Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wanna Play With Me?

It's summer in Down Under, sigh. The doggie is carrying a soccer ball. That's how soccer balls are supposed to look.

Friday, January 28, 2011

So What Should I Do With The Weekends?

On this blog, that is. Shall I leave them empty or should I look for more co-bloggers? I can't do seven days every week, even with goddess energy.

Friday Fun Post

Because mental health demands some balance.

It's very snowy here. To give you an idea, the cement bird bath I have in the back garden comes to about my tummy in height. It's now invisible, except for the three-foot tall snow cake that stands on top of it. So the level of snow at Snakepit Inc. is belly-high or more!

Send help! Send chocolate truffles!

Just kidding. I was born in a snow drift, after all. But I did decide to feed the birds and the squirrels. So far they have not found the bread crumbs or the sunflower seeds but it's early days yet. (There's a cardinal sitting in a nearby tree. What on earth is a cardinal doing here in January???)

On The Riots In Egypt And Women

I have not been following the news on those very closely, but it's not difficult to agree that Egypt needs a different government and that this is a real uprising, not an astro-turf one. The impact of Tunisia's successful protests is also clear.

All this makes the downy hair on my arms rise up. If you know what I mean. We are watching democracy in action! A possible revolution! And then I hope that people don't get killed.

But suppose that the situation indeed does result in a new government for Egypt. What would that government look like? A secular democracy? A clone of what Egypt has now but with different names in power? An Islamist theocracy?

Nobody knows, for sure. At the same time, the history of revolutions can be informative. There are exceptions, sure, but in far too many cases the blood that was supposed to water the tree of liberty just nurtured a different kind of oppressive power structure. Obvious examples of the latter abound: Iran, for example. Even the quasi-change in Iraq seems to lead down the road of greater oppression of women.

The French Revolution is the example which should most warn women, in particular, not to put too much trust in the power of revolutions. Women participated in it in large numbers. But what they got out of it, ultimately, was Napoleon Bonaparte and the Napoleonic Code which established the husband's supremacy over the wife.

This is not intended to discount the importance of what's happening in Egypt or in Tunisia, just to point out that we shouldn't automatically assume that revolutions against a tyrant are going to benefit everyone in the society equally.

Added later because my head works slowly today:
The morale of all this is that women must be involved in the revolution AND in its aftermath and not simply assume that someone else will take care of their rights.

The Republican Definition of Rape

It has to be forcible, to qualify for a federally funded abortion:
Rape is only really rape if it involves force. So says the new House Republican majority as it now moves to change abortion law.
For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.) But the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.
With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to "forcible rape." This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion. (Smith's spokesman did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment.)
Because the term "forcible" is one without proper definition, lots of other types of rape might not qualify, either. For instance, raping someone who is drugged, raping a mentally handicapped person who doesn't know how to resist, raping a paralyzed patient in a hospital. Most types of date rapes would not qualify.

I had this sudden flash in my head where I imagined some Republican politician agreeing to model this definition for us. I could do various things to him and then he would say when I had crossed into the area of "forcible" rape. And we'd write that down on a piece of paper.

Which means that I find the whole topic truly repulsive. Of course what it really is about is the view that women lie about rape and that wily women will try to get federally funded abortions for just your basic sex-gone-bad.

That's why you have to have an eye gouged out to prove that you are raped and that's why mental illness cannot be seen as the kind of health threat that would justify federally funded abortions as life-saving. Women lie, you know. And in any case, mental illness leaves the uterus perfectly functioning.

As Atrios points out, the exemptions for rape and incest have always been based on something else than the forced-birth idea that human life begins when the sperm is properly housed in the egg. That would demand no exemptions at all. Even the case where the woman will die would be one where we just let the fetus and the woman duke it out.

But that view naturally results in the treatment of all women as aquaria, to be kept clean and under inspections, in case they have a sperm swimming in them.

Where the American legal concepts went wrong was in adopting the idea of privacy as the basis for legal abortions. The proper concept would have been equality, because an aquarium cannot be equal to a person.

