Saturday, June 04, 2005

Odd Stuff I've Noticed About Blogs

Because I've been redecorating the house. I moved Hank's collection of slimy dog toys from one corner to another, removed an artistic spider web from my bedpost and swopped two snake paintings with each other. Now the house looks all brand new and ready for one of those fancy-schmancy interior design magazines!

No, it doesn't, and not only because my furniture is almost all from Salvation Army. I also lack that divine touch which makes everything suddenly look perfectly right. But it's fun to try, and while I kept moving the torture rack two inches to the left and the poison shelves a smidgen to the right I compiled a list of questions which nobody has answered about blogs. I'm going to write them down here for your inspection. They are totally uninteresting but this is a good writing exercize for me if nothing else:

1. Why does almost all commenting take place in the forenoon hours of Eastern Time? This is on my blog and on other blogs where the number of comments doesn't reach to hundreds.

2. In what energy field is the commenting community real? It is real, and there is even something like a collective emotion which forces the blogger to post on certain topics whether she or he wants to, initially. I'm not sure if this is very clear because it's a new concept for me, but I'm absolutely convinced that there is some type of a public sentiment that affects what happens on the blogs, and this sentiment comes from the readers. So label me lunatic if you wish. I love the moon.

3. Why are all the trolls like the same troll over and over again? Do they really get their talking points from some central office and do they all memorize them in one long sentence covering everything that ever happened in this world so that it's impossible to discuss the points without taking the rest of your human life to do so.

4. Who are the people who find my blog googling for some truly disgusting stuff? Will I avoid ever meeting them in this life?

5. Why can't I clean up my links and add new links? Why am I writing this inane post when I should be doing just that?

Back to house decorating. See you later.

The Nipple Wars?

Women's breasts are not supposed to have nipples. Did you know that? Nipples are like erect penises, not suitable to be shown on television. Instead, breasts should be portrayed as large round mountain-like objects or like bowling balls (or tennis balls):

The good news is those weapons of mass destruction have finally been found.

The bad news is your mother, sister, aunt, and grandma are all guilty of having them.

Sixteen months after the Super Bowl's tempest in a C-cup, war has been declared on women's breasts. From Desperate House-wives' deployment of digital nipple-erasers to Victoria's Secret's nipple-negating bras, a campaign is under way to conceal one of the natural features of the female breast.

The producers of TV's Desperate Housewives have reportedly spent thousands of dollars digitally removing the nipples from on-screen images of actresses Teri Hatcher and Nicolette Sheridan.

In discussing the show's "nipple problem," series creator Marc Cherry tells the Philadelphia Daily News: "Certain actresses really don't like to wear bras. And we try to accommodate them as much as humanly possible. ... So we've done a lot of blurring."

Jeff Jarvis, founder of and creator of Entertainment Weekly, jokingly calls it "the nipple clause." As in, "I have the right to have them, you have the right to airbrush them."

What is going on here? One academic suggests nasty motives:

Gary Grizzle, an associate professor of sociology at Florida's Barry University, says the trend represents a shift from a way of thinking in which a woman's ambition, not her sexuality, was considered the greater menace.

"For most of the '80s and '90s, the real threat, as far as women go, had to do with their career aspirations," he recalls. "Normally, we assume that when the focus is on women, they'll be very sexual and very submissive. It's the ones in the three-piece suits that scare the hell out of us."

Mr. Grizzle says current anti-nipple sentiments are steeped in the same notions that cause some religions to keep women covered up and out of holy places because a woman's "sexuality disrupts everything that men try to accomplish."

Hmmm. Right now I'm more likely to believe that this nipple fear is related to the fear of right-wing Christians and their power in determining what is acceptable in the media. But the other motives are not dead, so who knows?

Am I allowed one small feminist rant here? Why is it that if something affects some men sexually in women (walking a certain way, showing an earlobe or a nipple, digging your nose) then it is always the women who must cover up or change or be erased? Couldn't the men who are affected try to learn to take responsibility for their own reactions? Couldn't they look elsewhere? The Koran, for example, tells both sexes to dress modestly and not to stare, but how is this interpreted in practice?

There are ways of dressing, for both men and women, which are intended to be sexual, and it's probably advisable to avoid these in the everyday world unless one wishes to be treated as a sexual provocator. But so much of this fuss is about non-sexual aspects of dress and behavior. Nipples are part of our bodies and something a woman can't just leave in the closet when she goes out. Nipples get hard from sexual excitement, true, but they also get hard from cold and even from anger or other feelings. They exist, and some people should just get over it.

