Saturday, December 03, 2011

A Fun Read Recommendation

That would be Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment. The novel is part of his Diskworld series but can be read without any background in that world, except perhaps the knowledge that its denizens consist of not only humans but also of trolls, dwarves, vampires, werewolves and so on.

Pratchett writes humorous fantasy with a political twist. I like reading him in the bathtub, so all my books are weird wave-shaped bricks by now. I wrote that because I cannot really say much about the book without giving away the plot and some of the laughs.

Oppressing Women Does Not Pay

On the level of a country, that is. The international competitiveness of a country suffers from that need for the oppressor to keep one foot on the neck of the oppressed. Hard to do much work while being locked together that way.

More seriously, the proper oppression of women requires women to be uneducated, unable to earn money on their own and severely limited in mobility. The maintenance of all this is a job in itself, and countries which choose to go this way have handicapped more than half of their populations. This will have negative economic consequences.

Sure, countries which have won the resource jackpot of oil can maintain women's oppression because of that extra source of income. But when the oil reserves run out, they must face the same basic economic facts: Choose to oppress women and you will choose ultimate poverty. This is because women are half of all people. Throwing away most of women's human resources will keep a country poor without those Deus ex machina resource jackpots.

But there is a more direct example of how oppressing women might not pay. Take the Egyptian election results, where the very conservative Nour party has fared well, currently placing right after the more moderate Islamic Brotherhood:
The Nour Party espouses a strict interpretation of Islam similar to that of Saudi Arabia, where the sexes are segregated and women must be veiled and are barred from driving.
No wonder that the Islamic Brotherhood states that it doesn't want to go quite that far. Tourism is an important industry for Egypt:
The Egyptian tourism industry is one of the most important sectors in the economy, in terms of high employment and incoming foreign currency. Egypt is one of the best known touristic countries in the world. It has many constituents of tourism, mainly historical attractions especially in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, but also beach and other sea activities. The government is always trying to promote foreign tourism since it is a major source of currency and investment. There are plans to get to 14 million visitors by 2011, by means of the improvement of touristic facilities and advertising of Egyptian tourism in international media, in order to maintain a steady demand for visiting Egypt.
Tourism is also very important in Morocco and Tunisia, both countries where moderate Islamic parties won recent elections. Banning women from swimming with men, requiring women to wear veils and so on could kill the tourist industries of all three countries, because most of those tourists come from Europe and my guess is that roughly half of them are women. Even if the rules only applied to local women, few tourists would enjoy being scowled at for not being properly covered, say.

Gloomy Night Thoughts on Women's Rights

I was thinking Bad And Sad Thoughts last night (all night!), after hearing about the early election results in Egypt and especially about the large support the ultra-Orthodox party seems to have. If the Muslim Brotherhood joins forces with them, the debate in Egypt will be between moderate Islam and very extreme Islam and the secular parties will be left out of power altogether. Never mind that they were a major actor in the earlier demonstrations and protests which got Mubarak removed from power.

And what will happen to women, including the women who faced violence and danger while protesting? What will they get?

From that point on my bitter thoughts veered in several different directions and some of those will become future posts, including the question of women's rights in a society where the majority (of both men and women, perhaps) believes that women should not have equal rights, the definition of democracy as simple majority rule, the question of education and women's status and the whole long and bloody learning process which proper democracy requires, not to mention the laws which protect the rights of minorities.

Other strands went into that logically impossible The Three Big Guy Religions land where one cannot argue anything with a fundamentalist because of what was written by someone thousands of years ago, where logic is meaningless, even if one uses it to show the inconsistencies in a particular holy book, and where the consequences of arguing can well be fatal. The way religion has become a form of self-definition (Us vs Them) in many parts of the world, including in the areas where Islam is the major religion worries me greatly.

Traditional interpretations of religions are Very Bad News For Women, and the more they take root the longer it will take for women to win the status of full human beings. By early morning I was thinking it would take more than an additional hundred years on the level of this whole planet. But that's my guess right now. Hundred years.

And of course one of the main reasons why it will be that slow (oh how I hope I'm wrong there!) is that mostly people truly aren't that bothered about how "others" treat "their" women. There are always more important problems to solve. Poverty comes first, wars come first, health comes first. Indeed, everything comes first! And aren't women really innately different in any case? Democracy has spoken and decided that it's not for women. Blabla blah.

