Saturday, June 26, 2010

It’s Time For Loaded Up Liberals To Make A Showing [Anthony McCarthy]

Now that prominent Republicans like Sarah Palin, Republican candidates for the Senate and other offices are making thinly veiled threats of assassination and insurrection as politics by other means, it’s high time for folks on the left to start investigating the use of “second amendment remedies” to address our political frustrations The right wing members of the Supreme Court are encouraging these nut cases in only slightly more veiled language. Together, they’re turning the United States into one big bad neighborhood. I think it’s time we responded in the way they’ve handed us. The growing prevalence of right wing loons carrying arms at public events makes it necessary to form a new group. Actually, to form a number of new groups dedicated to openly and conspicuously carrying guns in the kinds of displays that are beginning to make the United States look like a pale, over-fed version of Somalia.

Gays With Guns would be one of these groups with a very good reason to begin attending appearances by Republican politicians, right wing religious figures, the whole alphabet soup of right wing front groups that have every letter covered. I can’t imagine anything that the right wing would welcome more than a large number of aggressive gay folk exercising their “second amendment rights”. How could they object?

Women With Weapons is certainly a group that could make a good showing at anti-choice events, Hooters Clubs, Video Game conventions..... the opportunities for a mind blowing show of constitutional rights by this group are more abundant than for just about any other.

I’d really like to see Mexicans With Magnums, Latins Loaded-Up and other such groups appearing with their large, legal armaments showing up to Anti-immigration events, Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs appearances, etc.

I could go on finding alliterative names for potential groups all night.

The prospect of hanging is supposed to be a great aid in concentrating the attention. I can’t think of something the country needs more than focused attention. It certainly seems to be rather blase about politicians threatening armed violence against the government. This issue is over-ripe for it as we head into the election season. I think the Supreme Court, Republicans and Blue Dogs and, indeed, the entire right should be allowed to see that it’s not only straight, white conservatives who have the ability to amass arsenals and brandish them in public. Somehow, I think if these and other groups began to show up armed to the teeth in venues where prominent Republican politicians were appearing, it might have a remarkable effect in bringing things into focus.

Tiny Houses As If People Really Mattered [Anthony McCarthy]

Note: I’m unable to write this morning. Given that unemployment insurance extension is being blocked in the Senate, and, so, many more people will be unable to afford housing I thought I’d repost these two items from 2007 with more links to resources, which generally have worth while links of their own. I'll probably be writing about homeless people more in the coming months.

hen they retired from the farm, my grandparents lived in "the little house", about 16 feet square, four rooms and a water closet. There was also an outhouse in a tiny, unattached shed. Though it was a perfectly good place for two people to live and they had lived there with two of their children early in their marriage, it would probably never be allowed today. At least not unless it was on wheels.

The tiny house movement is a good thing, a rational reaction to the absurd mega-mansions that people have been gulled into wanting. Seems that a lot of people are rethinking letting a large house and mortgage eat up their lives. While some of the tiny houses are jewels of traditional and modern architecture, those are out of the income range of many who you really need a tiny house. As the Cooper Hewitt exhibit which featured the Mad Housers pointed out, there are 90% of the world who need to get through a life as well.

The Mad Housers began in Atlanta, Georgia. It's a group which builds tiny shacks for homeless people where they can sleep and get out of the elements. The houses are built by volunteers of donated materials and then turned over to the people they are built for. Their website shows two basic models, with plans. There is the 6x8' house with a sleeping loft and the 4x8' "low rider" for situations in which the housing has to be really inconspicuous. In northern climates they would have to include insulation, even with the tiny, funky home-made wood stoves they provide. While I'm not sure about the stoves, they say they've got a good record of safety. Still, I'd like to see one before I decide on it.

The Housers, like any well thought out shoestring group, has to be very careful about where they expend their limited resources and volunteer time. While the placement of the huts is often of marginal legality, there are some situations more marginal than others. I'm impressed at their practicality and realism. Some of their clients use the huts as a way to get out of destitution some of their clients are so down and out that they will probably never climb out.

Lending people money at a ruinous rate of interest, risking their falling into destitution is not only legal, it's encouraged by banking and lending laws. Providing housing for people living in the rough makes you an outlaw. Sometimes, at least. In their FAQ there is one dealing with the advisability of providing housing for people without houses as if being disparately poor without a place to sleep wasn't bad enough. Somewhere in the things I read for this post someone asks if people would rather have someone sleeping in their doorway or in one of these huts. Maybe that question is the best answer.

Taking Care of Unfinished Business
Or A Modest Disposal.

Responding to the post last week about the Mad Housers huts for destitute people, some readers asked what the inhabitants of these tiny huts would do about toilet facilities. I appreciate the practicality of their question about this, perhaps, second most important issue facing anyone who would live in such a tiny house. It could be pointed out that the Mad Housers' clients, already being homeless, would have long ago found ways to deal with the problem. You don' t need to have a house to have the need of a toilet. One can imagine many solutions, some of them quite hygienic, some far from it.

