Saturday, April 04, 2009

Saturday Critter Blogging

A blue heron in flight, courtesy of The Old Man From Scene 24. Click for a larger view. Beautiful.

Why The Dog Looks At You Like That When You Empty The Compost Bucket by Anthony McCarthy

Dog culture is pheromone based.
What stinks to us is to their taste,
To them high art, to us just waste.
Dog culture is pheromone based.
A Note:

I've been taking some courses that I've got to finish this month so I'm going to be posting very lightly in April, if at all.

Anthony McCarthy

Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday News Dump on Women

Compare the two pictures of the new Israeli government. The female ministers have been disappeared in the second one, because it was published in an ultra-orthodox newspaper. Another ultra-orthodox newspaper just blacked out the women. So nobody gets upset and stuff.

In Swat Valley, Pakistan, the Taliban are flogging women publicly, though I think only men are allowed to watch. The video of the flogging of a seventeen-year old girl has surfaced and caused an uproar in Pakistan. The uproar is good, of course, but the event itself is not very good.

For one thing, nobody appears to know what the girl was punished for (though theories include her leaving her home without a male custodian, leaving the house together with a man married to someone else and just refusing the marriage proposal of a local Taliban leader). It seems that there was no court case over her alleged crimes, either. Sigh.

Public places: Which public? (by Suzie)

           (Hang on, this post will travel far afield.)
           A friend traveled across Southern Europe and Northern Africa as a young man. He often was alone as he hitchhiked and slept outdoors. He wasn’t always welcome, but no one bothered him physically. He’s a sweet guy, but he looks mean, and he’s at least 6-foot-5.
          When I said I envied him, he replied that I could have done the same. I told him that it would be different for a young woman traveling alone. That had never occurred to him.
          Learning about yourself and the world while traveling has long been a theme in literature. Although men predominate, women have contributed to this genre. On my bookshelf alone, I’ve got “A Road of Her Own: Women's Journeys in the West,” “Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers” and “Maiden Voyages: Writings of Women Travelers.
These books often feature white women traveling to “exotic” places, defining themselves against other(ed) people or nature. (In comparison, the Apostate recently looked at traveling as a brown woman.)
        Whatever her color, a woman is likely to find gender matters, in some fashion or another. As I wrote last week about the “Battlestar Galactica” finale, it’s different for girls. When people talk of “public” places – whether it’s a train in another country or your neighborhood park or the Internet – question whether there are some “publics” who cannot use them safely and comfortably, and why.
       Linda McDowell, then director of the Graduate School of Geography at Cambridge University, wrote an excellent book titled “Gender, Identity & Place: Understanding Feminist Geographies." She gives the example of Tomkins Square Park in New York City. In the 1990s, the Leftist position was: Young, upper-class people wanted to clear out those who were homeless, mentally ill or doing drugs so that they (the yuppies) felt safer, and their property values could rise. But this ignored gender. Some women, no matter what their circumstances, may feel less safe in places where groups of men hang out – and for good reason.
        In my high school, there was a hallway with a long bench where guys would congregate, making nasty comments if a girl walked by. The hall served one public but not another. Some boys take this behavior into adulthood. For example: the blow-up last year over men groping women at SF conventions
        The Internet has made such harassment easier and anonymous. Echidne has written on the AutoAdmit case here and more recently. The NYT explored the world of trolls, in which men predominate. The dictum is always: Don't let them bother you -- that's what they want. Just ignore them and they'll go away. Once again, women must be the gatekeepers of bad male behavior. 
         Justin Wolfers noted something that newspaper editors have long noticed: Men are more likely to send angry emails, just as they once made hateful calls or sent angry letters. The online version of many newspapers allow comments, most of which would never have been printed as letters to the editors. (Here's an interesting discussion on this topic.) The conversations can be so hateful and downright stupid that I rarely read them -- and I'm a blogger.
         At my former newspaper, a group of readers, mostly men, have infested the comment sections, driving away others. I've heard that smart and articulate readers will win out in this marketplace of ideas. But, no, they just avoid the comments. The online bullies also go after the people who are being quoted in such an execrable way that I don't know why anyone would want to open themselves up these days.
          Which "public" is being served? 

