Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Return of The Sun

To the very north:

This is a suitable musical accompaniment to the picture

And Even More Gun News

These news seem to have turned into a series, all about the problems with a gun nation.  It's not a polite nation and it's not a safe nation.

Here are today's installments:

First, the angry gun-lover I mentioned in an earlier post (part 2)  had his handgun carry permit suspended by the state of Tennessee.   That was because he threatened to start killing people with his gun.

Second, a home invasion with guns resulted in more guns stolen from the family living in that home.  Being armed didn't work as defense in that case.

Third, young men get shot in Chicago and in San Francisco,  Sometimes these are drive-by-shootings,  without any reason at all but made possible by a weapon which can hurl out bullets from a distance.  Sometimes the victims are children as in this Boston case.

Just following the news about shootings tells me how blind I have been to them in the past.  Perhaps how blind we, as a country, have been to them when they are not mass massacres.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Meanwhile, in Mali, French troops arrive

The New York Times tells us that French troops have arrived in Mali, to fight the Islamist takeover of the northern parts of that country.  That Islamist takeover has odd roots in the events which took place in Libya, or that's what at least the linked article argues.

But if we dig deeper into the Original Causes, so to speak, this is what we find, all over the world, whenever a radical kind of Islamist thinking takes over:
Such a draconian interpretation of Islam has shocked Malians, yet it has been creeping in for several years. The Saudi government has funded the building of mosques in the capital, Bamako. The head of the High Islamic Council, Mohammed Dicko, who is negotiating with the jihadis in the north, studied in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism is a rising trend.

A spokesman for the Islamist section has stated that they hold Afghanistan's Taliban as their model.  Perhaps that is the reason for the destruction of cultural artifacts?

An extreme form of the shariah law has been adopted in the Islamist controlled areas of Mali.  As a consequence, there is the usual focus on women's behavior:

Fanatical Islamists have imposed the strictest form of sharia on the moderate Muslim population of northern Mali, forcing women to adopt a strict Islamic dress code and enforcing segregation of the sexes.
According to Prezi extremists are now compiling lists of unmarried mothers and detaining Malian Muslim women not adhering to the Islamic dress code. One human rights activist reported that forced marriages are becoming commonplace. USA Today reported Ivan Simonovic of the U.N. Human Right's observed: "The price to buy a wife is less than $1,000 and it's often misused." He explained the forced marriages were often a smokescreen for prostitution and rape.
Thanks to Moonbootica for the original links.

A Clarification in The War On Women. Rep. Gingrey Speaks.

It's very good of the Republicans to keep that war as clear as possible, because otherwise we with the fleeting memory capabilities might forget.  This way we won't.

Rep.  Phil Gingrey (R-Ga), used to be an ob-gyn and is still a wingnut.  He clarified Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comments:
“‘Look, in a legitimate rape situation’ — and what he meant by legitimate rape was just look, someone can say I was raped: a scared-to-death 15-year-old that becomes impregnated by her boyfriend and then has to tell her parents, that’s pretty tough and might on some occasion say, ‘Hey, I was raped.’ That’s what he meant when he said legitimate rape versus non-legitimate rape,” Gingrey said. “I don’t find anything so horrible about that.”
He also argued that women DO have a way of "shutting all that down,"  meaning that a nervous and frightened woman won't ovulate!  Gingrey knows this:
Rep. Phil Gingrey, an ob-gyn and chairman of the GOP Doctors Caucus, explained to the audience at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday in Smyrna, Ga., that Akin wasn’t far off on the science when he said rape victims rarely get pregnant because their bodies have “ways of shutting that whole thing down.”
“I’ve delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. It is true,” Gingrey said, according to the Marietta Daily Journal. “We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, ‘Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don’t be so tense and uptight because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.’ So he was partially right wasn’t he?”
An interesting theory.  I wonder how that could be tested in the cases of rape and if that "not-ovulating" thing would work in a microsecond or so, say, at the time of the rape, or if it might take a few months of tension to happen.  I tend to think it's the latter case because the hormones releasing the egg are not working instantaneously but over some amount of time in the cycle.