Blog Announcement

Life sometimes intervenes with blogging. Anthony McCarthy is going to take a leave of absence from weekend blogging here for some time. He is welcome back, naturally.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Ugandan Connection

David Kato has been killed:
An outspoken Ugandan gay activist whose picture recently appeared in an antigay newspaper under the headline “Hang Them” was beaten to death in his home, Ugandan police said Thursday.
David Kato, the activist, was one of the most visible defenders of gay rights in a country where homophobia is widespread and government leaders have proposed executing gay people. Mr. Kato and other gay people in Uganda had recently warned that their lives were endangered, and four months ago a local paper called Rolling Stone published a list of gay people, with Mr. Kato’s face on the front page.
He was attacked in his home Wednesday afternoon and beaten in the head with a hammer, said Judith Nabakooba, a police spokeswoman. But police officials said they did not believe this was a hate crime.
“It looks like theft, as some things were stolen,” Mrs. Nabakooba said.
Gay activists disagreed and said Mr. Kato was singled out for his outspoken defense of gay rights.
“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009,” Val Kalende, the chairwoman of one of Uganda’s gay rights groups, said in a statement. “The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood!”

Mrs. Kalende was referring to visits in March 2009 by a group of American evangelicals who held antigay rallies. Ugandan church leaders who wrote the antigay bill, which is still pending, attended those meetings and said that they had worked with the Americans on their bill.
How odd that different reports of Mr. Kato's death offer different bits and pieces for us! For instance, this one simply states that "a local paper called Rolling Stone published a list of gay people, with Mr. Kato's face on the front page."

A different source puts this as follows:
While details of his death are still emerging, what is known is that Kato had recently been featured on the cover of the Ugandan tabloid "Rolling Stone" in an issue dedicated to outing gay leaders and activists in Uganda. His picture appeared under a banner that called for readers to "hang them." He suffered through previous outings, beatings, false charges, detention, evictions, threats and harassment before succumbing to this latest attack.

Then there's the bit about the March 2009 visit by American evangelists who remain unnamed. Their connection to the National Prayer Breakfast might have been relevant. Also Rick Warren's role in all this.

So You Want The Old Health Care Rules Back?

Whenever surveys ask what people think about the Health Care Reform I keep yelling inside my head about the way the questions are put. It's not exactly informative to know how many people dislike some aspect of the reform bill unless we also ask if people want the old system back.

Perhaps the majority do? Or at least the majority of voters. Voters are not a random sample of the general population.

At the same time, I do think that the administration made a mess out of the compromises and ended up with a half-camel-half-spider instead of the horse they tried to build. For instance, the "bribing" of the health insurance industry meant that the really useful competitive injection: the public option, was left out, and many of the serious problems in for-profit health care remained.

Still, this might not be quite so easy under the new system:
Two pennies. That's the difference between a potentially life-saving surgery and a dropped insurance plan.

Those 2 cents could cost Vietnam veteran Ronald Flanagan everything.

"Everybody we talk to is very surprised that 2 cents is enough to do this," said Flanagan.

It was an innocent enough mistake, according to Ronald's wife, Frances Flanagan.

"If I only had just hit the nine instead of the seven," Frances said.

When she was paying their monthly health insurance premium online in November, Frances swapped a 7 for a 9, leaving their $328.69 payment 2 cents short.

"And now we're just pulling teeth and trying to figure out what's the next step," Frances said.

Their insurance benefits administrator, Ceridian Cobra Services, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., promptly dropped the Flanagans for the 2-cent shortage.


Ron has been fighting cancer since September 2008. He has multiple myeloma -- cancer in the bone marrow. Doctors at St. Luke's have performed stem cell transplant surgery twice. He needs another transplant before the end of February, and they have a donor. But because of the 2-cent mistake, Ceridian Cobra Services will not pay for the procedure.

