Saturday, November 08, 2003

I don't like The Prairie Home Companion. Never did. Yet I never could understand why the show irritates me so much. I'm not a Republican, after all.

Today the revelation came to me. (Yes, even we goddesses are sometimes slow). The show is not for women. 'People' in the show are always men. Women are present only when the story requires a woman. When the story doesn't specify either sex, a man is always selected. So it's 'Earl's School of Accents', not "Earlene's School of Accents'. If it was the latter, the story would somehow depend on Earlene being a woman. If it's the former, the story could go in almost any direction. So now I know why I don't like The Prairie Home Companion.

That women are only inserted when absolutely necessary isn't that uncommon in the so-called liberal media. That women are people is still not a universally accepted proposition, the difference between the left and the right is that the left pretends to believe it whereas the right is quite proud of declaring such beliefs politically correct propaganda.

Not really my problem, given that I am a goddess. But since someone added all those esses at the end of my title, I do have some sisterly feelings towards women. I'm not sure how they manage to move in the narrow definitions they are given in so many cultures.

I was treated the same way, of course. The ancient Greeks were no better than today's people. Hera got all the wifely stuff, Aphrodite the sex and Athena the brains. Artemis is the virgin hunter and so on. Not a single whole goddess among them, though the boys got a little diced up, too. I am but a very minor goddess, and that's what probably saved me from these extreme simplifications.

On the other hand, I was given the snakes to rule over. Not people, just snakes. But snakes are not that bad in the long run, and I managed to have my bit of fun. Google me up sometime.

I have thought of taking up Siberian throat-singing. It requires decades of practise, and decades is what I have. Siberian throat-singing sounds absolutely horrible. It must be the next fad in music.

Laurie Anderson is a genius in making new kinds of noises. Her performances are signs of genius, too. I am really very fond of Laurie. She is the goddess of her own realm, and not bad at it all. Not bad at all.

But most music sounds absolutely horrible. Noise of various types. I do admit that I have blind spots, and this is one of them. Or perhaps a deaf spot. But my dislike of The Prairie Home Companion is properly founded in fact and logic.

I am echidne of the snakes, a minor Greek goddess. You don't have to believe in me. Most days I don't believe in me, and most days I don't believe in any 'you' out there either.

It is the time for darkness. Today's blog will reflect that.

On politics, or the manner in which we decide on our common concerns: We don't seem to have common concerns. What you hate, I need to survive and vice versa. I hear that some states are becoming ever more Republican, other ever more Democrat. I hear that this means we are getting more polarized: on one side the damned liberals, on the other the funnymentalists. No middle ground can be yielded. I feel very lonely sometimes.

Then, at other times, I feel as if the two main parties here are nothing but Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Where's the actual difference? Like in chocolate brownies with and without nuts? Or in donations by the oil industry and the trial lawyers?

This paradox is real, of course, and yet it isn't. Each party is captive to its basic constituency: for the Republicans the business wallets and the fundamentalist reading of the Old Testament; for the Democrats the business wallets and the political correctness (whatever that might mean; nobody else seems to care what it means, so I won't define it either).
When election time approaches, the parties start oozing, imperceptibly at first, towards the center. This oozing speeds up, the topics suddenly stop being extremist nightmare proposals, and, lo and behold, by the date of election the remaining candidates look so similar that I'd swear they have been cloned. After the election, of course, back come the extremists and another round of the merry-go-round resumes.

President Bush told today that the government can't decide when to take a life, only the creator of life can decide that. This in the context of the so-called partial birth abortion. But what about in the context of Iraq or Afghanistan? Why can the government decide to take lives there? Shouldn't that be up to the creator of life, too? And why do we employ the vast resources of the medical industry in the apparently unacceptable attempt to interfere with the creator's plans about the date on which we are to die? I think that the president was talking out of one side of his mouth only. What he really meant was that the government has decided when the power of taking a life (perhaps to save another) is valid and when it is not.

President Bush also told today that every single life, however frail, has a place in this world. I quite agree. We may disagree at the exact timing of the birth of a new life, but we do agree on the importance of inclusiveness. Or so it would seem.

Too bad that the place the president wants the frailest among us to have in this life is often one of suffering and neglect. Too bad that so many appear to lose interest in the lives once they have actually been born. I have a lot of respect for some people with whom I disagree, because they walk their talk. I have nothing but contempt for those who exploit important ideals for reasons that better remain as murky and unexamined as they are now. Compassion is a wonderful talent, but compassion can also be feigned and used for selfish purposes. The president may express compassion to the unborn, but his compassion to the parents facing a horrible dilemma was less visible.

Still on children and compassion:

The Rutgers University is the home of the National Marriage Project. You can check it out at

The Project advertizes itself as nonpartisan, i.e., as not taking sides. But then it states that its explicit objective is to maintain the institution of marriage in the United States. This doesn't look nonpartisan to me. Academic research is not supposed to know the answer to the question it asks beforehand. Value judgments are value judgments, and once they are made, well, we no longer have nonpartisanship.

What is the basis of this value judgment: that marriage must be maintained? According to the website, it is in the well-being of children, and the negative effects of divorce on children. Thus, the Project does not care about the well-being of men or women. This is quite a long step from nonpartisanship, don't you think?

An article on the website also argues that research overwhelmingly supports the superiority of marriage over alternative ways of childrearing. But is this really true? How would one go about studying the impact of marriage on children's wellbeing? Surely, only bad marriages (however defined) end in divorce. So we wish to compare children that grow up in a bad marriage to those that grow up in some other, possibly bad circumstances, for example divorce.

The problem is that out of a bunch of people in bad marriages, some divorce and some don't. The ones who divorce may be quite different from those who stay in many relevant ways. For example, they may have worse social and psychological skills, and these worse skills may be passed on to their children, either genetically or through upbringing. In either case, what would look like an impact of a divorce on the children would not really be so, but something quite different.

The only way to study this properly would be by randomly allocating couples in bad marriages into 'stay-together' and 'divorce' groups. The couples wouldn't be able to choose as that would reintroduce the possible differences underlying self-selection. Then the children growing up in both the bad 'intact' marriages and in 'broken' homes would be followed up carefully and studied. Any differences in outcome could then be attributed to marriage vs. divorce.

But of course we don't have a single study like this. Studies of this sort are ethically impossible. Therefore, we don't really know what the impact of divorce might be, as separate from the impact of all the other possible causes for social and psychological problems in at-risk families.

One of the best studies done on the effects of divorce on children noted that once the researchers took into account the lower financial standing of children after divorce most so-assumed effects of divorce disappeared. In other words, what hurt the children was the lack of money rather than the absence of the demise of the marriage. This finding is quite separate from the presumed superiority of marriage, unless we take an extremely cynical view of marriage.

And what about the marriages made in hell? Is any amount of abuse and quarreling better than a single-parent family?

It saddens me that a university takes on a project with such obviously partisan goals. But then the world is in dark times, as I said.