But it's that first quote which is the really interesting one because Gingrey removes the curtain to show us the sculpture.  It's called False Rape Accusations.  That's what those boys mean by a rape not being a "legitimate rape."  The woman is lying.

If you cruise certain kinds of MRA sites on the net you will find large flowering False Rape Accusation subcultures, like bright green mold patches in a lab!  On some of those sites 90% of all reported rapes are false accusations, and in essentially all of them at least half of all rapes are not real.  And given that I was cursed at birth by that "see-all-sides" flaw, I understand where all that comes from.  For heterosexual men who never plan to rape anyone the looming menace of false accusations is the only truly frightening bit about rape, at least until someone they know becomes a rape victim.

But that's no excuse to inflate the likelihood of false accusations.  They are a small minority, and inflating their numbers will become a true injustice to all those women (and men) who actually are raped but get no help in a culture which has prepped people not to believe them in the first place.

Of course Gingrey ends his clarification by defending Mourdock's comments, too:

Gingrey also addressed the campaign season comments by GOP senate nominee Richard Mourdock in Indiana, who said that pregancy from rape “is something that God intended.”
“Mourdock basically said ‘Look, if there is conception in the aftermath of a rape, that’s still a child, and it’s a child of God, essentially,” Gingrey is quoted as saying Thursday.
So what do we get when we put together all these measured slight clarifications?  That women who are raped are not terribly likely to get pregnant, that women who say they are raped might not be raped and that women who ARE pregnant from rape are still carrying a child of God. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wonderful Political Babble

Provided by Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Governor and one of the Republican hopes for one-day-president of this country.   Jindal has proposed scrapping Louisiana's income and corporate taxes and replacing them with a sales tax.  The change is supposed to be revenue neutral, meaning that the state government should get the same amount of money under either system.

Jindal explains his proposal like this:

"The bottom line is that for too long, Louisiana's workers and small businesses have suffered from having a state tax structure that is too complex and that holds back economic prosperity," Jindal said in a statement released by his office. "It's time to change that so people can keep more of their own money and foster an environment where businesses want to invest and create good-paying jobs."
That is precious!  Note that verb "to suffer" and then note that it actually refers to the complexities of the tax system!  That's what holds back economic prosperity!  By scrapping the income and corporate taxes, somehow "people" (still Louisiana workers, too?) can then keep more of their own money.

But but but.  There will be a sales tax, and if it's to be revenue-neutral it might have to be fairly large.  So people won't, after all, be able to keep their "own" money.  They just pay it out in a different tax.

The change is not meaningless.  Sales taxes are more regressive than income taxes, which means that if Louisiana actually follows Jindal's proposal, lower-income people will pay more than now and higher-income people will pay less than now.  The reasons:

1.    Wealthier people spend a small portion of their income on goods and services than poorer people. Wealth is not the same thing as income, but the two are closely related. 
2.    Income taxes typically have a minimum income level at which you do not have to pay taxes. In Canada, this exemption is for people who make around $8,000 or less. Everyone, however, is forced to pay sales taxes, no matter their income. 
3.    Most countries do not have a flat tax income rate. Instead the income tax rates are graduated - the higher your income, the higher the tax rate on that income. Sales taxes, however, stay the same no matter your income level.

Because of this regressive nature, many sales tax systems omit the tax for necessities, such as basic food and shelter.  But if Louisiana decided to do that, to avoid really hurting the poorest, then the average sales tax would have to be made even higher.

Recent Gun News

1.  What's the saying about those who grab the sword getting pierced by it?  Whatever it is, it appears to apply to this recent homicide:

One of the operators of a popular YouTube channel promoting high-powered guns and explosives was found shot to death last week in northeast Georgia.
Keith Ratliff, 32, was found dead at 5:45 p.m. Thursday at his business on Hayes Road in Carnesville, said Franklin County Sheriff Steve Thomas in a press release.
Ratliff, of Frankfort, Ky., had been shot once in the head, and his death is a homicide. He had been dead for some time when the body was discovered, Thomas said. He was last seen alive Wednesday around 7 p.m.

