Saturday, January 24, 2004

Some Interesting News

Colin Powell on the missing WMD in Iraq:

"The open question is how many stocks they had, if any, and if they had any, where did they go. And if they didn't have any, then why wasn't that known beforehand?"

Good questions, especially in the second sentence. Especially as we went to war over not having the correct answer to that one.

Dick Cheney on the selection of the quote in his family Christmas cards:

"Lynne Cheney was responsible, the vice president said, for the quote from Benjamin Franklin on the family Christmas card: "If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid"?"

According to Cheney

"The quote reflects Franklin's musing over the importance of God in the affairs of men, the vice president said. "It did not refer, or should not be taken as some kind of indication, that the United States today sees itself as an empire"."

Whooah! Now that's a relief for the rest of the world. I think?

The Pope on the media portrayals of marriage and family:

"Infidelity, sexual activity outside of marriage, and the absence of a moral and spiritual vision of the marriage covenant are depicted uncritically, while positive support is at times given to divorce, contraception, abortion and homosexuality. Such portrayals, by promoting causes inimical to marriage and the family, are detrimental to the common good of society."

Assuming that the basic unit of the society is a creature called 'the marriage and the family', and assuming that these are interpreted very traditionally, perhaps yes. But what happens if the basic unit of the society is a creature called 'a human being'? Things aren't then always anywhere near so clear-cut. I can't help thinking that the Pope's own existence as an unmarried childless man makes him perhaps not the most expert of judges in this field. But what do I know? I'm just a pagan goddess.

After reading through this and the last few posts, I think that I need lessons on benevolent writing and sunniness. "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" and all that stuff. I think that when life gives you lemons,you squirt them in your enemy's eye. Something seriously wrong here.

Are Women More Prone to Injuries?

"Are women more prone to injuries? It's that time of year when many people start trying to get into shape, but it may be more difficult for women than men. In fact, when it comes to beginning an exercise program or trying out a new sport, men and women may not always be created equal."

This is what my screen revealed when I clicked on the link to for its Headline News.
To learn more about these injury-prone women, I clicked on the 'full story' link, eager to find out exactly what makes women so fragile or clumsy-footed.

But of course I was disappointed. The 'full story' refers to two military studies, one done in Britain and one in the U.S.. The British study found that female recruits were eight times more likely to be discharged for injuries once men and women were put on the same basic training program. The research concluded that

"...differences in strength, bone mass and the length of their strides put women at a greater risk of getting hurt."

Bone mass, strength, length of stride? In other words, smaller people were found to be more at risk for injuries in a program that most likely is extremely demanding and geared to the bone mass, weight and length of stride of larger people. Now, women are, on average, smaller than men, but most women who initiate an exercise program are not going to pick up the British military training manual and blindly follow it as the ideal daily routine. Keep in mind the preface to this story: "It's that time of the year when many people start trying to get into shape..."

The American military study had similar findings, but found out that the injury gap narrowed as training proceeded. This made the researchers suggest that

"...the level of fitness matters more than gender, and that women, on average, start out at lower levels than men."

And what can we conclude from this story? Its author believes that it is

"If you're starting an exercise program or a new sport, take it easy. You'll be less likely to get hurt, and when you've reached the level of fitness that you want -- go get 'em!"

Ok, sort of, though this conclusion has nothing to do with the way the article lured us in to begin with. And it is not all that we are going to take with us after reading it. We are also going to have a slightly greater belief in women's greater injury-proneness, whether such injury-proneness exists or not. After all, it was in CNN news!

The manner in which this story was sold is common for reporting of this ilk: first hint at great new revelations about what makes women women and men men, then go into a summary of various, often half-baked, research findings, but always, always finish with something that lets the gender that's been getting the bad rap (usually women) to feel that they have not been getting such a bad rap after all. This sells, I guess. But it doesn't change the basic message of such writings.

I, for one, expect more from writers who pretend to tell people how to live their lives, including how to exercise safely. Some proper research into the field, applicable to average individuals and their average circumstances would be good. Avoidance of pitting one gender against another would also be good, and tying the message of the piece to its title and preface would be excellent.

