Friday, April 06, 2012

A Weird Music Post

I like this particular piece (a song about a poor boy courting a rich girl) for silly reasons which don't have much to do with the music itself. The band (now extinct) mixes the music with the heritage and myths of a particular area of Finland, Ostrobothnia. Hence the guy in the traditional outfit doing break-dancing and the diamond-patterned tops of the band members. He is poker-faced because Ostrobothnians are supposed to be laconic and quiet (even for Finns) but with a fierce temper when angered. Note the knife which is part of the traditional outfit.

The lead singer is hawt. And in the song he offers "only his gentle/loving heart and his right hand" while extending his left hand. Just in case you might miss that, an arrow keeps pointing at the extended hand!

You might enjoy the trilling of the r-sound in the song if your language doesn't happen to have that.

On The Caterpillar Comment

By the Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, this one:
And, here’s the transcript:
HUNT: Let me ask you this. The Democrats of course say you are waging, the GOP is waging a war on women. I know you don’t agree with that, but looking at the polls, you have a gender gap problem. Recent polls show a huge, huge margin for Democrats among women voters. How big a problem is it? How do you close it?
PRIEBUS: Well, for one thing, if the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, and mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars. The fact of the matter is it’s a fiction and this started a war against the Vatican that this president pursued. He still hasn’t answered Archbishop Dolan’s issues with Obama world and Obamacare, so I think that’s the first issue.
I agree that Priebus didn't compare women to caterpillars. But picking that example in this context shows that Priebus is a bit out of practice when it comes to suddenly having to talk about or to women.

What's more interesting in that transcript is Priebus' counter-charge that all this was started by Obama's war against the Vatican! I don't think Obama has sent troops to that foreign locale, even if the Vatican itself pretty much wages a war against women.

It's circles within circles, and people like Priebus have a tone-deaf ear when it comes to the issues. Because those issues are not his and neither are they given much of a hearing inside the Republican Party. That's why Mitt Romney, for example, asks his wife when he wonders what women (all billions of them in this world) might think.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Shallow Thought For The Day: What Is The Alternative?

Humans have great difficulty with that "what-about-the-alternative" aspect of problem solving. It's pretty visible in the old "vote-the-bums-out" response in politics where the voters punish a regime by voting in the opposite regime, even if that regime is known to be worse. It's also visible in some criticisms of Obama's health care law where the question what would happen if it was demolished isn't getting the attention it deserves. After all, there was a reason for the changes in the first place.

In a more tragic sense, something akin to this (though not the same) happens with uprisings and revolutions where the toppling of a dictator leaves a power vacuum which is then quickly filled by something even worse or at least less democratic unless careful plans are in place beforehand. Such careful plans are rare under the kinds of circumstances in which revolutions happen.

Pope Benedict and Women Priests

Pope Benedict recommends radical obedience for his priests. That would be obedience to Benedict, naturally. From his recent homily:
In his homily, Benedict made clear that reforms cannot go against Church doctrine. He singled out “a group of priests from a European country” who had recently “issued a summons to disobedience.”
They had done this to the point of disregarding church teaching and encouraging “women’s ordination, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord,” Benedict said.
In 1994, John Paul issued an apostolic letter saying that that the Church “has no authority whatsoever” to ordain women, citing among its reasons that the apostles of Jesus Christ were all men.
Such fun and games, and so many ways of playing those. For example, how do we know that there were no women among the apostles? Much information was lost during the power struggles of the early Christian church, and much also depends on how one defines "an apostle."

But in any case, the basis for ordaining priests appears to be a metaphor, having to do with the apostles of Jesus Christ. Why can this metaphor be stretched in some directions and not in others? Now men of all ethnic groups and races can become priests and their numbers vastly exceed the presumed number of the original apostles. Yet women's priesthood is "irrevocably" out.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A Touch of Feudalism

Did you know that Xavier University will discontinue its contraceptive coverage:
Xavier University, one of the oldest Roman Catholic colleges in the United States, will cut off birth-control coverage for its employees in July, a move that has divided faculty members and students on the Cincinnati campus.
The abrupt cancellation of insurance benefits at the Jesuit university in Ohio comes amid a furious dispute between the Obama administration and the nation's Catholic bishops over contraception.
The administration has mandated that nearly all health insurance plans provide free birth control by this summer, with limited accommodations for religious institutions that oppose contraception on moral grounds. Top Catholic bishops have blasted that mandate as an attack on religious freedom.
President Barack Obama's allies, in turn, have accused the church of obstructing an important benefit for women.
The controversy prompted Xavier President Michael Graham, a Jesuit priest, to review the health insurance plan offered to the university's 935 employees. Graham announced this week in a letter to the faculty that the plan will cease to cover contraception on July 1.

