Saturday, March 19, 2005

WAM And Other News

I just returned from the Women And Media conference in Boston. The topics were very interesting, the cinnamon buns were good and we hatched many cunning plots to take over most of the so-called liberal media, "we" being progressive women and goddesses. I had a very good time and I'm usually quite allergic to networking. You will all benefit from the information I acquired today and yesterday, though it will trickle into my posts slowly over time.

In other news, the National Book Critics Circle prizes were announced yesterday. Marilyn Robinson's Gilead won the fiction prize. You can read about her and the other prize winners here. What's sad about these prizes is that they don't contain any money. They should at least have sent the winners some cinnamon buns.

I have not read Gilead yet but I have read Robinson's earlier book Housekeeping which is full of metaphors. Too full of them for me though it is exquisitely constructed. Perhaps also too full of mentally deranged characters which makes the book far too realistic in some ways.

If you are starved for more of my exquisitely constructed political commentary you can get it on American Street today as on all Saturdays.

The Life And Times of the Female Blogger

I'm a woman blogger, one of those desperate souls with bad hair and smeared lipstick, one of those slightly crazed looking creatures muttering to themselves at street corners while picking up months old topics for their blog posts. I'm made of no linkable material, I write boringly on boring things, I'm too rigid on my abortion rights, I seldom rant and rave about Social Security.

On top of all that, I'm totally without creativity, never come up with any truly new ideas and always go on about trivial secondary issues like whether Iran is executing women for the crime of being raped.

That's what an anonymous Important Blogger has told Shakespeare's sister, a great new blogger, a woman whose lipstick is always perfect if she chooses to wear any. Or more quotably:

In private emails, male bloggers who publicly wring their hands about how to solve the problem of the dearth of women bloggers in the upper echelon, will admit that the reality is the difficulty of finding women worth linking to.

Women don't give me much linkable material.

Women write on subjects that don't interest me.

Women don't know how to compromise on abortion rights.

Why don't women post about Social Security? It affects them, too.

Women don't write commentary, don't come up with new ideas.

Gender politics is all secondary issues.

Well, yes, a good woman blogger is worth her weight in gold. Or in chocolate. But equally hard to find, especially if the standards are suitably adjusted to keep her rare. I mean, come on! Linkability and boredom are subjective standards. There are days when I'm totally bored with myself and would delink if it was relatively easy to do and reversible. But I have to live in My Divine Presence all the time and that's very different from someone linking to me once a year or so. I'm quite nice consumed in small portions, and if you read my writings carefully you might even find something of interest. Such as my cup size which is 34C. Or what's wrong with Social Security, or the bankruptcy bill.

In fact, I post on Social Security all the time, I write commentary all the time (my life is commentary!), I suggest new theories and ideas all the time. But, alas, this is all so very unlinkable and boring. And then I do go on about gender politics which are not secondary if you belong to the other gender than the one that the Important Blogger inhabits. That's how it is.

I'm even willing to compromise on abortion rights: I'm willing to have them completely taken away from Important Male Bloggers if that helps with the discourse.

But I'm not going to change anything just to get linked by some anonymous Important Blogger. Nope. Even goddesses have their pride and this is where I will not stoop to conquer. Besides, I love the readers I have and value their opinion more than the opinion of someone who has not read my divine thoughts with adequate humility and attention.

If I could start my blogging career again I'd choose to use a pseudonym. Something like Bob the Slob or the Blogginator or Currer Bell or James Tiptree, Jr.. I'd talk a lot about my eight inches uncut and I'd swear a lot and I'd be one of the guys. Of course I might be one of the guys right now. There's really no way of knowing on the internets, is there? Now that's a worrying thought for all those who have lists of reasons for not linking to women's blogs.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock

That's the biological clock ticking away your precious fertile moments, but this time it's ticking for the guys. Or so an article in the Salon states. It tells of a new movement of men who are "wife shoppers", who ask about your willingness to have lots of babies on the first date, or:

Another friend, Allison, a 30-year-old cable executive in New York, met theater producer Aaron through work. They shared a lusty kiss on a subway platform and planned a date. "At the bar he started quizzing me on what music was playing," she said. "It felt like I was being interviewed. He wanted to know how I would feel about living on the Upper West Side, if I would prefer a vacation home in the Catskills or in the Hamptons, and would I convert to Judaism. When I said I didn't know about conversion, he asked if I would consider raising my kids Jewish." Allison said the conversation quickly dampened whatever ardor she'd felt for Aaron. "The questions he was asking were questions you get to on maybe the 28th date," she said. "But because they were coming so early I felt stunned, and bummed because this guy clearly wasn't excited about me. This was a picture of who he saw his future with and he was trying to decide if maybe I could fit into the outline."