I, for one, will probably expect forevermore, at least with regard to writings aimed at strengthening and manufacturing women's many insecurities.
And whatever blogger says, this IS a Saturday's post.
PS: Read this excellent article on why women's bodies attract so much more interest in the medical subspecialty of "Feeble, Weak and Withering" when there are no real reasons for this.
Thanks to Amy (in the comments) for the link.

Friday, January 23, 2004

My Favorite SOTU Assessment this one:

Meanwhile, Bush was running the same old plays in his State of the Union Address: fear, threat, danger, terror, war, enemies. He even trotted out the weapons of mass destruction again, just as though they had actually existed. And the media accuse Howard Dean of being negative!

Read the whole thing here.

Echidne goes girly

Why? It's a long story, but the gist of it is that I slipped into the body of someone who was having a migraine attack. At first I feared that I could actually die from this thing, then I feared that I would not die. Afterwards, I felt a strong need to spruce up my appearance, what with the death-ringed eyes and the translucent teeth.

So I dug up my library on beauty care. It spans a long way back. Here's instructions from an 1873 Young Ladies' Journal on how to wash the hair:

It is occasionally necessary to thoroughly cleanse the hair. One or two precautions must be taken, however. Never use soap if you can avoid it; if you do, let it be the very mildest and unperfumed. Avoid so-called hair-cleansing fluids, and use rain-water filtered. The yolks of two new-laid eggs are much to be preferred to soap; they make a beautiful lather, and when the washing is finished, and the hair thoroughly rinsed in the purest rain-water, you will find, when dry, that the gloss will not be destroyed, which an alkali never fails to do. The first water must not be very hot, only just warm, and the last perfectly cold. Dry with soft towels - but do not rub till the skin is tender - and afterwards brush. Be always careful to have your brushes and combs perfectly clean and free from grease.

If this is too much girliness for you, take this quiz. It tells you which famous Western feminist you most resemble. If you are a man, you must first take a few deep breaths, imagine yourself to be a woman, and then rapidly answer the questions. I am Simone de Beauvoir, with a dingleberry named Sartre dragging behind me. Link to the quiz via Going Dutch.
Postscript: I just realized why the water must be so cool: Imagine your hair with a couple of egg yolks in hot water! Anyone who's thickened a sauce with egg yolks would know what would happen. Wet hair encircled by slimy globs of semi-cooked egg!

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Behind the Veil

France is contemplating banning the veil, the Yarmulke and large Christian crosses in schools. This can be seen as a consequence of the strict separation between religion and state in France, a tradition which has its roots in the state's fight for supremacy against the once-powerful Catholic church. But it is also a response to the growing French fears about islamic fundamentalism in a country with five to seven million muslims. The effect of the proposed ban is, of course, to limit the individual's scope for the free practice of religion.

This has provoked demonstrations in France but even more fervent protests abroad. Now some in the French government question the advisability of the ban. Here's the foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin:

"De Villepin told fellow ministers that the planned ban "puts France in a very delicate situation on the international stage," a well-placed government source who was briefed on the talks quoted him as saying. The source spoke on condition of anonymity.
Particularly, bans against wearing the veil put France "on the wrong foot with Arab nations, but also with the United States, which is for the respect of individual liberties," the source quoted de Villepin as saying."

Meanwhile, the top islamic cleric in Saudi Arabia, an Arab country, has criticized the atmosphere at an economic summit in Jiddah for the intermingling of the sexes:

"What we saw at that meeting of the mixing of men and women, and the women's appearance without their hijab (head scarf), which is ordered by God, is forbidden," Grand Mufti Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheik said in a statement released Tuesday.
He said he was troubled by photographs from the meeting published in newspapers Monday, saying the women's dress violated Islamic law. He also said he was worried about the moral state of Saudi Arabia.
"My pain is increased by such shameful behavior," he said. "God curses the woman that imitates a man, whether in appearance, clothing or in the lifting of her voice. So how can she walk among them, mix with them, uncovered?"

