Saturday, September 04, 2010

Brilliant performance. Socialite, backer, "Kate" shows up instead of Lily Tomlin to promote The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe on a talk show.

Lily Tomlin Appears on Night After Night

I love how the host of the show, Allan Havey, gets into it to the extent that he's annoyed with "Kate" at some points.

OK, just as brilliant,

Lily Tomlin Accepts An Award in 1977

Ten Things Barack Obama Could Do To Save His Floundering Presidency [Anthony McCarthy]

1. Fire Rahm Emanuel
2. Fire Tim Geithner
3. Fire Larry Summers
4. Fire Robert Gibbs
5. Fire David Axelrod
6. Appoint Elizabeth Warren, for crying out loud
7. Fire Alan Simpson
8. Give the House members something they can run on.
9. Stop giving your base the finger. We gave you a bigger mandate than any of your recent predecessors had. WE are the ones you owe, not the cast of clowns listed above.
10. Act like a president, for crying out loud. If you're just going to send out Gibbs to pretend you're powerless, If you're going to keep this up, step aside and let someone else try.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Rehabbing Mike Tyson's image (by Suzie)

Can you imagine a U.S. senator who chose a convicted rapist to be the best man at his wedding? Neither could some Florida voters. They rejected billionaire Jeff Greene in the Democratic primary last week, in part, I fervently hope, because of Mike Tyson.

Their connection came up after Tyson talked about doing drugs during a 2005 cruise on Greene's 145-foot yacht Summerwind. Greene responded by saying that he didn't allow drugs on his yacht, and that claims were made by disgruntled employees and journalists out to get him. Tyson defended Greene, saying he partook only on land.

Many people poked fun, as did Gail Collins, who describes the yacht as "the Levi Johnston of boats."
The government of Belize says Summerwind tore up a part of a national coral reef with its anchor, but Greene denies knowing anything about it. The yacht went to Cuba, apparently breaking the American embargo. Greene says that was just for emergency repairs, and, anyway, he spent the downtime visiting Cuban synagogues. ...

Clearly, the Summerwind has a life of its own, cruising around the globe, burning 50 gallons of fuel an hour, throwing orgies for B-list celebrities while Greene is home reading. It played host to Lindsay Lohan, who Greene claims he’s barely met. It took Mike Tyson on a Black Sea cruise that culminated in a drug-and-sex romp in Amsterdam, but Greene was only around for the part where they visited an 11th-century monastery in Ukraine.
On this cruise, a woman in Sardinia accused Tyson of sexual assault, but police said they found no evidence to substantiate her allegation. This has been little reported. The same link, plus this one, note that women have accused Tyson of sexual assault and battery before and after his rape conviction in 1992.

In the primary campaign, kudos to Jim Stratton of the Orlando Sentinel for recognizing the gender angle of Greene's friendship with Tyson. In other words, it turned off some women.
Greene spokesman Paul Blank said Monday that Greene “obviously doesn’t condone or agree with” all of Mike Tyson’s behavior and that the candidate is “a strong supporter of all efforts to curb domestic violence. ... You only need to watch Jeff interact with his 83-year-old mother to see that he has enormous respect for women.”
That put Greene ahead of the politicians who beat their elderly mothers. Regarding Greene’s choice of Tyson as his best man in his 2007 wedding, the spokesman said Greene “believes in redemption” and was “trying to help somebody when they were hurting.” Redeem has different meanings: A person can redeem himself or be redeemed. Why do men like Greene or James Toback, who directed the documentary "Tyson," feel compelled to redeem this rapist?

I didn't see "Tyson" when it came out last year, but the reviews remind me of "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," another rapist apologia released in 2008. A NYT interview refers to Tyson's "foibles" and "mistakes." Tim Arango writes that Tyson no longer feels threatening. Tim, what if you were a woman interviewing him alone as he talked about his desire to dominate women?

The film premiered at Cannes, where Tyson "got something close to a hero's welcome," according to Andrew O'Hehir. Of the movie critics on Rotten Tomatoes, 85 percent liked the film, with some finding Tyson honest and sympathetic. I wonder how that made Desiree Washington feel.