Or they could always look away. This may sound like a sacrifice, but it's a lot easier than buying special nipple-containers and then wearing them on hot sweaty summer days.

Friday, June 03, 2005


So this is the Friday evening seven p.m."bad news" dump:

American jailers at the Guantanamo prison for foreign terrorism suspects splashed a Koran with urine, kicked and stepped on the Islamic holy book and soaked it with water, the U.S. military said on Friday.

U.S. Southern Command, responsible for the prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, described for the first time five cases of "mishandling" of a Koran by U.S. personnel confirmed by a newly completed military inquiry, officials said in a statement.

In the incident involving urine, which took place this past March, Southern Command said a guard left his post and urinated near an air vent and "the wind blew his urine through the vent" and into a cell block.

It said a detainee told guards the urine "splashed on him and his Koran." The statement said the detainee was given a new prison uniform and Koran, and that the guard was reprimanded and given duty in which he had no contact with prisoners.

It may have been an accident but someone, somewhere, will die for this urine.

All these indications hinting at the onset of a religious war make me nervous. I've said this before but it's worth repeating: Most of us are inbetween two religious armies, almost equally fanatic, and the armies are coming at each other. Too bad that we are in the way of either. Too bad that we are not allowed to stay out of this idiotic medieval enterprise. Too bad that most of the victims of any religious violence will consist of the uninvolved.

Can you spot that I slept poorly last night? Perhaps you should take some salt with this post.

Friday Australian Dog Blogging


This is Helga's pooch, Kelly, again, sitting in a lookout tower somewhere Down Under. My dogs refused to blog today. Hank is covered with mud and snoring after a good day of mud jumping and splashing, and Henrietta is tired from barking so much at the mason who is fixing the front steps to Snakepit Inc. It's getting to a point where I'm willing to pay the guy extra just to get him out and some peace and quiet back.

The Revisionists

There was a time, not that long ago, when "historical revisionism" was one of the codes the wingnuts used to attack any study that looked at the history of the oppressed. How quickly things change; now the wingnuts eagerly rewrite history. Some truly atrocious examples cropped up in the recent revelation of Deep Throat's identity:

Others have waxed far more serious about the revelation of Deep Throat's identity. Even "deadly serious," as in the case of Pat Buchanan. On Tuesday, the one-time Nixon advisor took the opportunity to clarify why the U.S. really lost the Vietnam War, and who the most odious political operatives of the day were: "There's something deadly serious here," Buchanan said on MSNBC's "Harball" with Chris Matthews. "People that brought down Nixon also resulted in the fall of South Vietnam, the death of hundreds of thousands of people. ... Nixon was brought down by people who were a hell of a lot worse than he was."

Buchanan got some solid backup from fellow history wiz Rush Limbaugh, who added that Woodward, Bernstein, Felt and company were also responsible for the genocide in Cambodia that left approximately 1.7 million dead. "Had they not brought down Nixon, we wouldn't have lost Vietnam," Limbaugh affirmed during his Wednesday broadcast. "Had [they] not brought down Nixon, the Khmer Rouge would not have come to power and murdered two million people in a full-fledged genocide."

Dazzling, these new theories about the recent past. I'm beginning to understand why everything bad that happens can be attributed to Bill Clinton and the blue dress in some circles: Take the big toe I broke in 2002. I broke it kicking a wall. I wouldn't have kicked the wall if I hadn't been angry at the chaos George Bush has caused. George Bush wouldn't have been the president if Bill Clinton hadn't ejaculated when he did, because Al Gore would have won had he not been smeared with the same stain. Therefore, my broken toe was Bill Clinton's fault.

Fewer Perverts, Please

This is what Ted Turner asks of the U.S. news reporters:

Mr Turner told staff at a celebration of CNN's 25th anniversary that he had tried to create a channel that would eschew the "trivial news" liked by local stations in favour of international coverage.

"I would like to see us return to a little more international coverage on the domestic feed and a little more environmental coverage and, maybe, a little less of the pervert of the day," he told staff in Atlanta.

Ted Turner no longer owns CNN so what he says has only symbolic meaning. I doubt that we can get rid of talking about perverts, even if all the newscasts focus only on U.S. politics...

Angry Goddess Stuff

I was watching C-Span2 on Thursday night. They were showing a blogger panel discussion with Atrios from Eschaton on it, among other famous bloggers. I expected the debate to be about blogger ethics or lack of same, but it wasn't. Instead, the talk went all around the place and then came, unsurprisingly, to the question why there are so few women bloggers. Perhaps the question was caused by the fact that all the bloggers on the panel were men. ( Wonkette had been preadvertized as being on the panel but she didn't appear.)

