supposed to sire (according to the Quiverfull movement). But it's still a very bad name.

I'm not at all happy with the dogma of the Quiverfull movement. It explicitly denies women's equality and women's rights to their own bodies (which are seen as just on loan from god who wants women to have children) and it also ignores the population pressures on this planet. Why are all fundamentalists always about the total control of women?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Who Consumes Porn?

A study looked at that question by using zip codes and information on paid pornography. You should read through it, just to note the socio-demographic variables the study uses and the one it does not. Can you guess which variable appears of no interest in the study?

Yup. It's the gender of the consumer. Rather astonishing. Granted, one might argue that the percentages of men and women living in each zip code could be too close to a constant to allow its use as a variable in an aggregate-level study like this one, but I didn't read that as the explanation anywhere. Perhaps I missed the explanation. It could be.

In any case, we are told in a writeup of the study that Americans are pretty much all equally eager consumers of Internet paid porn, except that the more conservative and the more religious states lead the consumption figures:

A new nationwide study (pdf) of anonymised credit-card receipts from a major online adult entertainment provider finds little variation in consumption between states.

"When it comes to adult entertainment, it seems people are more the same than different," says Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business School.

However, there are some trends to be seen in the data. Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds.

"Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by," Edelman says.

I really can't get over that idea of the genderless Americans in this context when in so many other contexts the gender is all the write-ups focus on.


Are the more conservative and more religious 'people' really the biggest consumers of porn? Perhaps. But aggregate data of the type the study used can't really prove that.

A Postcard From CPAC

CPAC stands for the Conservative Political Action Conference. I have been watching the videos of the major speakers there and had to lie down and take three aspirin, too.

I want you to feel equally bad so here is Rush Limbaugh:

For those who can't watch the video (either for technical or self-defense reasons), this is the summary: Welfare makes women breed more children and the government is the dad! Fathers are no longer needed!

Note that in Rush's world fathers are only needed for making money. That's why there should be no welfare whatsoever. Neither does it matter what would happen to those children in the absence of welfare payments.

It all sounds so very 1990s. Don't they have any new ideas?

The Most Humongous Loss

That would be the one AIG is going to report for its last quarter: 62 billion smackers!

AIG is too big not to be saved, though. It reminds me of those science-fiction monsters which canNOT die, whatever body parts get cut off. New ones simply grow in their places: A lost eyeball sprouts seven mouths and so on.

So if we can't kill the bugger, what can we do? Bail it out over and over:

The intervention would be the fourth time that the United States has had to step in to help A.I.G., the giant insurer, avert bankruptcy. The government already owns nearly 80 percent of the insurer's holding company as a result of the earlier interventions, which included a $60 billion loan, a $40 billion purchase of preferred shares and $50 billion to soak up the company's toxic assets.

Federal officials, who worked feverishly over the weekend to complete the restructuring, said they thought they had no choice but to prop up A.I.G., because its business and trading activities are so intricately woven through the world's banking system.

But the deal also presents more financial risks to taxpayers at a time when the public and Congress have been sharply questioning the wisdom of risking federal money to bail out private enterprises.

I wouldn't call AIG an 'insurer', though. It does have a proper insurance department (which does well, incidentally), but most of its so-called insurance consisted of credit-default swaps, and that part of the business didn't have the capital requirements of the regulated real insurance business. This article spells out what went on well (and chillingly). Funny how even the experts assumed that housing would go on appreciating forevermore.

Sigh. It's probably true that AIG has to be bailed out again and again, because the alternatives are too scary to contemplate. But I do hope the proper regulations will be written and applied to financial markets from now on.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Why kNOw? (by Phila)

Racymind has a horrifying post on the sex-ed materials used in Texas schools, which promote important scientificological discoverisms like these (from the aptly named "Why kNOw?" curriculum):
“Women gauge their happiness and judge their success by their relationships,” while “men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments.”

“...a girl is out of place when she pursues. Likewise, the guy is out of place when he’s the one who has to be swept off his feet. We all know it. Just imagine a guy leaning over his balcony at night, blushing as he listens to a young lady serenading him from the garden below. It’s messed up!”
There's also a catchy, hip-hop-influenced slogan:
If a woman is dry, the sperm will die. If a woman is wet, a baby she may get!
Read the whole thing, and learn as much as you can stand about the fascinating and eternally valid differences between "Erotic Bill" and "Romantic Susie."