Then of course the women get scared of commitment and run away.

Do you believe in this stuff? I don't, not really. It is true that the male fertility rate has been found to drop by age a lot more than was previously thought and some studies suggest that older men may have poorer quality sperm, too. But there is a whole trend-making industry which churns out these kinds of stories.

The data consists of a nonrandom section of people one phones with leading questions, and then another book is published on whatever the most recent trend-to-be-created is. Sylvia Ann Hewlet has been writing crap like this for decades, mostly on women who yearn for babies, but now others have joined in the fray. At least writing about commitment-pining men is more fun as a novelty.

All these books talk about the upper classes only, but nobody ever notices it because the U.S. is supposed to be classless. That's why you can write an article like this and mention the opinions of a urologist, a journalist,a network news producer, a cable executive, an artist, an adult novelist and, as an example of inclusivity, a secondary school teacher. No electricians or cashiers or cabdrivers or cleaners. I want to know if men like them are equally commitment-hungry. It would be good to know before I open my house for all the roofers I'm going to need next summer...

This trend-making industry is a very odd aspect of the society. It often has very little to do with reality, at least until the trends have been created. Then what it says seems like common sense. I'm wondering if we now are actually going to start seeing men running around with a list of wife requirements. Other than cup size, I mean.

Wolves in Sheep's Clothing...

This Senate vote on the 2006 fiscal budget is not interesting only because of the Republican breaking of ranks on the Medicaid cutbacks but also because some Republicans really are Democrats and some Democrats are Republicans.

Take Olympia Snowe, for example. She would be considered as an extreme lefty in places such as Louisiana. Mary Landrieu would probably be regarded a wingnut in New England. It's funny to note how some of these misplaced politicians vote:

The income tax break for Social Security benefits was a Republican initiative sponsored by Jim Bunning of Kentucky.

Five Democrats — Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Ken Salazar of Colorado — voted for the tax rollback, and a like number of Republicans — Chafee, Snowe, Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, Ted Stevens of Alaska and George V. Voinovich of Ohio — voted against it.

All politics is local, perhaps, but this does cause some weird coalitions on the national level. Of course, the extremist wingnuts are trying to get rid of all moderate Republicans. If they are successful such odd couplings will probably end.

The Senate vote on the budget caused a lot of havoc for any attempts to control the budget deficit, mostly by gettting rid of the cuts that were planned in the Medicaid program. This program funds some of the health care for the poorest families in the country, and cutting it in order to accommodate the tax cuts for the wealty looked a little...un-Christian. But not to worry, the final reconciliation bill could still include the Medicaid cuts. Like a sleight of hand.

Friday's Embroidery Blogging

Big Snake Posted by Hello

This is a snake, obviously. The technique is a combination of reverse applique, embroidery and quilting. I used my old scarves for the material and the background is a linen summer skirt. The burgundy scarf was bought in London from one of those ripoff artists that haunt tourists. I never really wore it so it's nice that it can be part of my picture now.

Though clearly I need to work on my editing skills. The white border is irritating.

An Open Season, Again

On feminists. It's always open season for the hunting of the feminists. Feminists are the only liberation movement which it is perfectly safe to ridicule.

And who are the brave pukkah sahibs hunting us feminazis? Rush Limbaugh, for one. His take on the Atlanta courthouse murders is pretty much that feminists caused them by insisting on women as the guards of dangerous criminals. I was absent in the feminist movement where this demand was discussed but it seems that Rush Limbaugh was present. Which is interesting as he seems to be totally uninformed about the fact that many accused have managed to get away from even quite brawny male guards in the past and some of these have indeed killed people.

