Saturday, September 03, 2011

President Obama's To-Do List

Tick off reproductive rights supporters. Done
Tick off union members. Done
Tick off teachers. Done
Tick off firefighters and the police. Done
Tick off environmentalists. Done.

Fascinating. I wonder who will do all the unpaid election work for him?
Link by noblejoanie

Friday, September 02, 2011

Mademoiselles Who Dabble With Paints: Ellen Thesleff

For the first post in this series, on Fanny Churberg, go here.

"Only the weak are not lonely."
Ellen Thesleff, 1914

Ellen Thesleff (1869-1954) was one of the small group of late nineteenth century Finnish women painters whom Akseli Gallen-Kallela, a famous Finnish painter of the same era called "mamselles who dabble with paints." She is like the other women in the group in coming from the Swedish-speaking upper classes of that time, being privileged by her social class but not by her gender.

Whereas Fanny Churberg to me seems all about power and tension, as if the frames of her pictures should burst, Ellen Thesleff is about color. But her development went from realism and symbolism to colorism, as shown by these paintings, in chronological order:

Self-Portrait, 1894-95

Violin Player, 1896

Echo, 1890-91

Girls, 1906

Decorative Landscape, 1910

Helsinki Harbor, 1912

Fanny Churberg had a career cut short by the traditionally female tasks of caring for others, by ill health and possibly by negative criticism. Ellen Thesleff's story is very different: She lived a long life and received accolades by the end of it.

But despite those accolades, Thesleff also felt herself as an outsider, not a firm member of the Finnish artistic community. She was one of the first Finnish expressionists, perhaps too early for recognition. Later she walked her own path, largely ignoring the fashions in art. That may explain the quote with which I began this post: "Only the weak are not lonely."

It may also be clarified by what Thesleff wrote to her sister Gerda in 1914 (from Taitelijattaret. Malarinnor.)
"I'm just a "miss" -- but I know that one must be as ruthless as some Rissanen [a Finnish male painter of the era] -- and before all else one must think of one's own goals."

The point of this second post on Thesleff is perhaps in that artistic isolation, akin to the academic isolation of early female scientists, say. This isolation or exclusion is an obvious handicap, because an isolated artist does not benefit from the cross-currents of artistic thought and experimentation and because an isolated artist does not benefit from the rising market demand caused by a school coming into fashion. Just like isolated scientists, isolated artists are in danger of being left behind and forgotten: A not uncommon outcome for women scientists and artists.

But the isolation also has a benefit. By not belonging to a specific school of art in the sense of being regarded as one of its main creators an artist is free to experiment and to change. No great reputation is lost if she fails in these endeavors, and much may be gained. Note that this is not an excuse or justification for the traditional exclusion of women from the various fraternities.

You may already have spotted another commonality between the two posts in this series so far: Neither Churberg nor Thesleff ever married. Marriage was regarded as incompatible with careers for upper-class women. Then, that is...

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Which figure best represents the Chihuahua?

Asthma and Jobs.

From the best-Republican-president-ran-as-a-Democrat files:
Citing the financial burden in a struggling economy and after Republican protests, President Barack Obama on Friday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to shelve a proposal to tighten smog standards.
"I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover," Obama said in a statement announcing the order.
Environmental activists immediately pounced on the move as a retreat by a weakened Obama administration trying to cut deals with Republicans in Congress. And the American Lung Association vowed to fight the move in court.


Republican lawmakers have blamed what they see as excessive regulations for some of the country's economic woes.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, welcomed the move. "This is certainly a good first step," said his spokesman, Michael Steel
And guess who else praised the decision?
Major industry groups had lobbied hard for the White House to abandon the smog regulation, and applauded Friday’s decision.
“The president’s decision is good news for the economy and Americans looking for work. EPA’s proposal would have prevented the very job creation that President Obama has identified as his top priority,” said Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.
It's only wimps like people with asthma who were opposed to it. But don't you see: Reducing uncertainty works for them, too, because now they know that they will get attacks in the future, too!

I feel like a parrot when I keep writing about the fact that we are not supposed to protect businesses against uncertainty, because they get paid for handling it. So take all that as said.

Here's where I pretend to talk to the president:

Show me exactly how many jobs will be created in this country by not applying the stricter smog standards.

Show me that the benefits of those extra jobs exceed the mortality and morbidity costs caused by the current smog standards continuing.

Finally, show me what the distribution of benefits and costs are across people of different income groups. And perhaps across Republicans and those other people, the ones who voted for you.

You don't have all those numbers handy? Then why did this cancellation happen?