He did three years in prison for raping her. On the Internet, there's one hateful comment after another about her. In 2004, Tyson said he hated her so much that "now I really do want to rape her." In the documentary, he calls her “that wretched swine of a woman.” He continues to deny raping her. "His reasoning: He’s raped before and knows the difference," notes reviewer Jaime Lowe. Tyson is championed by his old friend, Toback, a sleazy schmo who has used movie-making to attract young women.

I look forward to the documentary on women who have accused prominent men of rape -- international celebrities such as Polanski and Tyson as well as others with power and money -- and the effects that has had on their lives.

Stephen Hawking On God [Anthony McCarthy]

Someone has asked me what, as a religious person, my reaction to Stephen Hawking’s reported recent declarations on God is. I haven’t read his book so I can only react to what’s been reported.

"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist," Hawking writes.

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

The public life of Stephen Hawking sometimes reminds me of Olympic figure skating in the United States, something which is, periodically, the topic of the day or even week, only to then go into eclipse. In the mean time everyone, even people who have no knowledge of the sport, is supposed to have a strongly held opinion on it. Even if they have no idea why. With Stephen Hawking, it was alien invasion, the time before this.

Hawking's logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

"To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational," he said. "The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like."

The answer, he suggests, is that most of it will be the equivalent of microbes or simple animals - the sort of life that has dominated Earth for most of its history.

The logical response to which is, who knows? There isn’t any way of knowing the first thing about that topic until at least the first example of extra-terrestrial life is verified and studied sufficiently. And, given the distances and the time it would take to travel them, that would be only the first example which we shouldn’t be expecting to get under our analytical tools any time soon. And even that won’t give you any information that can tell you about the next, proximate, example. As of this morning, the likelihood that people will ever have enough information about the prevalence of extraterrestrial life to even come to a crude excuse for an estimate of its probability, would seem to be very remote. You can’t figure a probability of there being any other life in the universe without at least one other example being known. We don’t have that today and so anything that even the very clever Mr. Hawking says on that topic is complete speculation

In view of his statements on the topic, Hawking even venturing so far as to declare an informal probability of it constitutes a lapse of logic on his part. Hawking’s speculation that “other life” could be very unlike ours and exist in environments ententirely different than our biosphere, undermines the argument from the discovery of other planets like ours, at least in terms of probability being applied to it. For all we know our form of life could be unique in the universe. There could be, literally, not a single other terrestrial kind of life anywhere. It is possible that the life on Earth is the first to arise and develop or that it is the only instance in which life will ever arise and develop, that is if Hawking’s cosmology is correct and the universe isn’t in some kind of stable state. So what finding Earth style planets would mean to the question isn’t knowable. Perhaps its due to his habits developed in physics, dealing with objects and systems far, far more simple than organisms and the environments in which they arise, evolve and live, but the simplification in Hawking’s analysis is stunningly inadequate even as scientific or mathematical speculation.

There being, literally, no data on that topic that is known to be relevant to the problem, it is not science, it is not mathematical probability, it isn’t logic. There being no information known to be relevant to the issue, it’s not even an informed guess, it’s a wild shot in the dark, one probably based firmly in Hawking’s personal experiences and preferences and fears.

Personally, I’m in the school that believes life that could survive intelligence and go out into the wider universe would have to be pacifistic or they’d have destroyed themselves before then. I also believe they would have to have a non-acquisitive way of life or their taste in even petty luxury would have destroyed their environment. They would have to be unselfish in a way that, perhaps, only our most sainted figures approach. Perhaps our wanderlust is the product of our irrational need to acquire things we don’t need and the pleasure we get from subjugating and, in many cases, destroying other life. Maybe a form of life with another chemistry or another development wouldn’t find any reason to travel past where they live onward into eons of time while species such as our own uniformly destroy ourselves before we get very far. Being biased, I think the matter of our survival is ever so much more important and interesting than the question of the origin of the universe. Which is unscientific of me, I suppose, though there are scientists who do concern themselves with that unglamorous and, temporarily, inconvenient issue.


Looking on one of the cookie cutter new atheist blogs in preparation of this post, I saw pretty much what I expected to see, Stephen Hawking’s baseless speculation on the subject of whether or not God was “necessary” to the start of the universe cited as a reliable authority on the subject. Which is pretty funny in view of this quotation from an interview with Diane Sawyer.

"There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."