Feminism indeed is the longest revolution.

As well as extremely poorly paid. Sure, there are international NGOs working on behalf of women. But if one relates their size, power and numbers to the populations at risk the effort is pitiful. Laughable! Ridiculous! A bandaid/sticking plaster that covers a suppurating tumor.

I do understand why things are the way they are. We live in the Dark Ages when it comes to human rights for women. Thinking of it that way gives me more energy, because all I really need to work on is keeping the tiny flickering light lit so that it can be found when the time is right.

Aren't you glad you read through this?

Meanwhile, in Egypt And Elsewhere

Early election results:
Two major Islamist political parties prevailed in the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections, an election official told CNN Saturday.

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, received 40% and Al Noor Salafi Movement won 20% of the said Yousri Abdel Kareem, head of the executive office of the Higher Judicial Election council.

Al Noor Salafi, a hardline group, and the Muslim Brotherhood, a more moderate movement, each claimed a lead after votes were cast on Monday and Tuesday.
It is probably too early to predict what this, and similar victories by Islamist parties in Morocco and Tunisia might mean for women's rights and status in the respective societies.

But none of the winning parties campaigned on the expansion of women's rights. This suggests that those rights will not be expanded. Whether they will be shrunk or not remains to be seen. The Al Noor Salafi group wants to impose more rules on women. The practical policies of the other, more moderate Islamist parties with victories in those three countries are harder to predict.

But I'm not optimistic. The lessons from earlier revolutions (including the Iranian revolution and the post-Berlin-Wall changes in the ex-Soviet bloc) remind us that women are unlikely to be among the direct beneficiaries. Rather the reverse, for some women, at least.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Corruption in the media (by Suzie)

People become journalists because they want to hang out with powerful people and get power themselves. This desire for power corrupts the editors of mainstream media, and they stop holding accountable powerful people in government, corporations and the media itself.
This is a paraphrase of the pot calling the kettle black what accused rapist Julian Assange said to a Hong Kong conference via Skype last week.

By all means, critique the mass media, but don't fall for the marketing ploy that the new is always improved. So, let's look at the paragraph above. Some people may go into journalism in hopes of hanging out with sports and entertainment figures, but I've never known anyone who became a journalist to get close to the Secretary of Agriculture. Instead, most mainstream reporters I know got into the business because they wanted to change the world and/or they thought they were good writers. That's not so different from people in indy media of various kinds.

I agree that power can corrupt people, but don't think it happens only to people in the mainstream media, or that the desire for power always translates into protection of powerful people.

When I worked for the mainstream media, my bosses were gleeful when a reporter could expose the wrongdoing of a powerful person. For myself, it fed my desire to do good in the world, and it made me feel like I had some power against systematic injustice. Others liked power a bit too much. Because he's dead, I can mention a former editor and publisher:
"He used to refer to me as 'the skirt,' " said Sandy Freedman, Tampa's mayor during Mr. Harvill's years as the Tribune's publisher. "He once told me that I would never get anything done in this city unless I had run it past him first."
Of course, some journalists do protect powerful people. They may admire the powerful, enjoy hanging out with them, make money or get jobs from their connections. But does anyone believe that people outside the mainstream media care nothing for power? Imagine a GEICO ad: "Is Assange a megalomaniac?"

Look at it another way: Would Assange reveal wrongdoing by one of his benefactors? If he fled Britain to a country that didn't extradite people to Sweden, do you think he would start attacking the government of that country?

Do you think bloggers never suck up to powerful people? I guarantee feminist bloggers think twice before lambasting another feminist blogger.

Gender enters into all of this because power is essential to traditional ideas of manhood, while power can be seen as unattractive in women. Thus, it's easier for men to be openly ambitious. There are more men in power, and male wannabes can try to buddy up to them. When a woman tries to get close to a powerful man, however, the man may assume sex plays some role. For example, if Assange did not assault two Swedish women who volunteered to help WikiLeaks, he, at least, had sex with them. For those who see nothing wrong with that: If the head of an organization has sex with less powerful women, other women may question what role they might have in the organization.

