Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mary Lou Williams

Movements from Zodiac Suite 1945. There is no other way to see it but that this is pretty cool and accomplished, especially if you read in her biography the conditions she was working under when she composed and recorded it.





I think they have the entire set on You Tube. For Hecate [Anthony McCarthy]

I hope I fixed the HTML this time, it's my fourth try.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Asking for it (by Suzie)

Echidne's posts on women's clothes this week reminded me of the "Not Ever" ad campaign from Rape Crisis Scotland. The nonprofit did a previous ad campaign based on the "This Is Not an Invitation to Rape Me" project, begun in 1993 by artists responding to the assault of a friend.

On YouTube, one commenter says that, when the man in the video says the woman is asking for it, he means that she's asking for sex. If someone asked to be raped, he says, then it wouldn't be rape -- it would be consensual. That ignores the dictionary definition:
ask for it - persist with actions or an attitude despite the probability that it will cause trouble; "He is asking for trouble with his behavior."
In regard to a sexy woman, "asking for it" reinforces the idea that:
  1. For women, sex is trouble.
  2. Men have so little control over their actions that a woman's appearance can provoke them into harassment or worse.
  3. Women have men in mind when they choose what to wear or how to behave.
  4. If a woman dresses or acts in a sexy way in hopes of having sex, then she's fair game for all men.
  5. Women should not or will not clearly initiate or consent to sex. Men have to look for clues, such as the way a woman dresses, to see if she wants it.
  6. Sex is akin to a bar fight in which women provoke men, and the men react in a way that proves their manhood while putting women in their place.
ETA: For others who are having trouble uploading videos on Blogger, change the width parameter 640 to 480 at both the top and bottom of the embed code. That's what I had to do with this one.

Question for the weekend (by Suzie)

I received a party invitation that read: "Please bring a dish to share - a bottle of wine or soft drink will be acceptable from male guests. :-)" Because this was sent to students mostly from other countries, the host may have felt the need to spell out what many Americans already acknowledge. Women are expected to cook or, at the least, buy a side dish or dessert for a potluck. Men get less criticism for bringing less.

If men, especially younger heterosexuals who drink alcohol, are running the show, you can count on plenty of alcohol, but you should have dinner beforehand. If women are in charge, it's a good bet that there will be food.

What do you bring to the party?

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

This is the late, great Shasta, who lived with my friend Jan in Little Rock, Ark. I finally managed to download photos from my phone.

My apartment complex has at least two Siberian Huskies now, Fang and Yukon. My Chihuahua loves playing with Yukon, but finds Fang a bit too exuberant. Another new dog is Max, an enormous Alaskan Malamute, calm and cuddly. I wish I could borrow him for the winter.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Dangers Of Popularized Research

GdF sent me the link to a blog post discussing a study on parenting styles by first-time mothers and fathers and how those might relate to their oxytocin levels.

The instructive thing to do is to begin with this carefully written blog post on the topic and the comments attached to it. Then skate over to the New York Times parenting blogs to see what the popularization said.

Or do it in reverse. Either way, you might be shocked to find that the NYT popularization doesn't just leave bits out: It also goes for one definite conclusion when the initial research did not do so. That amounts to adding something: A particular interpretation.

Poverty Is Up In The US

It's a consequence of the recession:

* The poverty rate in 2009 was the highest since 1994, but was 8.1 percentage points lower than the poverty rate in 1959, the first year for which poverty estimates are available. The number of people in poverty in 2009 is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates are available.
* In 2009, the family poverty rate and the number of families in poverty were 11.1 percent and 8.8 million, respectively, up from 10.3 percent and 8.1 million in 2008.
* The poverty rate and the number in poverty increased across all types of families: married-couple families (5.8 percent and 3.4 million in 2009 from 5.5 percent and 3.3 million in 2008); female-householder-with-no-husband-present families (29.9 percent and 4.4 million in 2009 from 28.7 percent and 4.2 million in 2008) and for male-householder-no-wife-present families (16.9 percent and 942,000 in 2009 from 13.8 percent and 723,000 in 2008).

The above link has much more information about individual incomes, household incomes and the number of Americans without health insurance. For even more information, go here (pdf)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Moderate: That's Me!

It's easy to forget, when covering mostly American politics, that what a politically moderate person is varies tremendously by country and by culture. Take me, for instance. I once asked my mother where she'd put me in terms of the political dimension. Her answer: moderately to the right.

That is a true story, though naturally applicable only inside the political system of a different country. Now contrast that with my reputation here (small as it may be) of being firmly in the rabid base of the Democratic party, possibly even more to the left, possibly a full-blown extremist!