But not to worry. Feminists are guilty of even more bad stuff. According to Rush we don't appreciate the great powers of Ashley Smith, the woman who got the courthouse murderer finally apprehended. Why don't we appreciate her, I want to know. Rush answers:

He praised as gospel an e-mail sent to him by a fan named Julie McGurn, from Madison, N.J.: "Hey, Rush, the whole episode perfectly encapsulates what's wrong with feminism and how it fails to see the true nature of women. On the one hand you've got the PC feminist idea that giving a five-foot deputy sheriff with a gun will make her equal to a man in physical strength. On the other hand, you have an example of an authentic feminine strength in Ashley Smith. She was able to use her wits, her intuition, and even motherly concern. She made him pancakes when he said he wanted some real food, to figure out that this guy didn't have it in him to continue. She talked him down. Women are good at that. The first case plays to women's weakness, physical stature, the second case plays to women's strength, relationships and nurturing. But will the feminists get that? Doubt it."

"Not only will the feminists not get it," Limbaugh emphasized to his listeners, "they will actively oppose this notion of the outcome."

Ok. Glad to have feminism explained to me. I seem to recall a brand of feminism, quite popular, which argued for women's special powers and the strengths of their feminine character. But Rush must know better than me. What does he mean by "this notion of the outcome"? That all police officers should be women because women are so great at defusing difficult situations without any casualties? Somehow I don't think that was in Rush's mind. If he has such a thing as a mind.

He is really a little snot. Sorry, I know that I'm the polite political blogger but there are limits to courtesy. For example, I don't extend courtesy to green stuff that comes out of my nose. And I don't extend courtesy to Ann Coulter who pretty much pipes in harmony with Rush. It's such an unsavory thing to watch a self-hating woman, even when she does it for the money. So I won't watch. Or write about it, either.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Happy Lepricorn Day!

Or St. Patrick's Day! Lepricorns are my distant relatives and they're having a ball today. With green beer and awkward jokes and some very bad singing of Irish songs. If you see them say hello from me.


I woke up all grumpy today and continued that way, too. It may partly be caffeine which my human incarnation's body doesn't care for and which I decided to imbibe in large quantities just for the heck of it, but it's also all those nasty news these last few weeks:

We are going to get rid of the rail system as one of the few alternatives to cars, cars and more cars; we are going to drill in Alaska so that we can have more cars and fewer wild animals and we are going to remove every bit of a safety net under those cumbersome elderly acrobats or those poor tightrope walkers with their terminal illnesses and bad credit balances. We are going to be a new society! With family values and a jungle out there! And we are so patriotic and godly.

Then I tell myselves (both the divine and the human) that things political go in cycles and that surely this wingnut cycle is ending, surely the pendulum is turning back and won't hit my head on its return trip. Which sounds like a fairy-tale ending, to be quite frank. Especially after I read a book which stated that most Jews in the 1930's Europe didn't fight back publicly, partly, because they believed that the hatred cycle had reached its maximum and that things were finally getting better. After every new outrage they believed this. And of course they were wrong and this was terrible.

Now I have broken Godwin's law about bringing the nazis to a discussion about current politics. I didn't bring them up on purpose, the story has them as an integral part so they will be left in. And the lesson will be left in, too.

Back to my private worries. I have to work this weekend (which means that my Saturday posts will not be on the topics of that day) and if I still feel grumpy tomorrow I won't be very efficient at it. What to do? Other than going out with the dogs and letting Hank the Lab do my hair by licking it all over?

Maybe grumpiness is the proper attitude this season. I have to check my fashion magazines.

Fairness in Academia, Again

Go and read this excellent post by billmon. One of his quotes is this one:

For those on the right, true freedom requires more diversity--which, to them, means more conservatives in faculty ranks. "If the system were fair," says Larry Mumper, sponsor of the Ohio bill, "Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would be tenured professors somewhere."