Why is anyone paying attention to what Stephen Hawkings or most other scientists say about religion except on the basis of their presumed authority? And it’s the flimsiest kind of authority on the topic, based in a reputation gained in an entirely different field of study. As far as I have been able to see, Stephen Hawking has never published a scholarly paper on the subject in a reviewed journal so it’s not even passed that level of testing. Perhaps if he had tried his ideas in that academic realm he might have avoided limiting himself to one, very crude assumption about religious thinking, believing that all of it is as unaware of the vicissitudes of the study of religious questions as he obviously is. Here is just one example of that.

Anyone who has read even a little of the rigorous, formal literature around various religions, would know that the contemporary critics of religion almost never have the slightest knowledge of what serious people have said on the topic. Which is another of the dangers of people who believe their opinions carry the weight of authoritative knowledge and even more so those who take them as authorities when they only confirm their biases.


That a physicist, studying aspects of the physical universe doesn’t find anything except the physical universe is hardly a shocker. The very methods necessary for any reputable publication of science rigorously exclude questions not relevant to address the physical nature of the subject matter. Any part of any presumed supernatural is necessarily excluded from that consideration. You might as well say that due process under the law isn’t logically necessary to the findings. That one predisposed to find confirmation of their atheism in that most un-supernatural realm should believe they have found it is only slightly less surprising. What tops it off is to hear him cited as an authority on the topic of religion in the same blog posts and articles where he condemns religion as the realm of authority based thinking which he claims his own profession doesn’t practice. Clearly he impeaches himself on that point, his sciency fan club only confirms that negation of that proud claim.

In the last few years, in what free time I get, I’ve been reading about epistemology a bit, specifically the epistemology of science. One of the more interesting and, when you think about it, obvious things pointed out in my reading is that all of the apparatus of science, mathematics and logic are formed by us in order to gain a sense of coherency of the world and the universe. Not a single law of science is anything other than the product of human thought. Not a single one of them has been developed except within a realm which excludes everything but what we can discover of the physical universe. I believe that exclusion is based in our experience and the extension of our logic, which, itself, is a means to address our experience of the physical universe. Whether or not it is the result of favorable adaptations in our evolution is a far, far more speculative, and I hold, unanswerable question, but we’ve pointed out the problems with that wildly popular attempt to extend science past the requirements of evidence many times here.

But, as seen in Hawkins’ declaration, the laws of science are habitually held to be an actual, unmitigated, feature of the universe, existing independently of us when there isn’t any way to confirm that. Perhaps if we ever encounter “other life” we will find they have other ways to make sense of it. Our laws are held “to work”, and they generally do within their limits. Integral to the invention and practice of sciences was the strict limitation of what was under consideration at any point in the process and the claims made for it in real world applications *

Part of the predictable response to Hawking’s pronouncements has been people raising questions about our lives and experience of the universe which are, decidedly, not physical in nature. One of those was the question of a purpose to the universe, which is a question that science can’t deal with. The entirely predictable response to that was to declare the question to be nonsense. Well, it isn’t nonsense, it’s as understandable a question as any. That science can’t come up with an answer to it doesn’t change that. It is as much a part of human culture as science is to ask questions like that, to speculate about them, to come up with different answers to it and for our understanding of that purpose to change over time. Mimicking the discontinued philosophical fad of logical positivism to dismiss questions you don’t like doesn’t seem to stop the questions. For which I am very thankful.

It seems to be an emotional need of the new atheists to believe they have disposed of the question of purpose but most people seem to be unimpressed with that artificial substitute for reason. And that’s only one of the questions that we, mere mortals, have about the universe which we find ourselves in. I am more convinced as I see us destroying ourselves, to a large degree with the products of science and technology, that unless we include questions of purpose, justice, rights, morality and other entirely non-scientific features of human thought and culture, that science is inadequate in itself to ensure our continued existence.

We are bound by our own mental equipment, our cultural and educationally established habits of thought and other features of our lives as thinking animals. In no other realm of human activity is this as true as in academic publication and in no part of that does the subject matter run up against the limits of those conditions than in physics. The laws of physics are human explanations to ourselves of what we perceive of the universe. That is a basic feature of those laws. Even the concept of a “law” of science is conditioned in that way. As long as those laws are limited to the address of the physical universe for which they are developed, yes, they often do seem to work, though often within a given context. Therefore, it’s especially surprising to see as subtle a thinker as Stephen Hawking mistakenly believing that they can be extended past that use and into areas which science has not gone and can never go. Even assuming that his theory of the universe stands -- which isn’t anything like a settled question if other equally eminent physicists are to be taken seriously -- they don’t get to what happened before the creation of the universe. Indeed, that question is so opaque that to talk of it as “before” goes beyond what is covered under those same laws.