I hope that Xavier University is also no longer covering vasectomies, a permanent form of birth control and I hope that all prescriptions for Viagra will be scrutinized for the marital status of the patient. Premarital or extramarital sex is against the teachings of the Catholic Church and the oppressed Fathers Of The Church should not be made to subsidize sins.

Never mind that the Catholic Church has in the past ranked the wearing of a condom as a greater evil than the transmitting of AIDS to one's spouse in Africa. Never mind that the Catholic Church regards women priests as a grievous sin, too. Never mind that I believe the Church is overstepping any reasonable definition of religious freedom by demanding that this includes the determination of the kind of health care coverage non-Catholic workers in Catholic universities, schools or hospitals can have. All those anger me greatly, but right now I'm angrier about the feudal touches I see in the society.

If the Catholic Church had its way in this matter, all employers would ultimately be able to use moral or ethical arguments to cut off bits of their health insurance policies and to save money. All employees could then have the extent of their health insurance coverage determined by the morals or ethics of their bosses.

This smells of a feudal system. In medieval feudalism the welfare of the peasants was partly determined by the desires of the feudal overlords (or in some cases feudal overladies). If the lords were benevolent the peasants lives were easier. If the lords chose not to be benevolent, well, that was their right.

We are inching in that direction. The more powers corporations in general have, the fewer powers individual citizens will have. The historical link between employment and health insurance is just that, a historical link, one method of disseminating group health insurance. It should not give the employers a right to determine on the ethics or morals of their workers' health care choices.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The ASME Individual Byline Finalists And Gender

Ann Friedman has counted gender among the 2012 individual-byline finalists for National Magazine Awards:
ASME announced the National Magazine Award finalists today. Women hold their own or dominate in servicey categories (public interest, personal service) and fiction. They are not represented at all in the categories of reporting, feature writing, profile writing, essays and criticism, columns and commentary. (I only counted individual-byline categories, not editorial packages or section awards.)
Assuming the gender attributions are correct, the total gives us 12 women and 37 men as finalists in the various categories. Do those numbers reflect the general frequencies of men and women working in the fields that the various subcategories reflect? I haven't tried to research that question.

The answer matters because if a category has few women working in it then the list of finalists would also have few or no women, whatever their individual talents might be. In reverse, is the Public Interest category one in which few men write?

What is the impact of the topic on being selected as a finalist? I noticed that war reporting dominates in the Reporting category. The current wars are harder for women to cover (as are wars in general), for pretty obvious reasons. If the topic affects one's chances of being picked as a finalist then a focus on war would handicap women.

Speaking about the topics of the articles, have a look at the titles in the Feature Writing Section:
FEATURE WRITING -- 0 women, 5 men
Esquire for “Heavenly Father!” October -- Luke Dittrich
GQ for “The Man Who Sailed His House,” October -- Michael Paterniti
The New York Times Magazine for “You Blow My Mind. Hey, Mickey!” June 12 -- John Jeremiah Sullivan
The New Yorker for “A Murder Foretold,” April 4 -- David Grann
Rolling Stone for “Arms and the Dudes,” March 31 -- Guy Lawson
That list of titles reads funny in the present context.

Competitions of this type are always worth scrutinizing. The results might not tell us much (or anything) about gender and writing, say, but the questions such scrutiny elicit are usually interesting ones.

The Deep Question of The Day: Can You Use The Other Side's Talking Points?

So much of political debate is about emotions, metaphors and whose-side-are-you-on-hmh?, not about facts at all. Right now I'm having a moment of silence because of all that.

Then onwards and upwards. Ruth Marcus slapped Obama's fingers for pretty much using a conservative talking point:
There was something rather unsettling in President Obama’s preemptive strike on the Supreme Court at Monday’s news conference.
“I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench is judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law,” Obama said. “Well, here’s a good example. And I’m pretty confident that this court will recognize that, and not take that step.”
Then she continues by writing about the presumed ideal role of the Supreme Court.

My first reading of that paragraph was all in terms of the political tactics: The president seemed to be saying that the conservatives are always complaining about activist judges. But now they want the judges to be activists, and the framing is changed accordingly.