There is a simple alternative that might be considered, especially now that it's freezing cold. I read The Humanure Handbook a number of years back* and am pleased to find out that it is available as a free online download. When properly done, the odor is reported to be minimal and the sanitary implications minor and far simpler than dealing with plumbing. That is when it's properly done. You will want to observe the advice given in the book strictly, especially keeping the necessary compost well away from water sources and fully composting the waste. If you think the idea of using human waste as fertilizer is repugnant, there is an excellent chance that you are already eating food that is grown using some kind of human waste now. Human waste is widely used as fertilizer, wouldn't it be best to do so in a way that is more likely to render it safer?** That's not to mention that even the meat industry recommends treating poultry and other meat as if was hazardous waste. E coli, for Pete's sake. Enough said?

For some people finding a source of clean, uncontaminated, pressure-treated-free, sawdust or a substitute is probably the greatest obstacle but for many that might not be insurmountable. Jenkin's system is a better way than to dump it into the drinking water, a practice that has been accepted with remarkable equanimity considering what it means. We are all down stream.

* No further personal details will be given.

** Ideally all waste should be used to generate bio-gas to produce energy and cut down on methane being released into the atmosphere. Methane is known to be a lot more of a problem than carbon dioxide in global warming. There are many small scale biogas plant plans available.

UPDATE: From My E-mail Box Is this supposed to be funny?

The issue achieves a sense of urgency through the natural concerns of some astute readers. Actually, it's an issue to which we all give our full, though unconsidered, concern at least once a day. If we are fortunate. Though it's an issue which we are used to allowing to pass unconsidered shortly after the business is concluded. The problem, is however, a problem that is quite important and which requires more reflection. While we are happy to be relieved of it, untroubled, the problems flowing from it don't just float away never to trouble us again. Even with our modern systems of distraction and denial, the ramifications will inevitably pile up and demand our attention. It's a rather unsavory problem but one which becomes far more than distasteful when ignored.

Experience teaches us, though that such things won't be seriously considered; however, when someone does feel the necessity of bringing it forth. Not without a leavening in the lump. As it were. Still, it's not a subject that naturally lends itself to a dry wit, though a stale jokes are often resorted to. I think it's best to just let nature take its course, oiling the skids as necessary.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Different ways to see and know (by Suzie)

If a food critic says the pomegranate glaze tantalizes the tongue, she’s really saying, “I liked it, and I think you will, too.” But she refers to a disembodied tongue, a tongue that belongs to no one in particular, to avoid using I, I, I over and over. Unfortunately, avoiding the first person gives a false sense of objectivity. It obscures the writer’s point of view.

The tension between different points of view, between objectivity and subjectivity, has been on my mind since Echidne first wrote about “The Killer Inside Me” May 21, and a movie critic dropped by to argue. Bear with me as I use “Killer” to illustrate my points.

The narrator of the film is a violent sociopath who is especially brutal to women. Director Michael Winterbottom says:
Lou Ford is a very extreme kind of character, but at the same time, everyone does things like treat people badly who are closer to them, who are self-destructive, you see that all around you.
Talk like this, which disappears gender, reinforces the battle-of-the-sexes myth, in which men hurt women and women hurt men, and it all equals out. It doesn’t. Men commit much more serious violence against women than vice versa.

The two actors who play the women attacked by Lou distance themselves from characters they see as self-destructive. Their comments remind me of women who think they are safe from violence because they are not like victims in one way or another.

Kate Hudson, who considers herself empathetic, says about her character: “There is something kind of masochistic about her. She wasn’t easy to empathise with.” Jessica Alba, who plays a prostitute, says:
It really was the most tragic of love stories. I also felt she had a death wish, because she was always egging him on and provoking him. She finally found a man who was man enough to go through with it.
“Anyone who might find the violence in this movie gratifying or arousing is already virtually beyond the bounds of professional help,” writes Andrew O’Hehir in an updated review titled “Much Ado about Misogyny.” I assume he means the violence that doesn’t involve sex. Because lot’s of men find the S/M arousing. Just Google Alba’s name and “spanked.” She plays a prostitute, and Casey Affleck is Lou, a deputy sheriff. She hits him, and he throws her on a bed and beats her with his belt. Her misery soon turns to pleasure. Great. Another image of a woman who wants to be tamed, who wants rough sex. Since she’s a prostitute, you know she loved it. Or, as Alba suggests, she was thrilled that she finally found a lover who could be “man enough” to kill her.

Critics have noted that we learn little about the women, compared with Lou. Some identify with no one in the film, while some – to my horror – identify with the killer. Owen Gleiberman writes: “… as Lou betrays, lies, and murders again, our identification with him is slowly severed.”

Similarly, O’Hehir writes of “this handsome, intriguing good-boy/bad-boy character, in whom we have invested at least a little prurient identification” before he tries to beat his lover to death. The audience feels “that we are implicated in the crime.”

Who is this “we”? What significance does the movie have for people with a different perspective, who don’t feel any identification with Lou, who didn't find the sex hot?

He talks about a “simplistic and uninformed” viewpoint, followed by: “I'm reminded of then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's attacks on the ‘Grand Theft Auto’ games, which she clearly hadn't even looked at, let alone tried to play.” Steve Simels made a similar argument to those of us who criticized “Killer” before its release.