I'm not writing about this just so that you can laugh at me, but because of the recent use of the term 'moderate' in all sorts of places. We all hear it as meaning a balanced person, someone who isn't going to yell and scream in your face all the time, someone who is 'in the middle.' But a moderate is always a relative term. It only makes sense when we know what the corresponding extremist points of view are and when we also know how close to one of those points a moderate might be.

The American use of the term 'politically moderate' to cover the Independents is even trickier. People who are not registered Republicans or Democrats are not necessarily in some vacant land between the two parties. They may have more extreme views than either party or they may simply not have many political views at all.

Neither are 'the moderates' in any particular political system necessarily the most in numbers, despite my own tendency to view them that way.

This is the piece which provoked these ultimately unrelated musings.

Elizabeth Warren To Be "A Special Adviser"

Huffington Post:

The White House has tapped Elizabeth Warren as a special adviser to help set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ABC News is reporting. The move allows her to act as an interim head of the CFPB and will enable her to begin setting up the agency immediately and prevent the GOP from filibustering her nomination. Warren could serve until Obama nominates a permanent director -- a nomination he's not required to make for some time. Obama could also nominate her as the permanent director in the near future, a prospect that has been discussed among top aides, according to a person familiar with the White House deliberations. Warren will also be named as a special adviser directly to Obama, ABC reported.

A senior Democratic congressional aide with knowledge of the decision confirmed the ABC report to HuffPost.

The CFPB was a cornerstone of President Obama's Wall Street reform package and Warren is credited as the intellectual founder of the agency.

Intellectual founder. That's nice. So she gets to set up the Bureau but might not be nominated to run it because of being too blunt-spoken and because of this:

Warren would report to both the Treasury Department and the White House in a role that would not require Senate confirmation. The 61-year-old Harvard University professor had been considered the leading candidate to head the bureau itself, but her lack of support in the financial community could have set the stage for contentious Senate hearings that may have ultimately derailed her confirmation.

Heh. Next the Surgeon General will be nominated only if the tobacco industry supports the nominee.

On Feminism and Multi-Culturalism. Post I

I have started reading on topics such as the role of Islam in Europe in recent weeks, and this review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's new book touches on some of it. I'm going to write much more on Hirsi Ali herself later on, I hope, but my thoughts mature at their own rate.

The bits that I'm taking out of the oven of my brain right now have to do with the innate clashes between feminism and certain types of multi-culturalist ways of thinking, clashes, which are very real and which have been set aside or ignored for some good reasons and for some not-so-good reasons.

These have to do with the way Western cultures* deal with religious minority cultures of certain patriarchal types, such as the Amish and the Hasidic Jews in the United States. That way of dealing has mostly been to let those cultures alone, to let them decide for themselves what rights, if any, the women in those cultures may have.

The justification for this is in religious rights: The right to practice one's religion freely. But what happens when that right clashes with the human rights of women within the subculture?

What happens when "letting them decide for themselves" means that those decisions will not be carried out in some democratic way among the individuals in that subculture but will be the utterances of a few patriarchal leaders of the group? What happens when the representatives of such subcultures in the more general debates are those same patriarchal leaders? Or perhaps more importantly, what happens if all the members of some religious group indeed agree to the idea that women should be silent and obedient?

The common argument I have read is that women who don't like to belong to those subcultures within some democratic country can leave the subculture and use the rights the wider legal system offers them, and this is theoretically correct. But in practice a truly isolated gender-hierarchical community will not have brought up its female members to have the skills and connections to simply leave, not to mention the psychological costs of leaving the only society you know.

What is the proper task of feminists in addressing these issues? The issues are very difficult because the same patriarchal subcultures may themselves be oppressed by the wider society and because some argue that any change in the way those cultures treat women should come from those inside the cultures, not from outsiders such as "Western feminists." At the same time, a truly isolated subculture will not bring about such changes if its basic tenets rely on hierarchical views of gender.

When I studied philosophy, one of the introductory courses described the possible approaches to take in questions such as this one as the following three:

1. All cultures have their own values. Outsiders cannot evaluate any of those values at all.
2. Cultures may have their own values but certain basic values are universal and can be judged across cultures.
3. There is only one set of correct values for all cultures. They may be those given by a particular divinity or those determined by a political movement.