Another newspaper notes that
Police found numerous weapons at the crime scene, according to WSB-TV. Some of the weapons were even manufactured by Ratliff himself. "He (Ratliff) did sustain a gunshot wound that was not self-inflicted,” Mike Ayers of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation told
Those guns didn't help Ratliff to defend himself.

2.  A video at this site tells us about the strong feelings of one gun lover.  If you watch the video, note th way the term "patriot" is being used.  One cannot be anything but a far-right-winger to be called a patriot, these days, it seems.

3.  In California, a school shooting could have ended much worse had it not been that a teacher, together with a campus counselor, were able to talk the shooter (a student) into surrendering.  As things stand, one student is in hospital critically injured.
More recent accidental gun news here, here and here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Government Pipeline: Empty of Women?

Given the recent appointments of the Obama administration, including that today of Jacob Lew for the 76th US Treasury Secretary, some are asking questions about what happened to all that diversity.

The New York Times article mentions pipeline problems in the context of women applicants and that age-old need for mothers to be the hands-on parents with their children:

But Mr. Obama’s recent nominations raised concern that women were being underrepresented at the highest level of government and would be passed over for top positions.
For instance, many Democrats had hoped that Mr. Obama would name Michèle Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense, to the Pentagon post. They had also hoped that he might name Alyssa Mastromonaco or Nancy-Ann M. DeParle, who are top White House aides, to the chief of staff job, or Lael Brainard, an under secretary at the Treasury Department, as secretary. But speculation about the chief of staff position now rests on Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser, and Ronald A. Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. For the Treasury position, most expect Mr. Obama to name his current chief of staff, Jacob J. Lew.

Interviews with current and former members of the administration, both men and women, suggested that there was no single reason for the gender discrepancy in administration appointments, and several repeatedly spoke of the administration’s internal commitment to diversity and gender equity.
But several said that the “pipeline” of candidates appeared to be one problem. They said it seemed that more men than women were put forward or put their names forward for jobs. In part, that might be a result of the persistence of historical discrepancies: men have traditionally dominated government fields like finance, security and defense.

 “It is not just a pipeline issue,” said Marie C. Wilson, a women’s leadership advocate who is the founder of the White House Project, a New York-based nonprofit group. “The pipeline in government has loads of talented people in it, and loads of talented women.”
She noted that women with young families, more so than men with young families, tended to drop out of jobs that demanded long hours — a trend also noted by administration officials. Perhaps as evidence of that skew, there were about 57 percent more male appointees than female appointees at the assistant or deputy assistant level.

The Salon article argues that the pipeline problem cannot be as bad as it was during the Clinton administration, yet the Obama administration has pretty much only matched what Clinton could achieve:

Still, leadership matters, and here we are with this top-level lineup of too-familiar faces. Hillary Clinton is gone, and we don’t have Sheila Bair, Michele Flournoy or Susan Rice (a pretty good selection given that “pipeline problem”) and another white man is expected to succeed Jack Lew as chief of staff should be become the treasury secretary. The numbers look even worse now that Hilda Solis, a Latina woman, has resigned as secretary of labor.
It's hard to know what the pipeline might look like now, as compared to the early 1990s, but it's certainly true that there are women who are qualified.  Susan Rice seems to have been Obama's initial  pick for Secretary of State  though he caved on defending her fairly early.

I have no deep thoughts on any of this except for the fact that until we are all used to the history of women in powerful jobs everywhere someone has to keep poking the powers-that-be in the back and reminding them of the fact that competent women exist.  Yes, it gets very boring very fast, but I don't see any good alternatives to doing just that.  The squeaking wheel and the oil, sigh.