Now this is frightening. I wonder if Mumper knows what it takes to become a tenured professor? First you go to college for about seven years, most likely longer, and you write a doctoral thesis which is scrutinized by many. Then you spend several years teaching and doing research. In most colleges and universities your teaching is evaluated in each course and students are quite free to complain about you. Your research doesn't get published if your peers find fault in it, because academic journals mostly use an anonymous reviewing system and it is also customary to present research in seminars and conferences so that others can pick it apart. But publishing isn't enough for getting tenure; this also depends on how much you publish and the perceived quality of your publications. Most professors on tenure track work their asses off and still end up not getting tenured. Some of this is due to bias but the system is very stringent for everyone.

This is to guarantee that the final product, the tenured professor, is an expert in the field and knows how to look at an issue from all sides. And Mumper thinks that Hannity and Limbaugh are doing this? That if the system was fair they'd have their own endowed chairs somewhere? It makes me nauseous to think that Americans in powerful places have such a warped view of what academia entails. Like it's some sort of a baseball game where the rules can be changed at will.

Billmon's original post makes obvious the similarities of what the extreme wingnuts are doing and what the cultural revolution did in China. All extremist thought systems have similarities, of course, but it's true that in this case even the methods applied are very similar. Like the pretense that the revolution comes from the masses when in fact it comes from the party in power, and the desperate search for suitable enemies to attack. Ward Churchill is not a typical liberal professor, and Horowitz saying so doesn't change the truth at all.

But yes, it does remind me of the cultural revolution. Now where did I put my suitcase?

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action

Today's action is a little different. You don't have to call, or e-mail, or write a letter to anyone. Today's action is to spend some time enjoying nature. With the Senate agreeing to drill in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Reserve, we've lost one of the last pristine places left on the planet. Go for a walk in the park, spend some time with a pet, plant some seeds. Then, resolve to fight even harder the next time our planet is threatened.

Thanks for taking today's action.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Shorter Nicholas Kristof

I'm stealing this stylistic device from Atrios. The idea is to summarize an article in a short and succinct manner, yet clearly revealing the idiocy of the original writer. Here it goes:

According to Nicholas Kristof, Hillary Clinton really gets it by kowtowing to the fundamentalist wing of the Republican party in her plan to become the president of the United States. That is the way for the Democrats to make new supporters in the Red States! Hillary's political strategy is really playing off; her approval rates in New York State are sixty-nine percent!

However, nationally her disapproval rates are still the same forty percent, because no woman will ever be voted in as president by the fundamentalists of the Republican party, certainly no uppity woman politician! So Hillary will not become the president. But it was a good idea, anyway.

Read the long version here.
Link courtesy of deja pseu.

Time For Some Deep Sighs

A new Washington Post-ABC News Poll tells us how stubbornly Americans refuse to be informed or how well the Fox News manages to keep them uninformed. Either way, it is deeply frustrating. I want to tear my clothes and scatter ashes on my head when I read something like this:

In the new poll, 56 percent said they think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the start of the war, and six in 10 said they believe Iraq provided direct support to the al Qaeda terrorist network that struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Also, 55 percent of Americans say the administration told people what it believed to be true, while 43 percent believe the administration deliberately misled the country.

This is not only frustrating but frightening. It shows how very easy the Orwellization of democracy might be. Or perhaps already is.

The Big Brother Is Watching...

If you don't think so, read on:

First, in Missouri:

A bill that seeks to overhaul Missouri's child abuse reporting laws could require teachers, doctors, nurses and others to report sexually active teenagers and children to the state's abuse hot line.

Until Monday, the bill had been sailing through the Legislature with little formal debate. It was scheduled for a House vote this morning, but on Monday the bill's author sent it back to committee for revisions.

Critics say the bill offers confusing and unnecessary changes to a law that has been in place for years. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Richard Byrd, R-Kirkwood, said the legislation offers a needed fix to a child abuse reporting law that has recently been contested in court.

Perhaps the most controversial provision of the bill is one that many say would require educators, medical personnel and other professionals to report "substantial evidence of sexual intercourse by an unmarried minor under the age of consent."

The proponents of the bill argue that it is intended to apply only to children under fifteen, and that for this group any sexual acts are against the law. Still, this law proposal does expand the ear of the Big Brother in ways that can conflict with the other duties of educators and others who work with children.

