Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bad Poetry Hour

It's not all bad but it's all bad poetry, if you get my meaning. I have lots of fun with it. Not sure if any of that comes across.

Here's a political poem:

You slammed the door against the light
Because it hurt your eyes
You named it blindness
You left it out

You wrote down all that should be right
And how to weed out lies
You left out kindness
You do without

Because you closed out light
You cannot see your day is night.

And here's the Woman Professor's Morning Song:

In the hallowed halls
the chalk dust sleeps
Old bones dance in bounds and leaps
The light has died
But the power keeps.

Ach Mein Vater, hold me tight
Brand my forehead with thy sign
Symbols whisper Latin stories
algorithms and allegories
Computers and rats in cages
Pages upon untouched pages.
Let them think that I am right
Let my circles meet thy line.

Knowledge is a cruel fetus
sucking, sucking air
Fed on academic blood. It soaks
through the academic cloaks
which hang suspended
Yet logic rules though mended

No Alma Mater dare
To enter there.


Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Frank Luntz is the man responsible for "ownership society", "death taxes" and "tax relief"; all terms which give debates a conservative frame. Now he has come out with the wingnut dictionary on how to talk health care. For example:

Luntz Tip No. 1: Scare people. Especially about their children. Luntz's memo includes a road map to how to most effectively scare the bejeezus out of the American public when it comes to health care. Results show the phrase health care rationing frightened the most people, so Republicans are urged to sprinkle it around describing Democratic reform plans. It's also better to warn that Democrats want to put politicians in charge of health care, rather than bureaucrats: "Bureaucrats are scary — but at least they are professionals."

The Republicans are always about scaring people. There's a terrorist under your bed and a politician will operate on your tonsils, unless you do exactly as Frank Luntz wants you to do!

In any case, all health care systems ration care, even the current American one (which does it through the ability or inability to pay for care and through health insurance denials).

I hope someone in the Obama administration is busily creating an alternative system of frames for this topic, including the concept of "freedom from manufactured fear."

Something To Do For Mothers' Day

I can think of lots of good things to do in honor of this coming Sunday, but here's one great idea: To donate diapers and other necessities to organizations which help homeless and poor mothers.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ed Gillespie Is An Asshat, Too

Via Think Progress:

BLITZER: You remember, your President — President Bush — he did find a woman, Harriet Miers, to be his nominee, and that didn't exactly work out. Did he get gun shy after that?

GILLESPIE: He did not get gun shy after that, but I think that in the next round of the selection process, the person who emerged as clearly most qualified — really head and shoulders above others –was Samuel Alito, and there wasn't a woman who was of a comparable experience and skill and temperament and intellect.

Lou Dobbs Is An Asshat

I knew this was coming when I first heard of Souter's retirement from the bench: The assumption that a woman couldn't possibly be the best candidate, combined with the assumption that a white man would obviously be nominated only on the basis of pure and unadulterated merit. More precisely:

For example, when CNN host Lou Dobbs asked why all of the potential nominees that CNN's Jeffrey Toobin listed were women, Toobin said that "[m]ore than half the law students in the United States are now women. Almost half the lawyers in the United States are women. There's only one out of nine justices on the Supreme Court who are women. I think President Obama, who believes in diversity, thinks it's time to even out the balance a little bit more." Nonetheless, Dobbs responded by asking: "Are you talking about the death of meritocracy on the court? ... Wouldn't it be strange that this court ruled against affirmative action, racial quotas, and ruled in favor of a truly sex -- gender- and race-blind society that then Justice Souter be replaced on the basis of group and identity politics? ... Wouldn't that be captivatingly ironic?" Toobin then explained that "Obama would say diversity is not opposite of meritocracy. Those are very qualified candidates."

Similarly, Buchanan said that Obama should pick a "liberal, Democrat John Roberts who has real stature, impresses people, maybe even gets Republican votes. But I think what he will do is I think he's gonna go for a minority, a woman and/or a Hispanic because he sees that as their turn."

Some conservatives also reject Dobbs and Buchanan's argument. On the May 4 edition of MSNBC Live, for instance, host Andrea Mitchell asked Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) whether, "all things being equal," Obama should nominate a woman. Gregg replied: "I think that in the legal system which we have today, we have a huge amount of talent out there. And you can -- if you feel that the balance on the court should be addressed relative to women being on the court, which I happen to think is a good idea, you can certainly find a lot of extraordinarily talented people who are -- happen to be women also. And that would probably be good."

Just imagine a reversal: A country where men are slightly more than half of all citizens and where the Supreme Court consists of eight women and one man. Would you think that is fair?

This isn't really about diversity, and I wish it wasn't portrayed that way. Women are the majority of Americans, and yet there's only one woman on the bench.

A Surprising First

At least I was surprised to learn that Carol Ann Duffy is Britain's first female poet laureate. What with us girls being so good with words and all.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Marilyn French, RIP

Marilyn French died on Saturday at the age of 79. The Washington Post obituary calls her a controversial feminist author:

Marilyn French, 79, a feminist whose 1977 debut novel "The Women's Room" sold more than 20 million copies and who became a prominent thinker on women's history, died of a heart ailment May 2 at a New York City hospital.

Ms. French, an erudite and angry writer, blamed men for the condition of women throughout the centuries, a stance that brought her sharply divided critical attention. Although many feminists lauded her for writing one of the most influential novels of the emerging feminist movement, others outside the movement charged that her books were belligerent and artless.