There may be more to that story. But the fact remains that for-profit insurance companies have strong incentives to get rid of expensive cases whenever possible. They also have strong incentives to try to insure mostly healthy people.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Death of Carolin Berger

She was a German erotic actor who died in her sixth breast enlargement surgery, at the age of 23:
She went under the knife for the last time at the Alster Clinic and was having 800g (28oz) of silicon injected into each breast.
But her heart stopped beating during the operation. She suffered brain damage and was put into an induced coma.
The tabloid's headline read: "The senseless death of Big Brother star Cora shocks the whole of Germany.
"(Her) frail, 48kg (106lb) body struggled against death for 224 hours. She lost. Cora is dead."


Her previous five operations were reportedly done at a private clinic in Poland which refused to admit her for a sixth time.
I kept going over those weight numbers, the amount of silicone to be injected into her and her body weight. Then I started thinking about the widespread impact of heterosexual pron on what women's breasts should look like and how we now regard artificial breasts as really the natural ones, how seeing a very thin woman with very large breasts on television now looks normal, in the sense of averages. Pron has also affected the shaving of the pubic hair.

If it has done all that, surely it must have had some impact on general interpretations of sexuality and on the roles women and men take in sex?

Back to Carolin Berger. Her story reminds me of Nadya Suleman, the "Octomom", because both cases in some ways are about women taking the traditional jobs of women (to have children, to provide sex for men) to the very extreme. The usual reaction, based on the comments I have seen, is that these individuals are or were ill, that they made their own choices, that they have only themselves to blame.

But those choices don't happen in a total vacuum, and what this all tells us about societal norms can be worth discussing.

A Non-Post On The SOTU Speech

I used to write long analytical posts on these but it looked like nobody read them. Also, the speech signifies but sound and fury and so on. It's the actions that speak.

Which is to explain why I skipped this one. Also, it's a lot of work.

Rand Paul Proposes Cuts in Government Spending

Now, this is fun, because Paul is a libertarian who believes that every man is an island, functioning all just fine by himself, with home laboratories for checking food products and so on. I wrote "man" because I think Paul has never thought how this applies to women at all. Or how it apples to children or old people or anyone who is sick and not equipped with radar eyes.

Anyways, Talking Points Memo says that they have his deficit reduction program. If that is true, we can learn what the tea partiers will get, never mind what they think they will get.

Paul would cut all those things that the liberals don't want to have cut, naturally, though he also proposes some defense cuts which the conservatives don't like. But this is really the most fascinating trim he desires:

To rescind all funds from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

As TPM points out, that's the place where they regulate lead paint or notify us about dangerous metals in children's jewelry or about cribs which are sold with unsafe spacing between the spindles.

And here's the deep inner flaw in the libertarians' economic thinking: They don't really believe in public goods. Even though public goods exist, and even though the markets fail to produce them in sufficient amounts. Libertarians simply refuse to believe in them! Thus, they don't see why a shared system of safety checks is superior to all of us learning how to use an expensive laboratory at home, and they don't see why a market for those services would never produce as many of them as shared provision does. If every man is an island, nobody needs lighthouses!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Conscience Clause and Idaho Revisited

Remember the case of a pharmacist who refused to prescribe methergine to a patient she believed to have had an abortion? Methergine is used to stop bleeding after abortion, miscarriage or giving birth. Uncontrolled bleeding under those circumstances could kill the woman.

Turns out that according to The Idaho Board of Pharmacy the pharmacist has broken no laws!

I sorta like the idea of a morality police force within the health care system. It can punish people for all behaviors it disapproves of! For note that if the bleeding indeed was caused by an abortion, the fetus was already aborted. Refusing to prescribe methergine just made it slightly more likely that the woman who was bleeding might die. This means that the pharmacist was playing god.

I don't know about you but this scares me. Alternatively, I might become a Christian Scientist, get a pharmacy degree and then refuse to fill any prescriptions whatsoever because prayer is the only acceptable treatment. Would the Idaho Board of Pharmacy stand behind me, I wonder?

Or is it just women who are expected to bear the brunt of other people's consciences?

Your Thoughts on This?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Your Inner Glass Ceiling?

