Friday, May 04, 2012

Friday Music

Sarah Vaughan and Stardust

Revenge Shags

Louise Mensch is a British conservative politician whose politics are certainly not mine.  She does, however, share my gender and thus the usual trollish commentary on women in the public eye.  That commentary is based on sexuality, looks and the sluttiness or  f***ability of a particular woman.

But there's also more than a hint of true nastiness in some of it:
UPDATE: I’ve just had my attention brought to an article published on yesterday titled Question of International Worker’s Day – Hey Crustie, Would you have sex with Louise Mensch? The magazine asked a load of Occupy protesters if they’d sleep with her (the answer was invariably “Yes”) and photographed their responses. As if the premise of the article isn’t disappointing enough, most disgustingly, one of the questions asked was “Would you shag her for revenge?” to which the response was “Yeah, she’s a Tory”. Too vile for words.
What does it mean to shag someone for revenge?  How does that differ from rape?  Or are they the same thing?  I get the impression that they are not the same thing but Googling doesn't give me a definition of "a revenge shag," either.

The point, of course, is that this treatment of Louise Mensch is equally applicable to any woman.  It's not ultimately about her political views at all.  It's about her gender.  That she is regarded as deserving such a treatment, because of her political views or whatever else she may have done does not change the fact that different political views by another woman would lend her equally vulnerable to the same trollery, albeit by different trolls.

A Deep Thought On Capitalism Gone Wild

It has gone wild.

That's the deep thought, and the reason is the demise of state-sponsored communism after the Berlin Wall fell.  Just cast your mind back and that is what happened.  Without the counter-force of communism the capitalists had no restraints and we got what we have now:  A world run as if it is a private corporation, a world run for the benefit of the capital-owners alone.  A privatized world.

It is ironic that communism was what kept the American type capitalism decent.  Without that public enemy the nazguls are free to rob and ravage.

I have always been a supporter of the mixed economy.  They still do much better.  Atrios quotes this, for example:
I asked the Swedish finance minister the other day how they made nationalised banks lend. He said to me: "It's simple. We own them, we tell them what to do and if the directors don't, we sack them and get people who can." That's what me must do.
This approach, my friends, is no longer possible in the United States because those who own the markets also now own the government.
Added later:  An additional example from today:
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday issued a proposed rule governing hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on public lands that will for the first time require disclosure of the chemicals used in the process. 

But in a significant concession to the oil industry, companies will have to reveal the composition of fluids only after they have completed drilling, not before — a sharp change from the government’s original proposal, which would have required disclosure of the chemicals 30 days before a well could be started. 
Bolding mine.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

In Today's Nazgûl News: Scott Walker's Adventures in Wisconsin

From the very first time I saw governor Scott Walker's face, especially his eyes, I knew he was a Nazgûl , one of the ringwraiths from the Lord of the Ring.  The other ringwraiths took over other states at the same time, but Walker is the one who has hogged most of the limelight.

And he has carried his assigned tasks out extremely well!  The great state of Wisconsin has almost been demolished!  In the good news, angry drivers can now have guns in their cars, there's no longer any of that gender-equality crap in state-based equal pay laws,  and the state ranked the first in increased unemployment and job loss misery last year!  

Governor Walker should be proud.  That he is facing a recall battle doesn't matter, because ringwraiths get their funding from their overlords and overladies:
Gov. Scott Walker raised an unprecedented $13.2 million over three months to fight off the recall bid against him, outdistancing his Democratic challengers and driving home the challenge they will have in beating the Republican incumbent.
Crisscrossing the country on fundraising trips, Walker has raised more than $25 million since January 2011 and has $4.9 million in cash on hand - numbers unlike any that have been seen for a political candidate in Wisconsin. Two-thirds of Walker's money came from out of state.
His stores of cash dwarf what his Democratic rivals have raised. But a report filed Monday showed an independent group supporting Democrat Kathleen Falk received $4.5 million, nearly all of it from unions and about a third of it from out of state.
Walker's fundraising is on par with that of second-tier presidential candidates. For instance, Rick Santorum raised $18.5 million between Jan. 1 and March 31, and Newt Gingrich raised a little less than $10 million during that period.
Walker has been able to raise so much because of the national appeal he developed with conservatives after his high-profile fight with labor unions and a quirk in Wisconsin law that allows unlimited fundraising while recalls are pending.