You, my dear readers, are not interested in this topic, most likely, but I am, and this is my blog so there. This is my blog, it's mostly political, and I'm mostly a woman, what with some snake bits added on. So when people ask about the lack of women in political blogging it affects me the same way as sitting on a nail. Just think about it: Usually the answer has something about women not being interested in the bloody battle that political blogging is. Well, if that's true, what kind of a woman am I, given that I'm interested in this crap? Not a lady, that's for sure.

The second answer to the where-are-all-the-women question is to point out that we do exist but that we aren't that famous. Imagine how that feels to me, a goddess with all the appetites of a proper goddess. I want to be adulated and worshipped everywhere, and all I hear is that I'm fairly good for a second-rater. Grrr.

To be fair*, Atrios said good things about women political bloggers on the whole but he failed to mention me. Which isn't completely satisfactory but I'll let it pass, this time.

I can do a proper analysis of this question, with all the different reasons carefully discussed, and I have done it in the past. But I don't feel like doing so now. Because I'm pissed off. This shit does wear me down.
*To clarify, this part is satire.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Christopher Cox

He is the new head of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. As expected, he's about the least suitable choice to this position if you use the standards of the average thinking person. But he's on par for the Bush administration. He was a primary sponsor of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 which helped to prepare the ground for the Enron case and other fraudulent accounting practices. Cox is known as a curber of investor lawsuits, ya know. Expect a lot more Enrons and WorldCom scandals in the future.

Billmon has more on Representative Cox.

The Saudis and Women With Wheels

A Saudi Conservative Council member got into trouble for suggesting a study about reversing the ban on women driving:

He just wanted his colleagues in the government's legislative arm to discuss the possibility of conducting a study into the feasibility of reversing the ban on women drivers -- the only prohibition of its kind in the world.

But Consultative Council member Mohammad al-Zulfa's proposal has unleashed a storm in this conservative country where the subject of women drivers remains taboo.

Al-Zulfa's cell phone now constantly rings with furious Saudis accusing him of encouraging women to commit the double sins of discarding their veils and mixing with men. He gets phone text messages calling on Allah to freeze his blood. Chat rooms bristle with insulting accusations that al-Zulfa is "driven by carnal instincts with 454 horsepower."

There even have been calls to kick al-Zulfa from the council and strip him of his Saudi nationality.

I see all of this as being about control of women. Control of women is necessary in the Saudi society. If women are not controlled, things will change and quite rapidly. The feeling the opponents of Al-Zulfa's proposal have is something I can imagine, after working on empathy for a long time: like standing on quicksand, not knowing what will happen next and fearing total chaos.

But oppressing women is still wrong. And for each person imprisoned by society's suffocating rules a warden is needed. Thus, the system imprisons more than those intended. In Saudi Arabia, for example, drivers are needed for all those wealthy women who can't drive themselves, and in less wealthy families the men must be ready to chauffeur women every day (or else let them languish at home). All this takes resources that would be better spent elsewhere, if there wasn't that fear-inducing chaos waiting around the corner.

Somewhere in Massachusetts I came upon a cemetery which had a tombstone for the first woman who got a driver's licence in the United States. I know this because the fact was so important that it was engraved on her tombstone. I took a picture of the stone and if I can find it I will post it here.

Publishing May's Recruitment Data

This will be delayed. Specifically, until June 10, 2005, which is, can you guess it? A Friday. The day when the administration releases all bad news hoping that we don't read anything on Fridays and that we will have forgotten all about the bad news by Monday morning.

So I'm doing them a favor and giving the summary of past findings now when you are all still around. May is probably even worse:

Military recruiters have said potential recruits and their parents were expressing wariness about enlisting during the Iraq war. They said improving civilian job opportunities also were affecting recruiting.

The regular Army missed its recruiting goals for three straight months entering May, falling short by a whopping 42 percent in April. The Army was 16 percent behind its year-to-date target entering May, with a goal of signing up 80,000 recruits in fiscal 2005, which ends Sept. 30.

The Marine Corps missed its goal for signing up new recruits for four straight months entering May and was 2 percent behind its year-to-date goal. It hopes to sign up 38,195 recruits in fiscal 2005.

Check the May numbers on Friday or on Monday morning.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action is simple. Go to and make a donation. If your penny jar is empty, write a letter to the editor of your local paper and explain why Amnesty International's charges of torture are not "absurd" and should be taken seriously.