Do you know what I find incredibly weird? That so many people don't appear to be able to understand that something may have many causes, not just one cause. If I asked you what makes a chocolate-strawberry cake, none of you would insist that it's the baking powder or the eggs or the flour or even the chocolate and strawberries alone. The gateau has many components.

Just like that the reason why women earn less, on average, than men cannot be made into ONE reason. And the various explanations are not necessarily mutually exclusive alternatives but true at the same time! Sorta like a chocolate-strawberry cake. But when we move from the cake to the gender gap in earnings people somehow start focusing on one single reason. What that reason is depends on the person's prior political stance, pretty much. Conservatives, for instance, argue that women choose to earn less, either because they just do or because evolution has made them that way.

The reason I'm writing about this, again, is a study summary I came across. It had to do with testing the possibility that women are more risk-averse than men, less willing to take work with rewards which depend on competition. Here's the actual study synopsis, not the write-up I want to talk about later:

We know that women, often working at the same kind of job as men, frequently are not paid as much as men,” said John List ( , professor of economics at UChicago and an author of the paper, “Do Competitive Work Places Deter Female Workers? A Large-Scale Natural Field Experiment on Gender Differences in Job-Entry Decisions ,” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“Some of the explanations for the differences contend they are caused by discrimination or by women leaving the workforce to have children and then returning,” he said. “Other people have suggested that men are more attracted to competition than women, and that accounts for the differences .”

To test whether differences between men’s and women’s interest in competition actually affects their job choices, List and a research team created two advertisements on Internet job boards.

They posted jobs for administrative assistants, the most common job in the United States. One ad, which was gender-neutral, described the job responsibilities as preparing reports based on news stories and fulfilling typical office tasks. The second ad, for a sports news assistant, was similar, except that the job would entail writing reports about sports stories.

The advertisements were placed on job boards in 16 of the nation’s largest cities between January and April 2010. The team then presented respondents with additional information to describe different forms of compensation. Some applicants were told the job paid $15 an hour. Others were told the pay was based on individual competition, with a base salary of $13.50, and a $3 bonus depending on how he or she
did in comparison to other workers. Another package offered a $12 hourly base pay with a $6bonus if the employee outperformed other workers. Still others were told the job had a competition-based wage, but that comparisons would be based on the productivity of people working in teams.

Of the 6,779 people who responded to the ads , 2,702 applied once they knew the wage structure. Those included 1,566 women and 1,136 men. (About 20 of the applicants were actually hired.)

“When the salary potential was most dependent on competition, men were 94 percent more likely to apply than women,” List said.

The study found that although women were much less likely to pursue jobs where individual competition was a factor, the deterring effect on women could be overcome by having workers compete in teams, rather than individually.

Women were more deterred by jobs in which competition was a factor in determining pay if the local wages in their city were high. For instance, women were less inclined to pursue jobs with competitive wage situations in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Boston, where the median wages for other local administrative assistant jobs were about $13, close to the base pay for the jobs the researchers offered. In cities with lower local wages, the dissuasive effect on women of
competition-based pay diminished.

For example in Houston, where the local wage was $10, women actually showed slightly more interest in applying to jobs with a competitive pay structure
than men.

List said socialization of women and men may play a factor in the gender differences in the way men and women respond to pay incentives based on competition. Boys receive more encouragement growing up to be competitive, particularly in sports, while girls frequently are encouraged to be more cooperative, he said.

Note that the study is about applying for jobs, not about who gets picked for a particular job out of those who apply. This means that what it studies cannot really be viewed as an alternative total theory for the gender gap in earnings. And because it's only about applications the study tells us nothing what happens after a person has been hired for the job.

Note, also, that the kind of risky pay the study discusses is exactly the way restaurant servers are paid, for example. Yet women are very common in that particular profession.

The results about Houston where women were more interested in the competitive jobs than men suggests that the underlying reasons have at least something to do with local circumstances. In short, women can be more competitive than men under certain conditions, and one of those conditions may be the average local wage rate for a comparable job.

Those are some of my quick thoughts after reading the synopsis (I have several more complicated thoughts having to do with what the comparable wage rate might be for women and men, in general, and how that would feed into the study results). I couldn't find the actual study to see what the sports-related job's function was. My guess is that it was some kind of a control in the study.