The Democrats raised little compared with Walker. Falk, a former Dane County executive, raised $977,000 and had $118,000 on hand. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett raised $831,500 and had $475,500 on hand.
Barrett didn't get into the governor's race until March 30 - 2½ months after Falk - but had nearly $500,000 to start, left over from his recent mayoral campaign.
Barrett is vying with Falk to win the May 8 Democratic primary and take on Walker in the general recall election June 5. Also running as Democrats are Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma.
It is hilarious.  The best democracy money can buy, and most of it from out of state and from a few large donors:
Conservative billionaire Diane Hendricks gave Walker $500,000. Hendricks co-founded Beloit-based ABC Supply, a roofing wholesaler and siding distributor, with her husband, Ken, who died in a 2007 fall.
Her donation was the single largest ever to a gubernatorial candidate in the state and tied the $500,000 given to Walker over recent months by Bob Perry, owner of Houston-based Perry Homes and a chief backer of the Swift Boat Veterans ads against Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 race for president.
"Wisconsin's never seen anything like this kind of money," said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. "This is all to persuade a relatively tiny universe of undecided voters. It'll be the highest cost per voter spent in the history of the nation in terms of the cost of persuading people."
A Journal Sentinel analysis showed that $4.4 million of Walker's money, or a third of the total, came from Wisconsin donors. The rest came from out of state.
Normally, donors can give a maximum of $10,000 to a candidate for governor. But from the time recall petitions are taken out to the time a recall election is called, donors can give any amount.
No fundraising limit was in place for Walker for about two-thirds of the period covered in the latest report. The Democrats had to follow the normal fundraising limits the whole time because they were not the targets of a recall.
In addition to the $500,000 donation from Hendricks, Walker received two $250,000 donations in the latest period. One came from Las Vegas Sands president Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino mogul who, along with his wife, put $17.5 million into Winning the Future, a super PAC supporting Gingrich.
Also giving $250,000 was Richard DeVos, the co-founder of the parent company of direct marketing firm Amway. DeVos has been active in the school voucher movement, and Walker last year expanded Milwaukee's voucher program and established a similar one in eastern Racine County.
Five people gave the governor $100,000 each - John Childs of Massachusetts, chairman of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates; Warren Stephens of Arkansas, chairman of financial services company Stephens Inc.; Robert Kern, founder of Waukesha power-generating firm Generac; his wife, Patricia Kern; and Patrick Ryan of Illinois, CEO of insurance firm Ryan Specialty Group.
So why am I so hard on one poor ringwraith?  Probably because he is so blatant in his goals and so destructive in his achievements, because he looks like a puppet with the strings held in only a few gold-ringed pudgy hands?  Because he makes a mockery out of democracy?

I'm not sure.  And of course I'm kidding about him being a Nazgûl .  Right?

Men's Problems? The Fault of Women, Naturally.

Fraser has written two posts (here and here)  on one of those pieces about what's-the-problem-with-men, the ones which always produce hundreds of misogynistic comments*.  Because the obvious response to any problem about men is to argue that it's really the fault of women.

Thus, if boys have trouble at school it's the fault of schools which favor the way girls learn (never mind that schools were initially created for boys and have used the same learning structures ever since).  If men don't go to college in the same percentages as women, it is the fault of American feminists indoctrination which has turned men off from education and destroyed their self-confidence.  Never mind that the phenomenon is global, that even in Saudi Arabia the majority of college graduates are women.

And if men move back to their parents and spend time playing computer games and watching pron, that, too is the fault of women who don't save themselves for marriage and who don't understand that women must be dependent on men's earnings to deserve marriage.

Do read the comments to the original article, especially if you believe misogyny is nonexistent. One of the comments mentions the stretched-out vaginas of women who have bedded too many men to be worthy for the glorious role of being the commenting asshole's wife.

Pay attention to the fact that those comments were moderated.  This particular one passed moderation.  It presumably is regarded as pertinent to the topic.  Just imagine what the comments must have been like which did not pass moderation!

I'm very curious about the thinking behind the editors who choose these pieces, especially given the misogyny fest they always provide.  Perhaps very few newspapers or magazines regard women as among their customers? 

Nah.  They like this shit.  They like the idea of providing a safe nest for the hatred of all women.  One must, after all, provide a voice for all the haters,  too.  That the misogynists cannot be engaged, that they attack anyone arguing back (however calmly and scientifically),  that the debate degenerates into nothing but name-calling from their part,  none of that matters as much as the click numbers and the advertising revenue.
*The original article was published in early March.