In mainstream media, protecting powerful people can be about protecting sources of information. It's similar in law enforcement. You let some things slide in hopes of getting more important information later. This has all sorts of complications, including the definition of "important" and "later." For instance, some men think the treatment of women is a personal matter, not an important issue, and thus, will keep quiet about the sexism of a powerful man in order to continue to have access to him. In the case of Assange, many supporters think sexism and rape are not important compared with the release of government secrets.

Assange was livid when the Guardian detailed the accusations of sexual assault against him. (He is expected to appeal an extradition order Monday to Britain's Supreme Court.) Because he knows so little about journalism, he didn't understand that newspapers will protect the anonymity of people who leak information to them, but will not protect a named source against accusations of wrongdoing.

Some journalists don't publish information on powerful figures because they fear for their safety or they don't want to be sued. The dangers are worse for reporters whose organizations can't protect them or don't have lawyers on retainer.

As in any revolution, continue to fight what's wrong with mainstream media, but don't be naive about whatever takes its place.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Today's Toys: Segregated By Gender

Like these. Note also the color-coding on which I have written before.

On The Skills of Getting Elected Vs. Governing

Atrios commented on this article about Martha Coakley, the woman who, according to some, campaigned so badly that she lost Ted Kennedy's Senate sheet to the Republican Scott Brown. I'm not so sure that Coakley's campaigning ability was the only reason, given that Massachusetts has never (never!) sent a woman to the US Senate.

But whatever. The point I wanted to make in this context is this: A politician's ability to get elected may have little or no correlation with that politician's ability to do the actual job well.

Telegenic applicants do well. Applicants who look like someone you'd like to get drunk with do well. Applicants who speak well do well. Applicants who understand the mass psychology of politics do well. None of those test the applicants' ability to govern.

Sure, we learn some things during the long and tedious process of election campaigning, and of course there are politicians who both campaign well and govern well. But campaigning skills are getting ever more separate from governing skills.

That may be why I find the horse-race reporting of the Republican presidential candidates' performance so very boring.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Musical Interlude

The incomparable Nina Simone plays "You'll Never Walk Alone."

The Eruption of Bimbos

This is the way one is to describe some male politician having a history of extramarital affairs, I guess. Jon Huntsman:
Jon Huntsman doubled down on criticizing rival Herman Cain's presidential campaign in light of new allegations that he had a 13-year affair. 

"We’ve got real issues to talk about, not the latest bimbo eruption," Huntsman said to the Boston Herald on Wednesday.
Why not call it "the eruption of brainless erections?"

I understand the lure of a term like "the eruption of bimbos," I do. It's a way to shame a politician, and who cares what it says about the women (some undefined mass of them) who are called bimbos:
Bimbo, in its popular English language usage, describes a woman who is physically attractive but is perceived to have a low intelligence or poor education. The term can also be used to describe a woman who acts in a sexually promiscuous manner. The term itself is not explicitly negative, but is most often used as a derogative insult towards a woman.
Use of this term began in the United States as early as 1919, where it was used as a slang term for an unintelligent or brutish male.[1] Its first inclusion in an official dictionary for its female meaning was in 1929, where the definition was given simply as "a woman".[2]
Fascinating history that word has! Of course we have no actual evidence of the intelligence or education of the women Cain may have sexually harassed or had affairs with. We don't even know whether they are promiscuous or not!

What we might start concluding here is that Mr. Cain himself might be promiscuous!

But the biggest problem by far is Huntsman's decision to lump together women who accuse Cain of sexual harassment with the rumors that he has had a mistress. Accusing someone of sexual harassment makes you -- let me check -- "a woman who is physically attractive but is perceived to have a low intelligence or poor education. The term can also be used to describe a woman who acts in a sexually promiscuous manner."


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Silly And Not-So-Silly Things For Today

None of these are silly in an innocent way unless you take a very, very long view and regard yourself as belonging to the ethnic group of pixies, orcs or elves. And then to the male gender.

1. These pieces of advice to "single girls" of the late 1930s look silly to us now, right? But wait a moment! It's not that different from 2011, after all! And I hear that McMillan's ideas might become a television series, too.

2. Ten things the iPhone Siri will help you get instead of an abortion. Self-explanatory silliness.

3. Andrew Sullivan's lazy post on how "politically correct egalitarianism" about racial differences in IQ scores has strangled the study of intelligence. What is silly about that is Sullivan's assumption that he can scribble down a few lines on a vast, vast topic which comes with a long history of ghoulies and ghosts, having to do with the misuse of such scores and other similar measures in the past, without any further responsibility.