Domestic violence & the economy (by Suzie)

           Florida has seen a 37 percent increase in the demand for domestic-violence shelters, according to a report to the Legislature by the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. If it's happening here, I wouldn't be surprised if it was happening in other states. 
           The Pensacola News Journal suggests some reasons: More people are at home because of layoffs. The recession puts more stress on people. Friends and family members have fewer resources to help victims. Cuts in social services translate into less help. Women stay in shelters longer because it's harder to get a job and move out on their own.
           The newspaper quotes Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon: "It's the worst I've seen in years."

Friday flower blogging (by Suzie)

        I hope you're enjoying springtime (if that's the season you're in). 

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Who Is Afraid Of Public Health Insurance?

The Republican Party, that's who. I was reading about Kathleen Sebelius and her confirmation hearing to become the secretary of health and human services, and noticed the focus on the question of a public option in the health insurance markets:

Grassley and several colleagues voiced discomfort with suggestions that legislation include an optional government-sponsored health insurance program. Conservatives worry that a public plan would set unrealistically low reimbursement rates that could undermine the private insurance market.

Conservatives probably also worry that the public option might actually out-compete the private options and then we'd get --- gasp! --- socialism! Or at least socialism the way that term is used in this country which knows nothing about real socialism.

This particular topic gets the oddest comments from the Republicans. Grassley worries that the public option will pay providers too little (or that's how I interpret the 'low reimbursement rate' comment in the above quote), and Olympia Snowe worries that the option is too expensive:

The issue has already emerged as key stumbling block that threatens bipartisan consensus on health-overhaul legislation this year. Many congressional Democrats say that a health bill would have to include a nationwide public-insurance option, while Republicans readily dismiss the concept.

It is unclear if there is room for compromise between lawmakers on the issue. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, a moderate Republican on the Finance panel who could prove a major player in debate over health legislation, warned Thursday that a public-plan option "could end up being far more costly" for those seeking insurance.

But if it's too expensive people will not sign up for it. Right?

First Spouses

Shouldn't it be first spice? You know, mouse-mice, louse-lice. In any case, nobody writes 'first spouses', because the spouses of powerful people are overwhelmingly female and thus called wives. If they happen to be husbands they hide from the public eye, because being a first spouse is demeaning for a guy. Really.

Dana Goldstein points out the invisible husbands as a commentary to this picture, which is supposed to be about the spouses of the G-20 bigwigs:

But the two husbands, NĂ©stor Kirchner and Joachim Sauer, are missing. If they were in the picture they'd be ridiculed. Really.

All this reminded me of Darrel Issa's attempt to put some controls on the First Lady:

House Republicans are pressing for a change in federal law that could force Michelle Obama and future first ladies to do more of their policy work in public. But Democrats warn President Obama may take the attempt personally "as an attack on his wife."

The GOP effort is being led by the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose initial salvo was rebuffed recently at a contentious committee markup session. Under Issa's amendment, any government policy group that Mrs. Obama or another first spouse regularly participates in would be subject to a law requiring meetings to be announced in advance and, in most instances, public.


"We are trying actually to protect the historic role of the first lady," Issa insisted, repeatedly invoking the "transparency" mantra of the Obama administration. "I believe this is open government at its finest."


The video, as recorded by the committee's GOP staff, is after the jump. Discussion of the first ladies' amendment begins at about 10:57.

Note all the references to 'first ladies'. And to 'future first ladies'. The assumption is that first spouses will always be female. Really.

The GOP Budget Proposal And Dishwasher Detergent

I wanted to write about it yesterday because it really is an April Fool proposal but then people might have thought I made it up. Because the Republicans want the stimulus package to be canceled and government expenditure to be frozen for five years!!!! And then to apply something called 'free' stimulus! No, it's not dildoes for all but drilling (drill, baby, drill!) for oil in ANWR. And of course there would be loads of tax breaks for the rich.

It's a very funny proposal, because it consists pretty much of what the Hoover government did to really make the Great Depression great rather than little.