Thoughtful Discourse (by Phila)

Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander acknowledges that George Will misrepresented the views of the Arctic Research Climate Center in two recent columns.

Eventually. Sort of.

The first half of his two-page article is given over to scene-setting. George Will offered data from the ARCC as a challenge to "those who believe in man-made global warming." Predictably, the result of taunting this mirthless special-interest group was "e-mails to The Post from hundreds of angry environmental activists and a few scientists."

That's about what you'd expect. Environmental activists are always angry, and the number of scientists who are true believers in AGW is relatively small. Everyone knows that.

Alexander asked Will's people to confirm that the ARCC citation was correct; in a spirit of sober scientific inquiry, they told him it was. But that wasn't good enough for the Angry Environmentalists:
Although I didn't render a judgment, my response was understandably seen as an institutional defense and prompted an orchestrated e-mail campaign in which thousands demanded that The Post correct Will's "falsehoods."
This seems like a state of affairs that an ombudsman would at least expect, if not welcome. But like a number of his colleagues, Alexander seems befuddled and irritated by the passions of his paper's audience.
The messages, often identical in wording, were soon countered by waves of e-mails defending Will and attacking what many labeled "global warming alarmists" trying to muzzle him.

By mid-week, it was a bit like watching chairs being thrown in a bar fight.
Although the sense of apathy communicated by this analogy is telling, I'd say it's more like sitting in the back of a limousine and watching someone get mugged, while congratulating yourself that you're neither a criminal, nor foolish enough to wander around at night on foot.

Alexander then proceeds to establish that "there was fact-checking at multiple levels." And with this reassurance, we reach the end of page one. It's only on page 2 that we realize that maybe -- just maybe -- the "angry environmental activists" may've been on to something.
The editors who checked the Arctic Research Climate Center Web site believe it did not, on balance, run counter to Will's assertion that global sea ice levels "now equal those of 1979." I reviewed the same Web citation and reached a different conclusion.

It said that while global sea ice areas are "near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979," sea ice area in the Northern Hemisphere is "almost one million sq. km below" the levels of late 1979. That's roughly the size of Texas and California combined. In my mind, it should have triggered a call for clarification to the center.

But according to Bill Chapman, a climate scientist with the center, there was no call from Will or Post editors before the column appeared. He added that it wasn't until last Tuesday -- nine days after The Post began receiving demands for a correction -- that he heard from an editor at the newspaper.
Think back to Alexander's world-weary complaint about the mid-week "bar fight," and then consider that it took the WaPo nine fucking days to contact the source of Will's quote.

So Will should issue a retraction, right?

Well, no...that would inconvenience him. As would addressing his other misrepresentations, instead of pretending that this was the sole error in two otherwise accurate columns. Instead, Alexander suggests that the Post should've allowed more public comment at (because everyone knows that the best way to handle a bar fight is to expand it to the dance floor). He also concedes that "clarifications from the Arctic Climate Research Center could have been posted" at some point after Will and the Post took it upon themselves to misrepresent its data to the world.

What have we learned from all this? The answer may surprise you. Then again, it may not.
There is a disturbing if-you-don't-agree-with-me-you're-an-idiot tone to much of the global warming debate. Thoughtful discourse is noticeably absent in the current dispute.
Quite so. When people get angry because you've allowed a smirking ideological hack with a history of lying about this very issue to turn your op-ed page into his personal sandbox, and you respond to the idea of issuing retractions as though you'd been asked to harness a goose and fly it to the moon, what else can this signify but that both sides have failed equally to be Reasonable?

It doesn't take a genius to grasp that when you place people who are lying on the same moral and emotional and intellectual level as people who are telling the truth, that's a net win for the liars. Which makes Alexander's closing platitudes sound more cynical than remorseful:
On its news pages, [the Washington Post can recommit to reporting on climate change that is authoritative and deep. On the editorial pages, it can present a mix of respected and informed viewpoints. And online, it can encourage dialogue that is robust, even if it becomes bellicose.
Or to put it another way, the Post will continue to publish pig-ignorant denialist horseshit, and people who are infuriated by these lies, and by the paper's utter contempt for its readers, will be allowed to vent their frustration online, at which point Alexander will once again lean down from Parnassus to lament the absence of "thoughtful discourse" on this controversial topic.

I'm so glad he decided to have this little chat with us.