"In a way, 'The Women's Room' was, to a particular part of the women's movement, what Ralph Ellison's 'Invisible Man' was to the civil rights community," feminist Gloria Steinem said yesterday. "She was always so far ahead because she wasn't writing about reforms around the edges. Her theories were big and exciting, and they definitely appeal to younger women who hear about them."

The novel centered on a repressed young woman described by one critic as "expectant in the 40s, submissive in the 50s, enraged in the 60s . . . in the 70s independent but somehow unstrung, not yet fully composed after all" she'd been through. Partly autobiographical, the book was acclaimed by women eager to see their lives in print, and it was translated into 20 languages.

Some critics claimed that in the book Ms. French was overtly anti-male and provided as evidence one of her characters who asserts: "All men are rapists, and that's all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes." Ms. French shrugged off the critics.

"They said I was a man hater, and I never defended myself against that, because I do believe that men are to blame for the condition of women," Ms. French told London's Guardian newspaper in 2006. "Even men who are not actively keeping women down, but are profiting from women's position, or who don't mind things being the way they are -- they are responsible too. I don't hate men . . . but men are responsible for the situation of women."

That piece of evidence is an odd one, because it's a fictional character saying something. If all authors were held responsible for every utterance by their fictional characters we'd have loads and loads of controversial authors.

Or to turn it around, what about all those hard-boiled detective novels where the characters hate all women as evil temptresses? You rarely see that give the authors a controversial label (though I think it should).

In any case, I have a future post stewing on the whole question of who the enemies of feminism are and what the position of men might be in all that. It's a topic that requires much sharper and clearer handling than I'm up to right now.

French's most famous book is The Women's Room. The title refers to the bathroom or the toilet, and it is deeply symbolic of the book, on many different levels. The book is still well worth reading.

Too Fat To Fit On The Bench?

The Daily Beast (via feministe) tells us that only thin women should be on the SCOTUS:

Consider the two women widely considered the frontrunners for the nomination: former Harvard Law School dean and current Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and federal appellate judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Within hours after the news broke that Souter was resigning, concerns arose that Kagan and Sotomayor might be too fat to replace him. A commentator on the site noted that of the three most-mentioned candidates "the oldest (federal judge Diane Wood) is the only one who looks healthy," while Kagan and Sotomayor "are quite overweight. That's a risk factor that they may not last too long on the court because of their health."

At The Washington Monthly, a commentator claimed to have employed a more scientifically rigorous method: "To all the short-sighted libs who are clamoring for the youngest-possible nominee... Right idea, wrong methodology. You want someone who will serve the longest, i.e. with the greatest remaining life expectancy—and that involves more than simple age. I tried assessing their respective health prospects, and ruled out all who even border on overweight. Best choice: Kim McLane Wardlaw, whose ectomorphitude reflects her publicly known aerobic-exercise habits."

(Wardlaw's "ectomorphitude" also gets rave reviews at legal gossip site Underneath Their Robes, which describes her as "Heather Locklear in a black robe. This blond Hispanic hottie boasts a fantastic smile and an incredible body, showcased quite nicely by her elegant ensembles.")

Meanwhile, a letter writer at Salon comments on Sotomayor's candidacy, "How do you say 55, overweight, and diabetic in Spanish?" (Sotomayor was diagnosed with Type I diabetes—which doesn't correlate with higher weight—when she was a child).

All this is related to the ideal Supreme Court nominee: Someone with steel constitution and still in diapers. That way the next wingnut administration cannot replace our candidate with theirs.

But there's more to this story, as usual, because men are not screened through the same lens having to do with looks and fuckability, really. (If they were we'd get a completely new Supreme Court, heh.) And as Paul Campos notes at the end of his post:

Still, nonsense about women, weight, and "health" is particularly pervasive and destructive. Indeed, if we were really concerned about medical risk factors that actually do have a significant negative correlation with a candidate's life expectancy, the most relevant is one that has afflicted 108 of America's 110 Supreme Court justices: being a man.

That has to do with the average life expectancies of men and women, by the way.

Chickens and Eggs.

This study about possible relationships between racism and mental health is an interesting one. It has the usual problem of one-shot studies: It can't tell us which came first, and because of that it can't really prove causality:

Fifth-graders who feel they've been mistreated because of their skin color are much more likely than classmates without such feelings to have symptoms of mental disorders, especially depression, a study suggests.

There is evidence that racial discrimination increases the odds that adolescents and adults will develop mental health problems, but this is the first study to examine a possible link in children of varied races, says Tumaini Coker, the study co-author and a RAND Corp. researcher and UCLA pediatrician.

It does not prove that discrimination caused the emotional problems, because unlike studies of older people, these children weren't followed over time. It's possible that prejudice harms children's mental health, but it is also possible that troubled kids prompt more discriminatory remarks from peers or that children with emotional problems perceive more bias, says study leader Mark Schuster, a Harvard pediatrician and pediatrics chief at Children's Hospital Boston.

It would be even harder to do a similar study on sexism and its possible correlation with mental health problems, because sexism is much more diffuse and because it may begin inside the family rather than just outside it.

What I Learned On NPR This Morning by Anthony McCarthy

It’s not the weekend, and I apologize, but I just had to post this while it was fresh.

