Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday Critter

The backstory to these pictures is as follows: FeraLiberal (who took the pics) climbed on the roof to clean the gutters (and to take pics). Pippin The Cat decided to come and supervise by climbing a nearby tree and then jumping from it to the roof.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Find the cat (by Suzie)

This is my dear departed Boots, lying in the liriope. ETA: For those with poor screen resolution, she was very much alive then.

Sex & humiliation (by Suzie)

Remember the stories that suggested female bullying was just as bad than male bullying because boys got it out of their system in quick fights, while girls inflicted mental cruelty?

Maybe not. Exhibit A: The “animalistic brutality” of “the boys' middle school locker room,” as described in this newspaper article, written after a 13-year-old accused four classmates of rape. The reporter quotes Susan Lipkins, a psychologist and author of "Preventing Hazing: How Parents, Teachers and Coaches Can Stop the Violence, Harassment, and Humiliation," who says half of the reported cases involve sexual assault. The reporter adds: “That's because anal penetration is the ultimate form of humiliation.”

Because it’s associated with gays? Yes, in part, but I’m sure the boys accused of using a broom handle and hockey stick don’t consider themselves gay. Apparently, penetrating isn’t humiliating; being penetrated is. Being penetrated makes you someone’s bitch, someone’s woman.

If boys think anal penetration is the ultimate humiliation, what does that say about the trendiness of anal sex among heterosexual adults?

If I ever want to NOT be in the mood, all I have to do is read a lad mag like Details, which ran this story in 2007 about the popularity of anal sex among heterosexuals. (The link is not safe for work.) Actually, the article is about men penetrating women, never women penetrating men, as in the popular video “Bend Over Boyfriend.” In the article, some men say they like anal sex because it’s a score they can brag about with other men, or they feel like they’re dominating the woman.

As long as sex is seen as a way to dominate others, to humiliate them, to prove superiority, we can’t escape rape.

NOW election (by Suzie)

The national NOW conference begins today, with a new president announced on Sunday. The Associated Press reports:
Delegates will be choosing between Latifa Lyles, a 33-year-old African-American who has been one of [President Kim] Gandy's three vice presidents, and Terry O'Neill, 56, a white activist who taught law at Tulane University, who was NOW's vice president for membership from 2001-05, and who most recently has been chief of staff for a county council member in Maryland's Montgomery County.
As a young black woman, Lyles says, she can change the perception of NOW, whose members are predominantly older and white. Maybe she can, but NOW has had other officers who were women of color, and people seem to forget that. Here are its founders. The second president of NOW, Aileen Hernandez, was black. She was elected in 1970.

In the AP article, Jessica Valenti, founder of, says young women would be more excited if Lyles was elected.
"When you think of NOW, you think of white middle-class feminism — 70s feminism," Valenti added. "A lot of younger women are tired of seeing the same kind of leadership over and over. ...They're getting excited about smaller, local feminist organizations, more youth-led, doing more cutting-edge work."
In Salon, Judy Berman also favors Lyles, criticizing NOW for lagging behind in technology. She thinks Lyles, who uses Facebook and Twitter, will change all that. She suggests O’Neill’s tactics will be outdated.

Former NOW President Patricia Ireland notes that Lyles is part of the current NOW administration, endorsed by Gandy. She asks: Why didn’t Lyles initiate more technological change as a vice president?

I want young women involved in feminism, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea that it is natural for young women to prefer other young women, and that youth = cutting edge. It would be equally insulting for a woman of my age to suggest that older women are better and that older women would be more excited to elect one of their own. (I identify with what Katha Pollitt wrote recently: I was too young for the second wave, but apparently, too old for the third wave.)

Ireland argues that NOW must be more willing to confront other progressives and the Obama administration. I'm all for that, no matter who wins.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dan Froomkin Fired?

That's what I read at the Politico. Is Froomkin not popular enough? Is he too lefty? What's going on here? How many liberal writers does the Washington Post have?

I have always liked Froomkin's columns, because they are crunchy (information filled), nutritious (fact filled) and spicy (opinion filled). So I'm sad now.

On Fathers

I'm listening to a public radio program about good fathers, though I doubt the participants think of themselves that way. It's all very touching. It also made me ask myself how one copes with being without a father altogether, either because one just isn't around or is around but doesn't act as a loving parent. What is it that one needs to patch up, if anything? How does one cope later on? And is this different from daughters and sons?