A passage in the Book of Isaiah that often comes to mind when thinking about this topic, is when God is said to have said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,". Whatever else people have held about God, no matter how much of our limited minds and thoughts and even our crimes and injustices we have attributed to God, even the most anthropomorphic religion holds that God is not a human being. To think that God would be required to follow our laws of science or, indeed, any possible actual mechanisms of a universe created by God, is rather touchingly naive in a way that even the “ignorant goat herders” who are believed by the incredulous to have written the Bible were able to surpass.

In a brief encounter about this on another blog, I pointed out that Stephen Hawking has no more expertise on the question of God than the woman who runs the grain store down the road from me. One of the people who responded to that mockingly refereed to her, someone he didn’t know other than in that passing reference, as an “ignorant church lady”. Well, I know her and she’s far from ignorant and, as far as I remember, hasn’t gone to church since her husband’s funeral. Even if she had, she’d still know as much about the question as any other human being. Somehow, in that response, I think I gained a greater understanding of Stephen Hawking’s declaration and its position in our culture than in all of the other thinking I did about it for this post.

* As is seen all around us, in the destruction of our environment, the pollution of our bodies with synthetic and natural toxins provided by commerce and in hundreds of other ways, this lapse in the scientific oversight of the application of the products of science is anything but an idealistic and rigorous process of considering important issues.

Friday flower blogging (by Suzie)

What are these lovelies?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

On Honor in Glenn Beck's World

Watching the video Digby posted today from the big Becksian party in Washington D.C. reminded me that I was going to write something about its theme: Bringing back honor.

What does Beck mean by honor? Here are some dictionary definitions (I took out the ones which seem unlikely):

1. honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions: a man of honor.

2. a source of credit or distinction: to be an honor to one's family.

3. high respect, as for worth, merit, or rank: to be held in honor.

4. high public esteem; fame; glory: He has earned his position of honor.

10. chastity or purity in a woman.

Who knows which of these he had in mind, if any. But isn't it curious that honor in a woman may mean chastity or purity?

"Honor" is one of those terms which doesn't have to possess an exact meaning. It just has to sound good, to make chests expand and eyes tear up.

Bringing honor back requires a little bit more, of course. One must show that honor, however defined, has disappeared and will now be returned home to the brave and the free. Those, incidentally, are also terms which don't have to possess an exact meaning.

Christina Romer's Farewell Speech

She is leaving her position as chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. The text of the speech is here (pdf).

It is fun and informative to compare the two takes in today's Washington Post, this one and this one. Don't forget to wear your feminist spectacles.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Like Going To Bed With A Cheese-Grater

I thought of that, last night, all on my own*! It's a metaphor for how it feels to spend so much time every day debating on the net. It doesn't hurt much, at first. But after a few are left skinless.

A good thing that I wear scales, eh?
*Though probably someone has already thought of it. If so, how about having sex with a nutmeg grater?

The Problem, In A Nutshell

Is this:

Democrats in Congress are poised to play a leading role this month in thwarting their party's effort to raise income tax rates on the wealthy.

Tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 expire at the end of this year. President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders have been eager to extend the breaks for individuals who earn less than $200,000 annually and joint filers who make less than $250,000. Those who earn more would pay higher, pre-2001 rates starting next year.

However, a small but growing number of moderate Democrats are balking at boosting taxes on the rich. Many face electorates that recoil at the mention of any tax increase. Some represent areas that are loaded with wealthier taxpayers. Further, some incumbent senators who don't face voters this fall are reluctant to increase taxes on anyone while the economy remains sluggish.

Without their support, the push to raise rates on the rich probably will fail.

This world looks more and more like Ankh-Morpork of Terry Pratchett's DiscWorld series. Or put in other terms: If I wanted to do a funny parody of tax hikes and Americans, it would be what's going on in the U.S. Congress right now.


Blogging Iz Eazy!