Sounds somewhat deranged to me. So does this post on RedState (a winger blog) about how the conservatives should grab arms to fight a law in Washington state which bans phosphates in dishwasher detergents:

Washington State has turned its residents into a group of drug runners — crossing state lines to buy dish washer detergent with phosphate.

At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator's house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?

At some point soon, it will happen. It'll be over an innocuous issue. But the rage is building. It's not a partisan issue. There is bipartisan angst at out of control government made worse by dumb bans like this and unintended consequences like AIG's bonus problems.

I couldn't help thinking how a Republican guy would mutter to himself: "This is the straw that broke the camel's back! To the barricades brothers! errr.... What's dishwasher detergent?"

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Vanity Fair

Is the new boyz' magazine. Like Playboy. Except that we are supposed to pretend that it's not, because it has real articles. Unless only boyz read real articles.

What irritates me about this is not the use of naked women on the cover. If the magazine openly stated that it's a soft-porn magazine for hetero guys, that would be sort of acceptable. But we are not supposed to notice that. Even though these choices tell us that Vanity Fair is chasing after the young-horny-male demographic. And offer no delicious naked guys.

April Fool's Day

Do you ever read in my archives? I went back to see what I have written on other April Fool's Days. In 2004:

Let's look at something more cheerful instead. First, there are very good news for the mice: they can be vaccinated against the SARS virus. This makes it much more comfortable for them to travel to the Far East. Humans are very kind to the mice; sometimes it seems that almost all medical research has to do with the well-being of our four-legged friends. Can mice take artificial sweeteners without harm to their health? Can we solve extreme obesity in mice? Will Prozac work to keep the mice positive while hunting for the cheese? Large libraries consist of all the crucial findings on Mouse Health.

Too bad that humans are rather different from mice, and that not that many of the mice findings generalize terribly well to other mammals. I'm old enough (very old as humans count!) to remember countless mouse health revelations that ultimately had nothing to do with the health of humans. Still, studying mice is a lot more harmless than some other human activities (except from the mouse point of view).

That wasn't quite an April Fool's post but I did write one of those the following year:

I have been offered a book contract! The book will be all about my life as a snake goddess and the many exciting adventures I've had over the centuries. It will include a "Passion of the Christ" episode where I spill the beans about what really happened. Don't worry, there will still be plenty of whipping.

And sex. They doubled the advance when they heard that I once had a hot one-night stand with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert... Ah, those wobbly little chins bring back such memories. I will also reveal all about Eleanor Roosevelt. That was some hot lady! And Franklin wasn't that bad, either, especially after some moonlight swims. But the rest of their staff was pretty clueless.

Then to the modern era! There are good reasons for the glum face of Laura Bush, and I will spell them out. Twice, just to make sure. I will also explain, in great and explicit detail, why Liberal men are so much better in bed, though the word "liberal" will give you the gist of it.

I did offer to correct all the misconceptions in world history and to tell what will happen next, according to us gods and goddesses, but the publishers were not interested. There's no money in it. Instead, they wanted to know if they could have nude pictures of me on the cover. I said no when they explained that they wanted to make me look like I had sixteen breasts.

Ok. This is an April Fool joke and not a very good one, either. I never went to bed with Queen Victoria!

I recycle these because I wish to reduce my carbon footprint. Or tailprint.

Another Pet Peave

So I wake up this morning, get some coffee and start reading my various e-mail accounts. Except that a major one has changed to a 'new and improved!' format overnight, without any prior warning, and I sit there squeezing my eyes narrow trying to see where it is that I can now check my distant account and where my folders have been placed and why the page looks like fresh snow after birds have hopped all over it.

Every time computer people change something to 'new and improved!', my body memory of the old system is wasted, gone, no longer there. All those lightning-fast, instinctive acts take you exactly nowhere. You have to sit there, with narrowed eyes, and use forefinger pokes. And time passes, your gallbladder rebels, and then you decide and go write a blog post instead. (The graph above tells you the story. In the old system my location was far to the right on the horizontal axis, but the system change dropped me right next to the vertical axis, and the effort and time needed for each mail check increased enormously.)