Thanks for taking today's action.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What Wingnuts Read on the Beach This Summer

When they wish to have those pleasant frizzons of fear crawl up their spine, they grab one of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the Twentieth Century, according to a wingnut survey of fifteen conservative scholars. Including exactly one woman scholar, Phyllis Schlafly.

The winner is The Communist Manifesto, and most of the other books are as one might expect. Many of the books are harmful because they advocate fairness and justice or an open attitude towards sexuality. Though to be fair, Hitler's Mein Kampf comes up second in the list. But even poor Lord Maynard Keynes, with his really very moderate theories, is included, and John Stuart Mills get an honorary mention. So does Darwin. And Rachel Carsons's Silent Spring is among the runners-up, too!

It would have been fascinating to learn which books these wingnuts would recommend as healthful lessons for young growing wingnuts, other than the Bible (and the Koran?). Not that there are that many wingnut classics, for reasons that I'm too polite to discuss here.

Feminism is well represented among the most harmful books. Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique comes seventh and Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex gets an honorable mention. I'm happy with this performance, given that the wingnuts think women are naturally uninterested in competition and general havoc-making. At least we give some of them nightmares, us feminists anyway.
Via Bibliosquirrel.

A Wedding Announcement - Of A Sort

I'm going to marry Rush Limbaugh. Bear with me. I know that this is sudden and unlike my usual divine sanity. But I have my reasons.

Reason #1. The best way to fight an enemy, if you are smaller in size, is to get right next to him, so close that he can't use his hands on you.

Reason #2. Ed Schultz (the liberal radio talkshow host) used to be a wingnut. Then he married his dear Wendy and she brought him to light. Or he pretends so. Either way, that's one wingnut less and one at least pretend-progressive more. You do the sums.

Reason #3. Someone must protect the innocent wingnut chicks from the catastrophe that goes under the name of Rush Limbaugh.

So I'm going to marry Rush. And no, he doesn't know it yet. Neither does his current bride or wife. I will let them know at the latest possible moment, like right in front of a Justice of Peace. I don't want his money or anything. I'm going to bring him to light or die in the process of trying. Or someone is going to die in the process.

This should earn me at least one monument in the Blue States.

The Brig

The following essay is by "Doc" Bruce. It describes some of the effects of isolation on the prisoner, and of being a guard in almost complete control of the prisoners. The events in this essay took place during another time period and during a different war (the Vietnam one) and no parallel to current events is intended, except for the obvious psychological ones, those that exist because of isolation and the psychology of being a prison guard. As was shown by the Stanford prison experiment, most of us can be made into cruel tyrants if the circumstances are right. Most of us can also identify with the feelings the prisoners in isolation have. So read and learn what we may be doing in places like Guantanamo Bay.

I was thrown in the brig during the process of applying for a Conscientious Objector status while already serving in the military. The first sense is one of isolation, a removal from the world into a place with no doors. This brig was located above the boiler room and the compartments comprising the brig were always very warm, ninety degrees plus with no ventilation. Okay, hot. Our working gear was t-shirts, dungarees, and boots. The prisoners' primary duty was to keep the brig spotless. On board ship, everything is made of steel, most of which is painted. The brig, however, is not painted but polished until it shone. Most of my time was spent on hands and knees, shining the deck with pads of double-ought wool. I would watch while a drop of sweat fell from my face onto the deck and, as if by magic, evaporate to become a miniature island group of rust.