Next, in Indiana:

Planned Parenthood of Indiana is suing the state after the attorney general's office seized the medical records of eight juvenile patients, including five from the Lafayette area.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Marion Superior Court in Indianapolis seeks temporary and permanent injunctions against Attorney General Steve Carter and his Medicaid Fraud Control Unit from searching the records of 12- and 13-year-old patients.

The unit, since March 1, has seized records from clinics in Bloomington, Franklin and Lafayette.

"They're using a pretty intimidating tool and twisting it in an effort to get confidential records," said Betty Cockrum, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

She said of Carter, "He does not have, under the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the provision to seek the information he is seeking."

Spokeswoman Staci Schneider of the attorney general's office said the unit seized the records as part of an ongoing investigation to determine if Planned Parenthood has been reporting instances of child molestation.

Failing to do so constitutes abuse and/or neglect, she said.

Maybe there are valid reasons in this case, too, but surely patient confidentiality is important, too?

It's hard not think that all this has something to do with the Christian right and its interest in controlling all things sexual. I wonder if they noticed my she-blogger picture (below on this page) and if they did whether my internet connections are already monitored? Wouldn't that be fun!
Links via M.E.N. (Esq.) and angryffemt

Back to the 1950's?

To a world of breadwinning men and housewife women? That's what young women in the U.K. appear to want, based on the writeups of a new survey done for the New Woman magazine. The survey asked fifteen hundred women in their late twenties questions about their career and family plans. Or so I surmise. It appears impossible to get hold of the actual survey which means that everything I say about the survey must be treated with caution.

Anyway, these fifteen hundred women have some very old-fashioned values: Two thirds of them thought that men should be the main breadwinners of the family. One in four of the respondents planned to stay at home with children full time, whereas only one in ten expressed an intent to stay working full time after children arrive. Seven out of ten respondents didn't want to work as hard as their mothers had.

The way this is written up is most fascinating, and I don't mean the obvious wingnut reactions or the obvious "Feminism Is Dead" stuff, but things like this:

Margi Conklin, editor of New Woman magazine, said the findings reflected "a fundamental shift in young women's attitudes towards life and work.

"They've watched their own mothers trying, and often failing, to 'have it all', and decided they 'don't want it all'. They don't want to work crazy hours while their children are put into nurseries and their relationships disintegrate under the strain.

"Young women today are increasingly putting their personal happiness before a big salary or a high-powered career. Above anything else, they crave a work-life balance where they can enjoy a fulfilling relationship, raise happy children and have a job that interests them, but doesn't overwhelm them."

Come again? How is it suddenly the case that all these fifteen hundred respondents had mothers who were in the upper eschelons of the society? Who had high-powered careers and big salaries? I beg to disbelieve this. It's much more likely that the mothers of these women were a cross-section of the British society (if the survey was properly done to begin with), and that therefore most of them were not very well-off or with very interesting careers. They just had the double-day of many working women.

What we see here is the usual myth-making about feminism as the business of upper-class career women. Everything that relates to women and work must be seen through such a crooked lens. Let's inject a little more reality here. How many men do you think would like to stay at home with their young children if they could? I suspect quite a few. Here the patriarchal traditions favor women in that it is more acceptable for them to state such a desire. On the other hand, it's less acceptable for them to express an interest in continuing career-minded when children arrive, so I'd interpret all these answers with some care. Public opinions are not the same as private opinions. Neither are wishes and dreams the same as reality. The vast majority of these women will not be able to afford staying at home for very long, even in the welfare state of the United Kingdom.

My title for this post is misleading. The 1950's was not the way it is often portrayed. For example, a large proportion of married women always worked and there was an increase in married women's labor market participation rate by the end of the decade. That was the real 1950's. The imaginary one is the 1950's that the wingnuts always look back to with fondness: the time when men were men and women were at home. Many wingnuts can hardly wait until these times return and every study that suggests they might is greeted with joy in Wingnuttia.