All this could be asked about absent mothers, too, but it's more common for fathers to be absent, either in flesh or in spirit. Are the scars from that experience (if there are any) painful or not? And how does one learn to be a good (or really good enough) parent in general?
Added later: This post isn't really about the gender of the parent that might be missing but about the idea that a person is in some sense choosing not to be present, a person which the society judges should be present.

Oh The Silliness

That's what I sighed after reading about the new bipartisan health care proposal:

In an attempt at bipartisanship, three former majority leaders of the U.S. Senate, Tom Daschle, Howard Baker, and Bob Dole, offered their solution today to the biggest obstacle to achieving health care reform -- a public option.

"While I feel very strongly that consumers should have the choice of a national, Medicare-like plan, my colleagues do not. . . But we were concerned that the ongoing health reform debate is beginning to show signs of fracture on the public plan issue, so in order to advance the process of developing bipartisan legislation and to move it forward, it's time to find consensus here," Daschle said.

"We've come too far and gained too much momentum for our efforts to fail over disagreements on one single issue," he said.

Let's rewind this movie. Let's go back to the starting point which is a country with nearly fifty million people without health insurance and the highest percentage of Gross Domestic Product spent on health care in any country (of any size) in this world. THESE are the two major problems to be grappled with. How does the bipartisan proposal work this?

Well, we get some ideas from this:

Daschle, Dole, and Republican Howard Baker released a bipartisan plan yesterday that would tax some employer-provided health insurance premiums, require individuals and large employers to buy health insurance, and create public insurance pools run by states instead of the federal government.


In a bid to blunt Republican opposition to setting up a government-run insurance plan for those without coverage, Dole, Baker, and Daschle suggest giving states, instead of the federal government, the option of establishing insurance-purchasing pools. These pools would extend coverage to everyone regardless of their health status or ability to pay, Daschle said.

Under the group's plan, taxes on employer-provided insurance premiums would vary according to regional differences in healthcare costs.

The tax on benefits would generally start when annual premiums exceed about $15,000, using as a model the benefits packages of federal employees.

What this version of the public option guarantees is that all the 'bad apples', the high cost cases, will end up in those state funds. That makes the average premia in them rise and that, in turn, makes the public option unattractive to most individuals. Also, the public option will look like it's a failing one, because it will have gathered all the expensive cases and so it will cost a lot.

Add to that the tendency of some states to cover such programs much less well than other states (just think of Medicaid), and you can be assured that the public option will fail to gain any popularity.

I haven't done the work to find out if this proposal requires private insurance companies to take on some percentage of high-cost cases, but I doubt that very much. Indeed, the whole proposal sounds less bipartisan than it sounds Republican, because it includes all their major points: taxing health insurance benefits and not demanding anything at all from the insurance industry.

Senator Cuntface

The title was taken from comments to this YouTube video about Senator Barbara Boxer asking to be called not ma'am but Senator by Brigadier General Michael Walsh:

And the Christian Science Monitor, usually a calm-and-collected kind of place, had this to say on Boxer's behavior:

Brigadier General Michael Walsh appeared before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works yesterday to discuss the restoration process of the New Orleans' levee system due to the damage created by Hurricane Katrina.

There's still a lot of work to be done. Billions of dollars have been spent and there are no permanent structures in some areas that would prevent such a disaster from occurring again.

Obviously Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer has a right to be concerned with this. After all, it's her committee.

Did she voice her concern?

Absolutely. But what got her most rankled was when she wasn't addressed properly. It seems that "ma'am" — a term deemed appropriate by a Military Protocol guide — isn't good enough for the senator. She demands the title "Senator". So much so that she interrupted his testimony to scold him for the apparent lack of respect.

Respect my authoritay

When beginning to address one of her questions, Boxer Senator Boxer immediately cut him off to correct him.

"You know, do me a favor," Boxer Senator Boxer demanded. "Could say 'senator' instead of 'ma'am?'"

"Yes, ma'am," Walsh answered.

"It's just a thing, I worked so hard to get that title, so I'd appreciate it, yes, thank you," Boxer Senator Boxer continued.

"Yes, senator," he said.

And on my short tours of some larger blogs I find general agreement on this particular topic: Boxer is an ass or worse. So I have to write about the other side to all this.

A woman of Boxer's age has had plenty of experiences of sitting in a room with other dignitaries, hearing how they are called by their last names while she's called Barbara. I'm absolutely certain of this. She has probably also had experiences where it seems that people are trying very hard not to use her proper title while using the proper titles of others in the room. Which reminds me to check what General Walsh called other Senators in the room. If he called them 'Sir' then 'Ma'am' is perhaps justified on the basis of military use. If he called them 'Senator' then not.