I shared the brig with one other sailor, a Kansas flatlander (or so I imagined) who had fallen in love with a whore in Olongapo City, Philippines and missed the ship's movement. (All the information I had on him was through the guards; we were not allowed to speak to each other.) I'll call him Jimbo. Whenever there was another officer, sailor or marine around, we were to stand at attention with our noses pressed against the bulkhead, eyes straight ahead. We were allowed outside contact only with the assistant chaplain, who would ask if we had any problems or if we needed anything. These were, as you might imagine, pro-forma questions only. This seventeen or eighteen year old hadn't understood the program and actually complained about being beaten to the assistant chaplain one day. I heard him complain but had no way of stopping him. Thirty minutes after the chaplain's assistant left, the guard shouted "Officer on deck!" and we sprang to attention, noses to the bulkhead. The Lieutenant in charge of the Marine detachment on board walked past me, spun and slammed his forearm into the back of Jimbo's head, breaking his nose, spraying blood on me and down Jimbo's front. Before he could collapse, the Lt. spun him around, gut punched him and hit him in the chin with a right cross, knocking him to the deck. "Am I beating on you, puke?" Jimbo knew he wasn't supposed to lie and responded "Sir, yes sir!" I stayed still, nose to the bulkhead, hoping Jimbo would catch on soon. The Lt. grabbed him off the deck, spun a half circle, bounced him off the bulkhead, hit him with two short jabs to the floating ribs, held him up with a forearm over his windpipe: "Am I beating on you, motherfucker?" Jimbo chokes "Sir, yes sir!" So now the Lt.'s mad and he knees Jimbo in the groin who wheezes down the bulkhead in stages. "Am I beating on you, fuckwad?" Dimly, a light flickers for Jimbo and he finally gasps "Sir, no sir!" Lt. spins towards me, but I know the drill: his hammer fist hits the back of my head as I turn slightly at the last moment so my head bounces off the bulkhead with a rich hollow sound, bending my glasses but not breaking my nose; he kidney punches me and asks "Am I beating on you, asshole?" "Sir, no sir!" I shout. "Damn right, I better not fucking hear anyone is getting beaten on in my brig, do you understand?" Jimbo and I are together: "Sir, yes sir!" The Lt. is gratified at the clarity of his message and leaves.

We used paper towels to wipe up most of the blood, and some scrapers to get it out of the metal seams of the bulkhead and deck; blood clogs up steel wool, and makes a mess.

This is what I mean by isolation.

The brig is the worst duty for a Marine on board ship; it is just as hot for them as us. No one visits, there's no one to bullshit with, not much to do except read and make the prisoners jump. Jimbo and I were the only prisoners, so we normally just had one guard. They worked shifts but, essentially, Marines who were being punished or who were slackers, those were the guys who ended up guarding us. My least favorite was a guy I'll call Scooter.

Scooter was from Texas or Alabama (I forget), one of the Deep South states, young and lean, the kind of guy that you often see shirtless on television with a beer going "Woooo!" in that silly high pitched voice guys use when showing off. Regular good ol' boy, likes to shoot stuff to see it die, especially useless critters like coons and possum, small shit. Tough guy, cigarettes in one hand and billy stick in the other, always puffing himself up, talking about how he's gonna kill him some gooks, etc. etc. (Now, of course, it is a different vindictive invective…)

Scooter had "a real fun time" with me because we were so different from one another. That, and, of course, cause I was a traitor trying to sneak out of the military as a CO. He told me a lot about himself, not that I wanted to know anything at all about him; he was just bored. He regaled me with his understanding of The War and Religion and Our Place, crap like that. He was also an inventive sadist.

The doors to our cells were sheets of painted steel, drilled through with half inch holes "for ventilation", I guess. The cells were the hottest place in the brig which made it difficult to sleep. The heat and the banging on the cell doors every couple hours by the guard who pulled the night watch. Scooter would prop the doors open and have us do standing pushups with our index fingers stuck in the holes. The part that Scooter liked to show off to any other Marine that happened by at shift change or whenever was, if you take some spray boot polish and spray it through the flame of a lighter, you could get a flame that shot out two feet or more. He would play this back and forth across our fingers in the cell doors until we fell against the door trying to stop the pain. What a hoot.

But here is the interesting thing about Scooter. After I got out of the brig and before I was transferred off ship, I had opportunity to pull liberty in Hong Kong. I was sitting on the ferry, waiting for the quick trip across the Bay when who comes up and plops down beside me but my old buddy Scooter! "Hey, where ya goin'? No hard feelings, right?" If I hadn't been gritting my teeth, my mouth would have fallen open. The guy was truly guileless; he really thought "no hard feelings" would cover it.

At that time in Hong Kong, I had heard it said that you could have someone killed for fifty dollars. I had a couple hundred in my pocket: I told him to fuck off, instead. He got up, shaking his head somewhat sadly at me and sat down a couple rows away.

There are no seats left in the ferry.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Why Does Amnesty International Hate America?

George Bush finds Amnesty International's recent report absurd:

A human rights group's report about conditions at the U.S. military's prison at Guantanamo Bay is "absurd," President Bush told reporters TuesdayThe Amnesty International report, released last week, said prisoners at the U.S. Navy base had been mistreated and called for the prison to be shut down. The president, addressing a news conference at the White House, said the Amnesty document was an "absurd report." "It's absurd. It's an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world," Bush said of the report, which compared Guantanamo to a Soviet-era gulag. He said the Amnesty allegations were based on interviews with detainees, who hated America and were trained to lie.