On NPR's Morning Edition today, in Tom Gjelten’s report about President Obama’s intentions to cut the tax breaks corporations get for shipping jobs to other countries, we had this interesting lesson in market economics.

As Gjelten could have read from a Chamber of Commerce press release, and he could have let the Chamber’s flack included in the piece parrot the guff, not giving American corporations these tax breaks would mean that they would be at a competitive disadvantage to foreign corporations who get even more favorable tax breaks for their foreign operations. It would be bad for American corporations An unasked question is how a corporation’s foreign assetts enhance their status as “American corporations”.

And to compound this problem, if American corporations are given a disincentive for outsourcing jobs and have to keep them in America, employing Americans, then American worker would be getting an unfair advantage that would amount to unfair protectionism. I’ll leave aside the revenue that the federal government would get from taxing the foreign operations of these corporations aside to balance out the last thing I said in the last paragraph.

- So, when the American government provides tax breaks to “AMERICAN CORPORATIONS” in order to give them an advantage in competing with foreign corporations, it’s sound economic policy.

- But, when the American government takes measures to provide AMERICAN WORKERS with a chance of not having jobs shipped to places that pay slave wages, it is an evil hindrance of true, fair and good economic competition, and no doubt will lead to disaster.

Protecting allegedly “American” corporations, good, pure and right.
Protecting indisputably American workers, evil, corrupt and disastrous.

You got that?

And, lest anyone not appreciate the full flavor of this, NPR will certainly be looking for its handout from the Federal government this year including tax breaks which will give the likes of Tom and Steve and Rene a chance to be employed.

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: Texan Style

This is a tragicomic piece of news:

Gov. Rick Perry has accepted nearly $5 million in political campaign donations from people he appointed to state boards and commissions, including some in plum jobs that set policy for state universities, parks and roads, records show.

Nearly half the appointee donations came from people serving as higher education regents, including more than $840,000 from those at the University of Texas System, according to a Houston Chronicle review of campaign-finance records.

Political patronage is nothing new for Texas governors in both political parties. The contributions are a legal and common practice, though it has been fodder for critics over the years.

Do read the whole piece. Of course only the rich can give enough money to buy positions of power in the system.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Wolf Whistles

Naomi Wolf (the author of The Beauty Myth) reviews Jennifer Scanlon's biography of Helen Gurley Brown in the Washington Post and takes that opportunity to give us a no-calories-light version of feminist history. The title of the piece summarizes it:

Who Won Feminism?
Hint: She's the diva who ran Cosmo

That's Helen Gurley Brown who supposedly advocated an exchange of dinners and trinkets for sex for single women and who also firmly believed that women can pull themselves up not so much by their bootstraps but by their garters.

Wolf implies that the Third Wave of feminism is the (slightly slutty) daughter of Helen Gurley Brown, not the daughter of the Second Wave feminists, those humorless nags with lots of armpit hair. That's evil step-mothering for you! But the bio-mom won:

And guess what? In the long battle between the two styles of feminism, Brown, for now, has won. Just look at the culture around us. Ms. Magazine, the earnest publication that defined feminism in the 1970s and '80s, has been replaced on college women's dorm room shelves by sexier, sassier updates such as Bitch and Bust. The four talented, smart -- and feminist -- women of "Sex and the City," who are intent on defining their own lives but are also willing to talk about Manolos and men, look more like Brown's type of heroine than "Sisterhood Is Powerful" readers. The stereotype of feminists as asexual, hirsute Amazons in Birkenstocks that has reigned on campus for the past two decades has been replaced by a breezy vision of hip, smart young women who will take a date to the right-on, woman-friendly sex shop Babeland.

This quote explains why I call Wolf's views of feminist history light-and-fluffy. She replaces actual history with stereotypes that are partly the creation of anti-feminists and homophobes ("ugly feminazis just can't get laid" is not that far from the "hirsute Amazons") or with plots which make feminism harmless ("Girls Gone Wild" is not that far from "sexier and sassier"). Real feminist history is a lot more complicated, much more interesting, not that easy to plonk into simple boxes and not about the personalities of feminist women themselves. It's about the issues. It's also quite a lot harder to research.

Sigh. I come across like one of those humorless nags, don't I? I did try to write it differently, something like this:

Revolution should be fun and painless and have lots of men giving me head and you can wrench my lipstick from my cold, dead fingers, sweeties! Let's have the Chippendales come in and strip for us, ladies, while we remake the world in our image (presumably by using all the vast financial resources, political machinery and societal powers we already obviously have acquired to, say, help the women in Afghanistan).

That's still nasty. And still judgmental. Sigh. There's no hope for me. Also, I firmly believe in women's rights to be sexual creatures, in the rights of all humans to decorate themselves, to laugh and to have fun. But why should I have to choose between serious armpit hair and fun sex, hmh?

Wolf's conclusions are not bad, and she does recommend a merging of those views. She advocates combining the messages of the Second and Third Waves of feminism to create a grass-roots movement, and I'm all for such a movement. But no other social justice movement is EVER criticized for not being funny enough or sexy enough. No other social justice movement is EVER expected to sell itself in the way feminism is expected. It's as if feminism is a new pair of shoes or something; an item women can easily do without, an item they might not be able to afford (because the societal costs of being a feminist can be considerable). So the movement must sell itself, I guess.