The Saudis have always taken a firm approach against any relaxation in the women's dress code. When the U.S. military decided to no longer require that American servicewomen in Saudi Arabia wear abayas (black head-to-toe robes) while off-base:

... the Saudi Committee for the Preservation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a government office, announced that the women would not be allowed in public without the abaya regardless of their U.S. citizenship or religious opposition. Saudi officials called the change in U.S. policy an affront to Islamic law that challenged Saudi sovereignty. Officials were also displeased that the U.S. did not consult the Saudi government before changing the policy.

It seems to me that the U.S. holds France to a higher standard of behavior than, say, Saudi Arabia. Though France is proposing restrictions to religious freedom, these would only apply in the school system. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, disallows the public practice of other religions. Surely those that are concerned about the freedom of religion should first address the more egregious violations, or at least criticize them with an equally loud voice. But then, of course, the Saudis are the friends of the U.S., whereas the French are... you know, Old Europe and all that.
And what about the feminist analysis of the veil that I'm duty-bound to present? That, unfortunately, must wait until I have more time. Lots more time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Matchmaking Between You And The U.S. Presidential Candidates

I'll write anything to make you look... Actually, this is a quiz which helps you find out which candidate you might want to elect. The results might surprise you. I was surprised by mine. Too bad that I'm not allowed to vote in this anti-goddess society.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Liberal Anger

An oxymoron? So it seemed until quite recently. As Molly Ivins points out,

Guys like Rush Limbaugh figured that out a long time ago--attack a liberal and the first thing he says is, "You may have a point there."

Conservatives, on the other hand, are excellent haters. They have had the hate arena mostly to themselves for the last decade, after all, and practice does make perfect. Liberals are no match for voices such as Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, though they are the targets, naturally. So puny has the left resistance been in these games that some right-wingers have had to turn to attacking their own to stay in training. Here's David Frum, a neo-conservative, on the paleoconservatives of his own party:

They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country.
War is a great clarifier. It forces people to take sides. The paleoconservatives have chosen — and the rest of us must choose too. In a time of danger, they have turned their backs on their country. Now we turn our backs on them

Well, things are looking up for Frum and other underemployed conservative pugilists. Several recent articles have declared that liberals have finally turned angry. "I hate Bush" begins Jonathan Chait in last September's New Republic, and he notes that he's not the only one:

There seem to be quite a few of us Bush haters. I have friends who have a viscerally hostile reaction to the sound of his voice or describe his existence as a constant oppressive force in their daily psyche. Nor is this phenomenon limited to my personal experience: Pollster Geoff Garin, speaking to The New York Times, called Bush hatred "as strong as anything I've experienced in 25 years now of polling." Columnist Robert Novak described it as a "hatred ... that I have never seen in 44 years of campaign watching."

Not only does the conservative columnist Novak find this hatred unmatched in the last forty-four years of campaing watching (he must have had his back towards his own troops), but other commentators on the right also find it 'puzzling', 'a mystery'. Liberals have no such trouble understanding the root causes of Bush-hatred. Here's Chait's summary on the issues which have turned your average kind-hearted Liberal into a bloodthirsty wannabe-warrior. He sets out the scene by reminding us that the year 2000 election results made all reasonable observers expect that George W. Bush would govern from a moderate, bi-partisan position:

Instead, Bush has governed as the most partisan president in modern U.S. history. The pillars of his compassionate-conservative agenda--the faith-based initiative, charitable tax credits, additional spending on education--have been abandoned or absurdly underfunded. Instead, Bush's legislative strategy has revolved around wringing out narrow, party-line votes for conservative priorities by applying relentless pressure to GOP moderates--in one case, to the point of driving Vermont's James Jeffords out of the party. Indeed, when bipartisanship shows even the slightest sign of life, Bush usually responds by ruthlessly tamping it down. In 2001, he convinced GOP Representative Charlie Norwood to abandon his long-cherished patients' bill of rights, which enjoyed widespread Democratic support. According to a Washington Post account, Bush and other White House officials "met with Norwood for hours and issued endless appeals to party loyalty." Such behavior is now so routine that it barely rates notice. Earlier this year, a column by Novak noted almost in passing that "senior lawmakers are admonished by junior White House aides to refrain from being too chummy with Democrats."