I have always suspected that the wingnuts are much more interested in getting women out of the labor force than they are interested in enabling them to stay at home, but that's just me. Well, sadly for the wingnuts they are not going to get their version of the 1950's back any time soon. The economy is far too dependent on the labor input of women and the cost of living far too high for most families to have just one wage-earner.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Movie Violence

Members of the U.S. military who have been in Iraq (and probably in other war arenas) have their own movies about war and violence, movies in which they often star, too. They are not usually shown on the mainstream television programs, but at least one amateur moviemaker would be willing to trade:

"30-year-old Sgt. Benjamin Bronkema from Lafayette, Ind., said he was surprised no one had tried to sell the movies yet. 'If I had a copy of it, and MTV called, I'd sell it,' he said. The videos are no different than what's on screen at the cinema, showing glorified violence, he added. 'It's no more graphic than "Saving Private Ryan." To us, it's no different than watching a movie.'"

No different than watching a movie. There is so much sadness in this one sentence and so much guilt for the rest of us who have made saying it possible. Even if the sentence is part of the psychological defenses that humans set up in the face of horrible events.

Maureen Dowd on Women Opinion Columnists

This is a few days old, but I have been stewing it slowly in my head. Maureen Dowd wrote a column on the lack of women who write opinion columns and then gave her own diagnosis of the problem:

In 1996, after six months on the job, I went to Howell Raines, the editorial page editor, to try to get out of the column. I was a bundle of frayed nerves. I felt as though I were in a "Godfather" movie, shooting and getting shot at. Men enjoy verbal dueling. As a woman, I told Howell, I wanted to be liked - not attacked. He said I could go back to The Metro Section; I decided to give it another try. Bill Safire told me I needed Punzac, Prozac for pundits.

Guys don't appreciate being lectured by a woman. It taps into myths of carping Harpies and hounding Furies, and distaste for nagging by wives and mothers. The word "harridan" derives from the French word "haridelle" - a worn-out horse or nag.

Men take professional criticism more personally when it comes from a woman. When I wrote columns about the Clinton impeachment opéra bouffe, Chris Matthews said that for poor Bill, it must feel as though he had another wife hectoring him.

While a man writing a column taking on the powerful may be seen as authoritative, a woman doing the same thing may be seen as castrating. If a man writes a scathing piece about men in power, it's seen as his job; a woman can be cast as an emasculating man-hater. I'm often asked how I can be so "mean" - a question that Tom Friedman, who writes plenty of tough columns, doesn't get.

For a good writer Dowd is astonishingly thick on psychology and women's issues. I sometimes think that she writes these columns in a cab and asks the cabdriver for some expert opinions on why women do the things they do. I have even wondered if she could possibly be a woman, given how little she seems to know of the Life of the Female.

Take these ideas in the quote I gave from her: that women want to be liked and that men don't want to be criticized by a woman. These are stereotypes, and Maureen doesn't actually ask if there is any truth in them. She just uses them as if they were the Truth. In the same article in which she writes:

The kerfuffle over female columnists started when Susan Estrich launched a crazed and nasty smear campaign against Michael Kinsley, the L.A. Times editorial page editor, trying to force him to run her humdrum syndicated column.

I have news for you, Maureen. Susan is not going to like you now. But maybe it doesn't matter as she is not a man so is safe to criticize?

My point is that Dowd doesn't dive deep under the facile explanations she uses, doesn't look for any other reasons for the dearth of female columnists than her stereotypical views of human psychology, and doesn't differentiate between the use of valid criticism and just plain nastiness (calling Estrich's column "humdrum" without explaining why) as an explanation why some dislike her writing style.

It is such an odd article. Dowd tells us how horrible it is to be a woman who writes political opinion columns and then urges all talented women to join her. Is this her intention? Probably not. It's something her columns seem to do pretty often, leave me hanging despondent at the end of reading them, wondering if there is any other hope for me but a quick and painless death. Though this might be something in me and not Maureen's fault at all.

I would like to read more women opinion columnists. I love Molly Ivins and Barbara Ehrenreich and Katha Pollitt and many others. These are some writers! And they know their politics inside and out. They don't seem to mind arguing or the fear of being seen as castrating bitches, either.

More generally, women often have a different pattern of life from those of men and this gives them a different angle to events. Seeing political events from different angles would be good for us. It would also make political opinion columns more varied and interesting.