Monday, Monday

You know Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan?" The first three lines of the song:

They sentenced me to twenty years of BOREDOM
For trying to change the system from within.
I'm coming now, I'm coming to REWARD them...

Song lyrics are what one reads into them, ultimately. What I read into those lines are the rewards one gets for being a Good Girl. If that 'one' is lucky, the reward is just boredom. But the powers that be never tell you that. Good Girls don't get raises at work for working harder than everyone else and they certainly don't get promoted. Good Girls may save the world but it is they who are left with the dishes and the laundry. And being a Good Girl is not a defense against the horrors of this world.

When I write 'Good Girl' I'm not talking about real ethics, caring or self-sacrifice based on deep thought, but the kind of societal cake molds women are so often expected to fill, and to fill precisely, not to come out flat, not to overflow the pan. These molds may indeed be of the traditional Goody-Two-Shoes, or the "Biblical Woman" or the Mother As Madonna, but they can also be pans for baking amateur strippers or the perfect girlfriend/sex doll. You can tell when you are being molded this way, honest. It feels like a metal circle constraining whatever the real you is. Men have their molds, too, though the societal kitchen doesn't try to squeeze them into quite as many (and contradictory) shapes as it does women.

I've strayed a bit from my topic, which was really supposed to be song lyrics and what it is about them that suddenly makes that connection, straight to the solar plexus, or not. Anyway...

Meanwhile, in Pakistan

The husband of singer Ayman Udas came home (from getting some milk) to find his wife of ten days shot to death. He believes that she was killed by her two brothers, to fix the honor of the family:

As a singer and song writer in her native Pashto, the language of the tribal areas and the NorthWest Frontier province, Udas frequently performed on PTV, the state-run channel.

She won considerable acclaim for her songs but had become a musician in the face of bitter opposition from her family, who believed it was sinful for a woman to perform on television.

Ashamed of her growing popularity her two brothers are reported to have entered her flat last week while her husband was out and fired three bullets into her chest. Neither has been caught.

The final song performed by Udas on screen seems to have portended her death. It was entitled, "I died but still live among the living, because I live on in the dreams of my lover." Udas, a divorced mother of two, had remarried 10 days before she was murdered.

Note that crimes like these remind other women what might happen to them if they rebel against the fundamentalist norms of the area. A hate crime? Hmm.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Personal Sanctity (by Phila)

The Missouri house has passed a law stating that "no pharmacy can be required to perform, assist, recommend, refer to, or participate in any act or service resulting in an abortion and it will be immune from liability for refusing to do so."

There's no word on how this prospective law would handle "dual-use" products. Perhaps you'll have to go elsewhere for coathangers. And ulcer medications. And Methotrexate. But probably not. More likely, so long as the pharmacist's smug sense of personal sanctity remains intact, it'll be immaterial whether pregnant women kill themselves trying to induce an abortion by other means, or are beaten or murdered when they can no longer hide their pregnancy. As long as you refuse to think about the consequences of refusing to do your job, God can't hold you personally responsible. Ignorance is bliss!

A similarly ugly burlesque of morality was common in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when most "respectable" doctors refused to endanger their high opinion of themselves by treating patients who'd contracted venereal diseases. As Laurie Garrett notes in Betrayal of Trust,
From the earliest days of organized public health, Americans had exhibited a peculiar inability to cope with the conjunction of three fearsome factors: sex, disease, and death.
In The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America, John S. and Robin M. Haller describe the situation in more detail:
The same public morality which drove venereal vicims out of the cities of London and Paris in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and later heard from papal pronouncements that syphilis was God's punishment for incontinence, survived in institutions supported by public donations in the nineteenth celltury. Many hospitals in New York and elsewhere had rules prohibiting the treatment of gonorrhea or syphilis.
As late as the 1930s, many American hospitals still had an official policy of refusing treatment to victims of venereal disease, even though Hippocrates himself stated that doctors "must inspect the unseemly and handle the horrible." A similar moral delicacy was observed in the early 20th century by doctors in Queensland, Australia, who piously refused to treat aboriginals who'd contracted venereal diseases (from white settlers, as often as not).

Here's the delightful Dr. John Simon of London, writing in 1868 against the use of public money for the prevention and treatment of venereal disease:
Now, it is quite certain that, rightly or wrongly, the proposed appropriation of money would, in the eyes of very large numbers of persons, be in the last degree odious and immoral....I suppose it may be assumed that public policy is very decidely in favour of marriage as against promiscuous fornication; that the latter, however powerless may be laws to prevent it, is, at least, an order of things which no State would willingly foster; that, whereas it has some contagious maladies, such drawbacks from its attractions are not in their kind a matter for general social regret; that venereal diseases are, in principle, infections which a man contracts at his own option, and against which he cannot in any degree claim to be protected by action of others - the less so, of course, as his option is exercised in modes of life contrary to the common good; that thus, prima facie, the true policy of Government is to regard the prevention of venereal diseases as a matter of exclusively private concern. Caveat emptor!
Returning to the present, the fact that you've managed to channel your basically murderous impulses into the protection of "innocent life" doesn't make you a good person, and certainly shouldn't exempt you from the professional standards that apply to your chosen profession. It's amazing how many people who deny that there's any right to a living wage, or to legal protection from sexual harassment, are convinced that there is a right to work in a government-licensed pharmacy, whether you're willing to do your job or not. Pharmacists, the logic goes, should enjoy legal protection from martyrdom, while reserving the right to thrust it upon other people.