Just saw your skull open with a hacksaw and then use pliers to pick out the juiciest bits, put them on a nice tray and serve!

(That's a slight re-phrasing of the statement about writing being easy: just open a vein and bleed all over the typewriter.)

And did I mention that it's hot? Well, it is.

Some cooling music for you: A jojk/joiku

The Sulky Heat

I have the ac on high, the fan whining and screeching at the maximum revolutions, the door sealed, and it is 84 freedom degrees in the room. The keys make little smacky sounds when my fingers release them and I cannot wear the traditional pajamas (with bunny feet) which everyone knows bloggers prefer.

The heat is sulky, he wears a nose ring and his ridged six-pack belly has glistening beads on it. He has too much long hair on his head. And on his body. The reason for his sulkiness is Earl, the hurricane, doing roundhouse kicks somewhere along the East Coast.

There. I converted all myths into guy terms.

Women In Sudan

This article is well worth reading on the subject of how to get more women into leading roles in the Sudanese political process:

The African Union has declared 2010 the Year of Peace and Security in Africa, and will soon launch the African Decade of Women. What better opportunity to act on these pledges than at the 15th African Union Summit, being held later this month in Kampala, Uganda?

The upcoming referendum in Sudan gives African leadership an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to improving the lives of women on this continent by ensuring that they actively and freely participate in the referendum.


Following April's elections in Sudan, only two of 35 cabinet ministers and six of 42 ministers for state are women. There are no women at the decision-making level in the Darfur negotiations at Doha ­a process that is plagued by problems and proving to be ineffectual. And now there is a conspicuous lack of women in formal leadership positions for the referendum.

Indeed, of the nine people appointed by the Sudanese government to the Referendum Commission, there is only one woman. This is far from the 30 percent advocated for by Mbeki and his Panel, the 25% demanded by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and well below international standards.

Hmm. It doesn't sound that terribly far from the U.S. standards, she mutters.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Booze and Death

Here's a writeup of a study which suggests that heavy drinkers live longer than those who have never consumed alcohol at all, even after taking into account socioeconomic status and all sorts of other possible explanations for differential death rates. The moderate drinkers were found to live longest, then the heavy drinkers, then the teetotalers.

Studies do generally find that moderate drinking is not bad for your health. But heavy drinking being better than not drinking at all?

Before we all run out to get really, really drunk, I'd like to draw your attention to one possible problem with the study:

The sample of those who were studied included individuals between ages 55 and 65 who had had any kind of outpatient care in the previous three years. The 1,824 participants were followed for 20 years. One drawback of the sample: a disproportionate number, 63%, were men. Just over 69% of the never-drinkers died during the 20 years, 60% of the heavy drinkers died and only 41% of moderate drinkers died.

Having a sample so biased towards men is pretty odd, because it suggests something nonrandom at the initial sampling stage. We'd expect a random sample from the general population to have a little more than fifty percent women.

But there's another reason to carefully scrutinize that paragraph: The initial sampling frame consisted of people who had had outpatient care in the previous three years. I haven't read the actual study so I am not quite sure what it means by "outpatient" care, but I would interpret this frame as meaning that people were selected for the study from a group which came to the attention of the health care system because of ill health or accident.

But consider the groups of teetotalers and heavy drinkers: What sort of reasons might they have to seek outpatient care, reasons which differ by the simple fact that the latter group consumes alcohol?

Perhaps heavy drinkers are more likely to enter care because of an accident? A fall or something similar? Could it be that this sampling frame will over-sample non-drinkers who are not well at the beginning of the study? Or, if you like, over-sample fairly healthy heavy drinkers who contacted the system because of a fall or something else associated with drinking itself?

These are pure speculations from my part, of course. Still, a more representative sampling frame for the study would have been good.


Atrios has a post about the rumblings which I, too, have heard on the wide Internets, about some progressives and liberals deciding not to vote at all in the coming mid-term elections, as a way to show their unhappiness with the Democratic Party and its current policies.

This topic always develops into a fervent debate: Should one hold one's nose (the nose of the same one!) and vote for some horrible candidate, so as to keep an even more horrible one (a different one!) out of office, or should one (the one with the nose) stay-at-home, to try to regain some power within the Democratic Party by perhaps keeping them from staying in power.