Yeah, I know the real answer.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Management Pay Vs. Federal Income Taxes

This is interesting:

At least 25 top United States companies paid more to their chief executives in 2010 than they did to the federal government in taxes, according to a study released on Wednesday.
The companies — which include household names like eBay, Boeing, General Electric ( is a joint venture of Microsoft Corp. and NBC Universal, which is jointly owned by Comcast Corp. and General Electric) and Verizon — averaged $1.9 billion each in profits, according to the study by the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal-leaning research group. But a variety of shelters, loopholes and tax reduction strategies allowed the companies to average more than $400 million each in tax benefits — which can be taken as a refund or used as write-off against earnings in future years.
The chief executives of those companies were paid an average of more than $16 million a year, the study found, a figure substantially higher than the $10.8 million average for all companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.

Why would it be interesting? Because we never hear firms trying to make the top executives cheaper, even though they always try to make their taxes go away. Though I'm sure that those high salaries and bonuses are negotiated, the vast amounts spent on them are not a concern similar to taxes. My guess is that the reason is simply with the executives being the people who decide what firms should lobby for. They are not going to lobby against their own compensation packages.

An arch-conservative would argue that payment for executives' services is fully justified by their great and rare talents, whereas paying taxes amounts to highway robbery. But even executives who bankrupt their firms get platinum parachutes studded with emeralds, and the government does indeed provide firms gigantic services: The channels which are used to sell and buy products, the laws which protect the firms against highway robbery, the educated populace which buys the products and makes them, the roads and railways which are used to ship tangible products. And so on and so on.

I guess this story struck me most because it's such a good example of the increasing oligarchy in this country.

Mademoiselles Who Dabble With Paints: Fanny Churberg

This is how the Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela described the astonishing small group of Finnish women painters of the late nineteenth century: "mamselles" dabbling with paints. He most likely felt threatened.

This small group of "dabbling women" came from the Swedish-speaking upper classes of the era. That young women of their social class were expected to get some skills in drawing and painting accidentally prepared them for later art education. Several of them managed to study in Paris; few, if any, managed to make a living out of painting and many of them ended their careers prematurely. But to this day such names as Helene Schjerfbeck, Maria Wiik, Ellen Thesleff and Fanny Churberg are well-known in the history of Finnish art.

I did not write the above paragraph with the intention of summarizing the historical situation of women in arts but perhaps managed to do it anyway.

Note the need to have access to training: Traditionally this was only available for some daughters of painters and some women of the upper classes. Note the usual difficulties of women trying to enter the traditionally male public sector: Women in the nineteenth century could get an art education, but they had more difficulty than men: not all schools accepted women, single women traveling abroad alone were suspect and nude models were not deemed appropriate for women. Some of the Finnish female painters got government grants for their studies in Paris, though usually for a shorter length of time than the awards for male painters. There was support for women working in art but the market did not reward them sufficiently, and the traditional female role expectations weighed on them and their work heavily.

Fanny Churberg offers a good example of all this:

Fanny Churberg (12 December 1845 Vaasa - 10 May 1892 Helsinki) was a Finnish painter and one of the great masters of her time.

Her father, Matias Churberg, was a doctor from a family of farmers and her mother Maria was the daughter of the vicar in Liperi parish, Nils Johan Perander.


When Fanny was twelve her mother died and she had to take on large parts of the responsibility of being the matron of the house. Later on she got sent to a girls' school in Porvoo, but she returned to Vaasa when she was 17–18 years old. When she was 20 her father died. Fanny cared for him day and night during the last months of his life. After her father's death she and her brothers moved to Helsinki where they lived with their aunt.


Fanny Churberg's career ended suddenly in 1880. Her health was weaker and she took care of her brother Torsten who was suffering from tuberculosis. Torsten's death in 1882 made her quite lonely and her will to live lessened as did her energy. The other brother Waldemar, who she used to be very close to, had married in 1877. The reason for ending her career might also have been the harsh criticism she had met before, but she never withdrew completely from the art circles.
Churberg belongs to the Dusseldorf school. She is best known for her landscape paintings:

Moonbeams. A sketch, 1878

C. 1878. Winter Road on Ice.


In the 1870s Churberg's work was regarded as harsh and hard. She was criticized for the power and tension evident in her paintings, for being too experimental. Later these very same characteristics created the basis for the acclaim her work has received.

What made me pick Churberg as the first of the "mamselles" to cover are her views on the "woman question" of her era. On the one hand she was an adamant feminist. On the other hand she has been quoted as stating that if the "woman question" did not advance to a suitable solution then women could blame only themselves and keep curtsying forevermore. The same tension as shown in her art?