Speaking as a radical vegan extremist who longs to force my irrational worldview down everyone else's throat, I look forward to getting a job at McDonald's -- or better yet, a public high-school cafeteria -- and refusing to serve anyone who orders animal products. I'm sure state legislators will be happy to scribble up some "conscience clause" that'll reinstate me if I get fired. After all, this isn't some mere eccentricity on my's a deeply held conviction about the sanctity of life.

In other news, a school official in Kentucky has allegedly told teachers to deny bathroom breaks to homosexual students. Let's hope that the state legislature moves swiftly to protect this official's freedom of conscience.

Dawn Upshaw by Anthony McCarthy

When her recording of Henryk G√≥recki’s Third Symphony, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs*, made her famous it could have been the beginning of a limited career for Dawn Upshaw. The beauty and purity of her voice on that recording would have tempted many singers to go in that direction, to the exclusion of any other. And there must have been some financial incentive to consider it. But Upshaw’s continuing career shows that she’s not that kind of artist. Subsequent work has shown that she is not interested in resting on past accomplishments or living within comfortable and profitable limits. When it comes to being a great musical artist, she doesn’t play the part, she’s the real thing.

This article, in what, as I write this, could be the last edition of the Boston Globe, shows that she is the opposite of the stereotype of a classical singer**. Reading her list of recent and upcoming activities makes you wonder how anyone in perfect health could do it. And Dawn Upshaw went through breast cancer treatment during part of it.

A great ‘new music’ singer is a pioneer, originating roles and giving first, and the even more important, subsequent performances of pieces. Composers hear what they can do and challenge the limits of those abilities. This short piece, capturing the astounding variety and courage of her work, makes me hope that someday, in her semi-retirement, she writes a book about what it is like to be the kind of professional singer she is. I think she could write one as good as Russell Sherman’s Piano Pieces, which I recommended a couple of years back as the best book I’ve ever read about what it’s like to play the piano. She’s an artist at the same level.

I’m restricted to a very slow computer this week or I’d go looking for musical examples to illustrate Upshaw’s work. This short biography gives some details about her extensive and distinguished work in more standard repertoire. Most 'new music' specialists are also accomplished performers of older music as well.

* The misunderstanding of this piece, often used as “relaxing” or “soothing” background music, is one of the strangest musical phenomena of the past twenty years. It’s a good indication of the ability of some people to hear but not listen and the dangers of accessibility to a composers’ intentions.

** Actually, most really accomplished classical singers don’t fit into that stereotype. Even the kind of career based in a limited range of repertoire and style is damned hard work. Once I got into a discussion which began with someone bragging that they’d memorized a moderately long poem. Someone pointed out that actors learn entire plays by heart all the time. The point that opera singers learn the text, in many languages, the music, generally pretty difficult music, the same kinds of blocking that actors do and top it off with wearing some really difficult costumes was as far as it could go. A really good singer is generally a great musician and an intelligent artist.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Policy Differences (by Phila)

Lately, the nation has been debating torture. Some people think it's a great idea, and other people think it isn't. This kind of polarizing argument is always disheartening. But in this case, it's also dangerous, because it might distract us from doing whatever's necessary to protect Western Civilization from the forces of barbarism.

Fortunately, we have thoughtful centrists like Will Marshall to keep us from becoming any better than we ought to be. Since he's not an extremist, he understands that we are not debating torture, but policy.
Are political activists losing their ability to distinguish between policy disputes and mistakes and criminal behavior? The distinction is crucial, and it has apparently has been lost on those who demand that the authors of the Bush administration's infamous torture memos be prosecuted for breaking the law.
You'll recall that this country once spent an enormous amount of money and time to investigate Bill Clinton's infidelity. But after all that effort and expense, Clinton wasn't actually removed from office. Which just goes to show that there's not much point in trying to punish the authors of the torture memos.
The activist group MoveOn, for example, is calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor. There's more than a little irony here. After all, MoveOn was born in reaction to a partisan attempt by Republicans to impeach Bill Clinton for his dalliance with a young White House intern. The effort foundered because most Americans could tell the difference between poor judgment and the "high crimes and misdemeanors" standard that impeachment requires.
They didn't want a special prosecutor for Clinton's grimy little affairs, but they do want one for Bush's systematic use of torture. How can they expect to be taken seriously?

Some people might find this reasoning specious, so Marshall proceeds to more weighty objections. First, there's the fact that if we go after members of the administration for embracing ritualized extralegal sadism and murder, there's a possibility that the GOP will seek revenge once they get back into power. If we don't, they'll probably be much easier to get along with (as long as we don't start agitating for anything that strikes them as "socialistic").

Second, there are no facts, only interpretations:
At a more basic level, those clamoring for "justice" overestimate the law's ability to provide policymakers with fixed and unambiguous guides to action.
Indeed. The situation is so ambiguous that "justice" must be presented in scare quotes, lest we mistake it for a desirable outcome of "due process" under the "law."

And what is the "law," anyway? Can you see it or taste it or hold it in your hand? By no means. It's some sort of...of...ongoing, abstract process. Worse, it's inherently adversarial, which is the last thing we need.
In fact, our laws are always open to varying interpretations - that's why we have a whole third branch of government to adjudicate among them.
If you're thinking that this third branch could adjudicate whether we're talking about policy differences or crimes when it comes to the torture memos, think again. Marshall has already pointed out that this would enrage torture-fanciers, who may decide to strike back. It's much better to stay on their good side by whitewashing their bad side.