I’m not saying that people who can watch awful things are themselves awful, but that doesn't make them more objective than people who can't stomach brutal violence against women. Knowledge of male violence can be informative when judging a movie depicting it.

An interesting coda: I checked to see if Simels had written a review, only to find him pleased that O’Hehir had mentioned him in another piece.
… but as far as I'm concerned he still owes me big time. The week before, also in Salon, he posted a Sundance Fesitval dispatch on Michael Winterbottom's forthcoming film version of Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me which suggested that the film might be worth seeing despite its disturbing depictions of violence. This occasioned some serious garment-rending over at a feminist-oriented website I look at occasionally, and when I suggested in a forum over there that it might be appropriate to hold off on said rending until one had, you know, actually seen the movie...well, let's just say it wasn't my most popular suggestion this year."
Sounds like he defended O'Hehir, right? Wrong. In his comments to Echidne's original post, he said some lines of O'Hehir's were "pretentious bullshit." He later called them "errant nonsense. So why I'm obligated to defend the idiot is beyond me." And finally, "I think the reviewer has, at the very least...issues." Perhaps his perspective changed as he changed audiences.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Which is the bigger dog?

It's Mi Hija, the white one in the background. My Ginger, a Chihuahua, is in the foreground. Bonnie, Mi Hija's mama, took the photo while Ginger-sitting for me.

Perspective is a tricky thing. More on that later today.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thursday, Again. And The Accusations Against Al Gore.

On posts: There are always some big ones that got away. Like in a fishing tale. I often have these ghost posts in my mind or even in a draft form. Why some posts stay that way is a mystery, though one good reason is that certain topics require so much work that I couldn't write on anything else the whole week, whereas others are half-thoughts which don't quite make it to the stage where I want to expose them for scrutiny. Others are my pet posts which nobody else probably likes (such as planned obsolescence and computers where the obsolescence is now front-loaded and may not in fact raise profits or my desire to have a prehensile tail and all the uses it could have.)

And then you get topics like the accusations against Al Gore. Those just cropped up, and although I have read everything I can find on the case I don't have enough information to be the judge and the jury on it yet. What I do dislike, however, is the new pattern I see where women are first thought of as lying when it comes to accusations of sexual assault.

I'm sure that some women do lie. I'm also equally sure that there are people who burn down a warehouse to collect on the insurance or people who otherwise stage crimes. Yet those cases are not used as an argument about the prevalence of some crime in general or about the presumed innocence of victims who come forward. Rape, however, is beginning to be different*.

And this is bad for the victims of rape. A comment to this post argued that if this accusation is a false one it makes getting justice more difficult for women who actually have been attacked. That is a strange way of looking at it. It makes all women the same, once again: just a piece out of that amorphous pile of femaleness. It therefore argues that sexism in the form of statistical discrimination is AOK or at least understandable, and it puts the onus on this accuser (assumed to be making it all up) hurting other women rather than on -- oh, say the rapists.

Likewise, if the apriori assumption that rape accusations are false becomes more and more common then rapists have less to worry when they plan their crimes, as punishment will be even less likely than now.

Even less likely, because the court system already tends not to pursue cases which don't look very strong on the evidence, and because many rape victims do not want to undergo a second horrible experience by going to court.

That's what I worry about when reading all those blog comments about the accuser of Al Gore just being after his money or the Salon post about how celebrities are often the target of false accusations.

The problem with the latter argument is that we have no idea how many true allegations could be fielded against various celebrities, given that any victims of such might not come forward.

This means that we have no idea how common, in the relative sense, false sexual assault accusations against celebrities might be. That they seem common to the author of the Salon piece is probably because the false accusations, or those which are deemed false even if they are not, get the lion's share of publicity whether they are aimed against celebrities or not.

None of this is directly about the accusations against Al Gore. But these are my thoughts on how feminist thinking would interact with these news.
*MB pointed out that the law has had such a tendency for a long time and she is quite right. I had in mind a shift in the public coverage of rapes and alleged rapes rather than the overall bias that has been and still is a problem in the judicial systems of many countries.

Australia's New Prime Minister

Has lady bits!

This is good news, because the more women in powerful posts we see the less we associate only masculinity with power and the easier gender equality will be.

Mmm. Twirls hair.

President Obama has congratulated Julia Gillard:

The White House press office released a statement Thursday saying, "President Obama offers his congratulations to Julia Gillard on her assumption of the position of Prime Minister of Australia and on the historic step of becoming Australia's first female prime minister.

We could create a long-term game out of the following: Which countries (and how many of them) get at least one female head of state (or its equivalent in power) before the United States does?

My guess is that quite a few do. It's not that Americans are so much more scared of women at the helm but that the political system here makes it harder to get women elected. The two-party system, in particular, makes all this much trickier, because it encourages dualistic thinking of all types.

Why Buy A Pig When You Can Get Cheap Sausage?

That is my (or probably someone else's) extremely rude reversal of the usual "Why buy a cow when you can get cheap milk?" (And yes, stupid spell-checker, I know that else's is wrong but it flows.) I wanted to put it into the post title because I'm so very nice and so very boring and so very snake-slippery that I have to provide something for the anti-feminists to attack later on (when I'm famous).