It's not a big complaint if a change indeed vastly improves the system. But so many of these changes do not improve much anything, yet every single one of them has that relatively lumpy learning requirement, and it looks to me as if the supply side of this market doesn't care about it very much at all.

Which is weird, because the customer is presumably the queen or king, right?

I may just be curmudgeony about this, just as I'm curmudgeony about Twitter. Because of those learning costs and the time requirements and the need to see some value in return for all those. But talk me out of this if you wish.
Hee! I added a picture to make this blog more alluring. I'm nuts.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Tilt

While writing "The Egg Made Me Do It" I tried to clarify why the topic angered me so very much. The reason is nebulous and has to do with something that Rose Macaulay pointed out in Mystery at Geneva (1923):

All sorts of articles and letters appear in the papers about women. Profound questions are raised concerning them. Should they smoke? Should they work? Vote? Marry? Exist? Are not their skirts too short, or their sleeves? Have they a sense of humor, of honor, of direction? Are spinsters superfluous? But how seldom similar inquiries are propounded about men.

That's it, pretty much. Women are studied as this humongous pile of womanhood and every single woman is ultimately deemed to be just another spoonful from that pile, with no real individual variation. This is true even when the study curtly admits that 'individual results might vary,' but...

We rarely use this approach with men. To see what I mean, do a reversal on the three horrible crime stories I read yesterday and think how they would have been reported had all the suspected murderers been women. Surely there would have been talk of hormones (testosterone?) and their influence? Discussions about the advisability of feminism? Concerns over a horrible gender-linked crime wave?

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan

Women are 'taken care of':

Hamid Karzai has been accused of trying to win votes in Afghanistan's presidential election by backing a law the UN says legalises rape within marriage and bans wives from stepping outside their homes without their husbands' permission.

The Afghan president signed the law earlier this month, despite condemnation by human rights activists and some MPs that it flouts the constitution's equal rights provisions.

The final document has not been published, but the law is believed to contain articles that rule women cannot leave the house without their husbands' permission, that they can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands' permission, and that they cannot refuse their husband sex.

A briefing document prepared by the United Nations Development Fund for Women also warns that the law grants custody of children to fathers and grandfathers only.

Senator Humaira Namati, a member of the upper house of the Afghan parliament, said the law was "worse than during the Taliban". "Anyone who spoke out was accused of being against Islam," she said.

Slavery, my dears, under any other name is still slavery. Never mind if it's traditional, never mind if it's sanctioned by one religion or another, and never mind if it's regarded as less important than other geopolitical concerns.

For some odd reason I feel I cannot breathe.
The posts beginning with "Meanwhile" are my continuing commentary on women's rights all over this planet.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Egg Made Me Do It!

Am I imagining things or is the British society sexist in an especially nasty way? Here's something I read today about a study concerning the shopping habits of women, those poor emotional creatures:

Women may be able to blame impulse buys and extravagant shopping on their time of the month, research suggests.

In the 10 days before their periods began women were more likely to go on a spending spree, a study found.

Psychologists believe shopping could be a way for premenstrual women to deal with the negative emotions created by their hormonal changes.

Professor Karen Pine will present her work to a British Psychological Society meeting in Brighton later this week.


She said much of this could be explained by hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle. And the findings were exaggerated in the women with severe PMT.

"We are getting surges and fluctuations in hormones which affect the part of the brain linked to emotions and inhibitory control. So the behaviour we found is not surprising."

Another explanation might be that women are buying items to make themselves feel more attractive - coinciding with the time of ovulation when they are most fertile, typically around 14 days before the start of a period.

Most of the purchases made by the women were for adornment, including jewellery, make-up and high heels.

Professor Pine said: "Other researchers have found there is an ornamental effect around the time of ovulation."

Did you get it? EITHER women shop carelessly during the last ten days of their menstrual cycles OR they shop carelessly around the time of ovulation which is in the middle of the cycle. Perhaps it would be better to just argue that women shop carelessly? Of course we don't know if men do this, too, because we don't study that aspect of men's hormones.