Though this list may be naive, using it has helped me in my thinking. Note that the first set of ideas implies that values such as equality of the sexes are purely culture-specific, but those ideas also mean that all cultures are equal! Note, also, that the third set of ideas is probably the one many religious cultures actually hold, though of course the correct set of values would be theirs. And note, finally, the extreme mess which can result if the sides in a cultural debate hold different sets of these ideas.
*This post doesn't intend to set some generic mainstream Western culture as a feminist paradise (as you well know if you read me!). Neither is it intended to portray the mainstream religions in the West as feminist (as you also know if you read me!).

Have A Cup Of Tea, My Dear

I've been watching Rachel Maddow on last night's primary results, especially Christine O'Donnell's victory in the Delaware Republican primary. O'Donnell is a tea-party candidate and a past abstinence (including anti-masturbation) activist.

Maddow had all sorts of famous pundits as her guests, including Chris Matthews, the guy with an itsy-bitsy Woman Problem of his very own. To find out what Matthews thinks about this particular victory and the role of women voters in general, check out the video starting at 12:08 minutes.

As a very rough summary (until the transcript is available), Matthews mentions the power of women voters and suggests that O'Connell's victory in the Delaware Republican primary and possibly even in the future has something to do with the disgruntlement women feel about Hillary Clinton's loss. Identity politics written large! He adds that his evidence is anecdotal (possibly meaning that it's pulled out of his... ears) but that it should still be considered. Maddow then corrects him by pointing out that O'Donnell's policies are the very opposite of those Hillary Clinton advocated.

What about the wider questions? Are the tea-party victories a sign of the country moving further and further to the right? Or around the bend? Are these victories good news for the Democrats and bad news for the Republicans? Or vice versa? I have found pundits arguing for all possible conclusions, but of course the real answer is that we don't know until after the elections in November.

Sadly, I probably have to do the necessary research to get past the "let's take our country back" arguments and other fluffy and ultimately meaningless soundbites, to see what it is, exactly, that the tea-partiers are advocating and how they would achieve those goals.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Today's Teh Funny

Is this cartoon, about the purity contests in academia. There's a lot of truth in that, though it used to be called math or physics envy. Most social sciences really really want to be viewed as hard, too. I leave the connotations about that to you, my smart readers.

Another funny bit is this.

How Women Dress: Take Two

My post on women's dress and its sexual interpretations yesterday got mired in that ocean of fatigue, I think, so I will try again. The points I wish to make are these:

1. None of us ever completely independently choose what to wear. The culture (into which I put religion) affects our choices, the existing technologies affect our choices and the responses our dress receives also affect our choices. Most importantly, what others expect us to wear affects our choices.

Take, for example, these pictures: If you lived in a society where people dress like this, how would you, personally dress?

It's pretty clear to me that our ultimate choices are strongly influenced by the general society. To simply make that into individual choice is problematic, though some choice naturally exists.

2. But how much choice women, in particular, have, varies widely. Some women have no choice at all (women in certain fundamentalist and tribal societies), some women have almost complete choice (say, Lady Gaga or Madonna). What I mean by these end-points are the costs of choosing "wrong." A famous singer or actor, one with plenty of money, can dress in anything or nothing as she pleases without punishment. At the other extreme, a woman in some parts of Afghanistan may get killed if she goes out without wearing a burqa.

But most of us are situated somewhere along the middle, with nothing major happening if we pick the 'wrong' kind of clothes. This does not mean that the choices are then without any positive or negative consequences. Clothing speaks, whether we wish it to do so or not, and, sadly, the way it speaks doesn't depend solely on what we intend it to say. It's the interpretation of others which matters here.

3. Historically, the rules about women's dress have always emphasized gender, beginning from the Biblical statement telling people not to cross-dress. If you go away with one conclusion from looking at pictures in a book about clothes through the ages it is that people have always really, really wanted women to dress differently from men. To be visibly women. And in many cases this has meant that women's clothing has been more cumbersome, more restrictive and even more dangerous than the clothes men have been allowed. Long dresses in kitchens with open fire are not safe, for example. Even though the Western dress codes no longer require that women wear dresses/skirts and men wear trousers, understanding the history is still relevant because shreds of it still swim in our consciousness and because these codes are much stronger in other cultures.

4. The most important determinant of 'appropriateness' in women's dress has always been what it tells about her sexual availability. The male gaze, if you wish, though with layers of complications.

In many cultures married women have historically dressed differently from unmarried women, to reflect their changed status in terms of possible sexual availability, and prostitutes have traditionally been expected to dress in a way which demonstrates their willingness to engage in market transactions. Given this expectation, women who are not willing to engage in market transactions had to then express that unwillingness in their dress by not wearing certain items of clothing. Veiling, I've been told, developed from a desire to tell free (higher class) women apart from slaves (who were not allowed to veil and couldn't refuse sex).

