Saturday, December 03, 2005

Did You Know That Samuel Alito is God in Disguise?

I kid you not:

Several conservative groups, meanwhile, plan a major push beginning Monday to portray Alito's opponents as anti-God. Talking points for the effort, which will involve ads and grass-roots organizations, were laid out in a strategy memo by, which opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. Alito's opponents are united by "an agenda to purge any and all references to religion from our public life," the memo says.

The coalition, which includes the Judicial Confirmation Network, plans to send 2.3 million e-mails on the subject and hopes to "flood Senate offices with letters, faxes and phone calls." It will be joined in the effort by Fidelis, a Roman Catholic organization that describes itself as "pro-life, pro-family and pro-religious liberty."

Well, ok, I kid a little. Alito is not God, just God's anointed henchman, it seems.

On Wolf Whistles

Interesting how something that can be a compliment can also become extremely frightening. I'm talking about compliments to a woman (or a man) for good looks and the phenomenom of street harassment. There is more than a fine line between the two. It's possible to compliment someone with a nice smile or an admiring look. To make loud and rude comments about a person's breasts or penis (does this happen?) or buttocks implies that the caller feels somehow entitled to make such public judgements. It tends to make the object of the comments feel debased, dirty and vulnerable, and if there is a group of commenters who act menacingly the whole thing becomes a nightmare. Lots of women experience this shit almost daily.

One Christmas vacation during my graduate school years I was almost alone on campus because I had a conference paper to prepare and couldn't go home. I had to use the main library daily. This caused real problems for me, because the university had used the opportunity of a quiet campus to have some building work done in the entrance hall of the library, so it was full of men taking their elevenses and lunch breaks and dinner breaks, looking for something interesting to happen.

That something interesting to happen was me. I have never received so many comments on my boobs (commendable, and should have various things done to them), my eyes (deep as lakes etcetera) and my buttocks (not telling you what was said about them). Not only did I have to listen to these comments but I also had to do a gauntlet through a group of these men at least twice every day. I was scared shitless as polite bloggers say.

Things were not improved by the fact that I didn't respond to the comments, even though their nature got more heated and accusatory as days passed by. It wasn't enough that I allowed the comments, it seems; I was expected to acknowledge them, too. I ended up pretending that I don't speak English at all. And yes, I know that was stupid but I was still a fledgling feminist and didn't think very clearly about my options.

This is not my only experience of street harassment. The incidences are too numerous to even remember. But in this one I was scared, because the power balance was badly against me and because I felt that there was some real threat of physical assault. But I was also thinking how I probably looked like a privileged bitch to these men and how that punched their buttons or something. The usual women-must-be-responsible-and-understanding-crap. And there is also a real problem in being polite and middle-of-the-road. I'm confessing it all here so that you can do better, my dear readers.

In any case, my point is that something that may look like a compliment is not one when the subtext is about power to judge another's body, possibly even about the power to take that body by force. A new blog about street harassment takes the discussion further.

Bad People

That is us. Me and others who blog on the left. Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter are quivering in their boots, going around with large troops to keep them secure and complaining loudly about what bad people we are. It's the same Ann Coulter, by the way, who recommended a baseball bat as the instrument to debate liberals with, and the same Ann Coulter who said this yesterday:

O'REILLY: All right. But it gets to be frightening. And I -- look, in my own case, I have to have security, and obviously --

COULTER: Any conservative does.

O'REILLY: Yeah, but I think liberals, some -- well, I don't know. Look, there's no question --

COULTER: No liberal has to have security. Though I'd like to change that.

And Bill O'Reilly, the same Bill O'Reilly who has a mouth like a sewer, whines and moans that criticism of his misinformation by Media Matters for America amounts to choking him out, amounts to denying him his freedom of expression. I never realized that freedom of expression means the right to have all ones lies uncorrected.

Read the whole hallucinatory conversation between these two oddballs. It ends with the resounding judgement that us lefty bloggers are Bad People.

I'm trying to kill Santa Claus, by the way, because he has single-handedly done more to destroy the religious nature of Christmas than anyone else alive (or not alive, as the case may be). If I succeed I will come across as a very good person and then O'Reilly will apologize. Oops. I got carried away there. Sorry.

But to bring some reality into this weird twilight world may I just remind my readers to think about the political affiliation of those in this country who have resorted to killing their opponents. The number of right-wingers doing this far exceeds anything the bad people on the left have managed to do. Unless you include pie-throwing among the lethal attacks, of course.

Friday, December 02, 2005

How Democracy Works: A Lesson For The Innocents

Remember the Texas redistricting debacle? Yes, the one that gave the Republicans five more representatives. This is how it came about:

Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Representative Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo obtained by the Washington Post. But senior officials overruled them and approved the plan.