Professor Pine is one of the authors of a book on women and finance, called Sheconomics. Here's what that book is all about:

Pensions. Equity. Compound interest. Yawn. Yes, financial stuff is all a bit tedious but since there will be no escaping it this year we may as well start getting our heads around it. Ah, but that's just the problem, see. One half of the population apparently finds that easier to do than the other. Women frequently have a mental "off" switch when it comes to financial jargon. They tend to be more frightened of and embarrassed by money, making them less likely to ask for a pay rise. Sometimes they are positively babyish, happily letting men take charge. Their attitude to spending is much more emotionally driven than men's, which is why so many females shop to cheer themselves up. Theirs is a world of illogical priorities where they will happily spend hundreds of pounds on a dress that they will wear once, yet won't buy a small pension.

This is according to Sheconomics, a new book written by Karen Pine, a psychologist, and Simonne Gnessen, a financial coach. If it all sounds a bit patronising or sexist - and, frankly, parts of the book do - the authors, both women, say they know that there are many women who are brilliant with money. But they are acknowledging what research and years of experience bears out: that in general women struggle more to plan for their economic futures than men and and the very language of the financial world tends to alienate them.

Bolds are mine. It's a wonder that two women managed to get a book together, what with all those emotions. It's also a wonder that girls outperform boys at school in the U.K., for example. That would seem to be an utter impossibility in the world Professor Pine inhabits (where the sky is pink and the clouds always cute and fluffy and no man ever feels any emotions about money).

The Mad, Apocalyptic, Tearful (And Rich) Glenn Beck

The New York Times has a piece on Glenn Beck today, called "Fox News's Mad, Apocalyptic, Tearful Rising Star." I'm not sure why I bothered reading any of it but I did, and present you with a few tasty morsels:

The conservative writer David Frum said Mr. Beck's success "is a product of the collapse of conservatism as an organized political force, and the rise of conservatism as an alienated cultural sensibility."

"It's a show for people who feel they belong to an embattled minority that is disenfranchised and cut off," he said.

Joel Cheatwood, a senior vice president for development at Fox News, said he thought Mr. Beck's audience was a "somewhat disenfranchised" one. And, he added, "it's a huge audience."

How is that audience disenfranchised? Does that term now mean 'not getting one's way all the time'? Never mind.

Here's the second morsel:

Mr. Beck says he believes every word he says on his TV show, and the radio show that he still hosts from 9 a.m. to noon each weekday.


He added later: "I say on the air all time, 'if you take what I say as gospel, you're an idiot.' "

It makes your head swim, and not in a good way. The only logical conclusion I can draw from those two sentences is that Mr. Beck declares himself an idiot.

Time Travels With Larry

Larry Summers, that is. He's going to take us all back in time. First only a fortnight or so, to his speech at the Brookings Institution:

In a speech at the Brookings Institution think tank, Summers, long considered one of the nation's smartest economists, outlined the factors that led to the economic crisis.

The over optimism that led to a bubble in prices for real estate and other assets which, once it collapsed, set off an economic chain reaction that led to job losses, lower incomes and foreclosures.

"Prices fall. People sell. Instead of an expectation of new buyers, there is an expectation of new sellers. Greed gives way to fear. And this ... fear begets fear."

Breaking the "vicious cycle" was something only the federal government acting decisively could do, Summers said.

"We need to do what's necessary to get us out of the crisis we inherited," Summers said "... This was not a set of economic processes that would simply automatically fix themselves if you didn't act."

Bolding by me. Are you ready for the next flight backwards? It will be a decade, this time, all the way to 1999. Here's Larry Summers then, commenting on the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 (which was all about keeping bankers and brokers separate so that they wouldn't breed banksters):

''Today Congress voted to update the rules that have governed financial services since the Great Depression and replace them with a system for the 21st century,'' Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said. ''This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.''

Read the whole 1999 article. It's worth it for a few bitter laughs.

I don't think that you should say you've inherited something from yourself. Well, maybe in the Buddhist sense of no permanent self, but not in the sense of Larry Summers of 2009 and Larry Summers of 1999. He should take a bit more responsibility for this smelly kettle of fish, given that he was one of the original cooks. And now he's been invited to cook for us again...
Phila found the 1999 article.