Ta-Nehisis Coates reminds us of those ghoulies and ghosts, and Amanda at Pandagon has a good post on the problems of identifying IQ scores with some nebulous concept of general intelligence. Here is what I wrote on the topic in the autism post comments below:
The general problems:
1. The IQ tests obviously are affected by what used to be called "nurture." You have to be able to read and write and understand the language the test is in (including the language in the sense of the types of words it uses, such as long ones, perhaps). Because of this, the test results are correlated with a) parental income, b) the quality of school a person attends or attended and c) social class, when defined widely. If a particular ethnic group has a lower average income, worse schools and perhaps a different culture at home (such as immigrants might), then -- surprise! --- they are going to score lower, on average, EVEN IF whatever the actual innate part the IQ test measured were the same as that of some other ethnic group.

2. This means that you have to standardize, to compare like with like, if you wish to draw conclusions from IQ tests. That links to a second problem, which is that any attempt to compare test results across groups should control for the way the samples are selected. Some countries, for instance, might use IQ tests mostly to find gifted children, some others might use them to find children who need special schooling because they can't manage ordinary classrooms. You can't compare two countries which differ in this way and expect to find something general about the intelligence of the two populations. One country would test low IQ scores, the other one high IQ scores. This is a relevant concern also when we compare groups of any kind, because UNLESS the people are randomly selected and UNLESS there is no particular reason WHY the test is taken, we are quite likely to get different samples from different populations.

3. One can do better on an IQ test by practicing similar type of problems. This works both against the idea that the test measures something fixed and innate, as Amanda points out, but it also means that those people who get more practice in their everyday lives will do better than those people who do not get that practice. Both home environment and schools matter here, too. This is not quite the same as the first argument, because I'm talking about practicing the specific kinds of things here, rather than general environmental factors.

4. The IQ test was not initially created as a measure of general intelligence, but of a child's ability to benefit from ordinary school classes. That modest goal has been forgotten altogether, when it turned into a possible measure of general intelligence. BUT the test doesn't even pretend to measure aspects which clearly ARE important in the latter concept: Memory and creativlty, for example, are not measured at all. Neither are any talents which don't translate into paper-and-pen answers or keyboard answers.

5. The Flynn effect: The average scores have crept up over time. Because it's very unlikely that evolution could change an innate characteristic that quickly, this also serves to point out the non-innate aspect of the tests.

6. The stereotype threat: This refers to people doing worse on a test if they are told that their group usually does worse on it, as compared to a case where they are not told that. This is important, because EVEN FALSE findings about racial or gender differences in IQ scores CAN then become self-fulfilling prophesies. It is the stereotype threat which makes Sullivan's lazy few lines on the topic a crime in my view. If you are going to write on a topic of this type, you owe your audience some hours of proper research first.

I Missed My Blogoversary

What an ugly word for something so beautiful and life-affirming! But I forgot about it. You can send in belated happy-blogoversary wishes, of course. And money.


I should write about whether the gap I filled still exists and when I should fade into the history and other such things but I'm going to get a chocolate cake instead.

The I-love-you is aimed at you. If you don't like chocolate cake, how about a puppy picture?

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Good Post on the Magical Waist-To-Hip Ratio

Can be found here. I recommend reading it not only for that particular story (i.e., the evolutionary psychology argument that heterosexual men everywhere prefer a waist-to-hips ratio of 0.7 in searching for women to mate with) but also about her more general points on the psychologist's fallacy in this context.

Autism. It's The Uppity Women's Fault.

This is one of the worst pieces of so-called science reporting I have come across for a very long time. Granted, it's in the Daily Male Mail which is all about trying to get women out of the labor force and back into the kitchens, barefoot and pregnant and preferably very, very stupid. But still.

The article is a steaming turd, perhaps fished from the toilet bowl of one Michael Baron-Cohen, well known for his open distaste for the distaff gender. Or perhaps some of it is from the brain of Michael Hanlon, the writer of the piece. It's hard to say.

Let's hold our noses and jump straight into the article:
For some years now Professor Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of the comedian and actor Sacha), a psychologist at Cambridge University, has been developing his theory that something called ‘assortative mating’ may be at least partly to blame for the spectacular rise in autism diagnoses.