When the September 11 attacks gave Bush an opportunity to unite the country, he simply took it as another chance for partisan gain. He opposed a plan to bolster airport security for fear that it would lead to a few more union jobs. When Democrats proposed creating a Department of Homeland Security, he resisted it as well. But later, facing controversy over disclosures of pre-September 11 intelligence failures, he adopted the idea as his own and immediately began using it as a cudgel with which to bludgeon Democrats. The episode was telling: Having spent the better part of a year denying the need for any Homeland Security Department at all, Bush aides secretly wrote up a plan with civil service provisions they knew Democrats would oppose and then used it to impugn the patriotism of any Democrats who did--most notably Georgia Senator Max Cleland, a triple-amputee veteran running for reelection who, despite his support for the war with Iraq and general hawkishness, lost his Senate race thanks to an ugly GOP ad linking him to Osama bin Laden.

All this helps answer the oft-posed question of why liberals detest Bush more than Reagan. It's not just that Bush has been more ideologically radical; it's that Bush's success represents a breakdown of the political process. Reagan didn't pretend to be anything other than what he was; his election came at the crest of a twelve-year-long popular rebellion against liberalism. Bush, on the other hand, assumed office at a time when most Americans approved of Clinton's policies. He triumphed largely because a number of democratic safeguards failed. The media overwhelmingly bought into Bush's compassionate-conservative facade and downplayed his radical economic conservatism. On top of that, it took the monomania of a third-party spoiler candidate, plus an electoral college that gives disproportionate weight to GOP voters--the voting population of Gore's blue-state voters exceeded that of Bush's red-state voters--even to bring Bush close enough that faulty ballots in Florida could put him in office.

But Bush is never called to task for the radical disconnect between how he got into office and what he has done since arriving. Reporters don't ask if he has succeeded in "changing the tone." Even the fact that Bush lost the popular vote is hardly ever mentioned. Liberals hate Bush not because he has succeeded but because his success is deeply unfair and could even be described as cheating.

Add to this the anger boiling due to the administration's unusual approach to environmental protection, its contempt for women's rights, its unilateralism and most importantly, its pre-emptively defensive war against Saddam Hussein, and most of the ingredients of the liberal Molotov's cocktail are mixed. The only thing that's surprising about this anger is how slow it has been in coming together.

So, now that we are all angry together, will the country benefit? The answer depends on whom one asks. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times deplores this trend:

Considering the savagery with which the Snarling Right excoriated President Clinton as a "sociopath," blocked judicial appointments, undermined U.S. military operations from Kosovo to Iraq, hounded Vincent Foster and then accused the Clintons of murdering him, it is utterly hypocritical for conservatives to complain about liberal incivility. But they're right. Liberals have now become as intemperate as conservatives, and the result - everybody shouting at everybody else - corrodes the body politic and is counterproductive for Democrats themselves.

Anger may well corrode the body politic; in fact, the conservative anger has already done so. But why is anger counterproductive for Democrats when it seems to have served the Republicans very well? Kristof implies that the kind of anger that gets you votes is not the liberal sort:

My guess is that if the Democrats stay angry, then they'll offend Southern white guys, with or without pickups and flags, and lose again.

Hmmm. And if the Democrats swallow their anger and smile, will the Southern white guys vote for them in droves? Please say that it is so, Nicholas.

Given the above analysis, the Republicans should welcome the anger of liberals everywhere. They don't seem to do so, of course. Rather, they act as if their own behavior in the last decade or so has been worthy of ten Nobel Peace Prizes. You know, feigned assaulted innocence.