Now for the summary about the inner glass ceiling: First, it omitted the bit about women in Houston actually being more competitive than men and replaced it with this:
Researchers also found that women who worked in cities with typically higher wages were less inclined to put themselves in a competitive pay scheme. Female residents of cities like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Boston, where median wages were closer to what researchers offered, were less inclined to apply than those in cities like Houston, where the median wage was around $10 at the time, indicating that the potential earning power had to be considerably higher than the local average for a woman to enter the competitive arena.
Do you see how the flavor has changed?
Second, it then goes on:
One interpretation suggests that women themselves are solely responsible for creating their own glass ceiling, but List offers the more likely cause that the social norms behind women’s apparent aversion to more competitive positions are established well before they enter the workforce.
Boys receive more encouragement growing up to be competitive, particularly in sports, while girls frequently are encouraged to be more cooperative, List explained.
There's that glass ceiling! Remember the strawberry-chocolate cake? We are now talking about baking powder alone. Sure, women can help themselves in the job markets by asking for raises more often and by demanding a higher initial salary if possible. And sure, realizing that one might be avoiding certain types of behavior because of one's upbringing doesn't mean that one shouldn't try to change those behaviors.

But to suggest as one interpretation that the glass ceiling is all inside women's own heads plays into the game where we try to pick one ingredient in the cake as the decisive one. It also discounts the possibility that women, on average, know how that competition is judged and that the rules might not be as objective as we wish.

Meanwhile, in Israel: Sex Segregation And Religion

News from Israel:
An Israeli activist who defied orthodox Jewish custom by leading a group of women in open prayer at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall has been told to expect years in prison for breaching the peace.
Anat Hoffman has been awaiting her fate since being arrested in August amid a worsening debate about her campaign to allow women to pray at Judaism's holiest site in the same way as men.
The police have now chosen to ask prosecutors to charge her with "disrupting a policeman performing his duties under dire circumstances", a crime that carries a mandatory prison sentence of up to three years.
Many in the country's rapidly growing ultra-orthodox community believe that a woman's role at the wall should be limited to silent worship. Women should not be allowed, they believe, to sing or read from the Torah.
Mrs Hoffman's case is a stark illustration of the growing power of religious groups in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem where the segregation of the sexes is becoming more common. She and her followers have been taunted and even assaulted by ultra-orthodox men at the Wailing Wall, part of the western wall of the Jewish Temple that was otherwise destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.
What do you think of that? Then there's this:
There are now more than 100 state bus routes, many of them in Jerusalem, that offer segregated services requiring women to sit at the back. Israel's High Court ruled yesterday that the practice could continue.
Many offices in the city also keep the sexes apart while a growing number of clinics require men and women to book appointments on different days.
It's a reverse Rosa Parks phenomenon!

It also sounds almost exactly like the arrangements extreme Islamists favor! An odd paradox, given the animosity between the two groups. But then all the Abrahamic religions, when taken literally and rigidly, imply the subjugation of women because that is what the nomadic tribes who wrote the holy books practiced.

I always get the blues when I remember how hard it is to fight for women's rights. These developments in Israel are a good example of that. The rights of the Ultra-Orthodox come first. The rights of women? What are those? Besides, women really are different so they should be glad to sit in the back of the bus. And if they aren't different enough then let's allow the Ultra-Orthodox not to educate their daughters and to brainwash them instead. So it goes, and so it goes in Afghanistan, too.

To end up on a more cheerful note, I once spent some time thinking about the sex segregation idea. What those religious fundamentalists support is not real sex segregation, because each woman is placed under the command of at least one man. The segregation is very incomplete and the power structures are not identical for men and women: The man with authority can enter into the women's sphere but women cannot enter into his sphere or the male-designated areas of the public sphere. Men can escape women, if they so wish, but women cannot escape the men who are designated as their owners.