It sounds like someone trying to translate something political to a class of five-year olds, doesn't it? But only two years ago Donald Rumsfeld thought highly of the Amnesty International's reports on Iraq:

On March 27, 2003, Rumsfeld said:

We know that it's a repressive regime…Anyone who has read Amnesty International or any of the human rights organizations about how the regime of Saddam Hussein treats his people…

The next day, Rumsfeld even cited his "careful reading" of Amnesty:

…[I]t seems to me a careful reading of Amnesty International or the record of Saddam Hussein, having used chemical weapons on his own people as well as his neighbors, and the viciousness of that regime, which is well known and documented by human rights organizations, ought not to be surprised.

And on April 1, 2003, Rumsfeld said once again:

[I]f you read the various human rights groups and Amnesty International's description of what they know has gone on, it's not a happy picture.

It's all about expediency, of course, but it would be fun to ask the administration why Amnesty International nails it when it comes to Iraq but is totally absurd when it comes to Guantanamo Bay.

Soon Amnesty International will be called part of the international terrorist network, I suppose. Unless it digs up something useful in Iran.

Deep Throat

The Watergate source whose identity has so far not been widely known:

W. Mark Felt, who retired from the FBI after rising to its second most senior position, has identified himself as the "Deep Throat" source quoted by The Washington Post to break the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon's resignation, Vanity Fair magazine said Tuesday

I don't really like the handle and I have no idea if Felt's claim is true. It probably is. I only want someone to do the same thing for us today. Say, concerning the 2004 elections.
Via Attaturk on Eschaton.

Today's Action Alert

Today's Action comes from NOW:


The National Organization for Women proudly salutes the introduction of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2005. Introduced in the House on Thursday, May 26, this is the first legislation to explicitly include transgender individuals in civil rights law. The bill is designed to help protect against bias crimes based on gender identity, sexual orientation, gender and disability and also adds gender and gender identity to the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.


The chief sponsors of the House bill are Representatives John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Barney Frank, D-Mass., Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. NOW applauds this bipartisan effort as a further step toward eradicating injustice in our society.


"This legislation will have a huge legal and educational impact as we work together to stop the attacks in our society against the LGBT community," Vives said. "We will be working with our champions in the Senate and expect them to introduce a similar bill with equally broad inclusion for gender identity. With the passage of this legislation, we can take down these and other barriers of discrimination and achieve our goal of full inclusion—for all people—in our society."


Write to your representative and urge her or him to vote for this legislation. Thanks for taking today's action.

Why Women Won't Compete

According to the great expert, John Tierney, of the once-respectable New York Times:

Discrimination is one big reason, because men have traditionally made the rules to suit themselves and keep out women. But if you think that leveling the playing field would eliminate gender disparities, consider an unintentional experiment conducted in the Scrabble world, which is hardly a hostile environment for women.

For a quarter-century, women have outnumbered men at Scrabble clubs and tournaments in America, but a woman has won the national championship only once, and all the world champions have been men. Among the world's 50 top-ranked players, typically about 45 are men.
The guys who memorize these lists have a hard time explaining their passion. But the evolutionary roots of it seem clear to anthropologists like Helen Fisher of Rutgers University.

"Evolution has selected for men with a taste for risking everything to get to the top of the hierarchy," she said, "because those males get more reproductive opportunities, not only among primates but also among human beings. Women don't get as big a reproductive payoff by reaching the top. They're just as competitive with themselves - they want to do a good job just as much as men do - but men want to be more competitive with others."

Evolutionary psychologists see two kinds of payoffs that traditionally went (and often still go) to victorious men. Women have long been drawn to men at the top of a hierarchy (a clan leader, Donald Trump) who have the resources to support children.

And when women pursued what's called a short-term reproductive strategy - a quick fling - then presumably evolution favored the woman who was attracted to a man with good genes, as manifest either in his looks or in some display of prowess. If the theory's right and the unconscious urges persist in women, you can begin to understand why some women wait in hotel lobbies looking for rock stars.

Yes, I was expecting the evo-psychos to rear their ugly heads any time soon after the last Tierney column on women. Note how far into the quote you have to read before you come to the these little words:

If the theory's right...

It's a theory, my friends, and one that we cannot prove or disprove, really. There are no archeological remains that could help us here, no paleoanthological findings, nothing. Your guess is as good as mine. Or probably better, given that I'm just an amateur and not a hi-faluting evolutionary psychologist.