I once talked with a medical researcher, a physician, who told me about his time at the ER. Once the physicians there had a big row, having to do with the female physicians' refusal to be called by their first names in front of the patients. They insisted on being called Doctor LastName.

This, to the male physicians, was a sign of arrogance and bitchiness. The resulting quarrel was not good for smooth cooperation, so the man I talked with was called in as an arbiter.

What he found out was this: It was the custom of this ER to call nurses by their first names and physicians by their last names (which in itself tells us something interesting). When the male physicians insisted on calling the female physicians by their first names the patients assumed that they were also talking to a nurse, not a physician. This made the female physicians works harder.

The point of this story is not argue that Senator Boxer's work is made harder by her being called ma'am, but to point out that the experience of women is often very different from the experience of men and that there may be reasons why Senator Boxer is sensitive to this particular question of proper titles.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More On Family Values And Senator Ensign

Steve Benen writes about Ensign's adultery and its consequences:

Ensign has also been a fierce opponent of marriage equality, and supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. In 2004, the Nevada Republican lectured his colleagues, "Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded. For those who say that the Constitution is so sacred that we cannot or should not adopt the Federal Marriage Amendment, I would simply point out that marriage, and the sanctity of that institution, predates the American Constitution and the founding of our nation."

And did I mention that Ensign is a longtime member of the Promise Keepers, a conservative evangelical group that promotes strong families and marriages?

Mmm. The point about discussing Ensign's private life is of course that he is a hypocrite by demanding in his political role others to act in ways which he himself cannot maintain. But I'm more interested in Steve's assumption that the Promise Keepers promote strong families and marriages.

In a way they do, but the written materials of the Promise Keepers tell us that this comes at a steep price: The willing subjection of women to male leadership, not just in religious matters (the man is the priest of the family) but in everything having to do with family life, including family finances. And women are not allowed to attend the Promise Keepers' meetings (or at least were not allowed when I followed the movement more closely). To me it looks like a system where men are promised something (you get to be the boss!) in exchange for otherwise better behavior as a husband and a father.

Watch On The Wild Side

It can be a useful exercise, to watch what the conservatives are talking about. Here are some of the universal themes of the fight against health care reform:

Fear. That's what's for dinner in Wingnuttia every day. If it's not Islamic terrorists we are supposed to fear it's socialism in health care. The idea that someone else might decide on your health care consumption! Not that it ever happens today.

And the video at this Media Matters blog tells you how abortion is discussed on Fox. It's not only opinions across the aisle that differ but also what is seen as facts.

The Deep Question Of The Day

Why does Senator Ensign need to apologize publicly for his affair but not for having belonged to Promise Keepers?

I'm half serious.

Bloggers Are Famous!

Who knew? I didn't, what with living in the forest all alone on top of my pillar, but Eric Boehlert has written a whole book about bloggers: Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press. Maybe he could send me a review copy? Sniff.

Amanda is participating in a conversation about this book at TPM Cafe's Book Club. I wonder if she will ask why all the political books these days have those very very long titles, almost Victorian. Like in: Wingnuts Stink. Being the Chronicles Of A Hermit Snake Goddess Pretender, With Appendices Containing Recipes for Chocolate Covered Ants.

More soberly, blogging IS an interesting phenomenon. One day we are going to read in history books how people used to blog before Twitter which was before the Whole Body Experience Internet Games which was before the End Of The World As We Knew It. Or something similar.

We should all be proud of living in the wild west era of the cyberspace. Especially the trolls. I bet no trolls will be allowed in those Whole Body Experience games of the future.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What Is Funny?

One of you sweet and erudite readers once pointed out that much humor is aggressive, intended to attack someone in a way which has an in-built defense: I was only joking!

Something like that must be at work when people make sexist or racist jokes. We have examples of the latter from a few conservative sources: First one wingnut made a gorilla joke about Michelle Obama. Then another passed on an openly racist joke about Barack Obama. Both joke-makers have apologized or near-apologized, by the way.

What makes those jokes racist is of course the fact that they are not just about the Obamas but about all people of color, just as sexist jokes are not only about the woman superficially attacked but about all women. Likewise, what makes jokes like that 'funny' is the person's ultimate agreement on whatever racist or sexist premise the jokes use as their launching point and the delicious shock one gets when the premise is expressed openly. Or so I think.

But of course I have no sense of humor, being a feminazi with the intention of turning all men into eunuchs. Hence the shearing scissors hanging off my belt and my inability to laugh at funny jokes.