These aspects are still very much alive, though somewhat more nuanced in our culture. My previous post discussed the way a woman's dress is still interpreted as telling about her sexual availability, both in the come-hither sense and in the sense of labeling women who don't cover up as sluts. We need to address that aspect much more strongly in the general debate that is now going about the burqa ban in France and in discussions about sexual harassment.

Counting Your Eggs

This article at Slate discusses the current fascination certain kind of researchers have with human ovulation. The important part is this:

A lot of this research is pretty much based on speculation, says Harriet Hall, who is an editor at the Web site Science-Based Medicine. She explains that whether their goal is marketing or to better our understanding of the hidden effects of ovulation, all the studies tend to suffer from the same basic flaws. "They are isolated studies that have not been replicated, and the findings could be inaccurate due to chance factors."

Replication matters, a lot, and not only because of chance factors.

Remember those magical hip-to-waist ratio studies certain types of evolutionary psychologists created? The ones which quickly became part of folk mythology at all cocktail parties? How all men all over the world prefer women with a certain hip-to-waist ratio?

I bet you do. But you may not know that replications (by different researchers) failed to support such a simplistic conclusion.

Great If True

This rumor:

President Barack Obama may appoint Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor who scolded U.S. banks while overseeing their bailout, as the interim head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as early as this week, according to a person familiar with the matter.

She would be good in that post.

Added later:

But Politico doesn't think there's anything to the rumor.

I shouldn't comment on rumors...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tax Hikes!

I love the semantics. Repealing the Bush tax cuts on the very top earners is raising taxes during a recession! Yessir. Of course one could also call it repealing the tax cuts.

But it looks like we can't repeal those tax cuts, not even for individuals in the top two or three percent of all earners:

But for now, the top issue is whether to permanently extend the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, set to expire on Dec. 31. In fact, the two parties are not far apart. Both Republicans and Democrats back extending tax cuts for some 97 percent of taxpayers. The catch is the last 3 percent, representing individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and families earning more than $250,000.

The cost of extending tax cuts to this top income group would be $700 billion over the next 10 years.

"The Democratic agenda has been disastrous for the economy – 2.5 million jobs lost, $2.5 trillion more in debt – and now they want to drive another nail in the coffin: a massive tax hike on the very people who can dig us out of this recession," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in a floor speech after the Senate convened Monday afternoon.

Remind me again about the financial value of those Bush tax cuts. How much did they lower the taxes for earners with different incomes? Who gained the most from them?

I would also like to see a really good study on exactly how those two-to-three percent of earners can dig us out of this recession if they get to keep an extra $700 billion dollars. Will all of that be spent on hiring workers? Hiring workers in this country? Investing in this country? Spent on consumption in this country? Or what, exactly?

On Newts And Efts

Well, not really about efts, but it's a nice title. This post is just on one newt, the Gingrich one. He doesn't release his tail when attacked, more's the pity. He's also unusually good at chewing on his shoe, as this list makes clear.

His political game is warfare against those who oppose him in politics, and in that he doesn't much differ from the rest of the wingnut crop which ripened in the 1990s. Perhaps those others are the efts of my title? The Laura Ingrahams and so on? All those people we still pay attention to?

My apologies to all actual newts and efts, including the charming ones I saw just basking in the sun this summer.

O How She Dresses

Media Matters reports:

The NFL is investigating the treatment of a television reporter at a New York Jets practice:

New York Jets owner Woody Johnson told USA TODAY Monday he offered his "apology" to a female TV reporter whose treatment Saturday at Jets practice is being investigated by the NFL.

NFL and team officials said Sunday they were looking into a complaint made by the Association of Women in Sports Media that the Jets made suggestive comments to Ines Sainz of Mexico's TV Azteca during and after a weekend practice at their Florham Park, NJ, facility.

Naturally, Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller sees a news story about a bunch of guys allegedly harassing a working reporter as an excuse to post a slideshow of photos of the woman under the headline "Baby got back: Meet Ines Sainz [SLIDESHOW]."

The slideshow can be found here. The pictures have snide little comments that translate into explaining how sexually harassing someone like this reporter is really quite understandable.

What I want to address in this post are those comments in the slide show which argue that Ms Sainz dresses inappropriately for the work she does. The hidden implication is that anyone dressing in that manner should expect to be sexually harassed, that it's only natural. Or as a comment to a newspaper story about another sexual harassment case some time ago stated: "If you advertise, don't be surprised if people ask to buy."