Today's Idle Question

How many newspapers or newspaperish websites have a labor section?  How many have a business section?  And what do we learn from the comparison of these numbers?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Saddest Graph You Will See Today

From Washington Post's Wonk Blog:

It's an impressive looking graph.  Too bad that the actual numbers are trickier to interpret.  The graph was put together by the Enliven Project, and they provide a discussion of where the data came from.

Much of it appears to be a guesstimate.  For instance:

For those of you who have asked, here is the background on the stats we used:
  • Some reports suggest that only 5-25% of rapes are reported to authorities.  Other suggest that close to half are reported.  We assumed 10%, which is dramatic, but possible.
  • Of the rapes that are reported, approximately 9 are prosecuted
The link to the 5-25% figures is to British data.  The link to the 9% prosecuted is to US data, and as far as I can tell from the latter link, the 9% seems to be the percentage likelihood of going to prison for rape in the last year the statistics give us, not the percentage of a prosecution.

Amanda Marcotte mentions a few other problems with the underlying data, especially with the numbers of little men in it, because much of rape is caused by a small number of men raping repeatedly.  She also points out that the graph overstates the number of unreported rapes in the United States.

I don't think that the creators of this graph intended anything more than to start a conversation about the magnitude of unreported rape, the magnitude of cases where someone is falsely accused and so on.  It's pretty certain that a lot of rapes go unreported, for instance.

But they did choose to pick fairly extreme estimates for each number, and now they are going to be taken to task for the kind of statistical accuracy problems which even professional research might ultimately be unable to avoid, except by giving extremely wide safety margins for the various items.  But that's how it goes.

The link (pdf) the Enliven Project gives to false rape accusations is very useful, however, because it puts together a larger number of studies concerning those numbers and thus places the favorite of the MRA sites into a more proper perspective. I quote from the pdf:

In the most frequently cited study on this topic, Professor Eugene Kanin (1994) reported that 41% of the 109 sexual assault reports made to one midwestern police agency were deemed to be false over a nine-year time period. However, the determination that the charges were false was made solely by the detectives; this evaluation was not reviewed substantively by the researcher or anyone else. As Lisak (2007) describes in an article published in the Sexual Assault Report: 
Kanin describes no effort to systemize his own ‘evaluation’ of the police reports—for example, by listing details or facts that he used to evaluate the criteria used by the police to draw their conclusions. Nor does Kanin describe any effort to compare his evaluation of those reports to that of a second, independent research— providing a ‘reliability’ analysis. This violates a cardinal rule of science, a rule designed to ensure that observations are not simply the reflection of the bias of the observer (p. 2).2 
In other words, there is no way to explore whether the classification of these cases as false was simply made as a result of the detectives’ own perceptions and biases, without any real investigation being conducted.This concern is compounded by the fact that the practice of this particular police department was to make a “serious offer to polygraph” all rape complainants and suspects (Kanin, 1994, p. 82). In fact, this practice “has been rejected and, in many cases, outlawed because of its intimidating impact on victims” (Lisak, 2007, p. 6).The reason is because many victims will recant when faced with apparent skepticism on the part of the investigator and the intimidating prospect of having to take a polygraph examination.Yet such a recantation does not necessarily mean that the original report was false. 
In reality, there is no way that an investigator can make an appropriate determination about the legitimacy of a sexual assault report when no real investigation has been conducted—and the victim is intimidated by the department’s policy of making a “serious offer to polygraph” all rape complainants.As we will discuss at length below, the determination that a report is false can only be made on the basis of findings from a thorough, evidence-based investigation. 
As a result of these and other serious problems with the “research,” Kanin’s (1994) article can be considered “a provocative opinion piece, but it is not a scientific study of the issue of false reporting of rape. It certainly should never be used to assert a scientific foundation for the frequency of false allegations” (Lisak, 2007, p. 1) In contrast, when more methodologically rigorous research has been conducted, estimates for the percentage of false reports begin to converge around 2-8%.
For example, in a multi-site study of eight U.S. communities involved in the “Making a Difference” (or “MAD”) Project, data were collected by law enforcement agencies for all sexual assault reports received in an 18- 24 month period. Of the 2,059 cases that were included in the study, 140 (7%) were classified as false.This is particularly note- worthy because a number of measures were taken to protect the reliability and validity of the research. First, all participating law enforcement agencies were provided training and technical assistance in an ongoing way to ensure that they were applying consistent definitions for a false report. In addition, a random sample of cases was checked for data entry errors. More information on the MAD Project is available at
To date, the MAD study is the only research conducted in the U.S. to evaluate the percentage of false reports made to law enforcement.The remaining evidence is therefore based on research conducted outside the U.S., but it all converges within the same range of 2-8%.
For example, Clark and Lewis (1977) examined case files for all 116 rapes investigated by the Toronto Metropolitan Police Department in 1970. As a result, they concluded that seven cases (6%) involved false reports made by victims.There were also five other reports made by someone other than the victim that were deemed by these
researchers to be false (e.g., a relative or boyfriend).
Grace, Lloyd, and Smith (1992) conducted a similar analysis of the evidence in all 348 rape cases reported to police in England and Wales during the first three months of 1985. After    reviewing    the    case    files,    reports from forensic examiners, and the statements of victims and suspects, 8.3% were determined to constitute false allegations.This study was sponsored by the British Home Office.
A similar study was then again sponsored by the Home Office in 1996 (Harris & Grace, 1999).This time, the case files of 483 rape cases were examined, and supplemented with information from a limited number of interviews with sexual assault victims and criminal justice personnel. However, the determination that a report was false was made solely by the police. It is therefore not surprising that the estimate for false allegations (10.9%) was higher than those in other studies with a methodology designed to systematically evaluate these classifications.
The largest and most rigorous study that is currently available in this area is the third one commissioned by the British Home Office (Kelly, Lovett, & Regan, 2005).The analysis was based on the 2,643 sexual assault cases (where the outcome was known) that were reported to British police over a 15-year period of time. Of these, 8% were classified by the police department as false reports.Yet the researchers noted that some of these classifications were based simply on the personal judgments of the police investigators, based on the victim’s mental illness, inconsistent statements, drinking or drug use.These classifications were thus made in violation of the explicit policies of their own police agencies.The researchers therefore supplemented the information contained in the police files by collecting many different types of additional data, including: reports from forensic examiners, questionnaires completed by police investigators, interviews with victims and victim service providers, and content analyses of the statements made by victims and witnesses.They then proceeded to evaluate each case using the official criteria for establishing a false allegation, which was that there must be either “a clear and credible admission by the complainant” or “strong evidential grounds” (Kelly, Lovett, & Regan, 2005). On the basis of this analysis, the percentage of false reports dropped to 2.5%.
Finally, another large-scale study was conducted in Australia, with the 850 rapes reported to the Victoria police between 2000 and 2003 (Heenan & Murray, 2006). Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, the researchers examined 812 cases with sufficient information to make an appropriate determination, and found that only 2.1% of these were classified as false reports. All of these complainants were then charged or threatened with charges for filing a false police report.
Of course, in reality, no one knows—and in fact no one can possibly know—exactly how many sexual assault reports are false. However, estimates narrow to the range of 2-8% when they are based on more rigorous research of case classifications using specific criteria and incorporating various protections of the reliability and validity of the research—so the “study” does not simply codify the opinion of one detective who may believe a variety of myths regarding false reporting.

Note that all the scientifically better estimates of false rape accusations are less than ten percent of reported rapes, the one US study giving us a figure of 7%.  The 2% figure is the extreme lower bound of these estimates, and probably shouldn't have been picked for the graph, just as ten percent reporting rates shouldn't have been picked for the graph. On the other hand, Marcotte discusses additional problems with the way the concept of a false accusation is treated.

It's pretty sad if the problems behind this graph are going to result in the assumption that the best possible estimates wouldn't give us a fairly sad-looking graph, too.


Religious Dress Codes For Women. And Some Confused Echidne Thoughts.

I came across two stories about attempts to regulate what women may wear.  The first consists of the specific instructions one rather strict Israeli rabbi is providing for the women in his flock,  I presume:

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, known as one of the strictest Religious Zionism leaders when it comes to women's modesty, has formulated a new dress code in which he orders women to avoid wearing red, keep their hair tied in a braid and put on 40 denier stockings.


According to the new "regulations" published in the "Be'ahava U'bemuna" synagogue leaflet, a woman's garment must not be transparent or tight, must cover the entire body and be "calm and reserved."

Girls must be educated on modesty rules starting at the age of three, or seven at the latest, the rabbi stated.

There are very specific measurements  about the width and length of dresses and so on.   Somehow it's weird that the rabbi knows so much about women's stockings.

The second story is from Aceh, Indonesia, where a modified shariah law is applied.  As is often the case, it's applied to women's clothing:

Authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh province are pressing ahead with a proposed Islamic law that would ban female passengers from straddling motorbikes despite reported opposition from the central government.
Aceh introduced a version of Shariah, or Islamic law, in 2009, after it gained autonomy from the government in a 2005 peace deal to end a long-running separatist war there. The Aceh laws regulate women’s dress and public morality, require shops and other places to close at prayer time, and are enforced by a special unit. Punishments can include public caning.
On Monday, authorities in northern Aceh distributed a notice to government offices and villages informing residents of the proposed law, which would apply to adolescent girls and women. It states that women are not allowed to straddle motorbikes unless it’s an “emergency,” and are not allowed to hold onto the driver.
Suaidi Yahya, mayor of the Aceh city of Lhokseumawe, said a ban was needed because the “curves of a woman’s body” are more visible when straddling a motorbike than when sitting sideways with legs dangling.
“Muslim women are not allowed to show their curves, it’s against Islamic teachings,” he said, declining to give details of what the punishment would be for violators.
I wasn't able to find out if women can straddle their own motorbikes, as the person holding the handlebars or if they have to somehow make the bike go while riding side-saddle.  Or perhaps that question is a purely academic one.

Given that these two stories are about two of the three Abrahamic religions, I looked to see if I could make the trifecta today.  But alas, no fundamentalist Christian sect helped me by recently publicizing their female modesty codes.

What lies behind these modesty codes?  In some ways they are an attempt to control heterosexual  men's lust, or so I read.  The assumption is that if a woman dresses modestly the men who see her won't get all sexually excited.  If, on the other hand, should a woman dress immodestly (the meaning depending on the place and culture) she has only herself to blame for the sexual furor she has roused and its consequences.

The problems with this way of thinking are at least two.  First, all the apparent responsibility for sexual incontinence is shifted on women's (properly covered) shoulders, even though we know that this particular solution does not work.  Second, and related to the first point,  as dress codes become stricter and stricter the erotic areas of women's bodies follow suit.  Thus, an ankle is sexually exciting if women's legs are usually completely covered and a wrist is sexually exciting if women's arms are usually completely covered and so on.  In other words, if we try to make a female dress code do the work of controlling all heterosexual sexuality, we might as well give up because it's far too weak a police force.

The third problem with all this is of course the assumption that men cannot control themselves at all or avert their eyes, say.

The concept of religious modesty in female dress is a fascinating one.  Women are not supposed to dress in a way which might remind someone of the fact that they are women,  yet at the same time they certainly cannot dress to look like men!


This is the point where I stopped writing this post yesterday, not being quite sure where I was planning to go with it.  On some deeper level the two questions I struggled with were these:

1.  What are the BENEFITS FOR WOMEN from following the religious dress code?  This is important to answer because most benefits, subtly implied, seem to accrue in the form of protecting men from the lustful nature.

In a sense the benefits for women are obvious, of course, when not following the dress code results in a legal punishment.  Beatings, say.  But when the behavior is not legally sanctioned, there still must be benefits.  Are they simply in terms of societal approval from those who follow the same rules?  Or does the religious dress code truly protect women from getting raped, for instance, or from general sexual harassment?

I don't know the answer to that question.

The second question is completely different and has to do with the much wider question:

2.  What is APPROPRIATE DRESS FOR BOTH MEN AND WOMEN?  Is there some societal judgment on that?  And if so,  should the code differ between men and women?  Or should we even try to define appropriate dress because once we set out on that path some will surely bring in that modesty aspect for women? 

Yet clearly most of us would agree that it's not appropriate to go to a funeral dressed in swim suits, say, (unless the dearly-departed wished for exactly those outfits at the funeral,) and that's because we don't want to hurt those who are grieving by our flippant form of dress.

So I really struggle with the concept of appropriateness.  Perhaps you can help me with that?

The final thought I had before deciding to scrap the post (which I didn't, as you can see) has to do with the subtle pressures for women to dress "immodestly."  They are not really explicit dress codes but just something we absorb from the air of the popular culture in some countries.  Even "immodest" dress is ultimately determined by how it impacts heterosexual men.

Perhaps, then, we should address appropriateness of dress while explicitly excluding any thoughts about modesty from it?  Concentrate on health, comfort and so on?  Or is even that infringing on people's rights to dress as they wish?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Today's Poems

These are  real poems, not my jokey bad pomes,   by Edith Södergran, a Swedish-speaking Finnish poet:


I am a stranger in this land

that lies deep under the pressing sea,

the sun looks in with curling beams

and the air floats between my hands.

They told me that I was born in captivity –

here is no face that is known to me.

Am I a stone someone threw to the bottom?

Am I a fruit that was too heavy for its branch?

Here I lurk at the foot of the murmuring tree,

how will I get up the slippery stems?

Up there the tottering treetops meet,

there I will sit and spy out

the smoke from my homeland’s chimneys. .

Edith Södergran, 1916
- translation © 2010 David McDuff

She was my favorite poet when I was a teenage goddess, full of age-appropriate angst and alienation.  I still like her work and the seeking it reveals.  The poem above lends itself to many different interpretations, including a feminist one.

This is the one I love best from her:

I saw a tree…

I saw a tree that was greater than all others
and hung full of cones out of reach;
I saw a tall church with open door
and all who came out were pale and strong
and ready to die;
I saw a woman who smiling and rouged
threw dice for her luck
and saw she had lost.
A circle was drawn around these things
that no one crosses over.

Edith Södergran, 1916
- translation © 2010 David McDuff

And one more for the road:

Two Ways

You must give up your old way, your way is dirty:
there men go with greedy glances
and the word “happiness” you hear from every lip
and further along the way lies the body of a woman
and the vultures are tearing it to pieces.

You have found your new way,
your way is pure:
there motherless children go playing with poppies,
there women in black go talking of sorrow
and further along the way stands a pale saint
with his foot on a dead dragon’s neck.

Edith Södergran, 1916
- translation © 2010 David McDuff


The Invisible War Elephants

Not the elephants Hannibal is said to have used to cross the Alps but invisible elephants of a particular type:  The tremendous military expenditure of the United States.  The picture below shows the military expenditures of the five biggest spenders on this planet.  All in all, the United States alone spends 41% of all military spending in the world. 

Makes you think, doesn't it?  Or rather, makes you wonder  how that herd of fat invisible elephants can be so completely ignored when the talk is about government debt or welfare spending or health care spending or retirement spending.  Because ignored it is.

"Civilized people" don't mention all that money budgeted for the killing of foreigners.  "Civilized people" may,  however, discuss the best ways of saving money by starving the poor or by throwing grampa out of the nursing home, at least as long as these things are called cutting back on entitlements.

But seriously.  How many times must the US military budget exceed that of all other countries before we can feel completely safe?   That graph is preposterously ridiculous.  IF, as the Republicans say, this country can no longer afford a proper social safety net how on earth can it afford all those bombs?