The theory states that when people with strongly ‘systemising’ personalities – the sort of people who become engineers, surgeons, computer experts and who shine in some aspects of business – marry each other and produce children, the effects of this kind of ‘male brain’ are genetically magnified, increasing the chances of producing an autistic child – a child with what Prof Baron-Cohen suspects is an ‘extreme male brain’.
Strong ‘systemisers’ are often slightly obsessive, perfectionist and make great scientists and are often extremely talented at music. But they sometimes have difficulties socially interacting with other people – a combination of traits that can blend into the milder end of the autism spectrum.
Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre is now asking members of the public who are graduates and parents to take part in a survey which will investigate any links between educational achievement, what kind of job they have and how their children develop.

Specifically, the new study will attempt to find out whether two ‘strong systemisers’ do indeed have a higher chance of producing autistic children.

A few warnings are due at this point: First, the whole concept of "systematizing" is due to Baron-Cohen. He created this concept and he markets it. As I have written earlier, the questionnaire he used to define "systematizing" behavior is loaded with bad questions which, whether intended or not, will confuse gender roles with "systematizing" behavior. To understand what he really intends by the term, let's just say that he believes men are logical and women are emotional.*:
In his book "The Essential Difference," the Cambridge University neuroscientist [sic] Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of Sacha of “Borat” fame) wrote: “The female brain is predominately hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominately hard-wired for understanding and building systems.”

Second, the concept of "an extreme male brain" as the autistic mind is also his. He assigns emotional brains to the female sex and logical brains to the male sex, never mind that even his biased test cannot get there and never mind that there is no reason why the two characteristics should not be both present at the same time, both high or both low and so on. His book on the gender of brains (The Essential Difference) makes for hilarious reading, by the way.

Third, the planned study appears an odd one. If strong "systematizing" behavior is defined somewhat similarly to mild autism, then it would not be unlikely, given the apparent genetic aspect of autism, that two parents with signs of mild autism would have at least as high a probability of having an autistic child as one parent with signs of mild autism and a higher probability than two parents with no signs of autism.

So what is Baron-Cohen going to actually measure in this study? Only occupations and educational achievement? Or something like my description here? And what is it we would learn from this all? I'm also confused about the reason to only include people who are graduates. Surely his famous systematizing tests could be done on any parents, whatever their education levels are. So why limit the study in this manner?

Note, finally, that the planned study is already endangered. He is asking people to self-select for the study, while openly informing the potential participants what it is that he hopes to find.

Assortative mating, by the way, refers to similar people marrying each other. What Baron-Cohen has in mind is the idea that the drastic increase in the number of diagnosed autism cases might somehow be linked to a drastic change in the proportion of people who marry similar people.

For this to make any sense at all, there must have been a humongous change in the likelihood of assortative mating in the fairly recent past. A humongous one. And I really mean a humongous one.

And this is where I cannot tell if the rest of Michael Hanlon's article is his own theory about what might have caused such a change or if it is still part of Baron-Cohen's theorizing. I wouldn't be surprised, either way, because I'm familiar with Baron-Cohen's misogyny. But in any case, one gentleman or another tells us that this drastic change is due to feminism! In the past clever women didn't get married at all or only late in life, so they didn't have time to give birth to lots of autistic children! And logical gentlemen preferred dumb blondes without an education!

An example:
Until relatively recently in our history, being exceptionally bright was not much use to you if you were female. In Victorian Britain, for example, the opportunities for a woman to earn her living through brainpower alone were extremely limited.
According to the 1901 Census, there were fewer than a hundred registered female doctors in the whole of the United Kingdom.
Going to university was difficult and expensive – most did not even allow girls to study. There were certainly few opportunities for careers in engineering or the sciences.
You could become a teacher or a governess, or maybe, of you were exceptionally talented, earn your living writing or in the arts. Most of the professions were closed, as was the world of business.
Brainy women were not even seen as particularly desirable partners. Clever or rich men chose brides on the grounds of looks, ‘breeding’ or both.
Having an IQ in the 140s probably counted against you if anything. The traditional image of a ‘dumb blonde’ hanging off the arm of the successful politician or businessman was a horrible cliché but it had an element of truth.
And in any case, very clever women would have often been mad to get married.