Besides, aren't we all guilty, in a certain sense? And doesn't that make us all innocent, in a far more important sense? If everyone's guilty, why should any particular person, or group of people, be singled out for prosecution?

Now, some people will claim that the reason we should bring "torturers" to "justice" by "trying" them for their "crimes" is so that a) they won't do it again; b) other countries will see that we're making an honest effort to live by the principles in whose name we bomb and brutalize them; and c) future administrations might possibly think twice before committing crimes that are even worse than the ones we've heard about.

But Marshall doesn't see it like that. He's got a much better idea:
[T]he impulse to criminalize differences over policy and presidential prerogative is corrosive to democracy. More than legal accountability, we need political accountability. Elections are the best way to stop bad policies. When it comes to judging any administration's actions, there should be a strong presumption in favor of letting the voters decide, rather than the courts.
I've seen plenty of warped, incoherent, stupid, and morally obscene propositions over the last eight years, but this just about takes the cake. Not only are we expected to have an indulgent view of torture, but we should also restrain the judicial branch from deciding whether an administration is abiding by the law (which would presumably include reducing its already limited access to information). Rather than identifying and punishing torturers, and affirming that all our smug liberal-humanist boilerplate actually contains a tiny grain of sincerity, we should forego judicial oversight, and turn the really tough decisions over to an electorate that, if this plan went through, would be even less informed than it already is.

Our worst enemies could hardly ask for worse things to befall us.

The Unreliability of Identity by Anthony McCarthy

Here is the entirely eccentric list with which David Shribman begins his tribute to Justice Souter:

SO WHO are the quintessential New Englanders of our time? Senator Edward M. Kennedy, as the living reminder of his family's legacy. Bill Russell, Carl Yastrzemski, and Tom Brady, as exemplars of hope and faith on the fields and in the arenas of our dreams. John Updike, J.D. Salinger, and Stephen King, symbols of the literary strain. Paul Farmer, personification of science and service. Drew Gilpin Faust, named Harvard president and Pulitzer finalist in a two-year period.

All of them, plus one more: David Hackett Souter.

Nine men, one woman. So pretty shoddy work right there. And I’d debate some of these as being “New Englanders” never mind the quintessence of the imaginary breed. Faust’s bio hardly indicates that she’s a product of New England, other than a stint at Concord Academy. Her origins, education and professional expertise are more a Southern manifestation. Maybe Schribman’s out of touch with the region from his years in DC but there are actual women who have lived longer in New England and who have more significant accomplishments in public service than many in his list. It’s pretty insulting that he couldn’t find a few women of more note than Tom Brady, hardly a New Englander. And I’d really rather not be linked with John Updike and J.D. Salinger, even on the superficial level of regional association, thank you very much.

To give Shribman some credit, he does later mention my two senators, Collins and Snowe and the late New Hampshire Senator Susan McLane as exemplars of “moderate” Republicanism of a sort dead in the real world. As well as a host of other men. I’m not particularly impressed with “moderate” Republicanism or my senators. When you look at what they do, as opposed to what they say, on occasion, it’s not all that much different from the voting records of far-right Republicans. On many issues both of them have put party before principle, such as that might be. I’d very much like to see them both retired and have tired to help that effort whenever possible.

I was opposed to David Souter’s nomination to the Supreme Court, someone who was unfamilir with him, asked me why at the time. I said he was an “aparatchik of the Republican New Hampshire establishment”, which he had been up till that time. I wasn’t the only one to have noticed, his service to that establishment was the reason that John Sununu, Bush I’s Chief of Staff promoted his appointment to the court. In his earlier career Souter was a fully fledged part of a Republican Party that included Sununu, the repulsive Meldrim Thomson and overseen by the Manchester Union Leader run by the slimy paleo-fascist William Lobe. They ran New Hampshire in those years, they were as bigoted, irrational mean-spirited, corrupt and far right as the most extreme conservatives you will find anywhere today. If there was always a moderate inside David Souter back then, it was a moderate fully willing to make common cause with some of the most demented and rotten right wingers of the time.

I don’t know how to explain the transformation, nor do I think it’s necessary to explain it. His voting record on the Supreme Court was sufficiently moderate to make him a hated figure among the right wing of the Republican Party. Like Warren Berger, they see him as a traitor. This is more a revelation of the fundamentalist extremism of American conservatism than it is of the character of either of the Justices. It is a record that largely makes up for his earlier career, though not entirely. I don’t dislike David Souter now, in some ways he’s an appealing person. I have a hard time seeing him as one person but as two people separated by the fall line of his appointment to the Supreme Court.

There isn’t a ‘quintessential New Englander’, a romantic composite of Pepperidge Farm style PR, The Old Farmers’ Almanac and Yankee Magazine bilge. Having lived in and been formed by what I’ve know of New England culture my entire life, one of its more important features is an eclectic and unprejudiced adoption of ideas and ways from wherever they come. If there is anything about New England that is worthy of pride, it isn’t the self-centered, often anti-social, “rugged independence” that, after all, every region of the country is supposed to imagine sets them apart from any other. Thinking that is relatively free from social bias would tend to break down regional distinctions. The things that New Englanders do that makes me happiest are the progressive, at times even liberal acts that earn us the disdain of many in other places.