Philosophical reasons for both stances abound. But the real reason for the stupid question to exist in the first place is the two-party system. There is no way to register one's discontent with the Democrats without also helping the Republicans and vice versa.

A multi-party system gets around this by offering more alternatives, some with platforms much closer to that of the party one wishes to discipline. That, in turn, lets the protest go through without necessarily supporting one's (the one with the nose) political enemies.

We Are Ba-ack!

"We" being the stories about manly strongmen and wimps. This was on Drudge's front page yesterday:

The man on the left is Barack Obama, the man on the right is Vladimir Putin, and the reptile brain implication is that they have a real testosterone-infused killer as their leader whereas we have a guy who wears a bike helmet. Which is sissy.

What we need is a president who will tear off the heads of kittens, with his bare teeth, right on national television! That would be appropriate, just as having a former KGB guy as the president of Russia is appropriate.

These masculinity dreams are really quite hilarious to watch if you forget all that it ultimately means: The desire for a thundering patriarch at the helm of this nation. No woman could ever fill that role.

This links right back to my earlier posts about how men in politics are attacked as being effeminate.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Twisted Sister? Part III

Finally, the post about the title for this series. When I first read the op-ed something in my brain hooked on the one word 'twisted' and the rest is history, as they say, except that I have to defend the choice.

Here it goes: Sarah Palin accused radical feminists of being twisted sisters. Many 'on the (undefined) feminist left' have accused Sarah Palin of being twisted and no sister, and after writing these three posts I wonder if we should get rid of that 'sister' thinking altogether, or at least bring it to some relevance by focusing on how real sisters behave: They bicker and they fight, sure, but they also support and love each other, at least against an external threat. They are not all the same, not all sisters we'd select, and a sizable number of them are twisted.

So what? I quite like the idea of being a twisted sister myself. But someone not advocating for that whole quarrelsome and fractious and divided sisterhood, is she a sister, too? What does it take, hmh?

The use of 'sisterhood' is symbolic. Symbols are important and unimportant at the same time, one of those paradoxical concepts which you only get if you sit in the Lotus position and go ummmm a very long time.

They are important, because they can trigger a flood of relevant and irrelevant emotions and energies, some of which need to be triggered for proper political work.

They are important when they are absent, in the way positive references to the Firstness of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were absent in most of the discussions. First woman presidential candidate? PFFT. First Republican female vice-presidential candidate? BWAHAHA. Who cares about that shit (except perhaps for some silly aged feminazis)? Look at how monstrous she is! Look at how stupid she is!

Yet symbols are unimportant if all that there is is the symbolism, such as might be the case with Sarah Palin. They are like fast food with no nutrition. Ultimately mere symbolism is not enough.

The Twisted Sister? Part II

After that preamble, let's dive straight into the Holmes and Traister op-ed. I cannot guarantee a thorough review of it, for reasons I discussed in Part I, but I can probably come up with a few pearls or whatever.

Holmes and Traister's main argument is this:

The left should be outraged and exasperated by all this — but at their own failings as much as Ms. Palin's ascension. Since the 2008 election, progressive leaders have done little to address the obvious national appetite for female leadership. And despite (or because of) their continuing obsession with Ms. Palin, they have done nothing to stop an anti-choice, pro-abstinence, socialist-bashing Tea Party enthusiast from becoming the 21st century symbol of American women in politics.

Everything else in the piece is icing on the cake. Some yummy, all worth tasting, but just icing. This is the cake.

Is it a delicious and nutritious one? I cannot answer that question, because 'the left' remains undefined, and so do 'progressive leaders.' Do these terms refer to political institutions, the progressive media or the commentators on blogs such as Daily Kos, Eschaton and the Democratic Underground*? Is the question here about not grooming enough progressive female politicians or is the question about the support which is given or not given to those women who rise above the general herd of politicians?

Or is it really something more active: The Palin-bashing, done so carelessly by some progressives that it sometimes merges into general women-bashing? Do the Republicans bash the women in their movement as eagerly as some on the left bashed Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primaries?

Gah. I hate writing so many question marks. They are justified when tackling this topic, however, because they might open up the thinking a bit. I hope.