The posts in this series (this being the first) were provoked by a 1981 book I bought at a library sale in Finland, called Taitelijattaria. Malarinnor. The goal is to apply the particular to shed light on the general, in this case on the obstacles of women entering a new field of endeavors.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Rights of Aquariums. On the Uterus Wars.

An interesting editorial from the New York Times summarizes some of the ongoing war to limit the reproductive rights of women. Or of aquariums for zygotes and embryos. It is scary to read about the different initiatives in one place. Abortion is in practice already illegal for many low-income women in this country.

I have decided to use the term "aquarium" in these kinds of contexts, because it fits very well with the mindset of the forced births contingency. It also goes well with the "care and maintenance of the uterus" as the still-too-common understanding of the totality of women's health care needs.

But I'm not quite sure what to make of this funding plea from Planned Parenthood:
Within the last 24 hours, Planned Parenthood has learned that anti-choice activists are circulating a petition to put a constitutional amendment to BAN ALL ABORTIONS in Ohio on the 2012 general ballot. 

The proposed constitutional amendment would define every fertilized egg as a whole person, with all legal rights and constitutional protections.  The practical effect of this amendment would be to BAN ALL ABORTIONS and HORMONAL BIRTH CONTROL.  There will be no exceptions even for rape or incest victims, or when the life of the woman is at risk.
The "not-quite-sure" part means that a petition circulating does not mean that a petition will be created, and if it is created, it doesn't have to become a constitutional amendment. Indeed, it most likely will fail.

At the same time, the extreme branch of forced birthers do regard hormonal birth control as an abortifacient and do want it banned, and it is salutary to be reminded of that fact.

I'm Too Pretty To Clean Windows

Wanna do them for me? In fact, I'm too pretty to do anything whatsoever. Certainly I'm too pretty to write a crummy blog! Get me my limousine and my fuck-me-now shoes! Oops, forgot about that snake tail.

All this was provoked by the news that JC Penney canceled the sales of this t-shirt, after complaints, I surmise:

Good for JC Penney.

Not so good for me, because writing about these jokey t-shirts is like taking a refreshing acid bath for us feminazis. We get called for not having any sense of humor and for not discussing the killing of women in other countries and so on.

And of course I get the joke in the t-shirt, of course. I also get the base from which that joke has grown, like mildew, and it's that base I criticize. Here the base is the view that women don't need to be smart or to work hard if they are pretty. Prettiness suffices! Prettiness is a meal-ticket for life, and if you are pretty enough, men will do the work for you.

And that's what the laughter is about, as well as about the fact that the idea is wrong. Prettiness will not take you through life. The final point, and probably the only point for the hypothetical wearer of these t-shirts is that pretty women have it easier in life than women who are not judged pretty.

The reason why JC Penney was correct in canceling the t-shirts is, in the immediate sense, something more important than any of that. It's the anti-education message in the t-shirt. Just as women have become the majority in colleges and universities, a t-shirt suggests that they should put the brakes on.

Probably just a coincidence.
Added later: It's not the joke I discuss here as much as why it would be treated AS a joke. Direct gender reversals (as an explanatory aid) don't work here because the history differs between the two genders. But consider "I'm too Muscular To Do Homework" for a t-shirt for boys.

Competitition Doesn't Mean No Consumer Choice

Which is reason enough to be pleased about this:
The U.S. government sued to block AT&T Inc. (T)’s proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA Inc., saying the deal would “substantially lessen competition” in the wireless market. AT&T shares fell as much as 5 percent.
In the complaint filed today in federal court in Washington, the U.S. is seeking a declaration that Dallas-based AT&T’s takeover of T-Mobile, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE), would violate U.S. antitrust law. The U.S. also asked for a court order blocking any arrangement implementing the deal.
Of course that particular merger wouldn't have resulted in just one large firm in any local market. But the mood of the times has very much been pro-monopoly and anti-competition. That is funny, because the arguments used for the monopoly building are taken right out of the literature about competition.

Monopolies are bad news. They mean no real pressure to keep prices down and no consumer choice other than not to consume at all. The fewer firms we have in an industry, the closer we get to this situation.

It's odd that I feel the need to write that down! It's so obvious. But the so-called pro-competition lobby has now been a pro-monopoly lobby for many years and we all might get confused about the meaning of the word "competition." That the monopoly boyz have managed to take over a whole doctrine is because they have the money and the political access offered by money.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Today's Embroidery

I found this old work of mine when looking for something else.