A properly sex-segregated world would have women's countries and men's countries, both with their own power structures. The countries could trade in the usual kinds of commodities but they would also trade in sperm in one direction and boy babies in the other direction. Men would have little say over how the women's countries are run and women would have little say over how the men's countries are run. (Yes, I know this sounds like Sheri Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country.)

Somehow I don't think the fundamentalists would like real sex-segregation at all! If it existed, the fundamentalist men would be the first ones to launch a war and an occupation against the women's countries. So it's not sex-segregation they desire but the private ownership of women. Enforcing sex-segregation in the public sphere helps them towards that goal.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

White Supremacist in Maine Had Nuclear Dirty Bomb Materials [Anthony McCarthy]

In Belfast, Maine, police discover the makings of a nuclear "dirty bomb" in the basement of a white supremacist shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, reportedly was agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb.

Ok, now that I have your attention, I'll start in my best Rachel Maddow imitation, before Comcast gives her the shove too.

How many of you knew about this news story? I'm not sure I would except that it happened in my home state and we don't get all that many murders here. Those of you who have heard of it might remember that the case dates back to 2008, when his wife, Amber Cummings shot the independently wealthy white supremacist, James Cummings. One of the reasons you might not remember the story is because the FBI sat on the information that a FAR RIGHT WING HITLER ADMIRER clearly was in the process of assembling a dirty bomb, the kind of weapon which would have been all over the news if someone with a vague connection to the Mid-East was found to have.

I'll digress to say that Amber Cummings had many good reasons to want to shoot her husband, including the very real danger that he was a danger to her 9-year-old daughter. Her reasons for doing it were good enough so that she was released without a sentence by the judge. I think it's possible that she also saved some place in the United States, perhaps some place that Barack Obama was due to make an appearance, from a potentially catastrophic radiological attack.

Oddly enough, law enforcement didn't seem all that eager to publicize the find of the materials.

The killing drew the FBI's attention after Nazi mementos, radioactive materials and instructions on how to build a "dirty bomb" were found in their home.

Her husband was angered by Barack Obama's election as president and the bomb-making materials were discovered near the time of Obama's inauguration, but law enforcement officials said the public was not at risk.

Perhaps we were not at risk because Amber Cummings interrupted her husbands little shop project early enough so that they could say that. Considering the dopey kids without presonal wealth the FBI has entrapped into plots far less likely to endanger the public, and trumpeted it in press conferences and news opportunities, they seemed to have en remarkably quiet in this case.

There is an obvious double standard when it's white terrorists suspected in these things. There is that odd eclipsing of the actual bombing attempt in Spokane, Washington during the Martin Luther King Day parade this month, with an actual bomb with shrapnel left on the parade route. Since Rachel Maddow has been a lone voice trying to generate some media interest in that, I'll enthusiastically point out that the endangered MSNBC voice of liberalism has been doing her best to highlight it with mixed results.

The media, and parts of law enforcement in the United States have a soft glove they use for right wing, white terrorists. Their standards for news reporting , the standards of much of the law enforcement establishement, reminds me that the most accomplished white terrorists in our history, the lynch mobs, the KKK, etc. enjoyed similar soft glove treatment by the FBI and much of the media. Of course, back then, what might have been called "the media" was print and it was far more diverse than the electronic media with the most impact today, though the generally individual papers and magazines that covered right wing, white terrorism then had nowhere the impact that the large chains did.

All of this is to tell you about a very valuable interactive map of terrorism against liberals and governmental sources in recent years posted by the great journalist David Niewert at estimable Crooks and Liars. It's very like the time lines I linked to here recently. We, my friends, are under attack. The great free press of the country, which can be counted on to go Balloon Boy nuts over any hint of a possibility of a plan of an attack from someone without white skin, preferably with a name Americans have a hard time pronouncing, finds their attention lagging when it's a right wing attack. The number of those since Barack Obama became president is proof that the right is the more serious danger to us.

You might think that BARACK OBAMA'S appointees to the FCC would put the public's need to know before the profits of two enormous, information unfriendly corporations. But Barack Obama has been thoroughly indocrinated in the predominant free market religion and his appointees can be relied on to hand them just about everything they want.