But let me just point out that the traditional way of looking at the sexual selection in this genre assumes that the competition is over when a sperm has been deposited. It completely skips the nine months that follow and the years that take before the fertilized egg has become an equally fertile human adult. The assumption is that none of this long time period involves any competition whatsoever, at least not by the women. But that's all it is: an assumption. And an assumption that makes women look like they don't compete.

Besides, the arguments presented above are circular. The men that women might have had quick flings with must have "presumably" been with men who have good genes and such men must have been good Scrabble players or something. Maybe the women had their little flings with guys who had big soulful eyes and who were good at listening when you moaned and complained about the thug you were usually saddled with? Maybe these guys had gentle fingers and nimble tongues and knew a better way of cooking mammoth? Who knows what the prehistoric women thought.

Note also how Tierney discounts the idea that we might have inculcated anti-competitive values in women by the way girls are traditionally brought up (by likening discrimination to a simple leveling of the playing field), and he doesn't even question the assumption that all Scrabble players had the same opportunities to dedicate time and money to this one hobby. Tierney could have looked at competitions of other types, too, such as the pie-baking ones or the ones for the best roses or whatever, and I bet that he would have found very little support for his theory.

I'm a believer in evolution in general because I can see the evidence for it. When it comes to evolutionary psychology I'm a lot more cynical, and the main reason is the near-total absence of clear evidence for the most misogynistic arguments possible. It seems to me that most evo-psychos attempt to explain the status quo as impossible to change and in that sense they all have wingnut (caveman?) axes to hone. Never mind that the society has changed drastically over centuries, evo-psychos always stress its unchanging nature.

The wingnuts have two major approaches to the "Woman Question". One is the use of fundamentalist religion to subjugate women. The other one is pseudoscience* of various types, from Freudianism to this crap. Be forewarned.
*By pseudoscience I mean theories which look scientific but which don't lend themselves to proper scientific testing.

Unfair Advantages in Sports

Amanda at Pandagon has an interesting post on the question whether women have unfair advantages in some sports such as certain kinds of car racing:

After Danica Patrick placed 4th yesterday in the Indy 500, Robby Gordon stepped up to be the whining crying baby.
Robby Gordon accused Danica Patrick of having an unfair advantage in the Indianapolis 500 and said yesterday he will not compete in the race again unless the field is equalized.

Gordon, a former open-wheel driver now in NASCAR, contends that Patrick is at an advantage over the rest of the competitors because she only weighs 100 pounds. Because all the cars weigh the same, Patrick's is lighter on the race track.

"The lighter the car, the faster it goes," Gordon said. "Do the math. Put her in the car at her weight, then put me or Tony Stewart in the car at 200 pounds and our car is at least 100 pounds heavier.

Amanda notes that Gordon modified his comments later on. But the interesting dilemma remains: Should we equalize people by weight to make sports fairer? Or by upper body strength? Or by innate speed? Nope, let's not go there, I bet I hear you mutter.

Though we already do this in many sports such as boxing, wrestling and weight lifting where weight determines the class one competes in, we tend not to do this where the unfair advantage favors those who have traditionally done well in the sport, and that is mostly men. The Danica Patrick case is interesting because it's the opposite of this usual case and in some ways a test case for spotting possible sexism. I would think that jockeys are also worried about the influx of women into their sport as weight is important for jockeys and women are, on average, lighter.

After sparring against partners twice as heavy as I am I tend to favor the idea of weight categories. It was fun to beat someone that big but my back didn't agree in the long run. It would have been completely adequate to wipe the floor with guys my size...

Mostly just kidding.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Garden Blogging, Part II

Garden, soon

I don't feel like talking politics today. There are plenty of good blogs writing about stuff today like on all other days. Check my links for some ideas. I feel like talking about gardening, or the lack of it in my life. They say that life is what happens when you have other plans and so it has come to be with me and my garden plans. In short: I haven't raised a finger this spring.

The consequences: Doggie poops still looming large among the verdant greenery in the flowerbeds. The recent deluge has formed many of the plants into vase-shapes, with a big empty space in the middle, just the right size for a pooping Labrador retriever. Weeds grow head-high and luxuriant.

Had I been a real garden goddess I would have weeded, propped up plants, picked up old poops and planted new seedlings all over the place, not to talk about compost spreading. Still, nature has been very kind to the gutless slothful me and I do have white bleeding hearts nodding their heavy heads above white baby tulips, yellow wallflowers along - what else - walls, and the climbing hydrangea is veiling the Snakepit Inc. in bridal glory. The dogwood trees promise a whole milky way of flowers soon, best viewed from the roof of the house, and the peony buds are straining, straining to open next to the midnight blue sages.