I had a complicated plan for this one, beginning with the idea of turning the roles of spectators and flowers at flower shows and ending with the idea of humans as potted plants, pestered by insect-like military planes. But it didn't work out quite right, because I used flea-market-bought floss which stained the linen when I washed the embroidery. Hence the yellow shades in the background. I then added more dabs of yellow and sorta gave up.

The Disastrous Hurricane That Wasn't Quite So Disastrous

As Atrios notes, some people have complained about the way the media covered hurricane Irene. It's hard to know if these complaints are about the hurricane not being sufficiently murderous, after all, or about the disaster-pron aspect of much commercial media coverage.

The latter is annoying and ultimately counterproductive, resulting in the sort of backlash Atrios mentions and perhaps in people in the future refusing to heed evacuation orders. It's like the boy who cried wolf too many times. I believe that ongoing disasters should be covered in the way of public health warnings, focusing only on information and instructions.

The former: Irene being less horrible than forecast, is obviously a blessing, not something to grumble about. Most everyone understands that our ability to forecast the path and consequences of major hurricanes has improved but is still only a probabilistic forecast, and that the recommendations to evacuate (in, say, New York City) were made within the light of then-available information.

Hurricane Irene caused severe flooding in Vermont. I agree that the media coverage seemed to get tired after Irene was past New York City. Let's rectify some of that:

Did We Drop the Ball on Unemployment?

So asked Nicholas Kristof the day before yesterday. That piece went straight into my bang-the-poor-head-against-the-garage-door files. Or the I-Give-Up-Political-Blogging files.

Do you think Kristof might have been slumbering behind a tall thorny hedge of roses like the Sleeping Beauty?

How could one otherwise NOT know that both parties in the United States decided on the relative unimportance of the unemployed quite early? How could one otherwise NOT know that we were supposed to discuss deficits, not joblessness, because that was the topic the conservatives selected? How could one otherwise NOT know that every single survey shows that jobs were and are the biggest concern of the American public, though not of the American generic politicians?

I am frightened by the isolation of people who live in the centers of power, truly frightened. The question is not whether the ball on unemployment was dropped. It was never even brought to the field of political plays.

Monday, August 29, 2011

And Even More Cantor Fun: On Dirty Air As the Price of Jobs

The House Republican agenda this fall will focus on repealing environmental and labor regulations that GOP lawmakers say are driving up the cost of doing business and discouraging employers from hiring new workers.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., says in a memo to his fellow Republicans that as soon as Congress returns to Washington next week he will start bringing up bills to repeal or restrict federal regulations. He also said the House would also act on a small business tax deduction.
The memo was released Monday.
The GOP approach to job creation comes as President Barack Obama prepares to announce after Labor Day a broad jobs package expected to include tax cuts, infrastructure projects and help for the unemployed.
“By pursuing a steady repeal of job-destroying regulations, we can help lift the cloud of uncertainty hanging over small and large employers alike, empowering them to hire more workers,” Cantor said in his memo
What can I say about it without having to go and bang my head against the garage door already? Perhaps that the "job-destroying regulations" might mean clean air for the workers or reduced wear-and-tear on their bodies? That lots of things could "empower" employers to hire more people, including wages set at one cent per hour, say, and that many of those things would be the exact opposite of "empowerment" from the workers' point of view?

But most importantly, why do we suddenly hear so much about the need to lift "the cloud of uncertainty" from entrepreneurs, when it is that very uncertainty which justifies earning above-normal profits in the first place? Or put more succinctly, why are the only people who are rewarded for bearing risks, the entrepreneurs, suddenly the ones we should protect against risks?

Come to think of it, everyone else is expected to bear more risks, from consumers of health insurance to people planning to retire. But I don't read the wingnuts planning to protect any of those groups from uncertainty. The reverse, rather.

Vacation Thoughts

Don't worry, I won't show you pictures. These thoughts are more general than that.

The first one is that there is something very rotten about the United States: The absence of proper vacations. They are necessary for physical and mental health, for family togetherness and even for the tourism industries.

Yet most American people have vacations too short to even detox from the daily grind. Besides, the lack of proper vacations complicates the role of women in families where they are expected to organize summer activities for children, and to the extent the shortage of vacation time coincides with the general expectation of excessively long working hours, days and weeks, this shortage is also a sign of the underlying values which do not include the balancing of work and family.

The second vacation thought has to do with the great psychological benefit from just getting off the familiar hamster wheel, from seeing it from outside. Distance from one's ordinary routines can be a great blessing. It offers clarity. Perhaps the hamster wheel is a perfectly nice wheel, exactly suited to the hamster one is. Or perhaps not. Learning the answer requires the hamster to get off the wheel and vacations let that happen.