You feel dizzy? I did, after reading that a few times, because Hanlon confused education, an acquired characteristic, with "systematizing" which is supposed to be an innate characteristic, as if a Victorian young maiden couldn't have had a "systematizing" brain because she was not educated!

Hanlon also makes the case that women didn't really have many career opportunities at all which suggests that most of them got married as fast as they could, what with the need to eat and so on. But then he argues that bright women wouldn't have wanted to get married, because of losing those nonexistent and poorly paying career opportunities offered by governessing and such. This is a mess. And I haven't even pointed out that Hanlon's view of the Victorian era has no ordinary working-class women in it at all.

What we are to take home from that silliness is the idea that smart women in the past did not reproduce. Now they do! Possibly with smart men! Voila, an explanation for increased autism!

The big, big problem with this argument is that there is no way of testing it. We cannot go back to Victorian times, armed with the Baron-Cohen test ("Do you like to collect train timetables?"), to see if assortative mating was less common then than now, and we cannot learn what percentage of smart or stupid women reproduced then as opposed to now. So the whole approach appears doomed.

But of course that is not its point, not at all! This piece has to do with the Dangers Of Educated Women and the Dangers Of Working Women. If only women did not go to college! If only women stayed at home! That neither of these probably affects assortative mating is irrelevant. That neither of these would affect "systematizing" if it is an innate characteristic is irrelevant. The important message is out.

And the message is that it is the fault of mothers. Not the fault of fathers, even though it takes two to tango, assuming that this hare-brained theory is taken seriously, but the fault of mothers who should not have gone to college and who certainly should not be logical thinkers.

It takes a lot of work to get those sexist messages out. But then the history of autism research is a stained one. In the 1950s autism was thought to be caused by "refrigerator mothers":
In his 1943 paper that first identified autism, Leo Kanner called attention to what appeared to him as a lack of warmth among the fathers and mothers of autistic children.[3] In a 1949 paper, Kanner suggested autism may be related to a "genuine lack of maternal warmth", noted that fathers rarely stepped down to indulge in children's play, and observed that children were exposed from "the beginning to parental coldness, obsessiveness, and a mechanical type of attention to material needs only.... They were left neatly in refrigerators which did not defrost. Their withdrawal seems to be an act of turning away from such a situation to seek comfort in solitude."[4] In a 1960 interview, Kanner bluntly described parents of autistic children as "just happening to defrost enough to produce a child."[5]
These early researchers couldn't put the blame for autism on uppity career mothers, so they put it on "refrigerator mothers." Which just goes to show that it is always the women's fault.
*It's important to point out that he asserts this but does not prove it in any way, given that a) his tests are biased (examples linked to male gender-roles are overwhelmingly used in the systematizing questions) b) even then any gender differences are slight and c) the division into "systemizers" and "empathizers" does not go by gender terribly well. Only 40% of the women who took the test actually fall into the group which would be characterized by what Baron-Cohen calls "a female brain."

Likewise, there is no currently existing evidence to suggest that women are "predominantly" "hardwired" for empathy. What does it even mean, that "predominantly"? Everyday life requires the ability to think logically, to understand fairly complex sequences (even following a recipe requires that, and you don't get much more gender-linked tasks), and to empathize about something may require systematizing, the ability to arrange complex information in a way which lets one understand what the situation is and why the person deserves empathy or not.

And the term "hardwired" is almost always used in the absence of any actual evidence of how that would be achieved.

The War on Christmas

We are losing, Atrios points out. Because Bill O'Reilly on Fox News stated that his side is winning the war on Christmas.

If you don't know what that war might be all about, you probably don't live in the Wingnut Land of American conservatives. To quote the quite conservative David Frum:
But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority.
Bolds are mine.

The war on Christmas is hard to take seriously. It sounds like something from Terry Pratchett's Diskworld books. What we should take very seriously, however, is this new war on facts.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Guest Post by Anna: A Literary Canon of Women Writers, Part Thirteen: Last of the Nineteenth Century

Echidne's note: Earlier parts of this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 ,Part 5, Part 6, Part 7,Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11 and Part 12.