Consider the reactions from the right to the MoveOn Organization's recent ad competition where one of the entries had Bush morph into Hitler. RNC chairman Ed Gillespie called this "the worst and most vile form of political hate speech" and "a despicable tactic". And no doubt it is. However, using nazi-terminology to describe ones political opponents appears to be much more common from the other side of the aisle. Here are Michael Savage and Norman Liebmann on the topic of nazis:

"I once wrote that 'Vac'm in the Vulva' Barbara Boxer was the reincarnation of Adolf Mengele in drag, the Nazi Angel of Death. I meant it. ... The spirit of Mengele knows well to start at the weakest point and work from there – with Clinton, Singer, Boxer or any other willing host."

"The difference between Clinton's fascists and Hitler's fascists is Clinton's have no paradigm. The trickiest to identify are the fascists in Arkansas, but only because the people there found the Nazi salute too intricate a maneuver for them to master."

Conwebwatch gives thirty-four such examples of the use of nazi imagery by right-wing pundits in the last five years.

No sane person would defend such slurs from either political party, but in the absence of these extremes, could rising liberal anger actually be a good thing? Paul Starobin in the Atlantic Monthly thinks so:

The clash between angry secular liberals and angry religiously motivated conservatives sometimes seems to generate little more than media din. But the rising partisanship of the American voter is probably a positive development. A country as big and diverse as the United States cannot avoid contentious fights over public-policy issues. A broad sorting of voters into a Red team and a Blue team—a trend harking back to the intense partisanship of the nineteenth century—is better than a European-style fragmentation of the electorate into numerous small parties, able to govern only after patching together fragile coalitions. The same Pew Research Center survey that found—tut-tut—a surge in the intensity of partisan feelings also turned up a decline in cynicism about government.

I'd feel more comfortable with Starobin's arguments if his excitement didn't give me mental images of beer-drinking fans rooting for the two sides in the Superbowl. Does he want two big teams because their clash would be more gigantic, and therefore more fun to watch? Or because he seems to see the art of compromising as nothing but the 'patching together of fragile coalitions'? Would this country indeed be better off with more open anger on both sides?

And might the liberals themselves be better off now that they are finally angry? How will they negotiate this volatile emotion? Its dangerous zones are at both ends of the scale: in sullen, inward-turned bitterness and apathy on one hand and in self-destructive foaming-at-the-mouth rage on the other. Neither of these are attractive campaign promises for the Democratic candidates. But there is a third way: anger used as fuel for long-term organizing, campaigning and negotiating. This is anger as a small warming flame firmly under control of reason; anger with a smiling face if you like.

I believe, on balance, that the new liberal anger can be a great opportunity when carefully handled. It isn't even that new, historically speaking. What could be more liberal than the righteous anger one feels when injustices are committed? That, my friends, lies at the very heart of liberalism.
See Carol Tavris' Anger. The Misunderstood Emotion for more ideas about how to use anger productively.

Monday, January 19, 2004

I've Been to the Mountaintop

Martin Luther King, April 3, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee:

Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life - longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not go there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

All About Me!

The blogosphere has been sweet to me! I have been raised to the proper divine place!
First, this blog is among the nominees for the Koufax award for the Best New Blog! And look at the company I keep! I'm humbled and elated at the same time...

Next, the Great Voice of ms. musings has picked my blog from among the multitudes of very good blogs as one to be praised! And once again, look at the company I keep!

Enough with the exclamation marks already. I'm a very pessimistic goddess, and immediately noticed that there's no way in hell I can win the Koufax award, given all the professional and famous and otherwise excellent competition. And then I noticed that the Ms. magazine writeup mentioned that I blog daily, and yesterday I DID NOT blog, as I was asleep.... And then the pressures started building up: there's nowhere to go but down now... and I've barely begun! What if I run dry? Why is everything always so hard?

Ok. Now I feel more normal, and can extend my sincere, from-the-very-bottom-of-my-heart thanks to everybody who's been so nice to me, and everybody who hasn't been so nice to me but still reads here once and a while. And my sincere, admiring thanks to everybody whose blogs I mine daily for good data and ideas (you know who you are). And to everybody else, including the people who give me material by their very existence...

The only logical way to stop this would be to say that I am quitting blogging now while I'm still doing good, but I won't!