The above is the most important part of the op-ed and it is about the most important questions. But almost equally fascinating is the idea of Sarah Palin as some type of a proto-feminist:

Ms. Palin, in turn, has been making a greedy grab at claiming feminism as her own. She recently marked the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment by expressing her gratitude "to those brave feminist foremothers who struggled and sacrificed, endured imprisonment and ridicule ... to grant future generations of American women a voice." On the same day, she sent out this Twitter message: "Who hijacked the term 'feminist'? A cackle of rads who want 2 crucify other women w/ whom they disagree on a singular issue."

The hijacking accusation goes both ways. Ms. Palin's infuriating ability to put a new twist on feminism — after decades of the word's being besmirched by the right and the left — allows her to both distance herself from and accentuate the movement's maligned reputation. Her new spin, of course, is that she does not support policies that move women forward.

As I mentioned in Part I, nobody seems to define feminism anymore, and that allows one to determine that it's whatever one wishes, pretty much. The definition is up for grabs, my sweeties! Mama Grizzlies seems to be one of Palin's definition:

Ms. Palin has spent much of 2010 burnishing her political bona fides and extending her influence by way of the Mama Grizzlies, a gang of Sarah- approved, maverick-y female politicians looking to "take back" America with "common-sense" solutions.

Sure, the Grizzlies sound somewhat progressive on paper. But from their opposition to reproductive rights to their work against health care reform and labor policies that would empower American women, their ideas are just antiquated clich├ęs dressed up in designer suits. Like Ms. Palin herself, their talk about being "mama bears" and "tough as an ox ... wearing lipstick" simply reduces female candidates' political prospects to maternal worth and sex appeal.

If women are tough as an ox and still wear lipstick they don't need any societal changes whatsoever! They can manage bringing home the bacon, cooking it and then having fertile sex with the Papa Grizzlies, while also fixing everything with common-sense solutions, lullabying several children in their lap while doing all this. That leaves the societal sexisms intact, and assures the fundies that these women would still do their bidding at home.

Holmes and Traister are completely right on Sarah Palin's policies. They are not helpful to women in general. At the same time, the symbolism Palin attaches to herself should not be ignored. Whatever her policies, she gives lip-service to feminism of the past (while trying to stop feminism of the present). That lip-service is important and we see too little of it from 'the left', however defined.

*It is what I read on the comments threads of many liberal blogs during the Democratic Primaries which made me feel as if someone had tried to assist me in a harakiri, and those emotions cannot stay away when I write about this topic, by the way. But 'the left' here is unlikely to consist of anonymous liberal misogynists of whatever gender.

The Twisted Sister? Part I

When I read this op-ed entitled "A Palin Of Our Own" I wondered how brave I would feel today. Anything about Palin and feminism is incendiary on the blogs, combined with the tremendous difficulty of covering the topic in short soundbites which blog posts ultimately are. It is that difficulty which requires the bravery, because whatever I say will leave too much unsaid and the outcome will be rife for misunderstandings of all types. Every time I start to disentangle the topic in my mind I see the threads going all over the place, and following them would take a book:

What happened to feminism in the Democratic Primaries? Something awful appeared. What made Hillary Clinton the lever that turned over that particular rock hiding various creepy-crawlies? What happened in the 2008 presidential elections and the way women were treated in some of the media and on some otherwise liberal blogs? Was it a mere sequel to the earlier Clinton-bashing, often turning into woman-bashing, with odd twists of sexism by McCain and the other boyz in his team?

Why is Palin still all over the news? Is it because she is incendiary and that's good for readership and advertising revenues? If so, why is she good for those things, what is it that the audience is looking for when reading about her or when watching her? Is any of that relevant for understanding misogyny or the advancement of women in general? How does one juggle the ideas of Palin as the leader anointed by God and Palin as the most stupid blonde ever (without being actually blonde)? Given that these kinds of approaches are always used for one's homies and one's enemies, respectively, how much of the emotions hanging around Palin is about her sex?

What are Palin's actual achievements as the governor of Alaska? Is quitting jobs what we want to see a 'new feminist' leader do? How are the 'new' feminisms defined by those who claim them: The ones on the extreme left and the ones on the extreme right? What is required for a person to be regarded as a feminist? Only acceptance of the idea for her/his own life, while fighting against any change for other women? Only focus on general social justice issues? Something else completely?