That reversal is most enlightening, I humbly think. It's worth 20,000 words at least, because it points out something many automatically take for granted when talking about heterosexual premarital sex and such, which is that men want the milk but women want the pig.

I have argued a zillion times that this stereotype simply isn't true. The evidence is visible if you want to look for it. For instance, women commit adultery, too! Women actually like sex! Some women like sex with people they don't love! Men actually like the cow! And so on and so on.

And not only is it not true, it is built on presumed animosity between men and women as groups of people, and yet that view does not come from feminists who are more likely to discuss gender as a group thing. It comes from the anti-feminists who believe that men just want sexual access and that women must refuse it until they get the ring and the meal ticket for life and other such goodies.

Note that I'm not describing my own views here but what I see as the invisible premise in all those conservative girls-gone-wild stories: Women should be the gatekeepers in the sexual soccer world cup and men should keep trying for goals all the time! Because you are on opposite teams, see.

Those are some of my thoughts when I read Amanda's response to a book review in the Atlantic Monthly(where else?) about a new book called Chastened, all about a woman who decided not to have sex for a year and lo and behold!:

Are you in love at the moment? Is there someone in your life?

I joked to a friend a couple months ago, "Oh, God, this book's coming out again. Maybe I should just hire somebody. Even my male friends took on the part of fiancé for that happy ending, however cynical we are, we still...But I think in a way it makes it more informative, and makes it more the experiment I was thinking of, because I'm implementing these lessons that I've learned. And I'm actually quite happy, actually quite content. There's been a lot less sex, but more romance. And a lot more emotional closeness.

So now she is all chastened.

The interview isn't that bad, I think, and the topic contains interesting angles. It refers to pornography and its coarsening (sticks out tongue here) effect on real-life sexual expectations. It points out that people, both men and women, may desire something more than just physical sex from at least one relationship. But then it hints at the ring on the ring finger as the ultimate reason why women, and not men, should choose to be chastened.

That's back to the-cow-and-the-milk argument*, though the author of the book makes other points, too, one being the right to say no when you really don't want to go to bed with someone.

*Writing about topics like this one is difficult because I have two frameworks in my divine head. One is about an ideal world and what the rules would be in that, the other one is about the world I think exists right now. Sometimes the obvious solutions in the former make things more difficult in the latter, and sometimes the obvious solutions in the latter delay the wonderful day when we all tiptoe into that ideal world of the future.

And the reason why the title of this post sounds so impossibly silly is partly because marriage has not really been mostly about sex for women. It has been about survival, about a way to have enough to eat and a roof over one's head and about getting a group of people to support one in child-raising. Having sex without contraception outside marriage made the achievement of all those other objectives less likely, because of the labeling a woman would get and because she might now come with ready-made children that needed more support. Yet the conservative argument here assumes that men prefer milk to cows always and women prefer pigs to sausages always. It's just how it is.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gals And Computers

A reader sent me a link to a piece about Mattel's online poll concerning the next occupation for the Barbie doll (yes, the thing with two mile long legs, no hips and breasts the size of aircraft carriers). The results:

Mattel recently conducted an online poll asking girls everywhere to choose Barbie's next occupation from the following choices — surgeon, architect, news anchor, environmentalist and computer engineer.

The overwhelming choice among the girls was news anchor. But adults in the blogosphere, on Twitter and Facebook launched their own campaign for computer engineer Barbie.

Mattel relented and decided to go with both, news anchor and computer engineer Barbie. "We couldn't ignore the outcry," said Michelle Chidoni, a spokeswoman for the company.

The Barbie brouhaha points to a key conundrum today when it comes to women and professions in science and technology. Many people see a need for more females in so-called STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and math). But fewer and fewer young women seem to be gravitating to such jobs, thanks in part to the geek factor.

That the girls picked a news anchor shows the importance of seeing women in various occupations. There are no female computer engineers on the television sets the children watch. These results also reminded me of the fact that when children pick among, say, ideal occupations they certainly pay attention to the social acceptability of a particular occupation for them.

This means that public-executioner-Barbie would get very few votes, naturally, but it also means that occupations which are not viewed with approval for women in general will not get as many votes. Children have radars about this.

To return to women and computer science, the field has an odd history. Go back thirty years and you find a much higher percentage of women taking computer science in undergraduate education! Then the percentages drop, very fast, until suddenly computer science has become the field the evo-psychos quote when arguing that women just naturally and biologically do not like numbers or abstract thinking in general.

Except for that odd history. If the dislike was that natural there shouldn't have been a different time. But there was:

Twenty-five years ago, more young women in colleges and universities were drawn to computer science than today. From 1971 to 1983, incoming freshman women who declared an intention to major in computer science jumped eightfold, to 4 percent from about 0.5 percent.

Jonathan Kane, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, recalls the mid-1980s, when women made up 40 percent of the students who majored in management computer systems, the second most popular major on campus. But soon after, the number of students majoring in the program had fallen about 75 percent, reflecting a nationwide trend, and the number of women fell even more. "I asked at a department meeting," he says, " 'Where have the women gone?' It wasn't clear." His theory is that young women earlier had felt comfortable pursing the major because the male subculture of action gaming had yet to appear.