Squash It Like A Cockroach

Today's child-rearing advice, from a Christianist minister:

"So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, 'Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,' you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed.
Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male. And when your daughter starts acting too butch, you reign her in. And you say, 'Oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you are going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you are going to be beautiful. You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.'
It's a real problem for these folk.  It's all supposed to be essentialist, whether determined by some divine party or the weirder type  of evolutionary psychology.  But at the same time you gotta beat it into the children.  Not to mention the fact that this roaring and yelling gentleman (audio at the link)  usurps the right to define what being male or female might mean.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

In the Left Corner: Motherhood. In the Right Corner: Feminism. Let The Fight Begin!

After writing this post I have no patience with mummy/mommy wars, none whatsoever.  Even when they are ignited kindly and carefully as is the case in this New York Times debate series.

I wonder if it would work for you, too?  Go and read my earlier post and then read the installments in that debate.  This one:
The U.S. publication of “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women” by the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter is getting a lot of attention in the press; indeed, it’s a book club feature on the Motherlode blog in The New York Times.
Is Badinter right? Has women’s obsession with being the perfect mother destroyed feminism? In particular, has this trend of “attachment parenting” been bad for working moms?
Of course attachment parenting (or home schooling, say), by mothers alone, destroys their ability to earn any money for themselves and the bargaining power which comes with that money.  Of course.  Whether that is bad for feminism depends on what one means by feminism.

But the real story is something quite different.  It's based on a few words in that blurb:

"Women's obsession with being the perfect mother."

Such a beautiful group of words!  And not a lie.  In fact, they have a perfectly clear meaning.  But note all those creatures swimming deep below those clear surface waters, deep in the muddy undertow:

It's mothering that requires attachment parenting now, not fathering, whatever we call the philosophy.  It's women who do parenting, not men, and there is one perfect way of parenting.  Only women are obsessed with that perfect way, not the rest of the society!

Nope, you are imagining that continuing commentary of how much children suffer when mother go out to work (latchkeys, juvenile delinquency).   Nope, you have never read warning stories about bad daycare givers.   Nope,  you never read that article worrying about stay-at-home mothers having a glass of wine during the daytime.  Nope, there are no articles about how bad mothering is punished in this country, beginning with the women who are addicted while pregnant.  Nope, you never heard someone tell a story about childhood mishap when the listener chipped in with "And where was your mother?" 

Indeed, if you have imagined any of those things then you are "obsessed" with how to be a perfect mother. 

It's the frame I cannot abide any longer.  The frame is stupid, it is destructive and it makes most everything else into one of those invisible elephants.  I get the utility of asking a few questions about phenomena such as attachment parenting and home-schooling from the point of view of women's rights and lives.  That's not done very often.

But mostly the framing stinks to high heavens.  Like the Mommy/Mummy Wars in general.

What I Learned On The Net And Wish I Had Not...

I picked up Sheri Tepper's Gibbon's Decline and Fall (1996) to look for a specific reference and got stuck re-reading parts of it.  I remembered the way I felt about the book when it first came out:  It seemed exaggerated in ways it did not intend and the misogynists in it came across pretty artificial in the things they said.  Indeed, I was uncomfortable with that book, thinking that it went too far.

But when I re-read some of it recently the statements she put into the mouths of the woman-hating villains in the book sound familiar and natural!  That's because I have now come across them on those "manosphere" hate sites.

This suggests to me that either life imitates art or (which is more likely) Tepper by 1996 had seen enough misogynistic statements to know how they sound.  Given that she worked for a well-known and well-hated women's health organization  the latter is more likely.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Austerity For Some, Bad Macroeconomic Theories For Others

Paul Krugman writes about that austerity business today (as he has done many times in the past).  How austerity could result in an economic recovery requires an extremely odd reading of economic theories. 

How that reading became the mainstream take would be worth a book or two.  How the lessons of the Great Depression could be so completely forgotten, how Maynard Keynes got dropped into the dustbins of history, all that deserves a proper explanation.   But we are not going to get one.

Instead, we will see the general trend of "failing upwards" or at least of "failing in place."  The costs of having been wrong are miniscule, both for the experts and for those popularizing the expert opinions.  It is only now that the costs of austerity are clearer that a few protesting voices are getting prominence.