Within the context of political gaming what Obama said wasn't that "unsettling." What's more unsettling is the way the conservative framing of "activist judges" has been allowed to circulate through the last decades without much of the kind of analysis Marcus gives it here. Or in simpler terms: The American political theater expects temper tantrums and bully pulpits and viciousness from the right, not from the left. We are lulled into accepting that, to a point where a reversal makes us wake up and notice it.

It's not enough to present just the political baseball game or just the pretty ideals about the place of the Supreme Court, of course. The reality is murkier. Sure, the justices on the court are unelected for a good reason, but they are appointed through openly political processes and for openly political reasons, and any open slots on the Court become a part of election fights.

Given that background, I don't think president Obama's comments were that unsettling.

Did the Contraception Wars Help Obama?

This from USAToday is worth thinking about:
In the fifth Swing States survey taken since last fall, Obama leads Republican front-runner Mitt Romney 51%-42% among registered voters just a month after the president had trailed him by two percentage points.
The biggest change came among women under 50. In mid-February, just under half of those voters supported Obama. Now more than six in 10 do while Romney's support among them has dropped by 14 points, to 30%. The president leads him 2-1 in this group.

Romney's main advantage is among men 50 and older, swamping Obama 56%-38%.
Republicans' traditional strength among men "won't be good enough if we're losing women by nine points or 10 points," says Sara Taylor Fagen, a Republican strategist and former political adviser to President George W. Bush. "The focus on contraception has not been a good one for us … and Republicans have unfairly taken on water on this issue."

It's difficult to think of anything else that has been going on except for the contraception debacle, so the reason for the changing opinions among women under fifty most likely are caused by the things that Republican politicians have recently said about this issue and other so-called women's issues.

Will this trend continue until the elections? Who knows, given the short memory of American voters and the amount of static and screeching and bullying in the political conversations. I do sniff a bit when I think that we live in a world where Obama can pretty much sit on his hands and get more support from women, just because the Republicans are so bad on the issues.

And they are bad. It's not that they have "unfairly taken water on this issue" as the interviewed Republican strategist argues. When the whole Catholic church refusal to offer birth control to the workers of Catholic-owned corporations turned up, all famous Republicans were out there complaining about this, without bothering to give the smallest pat on the head to us ladies! Women are invisible to Republican politicians, except as the residents of the one single area where Republicans believe in greater government involvement in the lives of the citizens, more regulation and less freedom: The Fertility Sphere.

Monday, April 02, 2012

In Praise of Poetry

This piece by Katha Pollitt on Adrienne Rich is quite lovely. From it:
The death of Adrienne Rich marks not only the end of a long and transcendent literary career—thirty books of poetry and prose, prizes beyond counting—but the end of a kind of poetry that mattered in the world beyond poetry. It is hard to believe, given the plethora of articles with titles like “Is Poetry Dead?,” that there was a moment not so long ago when poetry and poets played a central role in our cultural and political life. Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot were iconic figures, even to people who never cracked a book, and so, in her old age, was Marianne Moore; what Robert Lowell wrote about the war in Vietnam or black civil rights or his marriage or his madness was news. It was proper, and gratifying, that the New York Times began its obituary of Adrienne Rich on the front page, but it made me wonder if an American poet would ever be honored that way again.
In 1951, W. H. Auden, who selected the twenty-one-year-old Adrienne Cecile Rich’s first book, “A Change of World,” for the Yale Younger Poets series, wrote that her poems were “neatly and modestly dressed, speak quietly but do not mumble, respect their elders but are not cowed by them.” (This way of writing about women’s work was hardly limited to Auden. Floating around my parents’ house was an early book by Doris Lessing whose jacket copy informed the prospective reader that the author was an “attractive young woman.”) Talk about not seeing history massing its forces round the corner. In 1963, the year Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique,” Rich published her first great book, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” with its indelible title sequence:

A thinking woman sleeps with monsters.
The beak that grips her, she becomes. And Nature,
that sprung-lidded, still commodious
steamer-trunk of tempora and mores
gets stuffed with it all:        the mildewed orange-flowers,
the female pills, the terrible breasts
of Boadicea beneath flat foxes’ heads and orchids.

Katha writes about poetry as politics. Perhaps that role of poetry is dying, though I think song lyrics at their best continue that political role.

I love poetry, including poetry which might be called political. It can give those inchoate feelings an identity before they have been named, and it can speak across eons and across worlds in ways which prose struggles with.