Why is it, by the way, that the wingnuts seem to promote most any woman who is wingnutty enough to her opinion column while truly great writers on the left slog away almost unnoticed? I have in mind the list I noted earlier and many others that I could add to it. Why does Ann Coulter sit on a high perch over all creation while Molly Ivins is hidden away in Texas? Hmh?

Today's Action Alert

Check out the website for

and send an email to the FCC asking them to stop the Bush administration from sending out propoganda disguised as news.

Thanks for taking today's action!

Monday, March 14, 2005

A Picture of Me?

This picture has been doing the rounds on all she-blogs but I have decided that it's a picture of me. It looks a little like me, anyway. Except for the hair color and the eye color and the cigarette. And the shape of the face and the body...
Via Watermark.

On Pillowcases

I'm going out to buy some pillowcases. All the ones I have look like spider's webbing, worn through to almost nothing. That's when they are really comfy, sadly.

I could order them through the net but I can get a better price locally. I think, anyway. The last time I needed pillowcases I made them out of old sheets, with added lace and stuff, so I'm not an expert on the going prices for high-quality pillowcases.

By buying something I'm helping the producers of bed linen and maybe even supporting someone's job. So in a sense I have been a horrible consumer, all these years, when I have refrained from buying sprees of bed linen. But then I have been good for the environment by not adding to its spoilage. What to do?

This whole post is full of "I's". Should rewrite it but won't.

Biased Election Coverage!

See! The media is liberal, after all! A study by the Columbia School of Journalism established that the media gave Bush a harder time than Kerry, that Massachusetts liberal. This clearly proves that the media is all communist and loves Islamofascists and that we need affirmative action for the wingnuts in the press rooms.

Here is what the poor wingnuts must face:

The school's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 36 percent of reports on Bush painted him in an unfavorable light, while only 12 percent did the same to Kerry - according to Reuters.

Wow! Take out your paintbrushes, you liberal journalists, and retouch all the stories about Bush with more optimistic pink for the future of freedom.

Of course, the problem the journalists faced in keeping the coverage equally negtive was this:

On the Iraq war, for instance - which was a watershed issue for Bush - the study found that the three network nightly newscasts and public broadcaster PBS tended to be more negative than positive, while Fox News was twice as likely to be positive as negative, Reuters said.

We just don't have enough Foxes.

This silliness is like saying that it would be biased to give the flat-earthers any less praise for their scientific acumen than the other side. Bush gave the media a lot of stupid stunts and horrible mistakes as data. Should all this have been ignored? Or should artificial stories have been invented to make Kerry look equally incompetent? Oh, I forgot, they were! The Swift Boaters. But even that doesn't seem to be enough, no, coverage should have been exactly equally negative, never mind the facts.

Bias does not mean telling the facts, my dear wingnuts, and sometimes facts weigh more towards one side. Bias means not giving each side a fair hearing and not letting them give their explanations for why what happened happened and so on. Bias means weighing the same facts differently depending on whom they affect. But bias does not mean pretending that someone who is awful isn't, just because the other guy isn't quite as awful.


This is not a political post, not at least in an obvious manner. It is a post about words and what they do. What some words do, or perhaps all words when dressed in their secret fancy clothes or when they are moonlighting. The thing that words do which words cannot do, the reaching to something in us which is not intelligence or logic, which is not even emotions, and when the contact is made there is this enormous thunder and an opening and a realization of something instantaneously. And then a flow of understanding and the feelings that this particular understanding carries in its arms.

Poetry does this covert work often. Here is Margaret Atwood on spelling:

At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.

This is a metaphor.

Yes, yes.

When PR=Journalism

The New York Times recently published an important article on the use of government propaganda as a substitute for news. These items are slotted into the usual news broadcasts and they are not always clearly labeled as produced by the government. The practice started during the Clinton years but has picked up speed ever since George Bush got in power.

Here is an example of the problem:

"Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A.," a jubilant Iraqi-American told a camera crew in Kansas City for a segment about reaction to the fall of Baghdad. A second report told of "another success" in the Bush administration's "drive to strengthen aviation security"; the reporter called it "one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history." A third segment, broadcast in January, described the administration's determination to open markets for American farmers.

To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three. The report from Kansas City was made by the State Department. The "reporter" covering airport safety was actually a public relations professional working under a false name for the Transportation Security Administration. The farming segment was done by the Agriculture Department's office of communications.