This is the traditional theme of women's clothing speaking about their sexual availability, and it is still very much alive, as shown by the Daily Caller slide show. It is also very much alive among those Muslims who regard Western women as sexually available or slutty because of the way they dress.

Feminists worked hard and long to remove the but-see-what-she-wore excuse for rape. They also worked hard and long to let women themselves determine what they want to wear. The former goal has been partially achieved, the latter not so much, especially on a global level.

The reasons for that failure are complicated ones, ranging from history of dress via advertising and popular culture to religion, and they deserve a separate series of posts. But they ultimately boil down to the fact that the way women dress is still seen as offering cues to their sexual availability, that it is the culture or sub-culture on the whole which judges what a particular way of dressing means, and that dress codes have almost always a more sexual interpretation for women than for men. Sometimes sexuality is demanded from women's dress, sometimes it is banned. But it is seldom ignored.
Added later: Tara Sullivan on this particular incident is worth listening to.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Staple Singers

For What It’s Worth


The Staple Singers - The Band

The Weight

Mavis Staples is so great in this, Pops Staple and the rest of them too.

Everyone’s Feeling Cranky [Anthony McCarthy]

Someone asks why I haven’t written anything funny for a long time, I answered I wasn’t aware I ever had written anything funny. They mentioned the Dr. Brinkley piece, I said I saw that as an attempt at straight reportage. They mentioned the Aphrogeeziacs piece (lost link) and the Truck Nutz pieces, I said the same. As a male blogger on a feminist blog I feel it’s necessary to report on some of the more obvious obsessions of the gender I’m supposed to be a member of. And it’s generally a question of members. Though, for me, that’s usually more like practicing amateur manthropology.

There is, though, an unmistakable crankiness in the air. I first started feeling it during the long health care fight last year. The let down of going from a big win in an election to the inevitable series of disappointments that having your candidates in power is a big part of it. And I was certainly as let down as anyone. The gloom and doom for Democrats in the media that never really stopped has intensified along with the growing depression that breaks out in dyspeptic and choleric manifestations on the blogs, even among allies. Even the more cheerful of us is showing the strain, though in others such as myself that might be hardly noticeable.

When I was a student I was known for having a dead pan expression that went with my flat, inland, Western-Maine accent, and that was among a population predominantly consisting of laconic New Englanders. They said I never looked ruffled as I played, no matter what the piece was and I played some really emotional pieces. Apparently no matter the terror and turmoil I felt, I never showed it. They said I could bore paint to death when I read a paper in a seminar class. The effect apparently was enough to make some people suspect I was overly calm. Readers of this blog will know that was mistaken but we didn’t have blogs back then, they could see and hear me.

By the way, a lot of the time when people apparently read angry, I don’t feel angry. Some of the time, apparently, what I intend as thoroughness or emphisis, people take as anger. I’m not feeling it most of the time, though some times I can’t deny I do on occasion. Even giving in to crankiness at times, lately related to the arthritic-allergic reaction to a tetanus shot I got last month. Not to mention the bill which included a charge of three hundred dollars for a grand total of four stitches in my hand. Though that will risk reopening old grievances over the health care bill.

Among the other things that is really making me angry right now is how the House of Representatives and the Senate are being all lumped together to take the blame for the obstruction of the Republican-blue dog majority in the Senate. I am especially infuriated that Nancy Pelosi is getting regularly slammed by alleged liberals on that count. There are about four hundred bills which Nancy Pelosi has gotten passed in the house that are stalled in the Senate. Four hundred bills, many of them important ones for which she and her House colleagues have done the heavy lifting and the pushing only to have the Senate block them. Now, hearing the most progressive person ever to hold one of the leadership positions in the Federal government being slammed for her record of achievement BY LIBERALS ON BLOGS really makes me angry. I have no illusions as to why that is, it is because Nancy Pelosi is the first WOMAN to hold the position.

If you want to know what really can make me steam, that’s it. That other stuff, multiverses, the fight over the existence of God, that’s just trivia of no real importance. I am sure that either or both will still be there or not no matter what is said about them on the entire world body of blogs. Though I’m really, really tempted to write a long, overly calm, piece about the imprecise meaning of the word “existence”.

One of the first important provisions of the Health Care bill is due to go into effect this month, the ban on denying children coverage on the excuse of pre-existing conditions. That is something we should celebrate loudly and forcefully and we should point out it is one of the things that Republicans will undermine in a de facto effort to kill it. If that isn’t heavily announced and promoted, it could make me really cranky.