Christina Georgina Rossetti
(5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children's poems. She is best known for her long poem "Goblin Market", her love poem "Remember", and for the words of the Christmas carol "In the Bleak Midwinter". Her poem "Love Came Down at Christmas" has also been widely used for a carol. She was deeply religious and often suffered from depression, as well as suffering from Graves Disease for the last decades of her life; she eventually died of breast cancer.

Her most famous collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, appeared in 1862, when she was 31. It received widespread critical praise, establishing her as the main female poet of the time. Hopkins, Swinburne, and Tennyson praised her work, and with the death of poet Elizabeth Browning in 1861 Rossetti was considered her natural successor.

The title poem is one of Rossetti's best known works. Although it is literally about two sisters' misadventures with goblins, critics have interpreted the piece in a variety of ways: seeing it as an allegory about temptation and salvation; a commentary on Victorian gender roles and female agency; and a work about erotic desire and social redemption. Her works are widely available in English.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet whose work became widely known and critically acclaimed after her death. She spent most of her life as a recluse in her Amherst, Massachusetts home. After her death in 1886 her younger sister Lavinia discovered her poems, and in 1890 Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Louis Todd published a heavily edited collection of her poems. A complete edition was not published until 1955, and an edition arranged in the way she originally arranged her poems was not published until 1981.

There were initially unfavorable reviews and skepticism of her literary prowess during the late 19th and early 20th century, but now Dickinson is considered a major American poet. Dickinson's poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation.

Some scholars have suggested that the numerous letters and poems that were dedicated to Susan Gilbert Dickinson indicate a lesbian romance, but this is difficult to verify as Lavinia and Susan burned some of Emily's letters, as Emily had asked them to. Emily Dickinson's complete poems are available in English in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson and Thomas H. Johnson.

Fatma Aliye Topuz (October 9, 1862 - July 13, 1936), aka simply Fatma Aliye or Fatma Aliye Hanım, was a Turkish novelist, writer, and women's rights activist. Although there is an earlier published novel by the Turkish female author Zafer Hanım in 1877, since that one remained her only novel, Fatma Aliye Hanım with her five novels is credited as the first female novelist in Turkish literature. Her husband was less clever than her and, during the first years of their marriage, did not allow her to read novels written in foreign languages.

Fatma Aliye published her first novel Muhazarat ("Useful Information") in 1892 under her real name, in which she tried to disprove the belief that a woman cannot forget her first love. It was the first novel in the entire Ottoman Empire written by a woman. The book was reprinted in 1908. Her novel Udi ("The Lute Player"), published in 1899, depicts a female oud player, whom Fatma Aliye met in Aleppo. Renowned novelist Resat Nuri Guntekin refers to Udi as one of the most important works, which attracted his interest in literature.

Her other novels are Raf'et (1898), Enin (1910) ("Groaning") and Levaih-i Hayat ("Scenes from Life"). She thematized in her works marriage, harmony between the spouses, love and affection, and the importance of courtship, contrary to arranged marriage.. Further, she created independent and self-reliant heroines, who work and earn own money without the need of a man.

In 1893, her prominence increased after the publication of Ahmet Mithat's book Bir Muharrire-i Osmaniye'nin Neşeti ("Birth of An Ottoman Female Writer") composed of Fatma Aliye's letters. In these letters, she expresses her never-ending enthusiasm to learn. Her essay "Nisvan-ı İslâm" was translated into French under the title "Les femmes muselmannes" and also into Arabic language, and her novel Udi into French. A criticism of her, published in a French newspaper, about a book titled Women of East and West by Frenchman Émile Julliard attracted much attention in Paris. Her work was also exhibited at the library of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, USA and was listed in the catalogue of the Women's Library at the fair.

Beside her literary works, she wrote for thirteen years between 1895 and 1908 columns in the magazine Hanımlara Mahsus Gazete ("Ladies' Own Gazette") about women's rights without giving up her conservative views. Her sister Emine Semiye (1864–1944), one of the first Turkish feminists, was also among the intellectual women as editorial staff of the twice a week issued magazine.

In her 1896 published book Nisvan-ı İslam ("Women of Islam"), Fatma Aliye explained the situation of Muslim women to the western world. As written in her magazine columns, she defended in this book the conservative traditions contrary to the modern characters she created in her novels. Her works are unfortunately not widely available in English.

Note: The entries for the authors included in the literary canon for all of the nineteenth century have been placed in chronological order by the authors' dates of birth here.