Do the two main political parties have real platforms about the role of women in politics? I don't mean mouthwash here, but something real. And if they do, what are those real platforms? Who is it we refer to when we say "the liberals" treat Palin a certain way or the "conservatives" treat Clinton a certain way, or vice versa?

And so on and so on.

Yes, all of that is boring and hair-splitting but the current debate ignores such huge chunks of it, replacing the necessary longer discussions with soundbites which mean different things to different people and do nothing to further the conversation.

More above in Parts II and III, the last with a discussion of what I mean by the title of these posts.

Monday Reading

About the right-wing populism which just met in Washington, D.C.. A most important piece is by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker. She has done loads of work to find out which billionaires are picking up the tab for all those Tea Parties and the general grass-roots conservative populism. Frank Rich wrote about Mayer's piece, too.

Then Wonkette posted this picture from the Becksian events.

It is of no great importance, of course. One guy holding up his home-made sign where he lists "our wives" among all the things that he holds "in memory." But it's always fun to see who is included in that "we" of various signs and meetings and so on.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Betty Carter

Deep Night - What's New

I believe Deep Night was written by Rudy Vallee, who my great-aunt Marion knew as a boy in Westbrook, Maine. She said he was a "nice boy". Of course he was already quite elderly at the time. At any rate, he was the one who made the song a hit.

Betty Carter takes Deep Night places he probably never imagined it going, a good example of jazz improvisation as composition. Her work with the bassist, Curtis Lundy, I believe , is quite wonderful.

[Anthony McCarthy]

Chains Beneath The Frivolity and Flounces [Anthony McCarthy]

hatever I might think about drag and its relationship with the wider view of gay men, I’m certain that the drag queen role isn’t a good one for women to follow. The paper today informs us that RuPaul has a new program which is based on professional drag queens instructing women on how to be women.

Granted, some drag queens are extremely talented performers and that their act, to be done well, requires both that and a lot of work. Creating and talking yourself into being the embodiment of the post-war feminine mystique is hard work. That’s not news to women. Playing that role and having a real self with a real life was impossible. You can go back into the first wave feminist activism and read that the requirements of elaborate dress, hair and the rest of the mandated accessories of being a respectable woman were an intrinsic part of women's subjugation. And, on top of that, if someone tried to follow those dictates they were then despised for being frivolous, self-centered, idle and artificial. That part of the drag act, the ridicule of the role assigned to women and with it those assumed to have adopted that role voluntarily, reinforces that oppression. I’m unaware of any drag queen who unmockingly imitates smart, competent, women who are engaged in serious, unselfish activities.

I’d guess that RuPaul and his people are looking for a popular TV show, that’s their business. He’s got his incredibly over done drag queen act to work with and, though he does it well, it’s not much to build on. What else can you do with it?

The article in today’s paper makes some oddly myopic assertions about women in show business adopting parts of the drag queen act. It’s not anything new. Mae West’s act was a two-way exchange between her character and drag queens. In the wonderful movie in which she spoofs her own act, Go West, Young Man, she shows that she wasn’t under any illusion about the nature of her character. At least not at that time, later on she seemed to be trapped in it*. In the rarest turn of all, when she went under disguise as a religious revivalist in Klondike Annie, she showed that she was able to step out of it, at least in the movies.

But that was in the movies and on stage. It’s not real life. Real people live in real life.

The story is that when the Stonewall Inn was raided it was the drag queens who were the first to resist. I wasn’t there and have never spoken to anyone who was. Since that is widely reported by people who were there, it’s a laudable act on the part of those who resisted anti-gay oppression. But that doesn’t erase the negative implications of drag and its promotion of oppressive stereotypes for women, and, indisputably, gay men. Living a phony stereotype is oppressive, especially one assigned for the purpose of entrapping victims into oppression. The powerful elite, comprised of straight men, wasn’t going to allow those assigned roles to be empowering. I don’t for one second see adoption of those roles as being empowering, that is a delusion useful to the established order. With this show, with the actual instruction of women by professional drag queens in how to live their act, that promotional aspect isn’t deniable.

Note: I can’t comment on Lady Gaga because my 14-year-old niece has forbidden me to listen to her. I do understand that she has recently made some laudable political statements. For which I am grateful.

* Billy Wilder has said that it was a big mistake to ask her to play Norma Desmond when she was in her 60s because she believed she actually was the role she had perfected in her act.