Globe review shows that the proportion of women among bachelor's degree recipients in computer science peaked at 37 percent in 1985 and then went on the decline. Women have comprised about 28 percent of computer science bachelor's degree recipients in the last few years, and in the elite confines of research universities, only 17 percent of graduates are women. (The percentage of women among PhD recipients has grown, but still languishes at around 20 percent.)

And (though the most recent number here looks out of the pattern to me):

And in 2008, women earned only 18 percent of computer science degrees, compared to 37 percent in 1985.

This is all extremely curious. What I really should have done for this piece is to research what those women who got degrees in computer science in the 1980s did with them. Do they work in the field? If not, what is the reason? But I don't have time for that.

Still, I think the Geek Hypothesis has some truth in it. The field turned into geekdom so very fast and the stereotype of a geek is a guy, living in a sub-basement with other geeks and delivered pizza and coming out only during the hours of the night. Note that I like geeks a lot and do not agree to these stereotypes. But they are out there, and I have seen men employ them in a defensive manner, not necessarily to keep women out but with that effect. For instance, reading posts about how geeks get all the girls with big tits does tend to make a female reader feel as if she might never be allowed into that basement except the way the pizza is allowed in. Likewise, many of the geek sites are pretty sexist in their comments.

All this ties even more to something which is underplayed when people discuss women and the sciences:

To be the only woman in the room is bloody hard. I have done it enough to know. You get to be a) yourself (if lucky), b) the person that makes locker-room discussions impossible because of your very presence (as those discussions will be about boobs and how they are like pizza) and c) all womankind, used as a sounding board to what Women Think as well as the thing to attack when a girlfriend has pissed someone off or the thing to console someone for the same.

Then add to that even one woman-hater in the room! The other guys can be nice and neutral and still the whole atmosphere will be polluted for you. The solution is to get those critical coalitions of women into that room. About 30% will do it, in most cases. Once you have that level, the gender of the few women stops mattering and they become just your average geeks.

The newest article I linked to doesn't talk about this much, if at all. It talks about the framing of an occupation in male terms and tries to re-frame it in terms which would appeal to more women. And of course such a re-framing is needed! After all, much of computer science is exactly like languages and girls are supposed to do so well in them that they never shut up!

Mmm. Perhaps I should end this post here.

Today's Funny Misogynist I

One misogynist comment in that place where they now gather (the Atlantic Monthly) stated that women are useless creatures because the only reason they feel the faintest sexual desire is testosterone. And testosterone belongs to men!

Those horrible creatures have even stolen their hormone from men!

Then from an e-mail I got: Young women pay more for car insurance than young men (not true) because women have no three-dimensional spatial abilities and therefore should not be allowed to drive.

I've decided to share these things with you, sweeties.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Stan McChrystal, the lean and mean attack dog. You are going to meet him at noon on the long and dusty streets of Somewhere in Afghanistan and he is going to be a faster draw than you are. Just count the notches in his guns, the ones which hang so relaxedly against his chaps-covered legs. Look into those pale eyes, squinted against the harsh light. Are they alive or are they dead? Do not look for mercy in Stan The Gun.

Unless you belong to his team, the team of killers and marauders and spy-masters. If you are lucky enough, you and Stan will go out with the boyz and get drunk while cracking rude jokes about all the people with fewer guns. You will dance together, you will hug together (rough and manly hugs only, with bruises left behind) while the French surrender monkeys only dream about a rod as stiff as yours.

OK. I got carried away while reading Michael Hasting's well-written Rolling Stone article on General Stan McChrystal and the way he plays the hard boyz game in Afghanistan. Hastings gets to go to places where I could never go and the response he gets I would never get. But a goddess can dream, and for a few seconds* I felt strangely attracted to the world the article painted: one where everything you do matters, where your word is the law, where your guns will kill people or not, depending on what you decide. A world of power or at least a world where power is the game. Because it all sounds like a John Le Carre novel, except without that one guy in the books who has deep feelings and thoughts.

I find it hard to shake, that unreal feeling. I find it hard to think of the human chess game where the Karzai-doll is dressed up as a leader, where he is moved from one opinion to another, where this warlord gets funding and that warlord gets killed, where the General badmouths the Vice-President and where we all then discuss whether the General should be fired or whether he is so important as the game-master that he must be retained, even when that means that the president will lose the penis-measuring part of the game.

It's an unreal feeling not only because I'm still facing McChrystal at the OK Corral in my mind (he having just downed a bottle of whisky and with a toothpick between his firmly pressed lips) but also because none of us has any say in the decision about McChrystal and his future. And because of the way the article weaves this wonderful story of exceptional masculine belligerence together with puny bites like these:

At one point on his trip to Paris, McChrystal checks his BlackBerry. "Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke," he groans. "I don't even want to open it." He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the BlackBerry back in his pocket, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.

"Make sure you don't get any of that on your leg," an aide jokes, referring to the e-mail.