Remember the "Irish miracle?"  I recall reading about it and trying to understand what might be driving such a miracle, given that Ireland had no unusual natural resources, no greater knowledge basis than other comparable countries and no lower labor costs than, say, Eastern European countries.

I concluded that the miracle was a bubble.  That bubble has now burst, but that's not the whole explanation for countries like Ireland, Greece and Spain.

The austerity politics have made things worse.  Much, much worse.  And countries belonging to the European Union no longer have access to many old macroeconomic tools, such as subsidies for export industries, tariffs on imports or the devaluation of currencies.  They are left with limited tools to cope with giant problems.

Unexceptionalism: A Primer.

That would be the title of E.L. Doctorow's fierce opinion piece in the New York Times.  That the piece appeared in the Times is in itself fairly astonishing.  True voices of the real left (rather than milquetoast centrists) are mostly excluded from all the polite places such as rowdy political commentary and political television shows and the pages of the New York Times or the Washington Post (once great newspapers, the both of them, and I hope they will return to such a status).

The same distinction applies to gender debates.  Those debates can have the most extreme conservative views, sure, but they cannot have a single militant feminist or even an actual liberal feminist (someone who has studied history and theory and so on).

These exclusions distort the debate.  The allowable extremism at the conservative end is much further out than the allowable extremism at the liberal end.  This makes the "center" skip happily rightwards.

Thus, I welcome this opinion piece.  We need these debates wider than they have allowed to be.

But I'm not sure whether I like the idea of American exceptionalism or the exceptionalism of any particular country, because once Americans, say, think of themselves as exceptional then there's nothing that could be learned from other countries! 

The wheel must be reinvented, again and again.  Nope, the fact that single-payer systems work in health care in other countries (Canada, say) is irrelevant, because we Murkans are exceptional! 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Flaming-At-The-Mouth Conservatives

Thomas J. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein have written an opinion piece about the comity chasm between conservatives and liberals and even between Republicans and Democrats in politics. 

I have written about that many, many times, sigh.  But Washington Post has not which makes all this newsworthy. 

The underlying problem was beautifully shown in a cartoon some years ago where two (fairly representative) guests in a political program were portrayed, a conservative and a wishy-washy milquetoast Democrat.  The latter baa-baaed like a sheep but whenever the former opened his mouth, flames spewed out.  And that is how it has been, for a long time.

Mann and Ornstein:
Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.
It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Indeed, those extreme views are taken for granted, but only from the right-wing.  We have slowly slipped into the expectation that rudeness, exaggeration and lies are perfectly acceptable, but only from conservatives or Tea Partiers or others of that ilk.  They are not even seen as rudeness, exaggeration or lies.  Do a few reversals inside your head and all this becomes obvious.

The WaPo opinion piece urges the media to drop their false equivalency games, the ones where each side of the political aisle is portrayed as being equally hostile, equally rude and equally extreme in its views.   Those are like arguing that anyone who has ever had a verbal row with a neighbor over a dividing fence is as bad as someone who beat a neighbor to unconsciousness.

I get the problem from the media point of view, I do.  It's scary to talk back to very rude people, especially if they are powerful and can cut you out, and the false equivalency games make journalists appear neutral.  Except that they are not, because the initial situation is not neutral.

The really fascinating question concerns the underlying reasons for the ideological changes in the Republican Party.  The current party would not accept Richard Nixon but would probably suspect him of membership in the Communist Party.  Are these changes because of Rush Limbaugh and others like him taking over the radio waves?  In short, is the wrath and bitterness that all this reflects manufactured or is it reflective of a real radicalization in American conservatives?

And if the latter, is there anything the Democratic Party could have done to stem the tide?  My guess is that the push for globalization by both parties in the 1990s has something to do with the ability of the hate-mongers to succeed.  Jobs left the country, people suffered, and president Clinton signed NAFTA.  Trade unions have been de-fanged, the median real earnings of Americans have not increased for a long time.  Add to that the collapse of the housing market and the most recent recession.  What is the message for the Democrats to those who struggle?

The Republican messages are about conspiracy theories (do NOT look at the powerful people with money, look at those uppity minorities, women and immigrants)  and ultimately propose feudal solutions which would make things even worse.  Indeed, much (if not most) of the reasons for the free-floating anger among Republican voters is caused by Republican policies.  But those voters are not told that on the radio, and if they watch Fox News they won't hear it on the television, either.