What's funny is this: Jokes about other groups can be very funny even when they are based on silly group stereotypes, as long as the group being made fun of is roughly equal in power with the group the joke-teller belongs to. The British joking about the French doesn't come across as really insulting and neither do those old jokes about a world of either heaven or hell based on which European country provides the lovers, police officers and chefs, because nobody is earnestly ranking those countries in terms of power, ability and such.

The funniness of jokes can get pretty complicated when we introduce people of a particular group telling demeaning jokes about their own group, say, or when friends kid around about the racial, gender or ethnic groups of each other. Mostly the premise of those kinds of jokes is a more intricate one than in the former case, because the laughter may be double-layered: At first one laughs at the surprise of the joke coming from that person and then one laughs at the premise itself. Or perhaps not. It could be that we internalize all sorts of crap and find ourselves laughing with our enemies?

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall..

Shakespeare's Sister has a good series on beauty. She points out that you can never be beautiful enough, and that made me immediately think of the Evil Queen in Snow-White.

The Evil Queen's desire to be the most beautiful woman in the world is not subjected to any kind of analysis in the fairy tale. We are never told why she is that way, though I guess we are to assume that she is just thoroughly evil, that nobody would treat her at all differently if her beauty suddenly wilted. She is simply a woman driven by her own vanity, aging and ruthlessness. Fairy tales...

Ancestress Blogging

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Costs Of Health Care. Part IV: Whom To Blame?

Is it the malpractice suits where careless and greedy individuals suck the system dry so that obstetricians stop practicing altogether due to the high insurance premia and all doctors over-prescribe tests in the form of defensive medicine? Is it all those illegal immigrants crawling across the border nine months pregnant, with other babies strapped to their backs, so that they can come and use American health care?

That's what the wingnuts would have us believe. But in fact the effects of malpractice suits and malpractice insurance are minor when compared to the overall health care costs, and this even includes the so-called defensive medicine. Likewise, illegal immigrants are too few to account for the high costs of health care, even if they suddenly decided to act like the worst right-wing stereotypes.

Sadly, the left is not doing any better. Almost every conversation I read about this topic blames the pharmaceutical companies or the greedy health insurance system for the high health care costs, or most generally, just the profit motive. But prescription medications only account for roughly ten percent of health care costs and many health insurance providers are not-for-profit organizations. HMOs are predominantly not-for-profit. There are still more beds in not-for-profit hospitals than in for-profit hospitals, and roughly half of all nursing homes run on the not-for-profit basis.*

On the other hand, that old myth about the kindly physician practicing all alone from his or her office is both highly valued on the left AND a description of a for-profit entrepreneur. It's as if we all wear blinders when discussing health care.

Looking for a culprit may not be terribly useful, but for those who wish to do that, let me point out that the largest cost item in the U.S. health care is hospital use. Indeed, if we lump nursing homes and hospitals together as institutional care we note that more than half of all health care spending goes there. The next largest source of expenditure is physician services.

Now, such an accounting approach to health care doesn't tell us much about whom we might want to blame. But it does point out those areas where even small percentage savings in costs could mean large piles of actual dollars saved.

An alternative way of approaching this question is to note that the largest health care expenditures usually take place in the year immediately preceding a person's death. It is terminal care which is expensive, for obvious reasons. It's probably equally obvious why addressing the high costs of end-of-life care is fraught with ethical and legal problems of all types.

I'm not convinced that any of these simple approaches are terribly useful, because the real reasons for the high U.S. health care costs are complicated. Really. The world, in general, is complicated. But looking at the incentives the current system provides all the various participants might be useful to do. How do the private firms compete in health care? Why isn't competition lowering prices? Do we pay physicians in a way which gives them incentives to spend money inefficiently? Do we use paramedics and other health professionals in the best possible way? What incentives do we give patients who are insured or uninsured? And so on.

I suspect that all those simple scapegoats I listed at the beginning of this post are partly chosen because they wouldn't only offer us simple solutions to the high costs. They would also offer almost painless solutions! Just get rid of those greedy malpractice suits! Just get rid of those greedy insurance companies! Note how nothing of value needs to be cut when the stories have those plot.

In reality something of value will have to be cut. The task is to find out the least valuable bits to cut or at least to prevent from growing. Sort of like economic surgery.

*The best general source of data on health care in the United States is Health. United States. It is available on the net here, and I consulted the Chart Book (including Tables 116 and 127) of the most recent version (2008) for some of this data. Other data I pulled out of my memory.

The earlier parts of the series can be found here: Part I, Part II and Part III.

Slutty Stewardesses And Nasty Women Justices

The 'slutty stewardess' has to do with David Letterman's Sarah Palin jokes. Yes, I know all this is old stuff and we have moved on to some other interesting sex scandal. Heh heh heh. Nudge, nudge.

If you were lucky enough to avoid learning about all this, you can watch a summary by Olbermann here:

It's annoying that the video contains my major point which is that the 'slutty stewardess' joke wasn't only about Sarah Palin but about stewardesses, and that's what is wrong with the joke. It wasn't funny unless you think that you know what a 'slutty stewardess' looks like, that some stewardesses in fact are slutty, and all that is something we can agree about and laugh at. Nudge, nudge. - Of course some pilots (mostly guys) have a very slutty reputation, too, but we tend not to make jokes about that occupational group. Or many other dominantly male occupational groups with possibly slutty members. Whatever 'slutty' might mean here. I assume it means easily beddable.

Actually, that the video contains my main point isn't annoying, but a Very Good Thing, because it gives me hope that some guys out there in Media Land are learning. And some gals, too, I hope, because we all know what the culture expects us to laugh at. It would be nice for the progressive blogosphere to learn that it's possible to dislike Sarah Palin's policies and to make fun of them without cracking misogynistic jokes. Or denying the fact that Letterman's joke was sexist.

Well, stewardesses are sometimes slutty, I have learned. I have also learned that female justices are unusually nasty, and that applies to Sonya Sotomayor:

Serious props to NPR's Nina Totenberg today. Rather than simply reporting about "concerns over Sonia Sotomayor's temperament" or allegations that she's a "bully," Totenberg actually compared audio clips of questions asked by Sotomayor and those asked by her male colleagues -- or those who would be her colleagues if she is confirmed for the Supreme Court. And -- surprise! -- Sotomayor is no "meaner" than your average justice. She is just femaler.

Yes. We do have different expectations about women and men, and this isn't totally due to some crackpot evolutionary psychology popularizations in the media (though those don't help). We expect women to be Nice (and Invisible in public spaces). We expect Good Women not to be Too Nice (nudge, nudge). And we think that making sexist jokes about women in politics doesn't have anything to do with our own inner misogynists.

On Iran

I'm not an expert on this topic, but I recommend reading as much as possible. Don't miss Juan Cole's series of posts on the Iranian elections.

The outcome of these elections also matters for women's rights in Iran. Ahmadinejad is not exactly a fervent feminist, and neither are the clerics in charge.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Extra Sunday Cute

Pics by Doug

Running From the Law. A Guest Post By Liz O'Donnell

I'm on the lam. Running from the law. What did I do? Nothing yet -but I

You see, I am a mother and I just might cause permanent and ongoing harm to
others. So if I were someone, like let's just say, John Woodcock, Jr., U. S.
District Court Judge in the District of Maine, I'd throw the book at me.
Lock me up and throw away the key.

Last month Judge Woodcock sentenced a pregnant woman to 238 days in prison, instead of the more typical time-served sentence for her crime. Quinta Layin Tuleh, from Cameroon, was in court for having fake immigration documents. But Woodcock sentenced her for being HIV-positive and pregnant. He was quoted by the Bangor Daily News as saying, "My obligation is to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant and that public, it seems to me at this point, should likely include that child she's carrying. I don't think that the transfer of HIV to an unborn child is a crime technically under the law, but it is as direct and as likely as an ongoing assault.And so I think I have the obligation to do what I can to protect that person, when that person is born, from permanent and ongoing harm."

Woodcock's so-called reasoning was that he was protecting Tuleh's unborn child, as he felt the mother was more likely to receive medical treatment for HIV in prison than out on her own. Tuleh's attorney had arranged medical care for her at a nearby facility.

But why stop at fetuses? If Woodcock can protect an unborn baby by incarcerating the mother, why won't he protect all of the already born children too? Certainly, the prison system can do a better job caring for them than most mothers can.

Take my kids for example. They are in danger and need to be protected from me. Tomorrow, I might drive over the speed limit with them in the car on our way to the library. I might coerce them into jaywalking with me when I walk them to school. And there is a very good chance that in the near future I will feed them fast food which contributes to childhood obesity, malnutrition and an overabundance of cheap plastic toys in my living room.

So really, is it that preposterous to think that people like Woodcock might want to protect my kids from me? After all, behind bars I can't drive more than 55 miles per hour and I will be cut off from my Happy Meal supply.

Added by Echidne: For more on this story, go here.