Or this

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. "I never know what's going to pop out until I'm up there, that's the problem," he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

"Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal says with a laugh. "Who's that?"

"Biden?" suggests a top adviser. "Did you say: Bite Me?"

What's in those quotes is called bitching when women do it but here it is something else. Something honest and raw and real. Like a le Carre novel.

That's one possible reading. Another one reads like bedtime for General McChrystal, or perhaps not, depending on the Realpolitik of the situation and what might benefit some group in power the most in the short run or in the long run, what might win elections here in the United States and what might create "stability" in Afghanistan, whatever that means and assuming that it can be created at all.

If I only could shake off those images of Stan the Gun I could write something on the substantive questions in the article.
*Well, a few minutes.

Insiders And Outsiders

Atrios linked to this post at Firedoglake:

Americans overwhelmingly rank jobs and the economy as the most important challenge facing this country, according to a new CBS News/"New York Times" poll. The disconnect between the Washington elites, who have been swept up in deficit hysteria, and the rest of the country couldn't be more stark.

CBS News/NYT Poll (PDF)
What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?

Economy/Jobs: 40
Oil Spill in Gulf: 13
Health Care: 5
Budget Deficit/Nat'l Debt: 5
War/Iraq/Afghanistan: 3
Immigration: 3
Moral Values/Family Values: 2
Misc. Foreign Affairs: 2
Misc. Government Issues: 2
Politicians/Government: 2
Other: 20
DK/NA: 3

The point is naturally that the politicians in Washington D.C. are out of touch with little people and their concerns. It's a valid point. The reasons for that out-of-touchness may be partly as illogical as the look, but partly they are based on the location of the moneybags. Political campaigns can be used later on to lure at least some voters, but to get those campaigns started you need money. And the strings of the moneybags are held by people who don't really fret over unemployment but might be somewhat concerned about deficits.

Why? Because they are Big Earners and pay more taxes and because Big Earners don't lose their jobs and if they do they can live off their savings. Likewise, Big Earners tend not to have family and friends who are Little People, what with social segregation and the like.

All this may not be as important a reason for writing about the deficit and the need to cut a few more needy children off the welfare rolls than the current desire for Sensational Writing, the need to Present The Other Side. You know, like the stories about journalists trying to find the golden lining around the oil clouds. We all want to be jostled out of our boredom with sex, lies and inane counter-arguments.

But even if that is the reason for the current sensational streak in almost everything it is still based on some type of insider-outsider thinking. The outsiders can be treated as so much fodder because they are outsiders.

More Forced Birth Thoughts

I often read the comments in more mainstream places to posts about abortions, because I want to understand where the different arguments come from. A very common basic anti-abortion argument has to do with pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, always acting right, in a modified version suitable for the weaker and sillier sex: Women should cross their legs if they don't want to have children.

This opinion seems to be as common as the baby-killer argument if not more so. It is based on the idea that human beings are in complete control of their destiny. Nancy Reagan once created a "Just Say No" campaign for fighting drugs, and that's what is behind this forced birth response: You didn't say no. You asked for it, slut. Now enjoy the consequences!

This makes having a baby into a punishment which is a very odd "pro-life" value in itself. But it also doesn't assign the same punishment to the men who didn't cross their legs (tie a knot to it?). I have never seen an article about the need for men to understand that if they have sex with a woman they naturally expect to become fathers and must not whine when that happens. But I have read several articles about how very natural men wanting to have lots of sex without love is, and that sex is assumed to be without any negative consequences.

It could be that the posters who write about slutty women deserving their just desserts also run vigorous campaigns against slutty men. I doubt that, though. The Puritanism only crops up when the topic is women's sexuality.

We Are All Ambidextrous Now!

That's what Eleanor Clift says, anyway:

EMILY's List: Confronting the Growing Ambivalence Over Abortion

One of the issues that arose in a recent e-mail chain among the writers who contribute to WomanUp was regret that an organization like Emily's List, which helps elect Democratic women, only supports candidates who are pro-choice: "I believe there are other issues that are very important to women. So let's say a woman happens to be not pro-choice, but is pro everything else. Why exclude her?" It's a good question, and the answer dates back to the founding of Emily's List in 1985. At the time very few women held public office, and attitudes toward abortion rights divided sharply along political lines. The Republican Party called for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, while Democrats fought against restrictions on reproductive rights and defended Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

Twenty-five years later, attitudes about abortion are a lot more nuanced. Just about every woman has seen her own or someone else's sonogram, and it's not so easy to insist that no laws need apply. Younger women have a more complex view of abortion, and they don't view the issue as passionately as their mothers. "If you ask them if they support abortion rights, they say they don't know or they don't want to answer that question," says Jen Bluestein, Emily's List communications director. For an organization created around the core mission of promoting reproductive choice, that could be a problem, and that's why its new president, 36-year old Stephanie Schriock, a native of Montana with a strong libertarian streak, is forging a new way forward.

Except she doesn't seem to do that, much, if you read the rest of the piece. It's one of those eat-your-cake-and-don't-get-fat posts. EMILY's List will still require the candidates it supports to be committed to upholding Roe v. Wade. That, my sweeties, is extreme enough for this country as we all know.

I made several starts on this post, simply because there are so many possible paths to take, from a statistical analysis of opinions on reproductive choice over the last forty years, to asking how it was that women in the past didn't know it was an embryo they were aborting but now they do know (thanks to sonograms!) to wondering if one can have fully informed opinions on reproductive choice in a country which at least in theory still offers that choice to women (how does one imagine the alternative?). But you know all that.

Still, the question Eleanor Clift poses in that quote is too tempting to ignore, the one about why not support a woman who is for everything but reproductive choice.

The answer is that women's equality depends on reproductive choice. Read about women's history if you don't think that is true. Go and read the misogynist sites if you don't think that is true. Think about what it means not to have control over your fertility in a world where societal support structures for families with children are minimal and where hands-on child care and responsibility for children is still pretty much viewed as women's job.

Now, reproductive choice is not synonymous with abortions. If we had perfect and safe birth control which would automatically be on until one wants to have children the lack of abortion rights would be fine. But that's not the world we live in.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I Hate New Hampshire

I do. Just drove through it today, because I had to, in order to get out of beautiful Vermont. And don't you dare tell me that I shouldn't hate New Hampshire, because it is most certainly hateworthy. Here's why:

I was parched for water so I stopped at one of those state of New Hampshire rest stops. The stop contained a building with vending machines, a building with a guy sitting behind a counter full of maps and a store selling alcohol. Water was to be had in the vending machines.

Except that the smallest bill I had was a tenner and the machines wouldn't accept that. I went to the store to see if they sold non-alcoholic beverages. They do not. Neither are they willing to change a ten-dollar note to something smaller.

Next I went to the man with the maps. He refused to change the note, too. He also told me that they used to have a money changing machine but someone robbed it so they removed it. Hence the need for me to die of thirst, naturally.

I finally managed to find 1.75 for the water vending machine. Except that nothing came out of the machine. Then I kicked it. And drove away parched with scaling scales and all.

Both Sides Now

This is a new radio show featuring two women:

Both Sides Now is a new weekend radio show offering both sides on every issue, with Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, and Mary Matalin, former top aide to the Bush/Cheney White House. Hosted by Mark Green.

Loads of shows feature two or three men, of course, so it's nice to hear two women hashing it out. Except for who these two women are: One W-Stands-For-Women Bushist and one woman whose news website sells by having tit pics on the front page.

So we are not going to hear interesting feminist opinions in that show. Which may be a blessing in disguise as most such debates (with two sides) on feminist questions juxtapose "women really ARE human beings" with "women are crap". And we view that as objective and neutral.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Other Half Of The Question [Anthony McCarthy]

This morning I asked a half of a question, Would you want the friends of your children, their boyfriends, girlfriends to have their minds formed by the worst of media?

That was the less troubling half of it. The more troubling half is would you want the enemies of your children, their sadistic boy or girl friend, a very potentially violent school mate who they might not even know, to have their minds informed by the worst of media? Because they could very likely have that last one now.

That is a question that the media libertarians should have to answer, that is also a question that liberals who believe the situation as it lies is tolerable forced on them. I don’t think it is tolerable. I don’t think there is any reason for anyone to just accept it because they think that question has been settled because the Supreme Court has spoken.

There is a lot more to think about at Nancy Carlsson-Paige’s website.

I don’t have any idea what she would think of my post, which should not be taken as representative of her thinking, it is my sole responsibility.

Happy Fathers' Day

To all you dads out there. I'm giving you cute dog pictures as a present.

Remember Sasha? To refresh your memory, this is how she used to look:

And this is how she looks now:

Pictures by Doug.

I Don’t Believe It Anymore I’m Not Pretending I Do [Anthony McCarthy]

This has been developing over the last several months.

When I sat down to write this post it was going to be about another story in today’s paper about a teenager being tormented by bullies in her school. As that story was forming itself on the screen, details about the campaign of terror waged against one child, I changed my mind.

I decided to say instead, I just don’t believe it anymore. I believe that child’s oppression is the result of what her oppressors think and where they learned that from. And I think it’s clear where some of it comes from. Their behavior is the result of it.

I don’t believe the predominant dogma of media libertarianism, I won’t fall for it anymore. I don’t believe that we have to be fair to malignant media or its producers or those who sell it or even those who consume it. I don’t believe they deserve it, they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt anymore. I’m not going to be their stooge or carry their water. I don’t believe that liberalism and a decent life can survive in a society that gives media carrying malignant content an absolutely free reign.

When you let anything into the media stream you’re going to get seductive violent, sexist, hateful crap that will be seen by children and others who will learn to be twisted, mean, selfish, sociopathic units of consumption instead of people you would want to encounter. Not people you’d want to meet in person, not even on the other end of the telephone line or processing your online order.

And if that’s true for you, as an adult, it is many times more true for your children and other children.

The clear fact that different media had different effects and so probably shouldn’t be considered the same kind of thing as a printed text, didn’t occur to me until sometime in the 1980s when someone told me that a couple in town habitually watched porn videos with their children in the room with them. I didn’t make the connection between having a machine to show movies in your house with it becoming not only possible to watch the most depraved forms of pornography and violence with the youngest children, but that, inevitably, it would often be done. I did know that none of the children in that family was older than ten and that they went to school with my nieces and nephews. Consider that. YOU might just turn it off, you might protect your children from the effects of the worst the entertainment industry offers but they almost certainly will be in school with children who have been imbibing it since they were in diapers. Would you want the friends of your children, their boyfriends, girlfriends to have their minds formed by the worst of media? Because that’s the situation we’re in now thanks to technology mixed with media libertarianism.

They are in your children’s schools, your children won’t be able to avoid them. And, don’t lie to yourselves, the chances are you children will be seeing the same commercial depravity that those young horrors are, if not in your home while you’re assuming they’re doing their homework online or in their friends’ homes.

You might want to listen to this interview with Nancy Carlsson-Paige about the effects of media on young children. In a piece she wrote with Diane E. Levin they point out some really horrific facts:

Children in the United States are swimming in a culture of violence which has its effects from subtle to deadly on every child. The violence comes in many forms--family abuse, violence on the streets, in the community, violence in the news. Every 10 seconds a child in this country is abused or neglected. Every 2 hours a child is killed by a firearm.

And then there is entertainment violence--every child's automatic membership in a media-saturated, popular culture that glorifies violence through images, actions, and models marketed to children via television, toys and other products, videos, video games, and Hollywood films. On television alone, children see 32 acts of violence every hour and over 1,000 murders a year. Teachers and researchers have been warning for more than a decade that this violent culture marketed to children has harmful effects, both in the present and for the long term.

It's been pointed out a number of times, here and elsewhere that between three and four women a day are murdered in the United States because they are women. It’s been stated that this is a lynching campaign against women, a terror campaign that kills many and robs all women of their full freedom. Media that feeds social misogyny encourages that violence. And we see the same campaign against children. Twelve children a day killed by firearms, I haven’t read enough yet to make any parallel to lynching but it is clearly a disaster that is killing more than 4,300 children a year. It’s not hard to imagine that the psychological effects on the rest of children can’t be good. And their turning 18 isn’t going to fix that.

The pretense of media libertarianism that began in the 1950s was that the product an unrestricted media would bring would be innocuous, that “studies showed” there wasn’t a correlation between media violence and violence in society. I won’t go into the character of those “studies” except to say they were junk science. And the media didn’t even believe it themselves. We’ve noted here before that the same line of “no effect” wasn’t the same one they were selling to advertisers the entire time as they touted the ability of media to influence behavior. But all that was in a much different media. TV was under content codes, there were no home videos or computers. About the only thing that is the same is print and that was regulated for content too, especially graphic content.

I just don’t believe it anymore, I’m not willing to pretend I do. We live in a country where the Supreme Court has declared that the protection of children isn’t a greater interest than the entertainment of adults. The highest authorities in our country have abdicated adult responsibility on behalf of commercial media and its distributors. And in the name of freedom. Burning the village to save the village wasn’t a more ironic concept. In that, I think the judicial system has adopted and extended the same two ended lie that the media libertarians were pushing. Only they are embedding it into the law of the land. The rest of government is lying right along with them.

I especially don’t believe that there is any rational reason that a distinction can’t be made between text and photography and video and live performance. The founding fathers might have been ignorant of the potential difference, in 2010 there is no excuse for us to pretend we don’t know that.

Liberalism has been declining the entire time that media libertarianism has been rising. That isn’t any kind of paradox unless you mistook the reason for liberalism to ever have existed to begin with. Liberalism has been twisted into libertarianism along the way. The seductive message of liberty on behalf of Ulysses and other great works of fiction have made liberals forget that their purpose isn’t to be impartial. It made liberals forget that they have no business suspending judgement. The purpose of liberalism is to promote ends, it is to push an agenda and to oppose forces in the media that oppose that agenda. Equality, a decent peaceful life, an informed electorate, and a host of other benefits to the world are the real goal of liberalism. That’s what I still believe in. And pretending it was wrong for us to make distinctions even among books (which have no inherent right) was among the stupidest acts of capitulation in this decline. Putting Last Exit to Brooklyn on public library shelves was never any serious concern of real liberals. The message of the book is hardly a promotion of womens’ rights, equality or anything positive. The content makes it entirely different from information about contraception and gender equality and safer sex or sex in the context of mutual respect and affection. It is possible to distinguish the necessary from the malignant, the positive from the oppressive. They should have let the illiberal junk fight it out on its own.

I don’t believe that all media is equal or deserves to be equal or that it should all be treated the same way. I believe that liberalism that has adopted media or corporate libertarianism has ceased to be liberal. I’m not buying those transparent libertarian lies anymore. I think it’s possible to make distinctions between malignant media and media that isn’t, I think that if we ever want a decent society it is necessary to come up with the processes for doing that while protecting media that is beneficial. If it isn’t, we are doomed to becoming a species dominated by psychopaths.

Media that promotes the opposite of equality and treating people and the world decently should be opposed, it’s not the equal of media that promotes good, it appeals to the worst in us, the most selfish in us. It’s selfishness is seductive and gives it power that media promoting unselfishness will not have. It should be opposed.