One of those things is certainly acknowledging the contributions of women from New England to the cultural life and welfare of the world. I have a slight feeling that Souter might include a few if he made a list.

Feminism And All Struggles For Human Rights Is An Idealist Struggle Not A Complex Recombination Of Chemicals by Anthony McCarthy

I. For Once, An Easy One

A Reader Asks: You write for a feminist blog. How come you spend so much time talking about biology and psychology?

Answer: Gender discrimination in all its permutations from patriarchal religious dogmas down to the justifications for it in alleged “cognitive science” has always found their excuse in biology. Gender is a fact of biology. The struggle against patriarchy is inescapably linked with the struggle against biological determinism as applied to the lives and rights of women.

II. And One That Requires More Time Than I’ve Got

Another Reader Asserts : No rational person can not be a materialist.

Answer: To start, I’m paraphrasing a long diatribe which wasn’t a very clear demonstration of reason. I’m also going to assume by materialism, you mean the idea that nothing but the material universe, as we can know it, is real.

Most importantly, materialism can’t account for human rights, individual rights, dignity and a host of other assumptions and ideas that are non-optional prerequisites for a decent life. The non-objectification of women was one of the early and most basic demands of second wave feminism. The demand that people not be considered and treated as objects, is inherently anti-materialistic. This demand’s continuing relevance can be found most weeks on talk shows on which a psychologist, “cognitive scientist” gives a reductionist explanation of the “differences” between men and women. Heard one just last Monday on NPR. Materialism is not as often discussed a problem for feminism and other aspects of human rights* as its manifestation in speculative psychology, but it is an important one. I don’t think the two are unrelated.

Objectification is one of the sturdier legs of the oppression of women, objectification is part of the dark side of materialism. Its continuing relevance is seen in entertainment programming that encourages a view of women as objects for use, as seen below. Our experience and history convincingly demonstrates that unless a society is pervaded with both the ideals and FEELINGS that people are more than objects for use, that they have inherent rights, that they are not bound by the material comprising their bodies, liberty will disappear. Watching the current popular culture of the United States, I’m convinced that viewing people as merely manifestations of their chemistry leads to the opposite of dignity and freedom. The continuing oppression of women, minority groups, workers, children, those kept in sexual bondage, is based in the treatment of people as material objects. You can not escape the fact that to see people as anything else you have to go outside the limits of what is commonly bounded within materialism.

The short answer to the question itself is that materialism is an ideology that makes the claim that nothing but the material universe exists. It is a philosophical ideology, not a fact of science. Its inflexible and presumptive exclusion renders it no kind of fact.

Though many scientists are materialists, some aren’t. The activity of science is exclusively concerned with the material universe so it could be said to be formally materialistic, if the idea didn’t carry too much of that metaphorical garbage talked about here last week. Scientists, being people, aren’t limited in their personal lives by the subject matter of their work, they can have ideas apart from it and often do. That some avowed materialists sometimes are genuine supporters of human dignity and freedom, is evidence of this flexibility of human beings and the limits of ideology. Their genuine feelings for these things are often explained through their generally astute observations of the incompleteness of our knowledge of biology and the material universe. In a number of cases, their support of human rights and dignity so clearly overrides their adherence to an ideology that I think is destructive of those things that I’m happy to give them the benefit of whatever doubts I could have. I could be mistaken, though I don’t think I am. I’m not going to question their sincerity.

The complications of the ideology of materialism begin in the fact that what is included in the “material universe” isn’t agreed on even by materialists. For a lot of them, especially the devotees of the most popular forms of sci-jockery, it excludes an entirely arbitrary list and forms a kind of Index of Prohibited Ideas.. Though some of those ideas are included by other materialists. As a general rule, sci-jocks are generally very, very light on the philosophical part of it, most of them can’t argue their way out of a paper sack. Ideologues generally aren’t too good with dealing with ideas and even evidence not contained in their ideology. When it pretends to be an extension of science, the results are anything but the discourse of reason.

Materialism isn’t a matter of reason, it’s a matter of exclusion. It’s a matter of pretending that we know the limits of existence and those are contained within the abilities of human reason and science . But it is among the clearest of facts that human beings in 2009 possess nothing like a complete knowledge of the universe, not even the observable universe. And it is just as clear that there could be an infinite realm of “things” that are beyond human capability to perceive. The pop materialism that pretends ours knowldge is sufficient to support their prejudices is proof of its irrationality. But, then, pop materialism has always seemed to be mostly a frat boy affair. Excluding the unworthy, an often mean-spirited bonding among the in crowd, spitting at those passing on the sidewalk below.

Some materialists give lip service to liberal ideas but are obviously more wedded to their ideology than they are to the essential foundations of liberalism. Those materialists seem especially to congregate in the social sciences and are often clear advocates for the opposite of liberalism. Quite frankly, unless someone supports the basic assumptions required for liberalism, I suspect their liberal positions will always be shaky at best, too often a sham. That sort of pseudo-liberalism isn’t limited to materialist ideologues. It is pervasive among liberals who strike a generally libertarian line as well. Unless you are willing to take the leap into the metaphysical position that people have rights and dignity that result in their freedom you will end up supporting positions destructive of those . You can’t be a liberal if the results of your program aren’t liberal. I don’t have any confidence in that kind of superficial liberalism. We can see its results every time we turn on TV.