It will be good, after all. I wish, oh, how I wish, that the same could be said about the U.S. political situation.

For Memorial Day

Two poems, one from WWI, one from WWII, with very different messages. First Wilfred Owen:

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

And for a very different view, the poem written by John Gillespie Maggee who was killed in action at the age of 19 while serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
He wrote this poem some days before his death:

Touched The Face Of God

"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed and joined the trembling mirth of sun-split clouds
– and done 100 things you have not dreamed of
– wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.

Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept hills with easy grace,
Where never lark, or even eagle flew;

And, while with silent, lifting mind, I trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God!"

Sunday, May 29, 2005

David Brooks on the Class Struggle

According to David Brooks, if Karl Marx came back from the realm of the dead he'd yell and scream about the American class struggle, not that David Brooks believes in a class struggle (he believes in the OT god). But in any case, Marx would point out that it's the educated elite that holds the power in the U.S. now, the educated elite which has destroyed the concept of family (read: patriarchal family) and it's the educated elite which runs this country now.

And, ta-ram-pam-pam! This educated elite consists of us latte-sipping-ivory-tower liberals! Yes, even though the wingnuts are in power everywhere you look, the real power is held by people like Echidne of the snakes!

So Brooks is right: there is a problem with class mobility in this country. And then he's horribly wrong: class is about money, not about the lefty values by some of those who are educated. He even admits as much in his column:

The information age elite exercises artful dominion of the means of production, the education system. The median family income of a Harvard student is $150,000. According to the Educational Testing Service, only 3 percent of freshmen at the top 146 colleges come from the poorest quarter of the population. The educated class ostentatiously offers financial aid to poor students who attend these colleges and then rigs the admission criteria to ensure that only a small, co-optable portion of them can get in.

The educated class reaps the benefits of the modern economy - seizing for itself most of the income gains of the past decades - and then ruthlessly exploits its position to ensure the continued dominance of its class.

It's the moneyed class that does this, David, not the educated class, though the two overlap. Check what you say yourself in this quote: the families of the students entering Harvard are wealthy, on average. The wealth was there first, David.

Brooks is trying to make a right-wing populist case here: Let's get rid of the educated liberals and the system will be fairer! Indeed, he appears to advocate getting rid of education as a way to make the system fairer. History doesn't support David in this assertion, and in any case the educated liberals are not in power right now. The wingnuts are, David, and you're their poster child for being educated and wingnut.

Bad Uses of Statistics

John Tierney gives us examples to ponder over in his latest NYT column (the one that should be Katha Pollitt's if there was any justice on this earth). The column is about how peaceful the world really is today, compared to past centuries:

The only antidote [to feeling that wars are prevalent] is to look at long-term trends instead of daily horrors. For a really long-term trend, consider that of 59 skeletons found in a Stone Age graveyard, at least 24 died from violence. Or that a quarter of the male population died fighting in some pre-agricultural societies.

In the 20th century, despite two world wars, humans had less than a 2 percent chance of dying in war or a mass killing, according to John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State. Today the risk is lower still - about a quarter the chance of dying in a car accident.

I mention these numbers not to minimize today's tragedies. I plan to be at a parade on Monday honoring the soldiers who have fallen, especially the more than 1,600 in Iraq. But I will also be thinking about the Progress Paradox and the origin of Memorial Day.

It started after the Civil War as Decoration Day, an occasion for widows wearing red poppies to decorate graves and memorials in virtually every town. If a war of that scale happened now, there would be nearly five million graves to tend. Sixteen-hundred is still too many, but if the trend continues, Memorial Day may eventually become a memory itself.

Can you spot the statistical mistakes here? There are at least two: first, it's incorrect to calculate the probability of dying in a war by including in the base all the people who lived in areas with no wars, and that's what Tierney's two percent figure uses. He then compares this to the findings from one archeological dig from one place. There's no way of knowing how representative that dig is of the general time and place.

The second one is the whole last paragraph which compares oranges to sausages in so many ways that I'm exhausted in just trying to list them. So I won't.

Tierney's column is correct in one sense, though. The world has become safer for many individuals over time, and one of the main reasons for that is something Tierney doesn't mention: the effect liberal and progressive ideas have had on social justice, education and opportunities for all.

Emily Dickinson

On the question what we should know and how the media should tell it?

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm delight
The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind -