Tuesday, July 07, 2009

On Wedding Dreams and Hunting Trips

The Feminist Majority Foundation news site tells us that:

7/7/2009 - School officials in Lawrence County, Alabama, have agreed to end single-sex classes. The school district reached a settlement after being notified by the American Civil Liberties Union that its sex segregated programs were illegal.

The ACLU and ACLU of Alabama learned of sex-segregation after sending an Open Records Act (ORA) request to the school board in December 2008. The response to this request showed that not only were the students assigned to single-sex classes, but the teachers were encouraged to teach boys and girls differently.

B-b-but weren't we told how boyz and gurlz learn all different and how important single sex education would be for them to develop in the most optimal way? Because of those girl brains and boy brains? Like this:

Through the ORA inquiry, the ACLU learned that students in East Lawrence Middle School were being assigned to single-sex courses. The school district's ORA response stated that teachers were encouraged to teach boys and girls differently. For example, according to the school district's response, "a writing prompt for a boy may be what place in the world he would most like to go hunting or drive on a race track where the girls may write about their dream wedding dress or their ideal birthday party."

Hilarious. Or it would be if the aim wasn't so nasty. Note the intended focus: the girls towards the family and other people, the boys towards expressions of independence and excitement.

The Pope's Encyclical

Pope Benedict has released his encyclical on economic justice. It's left of all the policies of the two main parties in the United States. He explicitly advocates income transfers to the poor via the government and government regulation and control of the marketplaces. But he equally explicitly argues against abortion and any kind of birth control. I wonder what American progressives think of that mix? I also wonder how real economic justice could come about in a world where women are not allowed much self-determination. But that's because I'm a horrible feminazi.

A few quotes from him:

In his encyclical, Benedict calls for charity guided by truth. "Charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples," he says. "Justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs," he writes. "Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence."

The encyclical notes the globalization that has taken place since Paul's encyclical was issued over 40 years ago. Alas, "as society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers." True "development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side." The goal of such development is "rescuing peoples, first and foremost, from hunger, deprivation, endemic diseases and illiteracy."

We are all gonna be brothers, I guess! Brother Echidne.

I'm pleased with the Pope's economic views, of course, even though I'm not sure what influence they will have on, say, the Catholics on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cappuccino, Please

Researchers have found that caffeine might be a preventive or even curative treatment for Alzheimer's:

Coffee drinkers will be clinking mugs in a toast to new research suggesting that just two strong cups of the black stuff a day can reverse the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

There's just one snag: The study was done with mice. So now I know what to give any mice who appear a bit senile. Whether the findings carry over to humans remains to be seen.

Silvio and The Gurlz

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's Prime Minister, and the man who is going to host the G8 summit starting on Wednesday, really likes gurlz:

The good news for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is that Italians are no longer quite so obsessed with his wife's demand for a divorce or his flirtations with an 18-year-old model. The bad news is that now they are fixated on his parties with paid escorts and the high-priced hooker who has told Italian media that she spent a night with him.

A quick read through the articles discussing this demonstrates a focus on Berlusconi's private life, his libido and his great love of young female beauty. There's not a lot on how this translates to his actual policies, except for this bit:

A day after British newspaper The Guardian published a stinging editorial describing Mr Berlusconi as Europe's most sexist leader, a group of senior women academics in Italy urged first ladies, including President Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's wife, Sarah, not to attend the G8.

In an open letter headed "Appeal to the first ladies", the four professors - from Milan, Perugia, Padova and Ferrara universities - braved Government wrath to state their anger about Mr Berlusconi's behaviour.

"We are profoundly indignant, as women working within the world of universities and culture, for the way the Presidente del Consiglio, Silvio Berlusconi, treats women in the public and private realm," the letter states.

"We refer not only to the Prime Minister's relationships, which transcend the personal sphere and assume a public dimension, but more importantly to the way in which political personnel is recruited and to the sexist behaviour and discourse that, in a perverse and systematic way, de-legitimises the presence of women on the social and institutional scene."

In a criticism of the promotion of starlets, actresses and models as candidates of Mr Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, the four professors - Chiara Volpato, Angelica Mucchi Faina, Anne Maas and Marcella Ravenna - said Mr Berlusconi's behaviour threatened the dignity of all Italian women and was having a negative effect on feminine self-determination and achievement.

That private-public distinction is always a tricky one. But there's something very wrong if Mr. Berlusconi promotes women simply on the basis of their sex appeal to him. Doing so ridicules those women in Italian politics who have genuine achievements and who have done their political apprenticeships.

Monday, July 06, 2009

And Now Something Completely Different

We Can Do It!

Or so Paul Krugman thinks, "it" being the offering of health care coverage to everyone:

Let me start by pointing out something serious health economists have known all along: on general principles, universal health insurance should be eminently affordable.

After all, every other advanced country offers universal coverage, while spending much less on health care than we do. For example, the French health care system covers everyone, offers excellent care and costs barely more than half as much per person as our system.

And even if we didn't have this international evidence to reassure us, a look at the U.S. numbers makes it clear that insuring the uninsured shouldn't cost all that much, for two reasons.

First, the uninsured are disproportionately young adults, whose medical costs tend to be relatively low. The big spending is mainly on the elderly, who are already covered by Medicare.

Second, even now the uninsured receive a considerable (though inadequate) amount of "uncompensated" care, whose costs are passed on to the rest of the population. So the net cost of giving the uninsured explicit coverage is substantially less than it might seem.

He is right, I think. When Medicare began in the 1960s health care costs went up a lot, but that was because the elderly are the main users of health care funds. Adding today's uninsured wouldn't cost anywhere that much.

Krugman makes another important observation:

Now, about those specifics: The HELP plan achieves near-universal coverage through a combination of regulation and subsidies. Insurance companies would be required to offer the same coverage to everyone, regardless of medical history; on the other side, everyone except the poor and near-poor would be obliged to buy insurance, with the aid of subsidies that would limit premiums as a share of income.

These are two very important aspects of any successful reform. I know that the idea of forcing people to buy coverage is not a pleasant one, but think about what would happen if this wasn't required.

Individuals who are fairly healthy now might just not buy coverage at all. This has two consequences: First, their payments wouldn't be there to fund the care in general. Second, should they suddenly need care they'd be still uninsured and either would have to be covered by others or left to suffer without coverage.

There's a more subtle consequence, too: If the healthy and young are allowed to opt out of insurance altogether, the average expenses per insured will have to rise. This makes more people want to opt out (some of the other healthy people, say) and the average expenses will keep on rising, and then even more people find the coverage too expensive. And so it goes. That's why requiring insurance is an important part of the plan.

Requiring the insurers to accept everyone is an equally important part, because in the absence of that requirement firms would want to cherry pick: to avoid potentially expensive cases and to gear their advertising and recruitment towards the young and healthy.

Swimming in The Sewers

I should probably end most days by shaking my fist at McCain. It was he who gave us Sarah Palin to chew on, though I'm not freeing her from the responsibility of not having done some self-inspection before agreeing to be THE FIRST FEMALE REPUBLICAN VICE-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE.

It's the almost total invisibility of that bolded statement that I keep musing over. Something similar happened during the Democratic primaries, by the way. That women are the majority of Americans and that no woman has ever sat on those chairs of high power is invisible to even those who believe themselves to be for justice and equality. It. Just. Doesn't. Matter. One female writer even argued that girls now have Nancy Pelosi to look up to and that's enough for us wimminz.

So. Here's what angers me right now: The tearfest of Sarah Palin may be mostly justified but it allows the misogynists to join in, and they are not just attacking Palin, my friends: They are attacking women in general. If McCain had wanted to give them that opportunity he couldn't have done better than by picking Palin. It's as if he thought picking a woman as his running mate would be a good stunt and as no woman would ever be competent enough, let's just pick one that the wingnuts love and be done with it. Let's not do any background checks. And good legs would be nice. Betcha.

So yes, I hate McCain for what he did to me as a feminist, by putting me in the position of having to wade into the sewers of lefty blogs to find out what sexist crap might be floating around on the topic of Sarah Palin. I do that not to defend Palin but to defend the women of the future who might one day run for the office, and I do it with great bitterness, because I'm going to be told off for spending time on someone like Palin by all those who don't see that certain comments are not just about Palin but about women in politics in general.

Had I not observed much the same aimed at Hillary Clinton I might be more willing to believe that the same kind of sexism wouldn't be aimed at women in general but only at those who appear to almost seek that kind of attention. But it was aimed at Clinton and will be aimed at other women, too, unless the distinction between acceptable (if harsh) criticism and unacceptable sexism is being made clear.

For all these reasons, I have put together a quick survey of sexist comments from Eschaton and Democratic Underground threads. They are not the majority of the harsh Palin comments and not even a significant minority. But they appeared not to provoke any discussion or any disagreement.

Sarah Palin talks like a beauty pagent queen.

She says a lot of words in order to look all intelligent and stuff in order to fill out the time a person of normal IQ would take to answer the question...


she thought she was pulling of a cunning stunt with her announcement.


she thought she was pulling of a cunning stunt with her announcement.



I'm disappointed. I thought all that beauty pageant stage walking Palin did would have better prepared her for this epic fail.


Yeah, maybe Carrie Prejean can co-host with Sarah. They seem like they have a lot in common.


Let's put it this way.

Sarah Palin is probably a sexual object in the sense of most porn starlets.

Good sex (there is no other kind) but you want her out of your bed before the cock crows, because the thought of having to make small talk with her over breakfast repulses you no end.


Palin's not hot. She's actually pretty dick deflating, in an ignorant-stupid-moralistic way. Sorry, but she's a typical 40 - something GOP woman that thinks with that push-up bra, tummy tuck panty hose, and makeup from hell that she still has it.

she doesn't.


She has 6 pounds of cake on her face, is unbelievably stupid, arrogant, and mean, and probably smells pretty bad.

Yeah - a real doll.


"She has 6 pounds of cake on her face, is unbelievably stupid, arrogant, and mean, and probably smells pretty bad.

Yeah - a real doll."

Guys pay extra for all that.


so Palin found a clever way to piss off the MSM in a big way before the long week-end

man, waht a bitch!


she gets on national tv and rambles for 20 minutes...but don't talk about her

And do we get a great shot of her tits? NO!!!!!


I could've straightened her out with a good, hard spanking, but Cindy wouldn't let me.

Now look what's happened . . .
John McCain |


UPDATE: Palin changed her mind again. She's quitting, again.


TOP STORY: Palin changed her mind a third time. She's staying. For now.

Praise Jeebus!


No one should be surprised Sarah didn't serve her full term.

She didn't go full term with Trigg either.


Child services should remove those children from the "care" of their obviously insane mother. She's on par with that woman who gave birth into a toilet.


I felt a lot of pity for her family today. Why did they have to there when she rambled on and on, for so long? Can't she do something by herself?


So you need a disabled infant more than a disabled infant needs you? WTF?

That poor baby sure has his work cut for himself, propping up that damn bawling woman. I wonder if Angelina Jolie is up for a rescue mission.

I mean...seriously. It's disturbing.


Word is that Sarah has developed a fascination for fashionable clothes since the election and she is driving the Palin household towards bankruptcy. Todd has insisted that she peddle her ass to the highest bidder or get out.


palin's pregnant with levi's love child.


I hope she can become a spokesperson for drilling in ANWR now, and helping this country become independent of foreign oil.

She should pose naked on a drilling rig.


Taking bets how long before Palin poses for Playboy......


Maybe she's pregnant again

Possible names:

Twig, Swig, Swag, Cog, Bunk, Tweet


Does this mean she'll finally go away???

I am so sick of Drama Queen Barbie.


Th asshole is going to be a constant reminder of what you can do with NO qualifications

Goodbye you whore.


These comments are not a proper study. I didn't spend enough time on the sites to do that. I chose them because they either applied terms such as cunt, bitch or whore to Palin, because she was sexualized, or because the comments applied a general stereotype about women to her (the changing her mind bit, say). The comments about her parenting skills or lack of them might not be viewed as sexist, but I included them because I don't think that male politicians are exposed to the same criticism, especially as Sarah Palin does have a husband and the children do have a father who appears to mostly stay at home.
I should probably point out that by "the sewers" I mean sexism, not certain sites or threads on those sites or any particular commenter.
Added later: I removed some quotes which might be argued to be insufficiently clearly sexist.

Why The Conservative Supremes Matter

Well, you know it anyway, but it's always useful to document:

The Supreme Court heard five environmental law cases in the term that ended Monday, and environmental groups lost every time. It was, said Richard J. Lazarus, a director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University Law Center, "the worst term ever" for environmental interests.

The court allowed Navy exercises using sonar that threatened whales off California. It limited the liability of companies partly responsible for toxic spills. It made it harder to challenge Forest Service regulations and easier to dump mining waste into an Alaskan lake. And it allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to use cost-benefit analysis to decide how much marine life may be killed by cooling structures at power plants.

Business groups expressed measured satisfaction with the decisions.

"The court does seem to be bringing more common sense back to environmental law," Robin S. Conrad, a lawyer with the United States Chamber of Commerce, said at a recent news briefing.

Merrily skipping towards disaster, we are, led by John Roberts.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sunday Dog Blogging

Courtesy of Doug, here are Widget and Sasha again.

Sunday Book Post

I got three fun books (read: like fast food but not just like fast food) from the library for this weekend. Two newish Sara Paretskys and C.S. Friedman's Wings of Wrath, a fantasy book. I had not read Friedman before and probably won't in the future (her fantasy not being the kind I like), but one particular quote I found interesting.

Kamala is a peasant woman who has managed to become a Magister, an immortal wizard of a rather nasty type. All other Magisters are men and very few of them are even consider the idea of a female Magister, because women are too weak and emotional to wield such power.

In the following scene Kamala is watching (in a bird shape) two soldiers, a woman and a man, riding towards danger. The man is important for her plans, the woman is not. This is what Kamala thinks:

If he had been alone she might have approached him directly, but he was not. And for reasons Kamala did not fully understand, the presence of a woman by his side made her uneasy. It probably wouldn't have if the woman had been decked out in a stylish riding gown, trailing silk skirts sidesaddle over the flanks of her mount. Such a woman Kamala would simply disdain and dismiss, a mere traveling accessory to the one who really mattered. But no, this woman was clearly a comrade-at-arms in every sense of the word. And that bothered her.

You are jealous, she thought.
What a bizarre thought! Jealous of a morati [mortal]?
Jealous of how he accepts her.

The woman was dressed in a man's garb, but not in any manner that kept her true sex hidden. She had not flirted with the men outside the meetinghouse as a normal woman might have done, but Kamala was willing to bet that the other Guardians were not unaware of the difference between them, or its sexual potential. Yet they all kept a respectful distance, of their own accord. Sometimes one or the other would make a joking comment about her effect on them all, but even then they were laughing with her, not at her.

True acceptance.

It burned her to see it. Why? Because they accepted a warrior woman for what she truly was, not for some role that she must play in order to win men's favor? Because she did not have to pretend to be something less than a woman to win a respected place among them?

If the Magisters had half so much tolerance, Kamala thought bitterly, things might be very different for her now. And at night, in her fitful dreaming, she imagined what that might have been like for her. To be part of their brotherhood without the need to deny her sex. Simply accepted.

She kept her distance.

I found this fascinating as a parable about the way young women might feel in the military (if they are let down in similar ways Kamala was), in the academia and even in business if their particular sub-fields are male dominated. It may be that young women are now "simply accepted" in all those places? Still, the above quote reminds me of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's attempt to take her deceased brother's place in her father's esteem.

And what about the Paretskys? They were fun. I like to read descriptions of cities, especially with a nice dose of lefty politics.

Sarah Palin and Opting Out (by Liz)

Who really knows what's behind Sarah Palin's decision to resign as Governor of Alaska? Certainly not the fact she wants to avoid becoming a lame duck governor for the good of Alaska.

Popular theories being floated include:

· she is gearing up to run for president in 2012

· there is a big scandal set to hit her office in coming days and she is getting out in advance

· she has accepted a well-paying job in the private sector- perhaps as a TV commentator

· she was tired of all the negative press

· she might be pregnant (This classic from CNN's Rick Sanchez).

Here’s another theory: Sarah Palin simply opted out.

Opting out is a loaded concept. The mainstream media often paint opting out as a decision made by women to quit work and live out some kind of warm and fuzzy stay-at-home-mother retro-fantasy. Occasionally, we hear about the women who seem to have opted out but in reality were forced out of the workplace due to a lack of work/life flexibility options and/or hostile working environments. Rarely do we read about the women who leave the corporate world because, quite simply, they think corporate America sucks.

I've interviewed a lot of women who have "opted out" of the corporate world. Many of these women don’t stop working –often they start their own businesses. While almost all of them cite flexibility as a big bonus, motherhood is not the only reason they leave. Their reasons are personal and vary greatly. They leave because they climb high enough on the ladder to get a view of the top and they don't like what they see. Because they can't align their personal values with their company's business objectives. Because they don’t respect their coworkers. Because they don’t like who they are becoming. Because they aren't passionate about their work. Because they have the strength and self-confidence to swap a big paycheck and status for a life more in tune with their own beliefs. Because they aren't passionate about what they are doing. Because they choose to place their own well-being ahead of anything else.

We know the personal is political and ultimately we need to address these issues collectively. After all, studies continue to show that women leaders are good for business. There is risk in women opting out.

Will I be surprised if there is more to the Palin story? No. But what if there isn't? What if, in this case, the political is personal? What if there's nothing else to the story and Sarah Palin simply quit?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

Not so many fireworks this year.

That Conscience Clause Again

I have written quite a lot* about the health care worker's conscience clause in the past. Somehow I thought I wouldn't have to go on writing about it for ever, sigh:

President Barack Obama said today that he still favors a "robust" federal policy protecting health-care workers who have moral objections to performing some procedures even though he plans to roll back a Bush administration rule that expanded such protection.

Speaking to eight religion reporters at the White House before his first meeting with Pope Benedict XVI next Friday, Obama sought to reassure Catholic health-care workers that they would not be forced to perform abortions and other procedures that violate the Church's teachings. Obama said he is a "believer in conscience clauses" and supports a new policy that would "certainly not be weaker" than the rules in place before the expansion late in President George W. Bush's administration.

I'm not sure what "certainly not weaker" means in this context or what "robust" might mean, because this is is so far only talk. But let me just point out that the stronger the conscience clause permissions are the less options women have when seeking health care.

I didn't know that Obama was all for conscience clauses before the elections. Did you?
* Here are some of my blog posts on conscience clause(click on each word separately). (I have also written about it for the Huffington Post and the American Prospect magazine but their contents are covered here).

Heh. I Guess This Is One Way To Equal Treatment

New men's fashions...

More seriously, I don't want the fashion industry to start treating men as horribly as they treat women, in terms of looking ridiculous, being unable to walk in the outfits and so on.

Please Welcome

Liz O'Donnell. She has kindly accepted my plea for her to write for this blog. Liz's posts will appear every other Sunday, beginning tomorrow. She writes about:

F words: feminism, (life in her) forties and
sometimes family. Her work has been published in The Boston Globe Magazine, The Atlanta Journal Constitution and The Glass Hammer where she covers women and the workplace.

Thank you very much, Liz!

Friday, July 03, 2009

More liberal religion election news (by Suzie)

Sunday, I wrote about how my denomination, the Unitarian Universalists, elected its first Latino president. Our liberal cousins, the United Church of Christ, just elected its second black president. Both of these denominations are predominantly white and female. Neither has ever had a female president. What a fascinating coincidence.

As background: Obama went to a UU church as a child and a UCC church in Chicago. UUs are so liberal that they stopped being Christian. You'd be hard-pressed to find a Christian denomination more liberal than UCC. But, as I'm reminded time and again, progressive does not necessarily equal feminist.

ETA a little more analysis: Churches are an example of how discrimination works differently for different groups. People of different ethnicities often can find churches in which their group predominates, and they often can attend as a family. Women have less opportunity to attend a church that is all or almost-all female, if they want to go with male members of their family, or if they want to socialize with men. Maybe this is one reason churches take us for granted.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Still life: Cat, conch, asparagus fern.

Independence (by Suzie)

I love this song by Celeste Krenz and Rebecca Folsom of the Rhythm Angels. I first heard it on “Women Voices: Folk Alliance 2008.” It’s also on the Angels’ CD, “Girls Like Us,” released by Celeste’s company, High Horse Records. DJ the DJ calls it the best song of 2009.

Jon Chandler describes it as a “you’re a cheatin’ bastard” song.” I didn’t read it that way; the woman in the song is living in fear. Barry Mazor, at No Depression, calls the song “an in-your-face blast concerning gun control.” But it's so much more. Although the woman in the song muses about killing her husband, she sounds like she’d be satisfied, at the end, to just drive away. I messaged Celeste Krenz, who was kind enough to explain:
We wrote the song late one night. I was going through a divorce at the time (it was not over a cheating husband) but any divorce can be difficult. Diana Jones, Liz Barnez, Rebecca Folsom and I were in my kitchen and just talking about the power struggle and being heard in relationships. We started talking about why people resort to using guns and I said, (I have a very soft voice) I am a fairly reasonable person but there have been a few times in my life that I'm glad I did not have a gun. We started writing the song and finished in about an hour.

You really could look at it both ways, gun control and gun protection. It's pretty pathetic that women can't get protection from the police until they've been seriously threatened ... and on the other hand, a perfectly balanced person with a gun in hand at the wrong moment could make a life changing decision out of blinding anger. Guns are so distant ... you don't even need to touch the person.

Oh, it was a good discussion that night about domestic abuse, the world of invisible people who think the gun is their voice (mass shootings) and everything in between. In the end, I think she just knows that the gun would allow her to walk away. It's a fantasy about being powerful enough to be free ...
Gerri Gribi has compiled lists of songs pertaining to domestic violence, as has Bethany Pombar.

Because tomorrow is the Fourth, I can’t help but mention Gretchen Peters' "Independence Day," a hit for Martina McBride. I love how this country song applies phrases from Christianity and patriotism to abused women. Here’s the chorus, plus a kicker:
Let Freedom ring, let the white dove sing.
Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning.
Let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong.
Roll the stone away, let the guilty pay, it's Independence Day.

Talk about your revolution.
It's Independence Day.
One issue for women who need to sell CDs or concert tickets is that songs like this can make men uncomfortable. At least, that was my take in April, at a house concert by Laurie McClain. She has a new song with the refrain "thank you for staying away" for the abusive husband who left her with two young children. Chandler, mentioned above, praises “If I Had a Gun” but jokes that it prompted him to move his stool a little farther away from the singers. I haven’t seen male singers worry about how the women in their audience will respond to songs in which men commit violence against women, even though it’s much more likely that the women in the audience will have experienced physical abuse than vice versa.

There are other songs titled “If I Had A Gun.” In Brooklyn Zu’s version, guns buy respect, maybe even manhood. The same seems to be true in a song by Federation. Dead Milkmen talk about a gun getting respect, but the song is also a good argument for gun control. Ditto for a song by Gene Simmons. Jeff Silver writes about suicide. Atomic Bitchwax wants what he wants. Otherwise, I don’t know. Diefenbaker: I have no idea. Ditto for an Oasis song that others are trying to decipher.

Bruce Cockburn took the if-I-had-a-weapon construction further with “If I Had A Rocket Launcher,” in which he fantasizes about taking down those who kill in the name of the state. I think it is easier for progressives to focus on the violence and repression of governments than to understand that violence and repression in the home is also a social injustice. Peace begins at home.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

How Now Howard?

Howard Kurtz writes about reporters on the Michelle Obama beat and their race and gender. It's an odd piece, sort of like an embroidery with several unfinished ends dangling from it, and I can't make up my mind which of those ends I should tug on to see what might come unraveled.

To take it in steps, the beginning of Kurtz's article suggests that the selection of journalists who get access to Michelle Obama is racist and sexist:

While Michelle Obama was meeting with doctors and patients at the Upper Cardozo Health Center, nearly two dozen journalists stood behind a white rope in a small room upstairs, most finally growing so tired during the hour-long wait that they sat on the floor.

Finally the first lady emerged, read a short speech about releasing federal stimulus money for community health clinics -- including $2.5 million for the Northwest Washington center -- and greeted a handpicked audience with handshakes and hugs. Then she turned and left, and the press pool quietly filed out.

Rachel Swarns of the New York Times and The Washington Post's Robin Givhan were among those herded behind the rope Monday. They and the other main beat reporters -- Newsweek's Allison Samuels, Darlene Superville of the Associated Press and Politico's Nia-Malika Henderson -- have something in common: They are all African American women.

Perhaps this gives them a richer cultural understanding of Obama as a trailblazer. Indeed, most write with enthusiasm, in some cases even admiration, about the first lady as a long-awaited role model for black women.

But then something else grabs hist attention and the article turns into examining whether African-American female journalists indeed might be better suited for covering the First Lady:

Whether racial and gender identification produces a gauzier, more favorable portrayal of Obama is perhaps too early to judge. After all, no one raises questions when an Irish American male reporter covers a pol named Murphy. And with her carefully crafted focus on her children, affordable fashion and such reduced-fat apple pie issues as healthy eating, Obama has done little to warrant sharp criticism.

Even within that short paragraph I quote the emphasis shifts again, because the last sentence pretty much says that this is probably OK because Michelle Obama isn't saying anything very interesting. Well, "interesting" for guys such as Howard Kurtz.

But note that gauziness! Ooh! Might there be bias in having African-American women cover one of their own? Not that there's anything wrong with that, naturally. After all, white men have covered one of their own for a few centuries and it's worked out very well for them.

As the article meanders on Kurtz muses on his fear that covering "one of your own" might make the journalists biased though of course special knowledge is a Good Thing, too. But what about that racial preference, again? Like this:

Such developments can foster a mixture of tokenism and opportunity. When Jesse Jackson made his first White House run in 1984, a number of black political reporters got their first crack at a presidential campaign. The assignment was a sideshow -- Jackson had no serious chance of winning -- but also boosted the careers of his chroniclers.

Tricky stuff, is it not? What makes reading this even trickier are a few additional dangling ends which are not part of Kurtz's main theses (whatever those might be) but which I can't help noticing all the time.

The first of these has to do with the fact that male journalists haven't exactly wrestled each other for the chance to cover the First Lady (pardon for the unintentional pun there), because that shit is for chicks. The news about presidents' wives are supposed to be about fashions and family values and the pursuit of some public cause so uncontroversial that there's no news in it. It's only when the First Lady says or does something scandalous that the beat becomes hot. And I can't help noticing that this is pretty much what Kurtz writes.

The second dangling end is not really about Kurtz at all but about what we view as in-depth coverage of women's issues. An example:

The day before the inauguration, Henderson wrote in Politico that "to fashionistas, she's Michelle O, the new Jackie. . . . Post-feminists see Michelle Obama as one of their own, the having-it-all Harvard-educated lawyer. . . . African American women say she'll upend age-old stereotypes of the angry black woman who can't find a good man, or keep him when she does."

We live in a post-feminist world where women can have it all but where African-American women suffer from the stereotype of being too angry to hang on to a man. Soundbite after soundbite and the invisible elephant just lounges on that living-room couch. Note how that whole quote is about a world of women? Not a man, child, corporation or society in sight. Women struggle with trying to have it all or with their bad reputations and all this happens somehow not in the actual society but only inside their own little heads.

My anger there has nothing to do with Michelle Obama. It isn't even about Howard Kurtz's meanderings with his foot in his mouth (How does he do that? Can he really have it all?) It's that odd way in which women's problems are a) trivialized into silly fashions or soundbites and b) removed from the societal contexts which would allow us to understand them.

Today's Funny Post

Comes courtesy of Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern and friends. They have written something called "Oklahoma Citizen's Proclamation for Morality" and invite people to sign it next month at the State Capitol. You ready for it?

Here it goes:

In her proclamation, Kern also blames people outside of Wall Street and Washington for the national recession.

The proclamation states: "Whereas, we believe our economic woes are consequences of our greater national moral crisis; and Whereas, this nation has become a world leader in promoting abortion, pornography, same sex marriage, sex trafficking, divorce, illegitimate births, child abuse ,and many other forms of debauchery."

Oh dear. Sinfulness and debauchery is also what caused the 9/11 massacres, at least in the opinion of a few rabid fringe religious wingnuts. Even the hurricane Katrina was caused by debauchery, one of them argued. It's not a good idea to make the god of the wingnuts angry, because he tends to strike rather indiscriminately.

Debauchery is such a delicious word. It's probably sinful to enjoy saying it, too, though I think people blaming all bad events of this world on debauchery spend too much time thinking about it...

Kern and friends are a little bit like those medieval folks who practiced self-flagellation to stop the angry god from raining down black death. Except that it's not their selves these Oklahomans appear to want to flagellate but someone else.

Get Thee To A Nunnery!

This sounds like fun:

The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.

Nuns were the often-unsung workers who helped build the Roman Catholic Church in this country, planting schools and hospitals and keeping parishes humming. But for the last three decades, their numbers have been declining — to 60,000 today from 180,000 in 1965.

While some nuns say they are grateful that the Vatican is finally paying attention to their dwindling communities, many fear that the real motivation is to reel in American nuns who have reinterpreted their calling for the modern world.

You have to read the whole article to realize that American nuns are treated here as if they had done something really bad. Something like continuous child molestation. Interesting, isn't it? Pope Ratzo and his boyz are gonna get those damned women under control, I think. For instance:

The second investigation of nuns is a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization that claims 1,500 members from about 95 percent of women's religious orders. This investigation was ordered by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by an American, Cardinal William Levada.

Cardinal Levada sent a letter to the Leadership Conference saying an investigation was warranted because it appeared that the organization had done little since it was warned eight years ago that it had failed to "promote" the church's teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.


Mr. Briggs said of the various investigations: "For some in the leadership circles in Rome and elsewhere, it's a piece of unfinished business. It's an effort to bring about a re-establishment of a very traditional, very conservative set of standards for what convent life is supposed to be."

Emphasis mine. Maintaining gender hierarchies is hard work. Hard work.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Tell Burger King to shove it (by Suzie)

Please see Pam Spaulding's smackdown of a Burger King ad that ran in Singapore, with a "seven incher" headed to the open-mouth of a pornified woman. The link includes where to write to complain.

I've seen this phenomenon in other countries, where U.S. companies feel free to run much more sexist ads than they would here. I also find it interesting that the woman is white and blond since this ad was produced for the local market. Although Singapore is a multiracial society, people of European descent are much less common. It may be more acceptable to have a Western-looking woman in the ad because of the stereotype that we're less moral. Of course, whites have a litany of Othered women who they consider less moral. Each society seems to have its own ideas about outsider men who are sexy (or scary) studs and outsider women who are just asking for it. Here's an unscientific sampling from Yahoo.

California Dreaming...

Harold Meyerson has written a good piece on the basic reasons for California's current troubles:

The list of states -- Democratic and Republican, old economy and new -- is sufficiently diverse to dispel any notion that the fiscal crisis of the states is disproportionately the problem of one party or one region. It is, rather, hard-wired into the American system of governance, wherein virtually all the states have required themselves to produce balanced budgets even during depressions -- which means they must slash services and lay off workers even though such actions actually deepen the downturn.

But California is a special case simply because it's so big. Closing California's budget gap entirely through cutbacks in programs, as Schwarzenegger and the Republicans in the legislature propose, will deepen not only the state's recession but also the nation's. Fully 1 in 4 of the nation's underwater mortgages, for instance, are on California homes, and the effects of the governor's proposed cuts -- which UCLA's Anderson School of Business estimates will cause 60,000 state employees to lose their jobs -- will be to create a new wave of foreclosures and toxic assets on the banks' books. California accounts for 12 percent of the nation's gross domestic product and a disproportionate share of the federal government's revenues (and for every dollar that Californians pay to the feds, they get just 80 cents back in services).

Right-wing ideologues see the crisis as an opportunity to shrink government regardless of the consequences. Schwarzenegger is proposing to end welfare, not just as we know it but altogether, and to throw 1 million children off the rolls of the state's healthy families program. But the consequences of closing the deficit simply through cutbacks will be felt by more than the poor. Already reeling from $15 billion in cutbacks that the state put through in February, many school districts, including that of Los Angeles, have canceled summer school this year. Scholarships that enable students of modest means to attend California's fabled university system have been slashed. Most of the state's parks may have to be closed as well.

"Right-wing ideologues see the crisis as an opportunity to shrink government regardless of the consequences." Does that remind you of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine? And to think that once California had the best public school system in the country!

Oh Noes! We Can't Afford A Public Option

So sayeth Senator Lieberman of Connecticut. The public option in health care is too expensive because the public would have to pay for it! Or it's not expensive enough so that it will pay the providers Medicaid-level low fees!

Which is it, Joe? You should make up your mind. And perhaps you should ask yourself who it is now who pays for the care the uninsured and under-insured get. Make a guess.