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

This is good for the government, good for the large media networks which earn more, good for the PR firms and good for the small television stations which often cannot afford to have journalists cover all issues of interest. It is bad for those who consume the messages without realizing that they are consuming paid propaganda.

Is any of this illegal? I'm not sure but it is definitely unethical, and this from the Values-Are-Us administration. Not only have they employed paid shills to push their messages but also this general infiltration of what most of us thought were just ordinary news. No government-produced video piece is going to tell us what is bad in the administration's performance, of course, yet the viewers or readers or listeners believe that they are receiving objective reporting. To see how it is done, consider the case of Karen Ryan:

Karen Ryan was part of this push - a "paid shill for the Bush administration," as she self-mockingly puts it. It is, she acknowledges, an uncomfortable title.

Ms. Ryan, 48, describes herself as not especially political, and certainly no Bush die-hard. She had hoped for a long career in journalism. But over time, she said, she grew dismayed by what she saw as the decline of television news - too many cut corners, too many ratings stunts.

In the end, she said, the jump to video news releases from journalism was not as far as one might expect. "It's almost the same thing," she said.

There are differences, though. When she went to interview Tommy G. Thompson, then the health and human services secretary, about the new Medicare drug benefit, it was not the usual reporter-source exchange. First, she said, he already knew the questions, and she was there mostly to help him give better, snappier answers. And second, she said, everyone involved is aware of a segment's potential political benefits.

Her Medicare report, for example, was distributed in January 2004, not long before Mr. Bush hit the campaign trail and cited the drug benefit as one of his major accomplishments.

The script suggested that local anchors lead into the report with this line: "In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare." In the segment, Mr. Bush is shown signing the legislation as Ms. Ryan describes the new benefits and reports that "all people with Medicare will be able to get coverage that will lower their prescription drug spending."

The segment made no mention of the many critics who decry the law as an expensive gift to the pharmaceutical industry. The G.A.O. found that the segment was "not strictly factual," that it contained "notable omissions" and that it amounted to "a favorable report" about a controversial program.

And yet this news segment, like several others narrated by Ms. Ryan, reached an audience of millions. According to the accountability office, at least 40 stations ran some part of the Medicare report. Video news releases distributed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, including one narrated by Ms. Ryan, were shown on 300 stations and reached 22 million households. According to Video Monitoring Services of America, a company that tracks news programs in major cities, Ms. Ryan's segments on behalf of the government were broadcast a total of at least 64 times in the 40 largest television markets.

You might argue that this is just another example of the general blurring between journalism and public relations in this country, and that the trend is nothing new, and you might be right. But the government has a special role and a special burden: it is not supposed to exploit its citizens by feeding them propaganda as news. Or so I think in my divine naivete.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

No Islamic State in Iraq?

It seems that the Kurds won't have one and the Kurds are needed in the government:

The Kurds and the alliance officials said both sides agreed that Iraq would not become an Islamic state, a desire also expressed by the country's most powerful Shiite cleric - Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party, said the Kurds would oppose any attempt to turn Iraq into an Islamic state.

``I think the Shiites well understand that implementing an Islamic government ... will bring a lot of problems,'' Barzani told Dubai's Al-Arabiya television. ``We have an alliance with the Shiites. We were both oppressed, and we both struggled against the old regime, but if they insist on having a religious government we will oppose to them.''

An alliance member, Ali al-Dabagh, said there were no plans to turn Iraq into a religious state or a secular one.

``We neither want to establish a religious nor a secular state in Iraq, we want a state that respects the identity of the Iraqi people and the identities of others'' al-Dabagh said.

What does it mean, though, to neither want to establish a religious nor a secular state in Iraq? One or the other will be established, I would think. I'm rooting for the secular solution because it allows the religious people to live a religious life whereas the reverse would not allow the secular people to live a secular life.

As an aside, I'm slightly annoyed by the term "secular" in this context. To want a secular state doesn't mean that one is an atheist. I want all states to be secular and I'm a goddess! "Secular" means something more here than purely earthly matters; it means a state which is inclusive of people with various faiths and sensitive to human rights.