* You could suspect this is a remnant of the real contributions of Western Marxists to early civil rights struggles, though I think that support was never supported by the materialism of Marx but in the better nature of many idealistic Marxists. I don’t think the best intentions of some Marxists are the results of their adherence to materialism but an expression of their best intentions. I think it's time that the struggle for human rights drop the reluctance to call its philosophical basis what it is, a idealistic struggle essentially at odds with materialism.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Men who play with dolls (by Suzie)

          Although I want to revisit “Dollhouse,” which airs tonight, I hope those who don’t watch the TV show will stay with me for the broader discussion of sex and relationships.
          An article on Daily Kos calls “Dollhouse” meta-fiction.
It's not about guys with a brain washing machine who can make someone behave how they want. It's about what it means that guys with a brain washing machine use that device to satisfy shallow, mostly sexual, fantasies. ... I suspect that there's still a lot of folks who think the point of this show is watching [star and co-producer Eliza] Dushku in her underwear. I think -- I hope -- they're going to be shocked.
          But what point are they going to get? So far, a number of fans seem to think the Dollhouse isn’t that bad. They may like the staff and clients who aren't violent. They seem to identify more with men who pay for sex than the women who provide it. They identify with corporate workers who rationalize their actions. To be blunt: They identify more with the abuser than the abused.
          One episode showed the madam with a male doll, longing for a real relationship. It reminded me of the captain in “Star Trek: Voyager,” who decides she would rather have a holographic man with flaws, rather that one tailored to her tastes. That story stood out to me after seeing so many Star Trek men use holographic women without concern that they might be too perfect. (I’ve commented before on female robots and other forms of artificial intelligence that service men in popular sci-fi.)
          I know some women want sex with no attachments and no concern for the other person, but I lose patience with the number of male sci-fi fans who express this desire. Maybe it’s the longing of the master or boss who wants work done without having to think of his slave or subordinate.
           Consider this thread on Whedonesque, the popular blog on the works of Joss Whedon, co-producer of “Dollhouse.” M said the Dollhouse could be great “for giving people an emotional outlet." But who provides that outlet and at what cost to their own emotional psyche?
           The argument turned to sex work, and DM gave a standard argument: "I know prostitutes who love their work. Sex, meeting new people, the strength from giving happiness to someone who might not be able to find it elsewhere." I’m sure women like that exist, but what about the ones who don’t love their work or didn't choose it?
           DM responded that clients have no responsibility to find out the circumstances in which people entered or remain in prostitution. I assume these are the same people who don’t care if their clothes are made in sweatshops or their diamonds funded conflicts. 
           I suggested they didn’t think men needed to care whether the prostitute liked her job or not. R said:
That's close to what I was suggesting, but actually I was suggesting that no one should deny themselves the pleasure of sex even if the sex worker, regardless of their gender, isn't really enjoying it.
         "Regardless of their gender" obscures the fact that there are many more men who pay for female prostitutes than vice versa. But I see this argument all the time: Some people insist that such-and-such isn’t about gender because it happens to men, too.
          R took me to task, saying: “… it's kind of a cheesy shortcut to take an argument about sex and turn it into an argument about gender.” Wow, who would mix sex and gender? But I’m capable of turning an argument about anything – let’s say Chihuahuas – into an argument about gender.
         Earlier, M suggested that “the Dollhouse could be seen as a better alternative” to prostitution because the dolls have their minds wiped after each assignment and are not supposed to remember.      
         Who gets aroused, who gets off, despite the very real possibility that the other person isn't enjoying herself and may even be so harmed that it would be better if the memory could be wiped from her mind? 
         R said he never intended to use a prostitute. But he argued that there are plenty of bad jobs.
... any job that involves, to use your phrase, "servicing others" is a soul-deadening proposition. Serving drinks, driving a cab, juggling geese, cleaning houses, whatever - they're all bad, soul-deadening jobs. Unless they involve sex or sexuality in some way, we tend not to talk about the "consequences" in grand, ominous terms. 
          Well, we do if we're socialists. More to the point: Around the world, too many men force themselves sexually on women, with no concern for the women, or with the intent of hurting them. Why would I be happy that men can pay for this? 
          I've decided that “Dollhouse” would make a great boyfriend test. A woman would be forewarned if the potential said: "Well, heck, this is no different from all the prostitutes who have serviced me and really loved it. … OK, maybe they didn't love it, but at least they didn’t get hurt … and not everyone loves their jobs ... and I have needs ... and they consented, more or less … and no one can say what's right or wrong … and slavery isn't necessarily bad."
        Yes, all of these are taken from real comments. But I don't mean to imply that all fans react this way. I'm grateful that many don't. Check out Ladybusiness's analysis.
         Giandujakiss has a disturbing video set to the song "It Depends on What You Pay," from "The Fantasticks." I was horrified by this song, which I had never heard before, but felt better after I heard this NPR interview with the writer. 
         Giandujakiss also mentions the Star Trek captain, but I swear I thought of this on my own, which just indicates what a geek I am.
          Want more? Read my older posts on Dollhouse here and here.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Here are Bella and Clifford (the underdog) playing outside my apartment. Every evening, people with dogs sit outside -- the modern equivalent of porch sitting -- while our dogs run, wrestle and chase sticks. My Ginger is a tenth of Clifford, but she has grown accustomed to the big dogs.