My last vacation thought has to do with both of the preceding: The prevailing values too often stand on their heads. The need for businesses and firms come first, and people's lives are slotted into the few free spaces. But in reality the businesses and firms are supposed to enable the lives of the people.

Hilarious Eric Cantor: People Elected Him.

I'm so full of lovingkindness after my vacation that I love Eric Cantor, even though he's as smart as a pot-holder. A pot-holder who has been elected by the American people, or some fraction of them, by the way.

In any case, Cantor has an odd view of the government:
Despite the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene this weekend, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) today stood by his call that no more money be allocated for disaster relief unless it is offset by spending cuts elsewhere. The Washington Post reported this morning that FEMA will need more money than it currently has to deal with the storm’s aftermath and is already diverting funds from other recent disasters to deal with the hurricane, but Cantor’s comments suggest Republicans won’t authorize more funds without a fight.
Cantor took the position following the tornadoes that devastated Joplin, Missouri and elsewhere in the spring and summer, and after last week’s earthquake, the epicenter for which was in his district, but the hurricane’s level of destruction is far beyond that of those disasters. Still, Cantor told Fox News that while “we’re going to find the money,” “we’re just going to need to make sure that there are savings elsewhere to do so.”
In the attached video Cantor patiently explains to us, once again, that the government is just like a family! If a member of the family needs expensive medical care, then there will be no new car or addition to the family home. That's how it works, and that's how the government works.

Of course, Cantor's imaginary family appears to have no health insurance, to begin with.

Then there's the VERY big problem of equating governments with families. If we took it seriously, every family would have a small stock of nuclear weapons in a freezer in the basement and border control around their yards. If we took it seriously, no family would ever have taken out a loan, not even to buy a home, because Cantor argues that families just don't do that. And if we took it seriously, all families would be very, very concerned about not forcing the employer of any family member to give him or her raises or even the same old wages (thanks to Gromit for the last observation).

But Cantor makes a slightly subtler mistake than the one about governments having a mummy and a daddy and 2.1 children in a suburb somewhere. That subtlety has to do with how he defines how much the government should take in as tax revenue: That sum is based on Mr. Eric Cantor's Right-Wing Opinion.

He then sets the amount as written in stone and argues that any attempt to raise it is like trying to squeeze blood from that same stone. Or from a pot-holder. Remember that the sum is not etched in stone in reality, and remember that if the government really was like a family, that sum would be the family income. Which the family is supposed to not try to raise. Finally the government-as-family is supposed to balance its books (based on income defined by Eric Cantor) every single calendar year.

And this is regarded as part of political debate! I do love the silliness of it all.

Thanks! And: I'm Back.

My sincere thanks to res ipsa, Suzie, Skylanda, NYMary and Watertiger for their writing and the care and feeding of this blog. I enjoyed the posts and the fact that I didn't have to write them!

Also, I am back.

The funniest thing that happened to me wasn't anything on my vacation but what I came home to: The person who was paid to just mow the front lawn had decided to be kind and do a bit more.

The flower beds are beautifully edged, all my hollies got horrible crew-cuts (which is bad news if you know hollies), and then the beds were weeded.

Most of my plants have disappeared, although there are a few handsome weeds standing in lonely isolation in the middle of the dark dirt.

It's really funny! I loved it, actually, though I may get sad later when I catalog the deaths.

Paving the Way (by res ipsa)

...for Echidne's return, which is imminent, so I'd like to thank her for letting me make a lame attempt to fill her shoes during her break, and you for all the comments. I have learned a lot this month.

I totally lucked out re Irene. I lent my place to friends who were under mandatory evacuation and spent the storm at The GC's. The weather was a little scary from about 4 AM to 7 AM on Sunday (horizontal heavy rain pelting the windows, trees and tree branches being whipped about in an alarming fashion, a lot of lightning), but other than that, it was mostly a heavy rainstorm punctuated by big gusts of wind. We never lost power, and even though the entire yard was transformed into a foot-deep pond for a time, the basement miraculously stayed dry. We didn't lose any big trees, and my tomato plants might even make it! The damage seems to be limited to just a tangled mess of small limbs and leaves that will need to be cleaned up once everything dries out. Not so lucky were The GC's friends, who had three feet of water in their basement, and lost all manner of stuff they'd stored there. We spent part of yesterday trying to help them sort it all out.

There are a lot of other people up and down the eastern seaboard who fared -- and continue to fare -- far worse. As I said, we lucked out, and for that I am grateful.