The memo, unanimously endorsed by six lawyers and two analysts in the department's voting section, said the redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power in two congressional districts. It also said the plan eliminated several other districts in which minorities had a substantial, though not necessarily decisive, influence in elections.

''The State of Texas has not met its burden in showing that the proposed congressional redistricting plan does not have a discriminatory effect," the memo concluded.

The memo also found that Republican lawmakers and state officials who helped craft the proposal were aware it posed a high risk of being ruled discriminatory compared with other options.

But the Texas Legislature proceeded with the new map anyway because it would maximize the number of Republican federal lawmakers in the state, the memo said. The redistricting was approved in 2003, and Texas Republicans gained five seats in the US House in the 2004 elections, solidifying GOP control of Congress.

Are we going to see this principle inserted into the text books of the future? What will we tell the children?

Friday Fatigue

Boy, am I tired after those marathon posts (see the next two). If you don't want me all grumpy you will read them.

I want to post something light and lovely this Friday but so far the world of news is refusing to provide me with suitable topics. Instead, I found out that the Italians are planning to pay women to forego abortions. The idea is that a certain proportion of abortions is caused by economic hardship. If these women are giving extra funds they may decide not to abort the fetus. Here comes the truly stupid thing: the timing of the funding:

Under the scheme women in straitened economic circumstances would get between €250 (£170) and €350 a month for up to six months before giving birth.

Before giving birth? The real expenses start piling up after giving birth, but pro-lifers don't seem to be too interested in the born child. They are only interested in the "unborn child".

Meanwhile, in the good ole U.S. of A, we find that Alito once explicitly stated his views on Roe. This is what he wrote in 1985:

"As Civil [the Justice Department's Civil Division] notes," Alito wrote, "no one seriously believes that the court is about to overrule Roe. But the court's decision to review" the Pennsylvania law "may be a positive sign. . . . By taking these cases, the court may be signaling an inclination to cut back," on Roe.

"What can be made of this opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade , Alito wrote, and in the "meantime, of mitigating its effects?"

With Alito on the bench you better start saving those wire hangers.
The first link and the idea about it are thanks to Sofiya24

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Longest Revolution, Part II

Feminists call the women's movement of the 1960s and 70s, especially in the United States, the second wave of feminism. The first wave (which ended in the 1920s) won women the vote and the right to have some sort of a presence in the public sector. The second wave opened women the doors to most occupations. These waves, and others like them in earlier history, are not sudden inexplicable events. They are caused and made possible by societal and economic changes. The second wave, for example, grew out of the post-war attempt to redomesticate women, the already growing female labor market participation rate, and the political developments of the era which focused on equality and justice.

It is the nature of political movements to die when their main goals have been achieved, and this is what happened after both the first and the second wave. The backlash against emancipating women can be observed in the 1930s and at least since the 1980s. Here is Ray Strachey in Our Freedom and Its Results, published in 1936:

Modern young a strong hostility to the word "feminism", and all which they imagine it to connote. They are, nevertheless, themselves the products of the women's movement.

Sound familiar? And this was after the first wave...

These backlashes are responses to the gains feminism achieved, attempts to reverse these gains by those who have the most to lose from greater societal gender equality. Luckily, the backlashers have so far been unable to completely negate the gains of women though for each two steps forwards one step has been taken back.

I believe that we are still living the backlash to the second wave of feminism. The attempts to reverse Roe v. Wade, the religious right's desire to institute sex-segregated education, the fight against Title IX which guarantees girls and women equal access to education as well as the resistance towards anti-discrimination laws are all signs of this backlash. I would also include the many recent articles on women opting out of the labor force, on the framing of boys' problems at school as being caused by feminism and the Limbaugh-type name-calling of feminists in the backlash movement.

This, then is the background against which I read Linda Hirshman's article: that we are still living in the gloomy years of backlash and that everything we read must be interpreted in this framework. And indeed, Hirshman shows us how the backlash works on employed mothers:

But then the pace slowed. The census numbers for all working mothers leveled off around 1990 and have fallen modestly since 1998. In interviews, women with enough money to quit work say they are "choosing" to opt out. Their words conceal a crucial reality: the belief that women are responsible for child-rearing and homemaking was largely untouched by decades of workplace feminism. Add to this the good evidence that the upper-class workplace has become more demanding and then mix in the successful conservative cultural campaign to reinforce traditional gender roles and you've got a perfect recipe for feminism's stall.

Indeed. It would be rather astonishing to find that feminism wouldn't stall given the enormous amount of conservative pushing in the anti-feminist direction and the fact pointed out in the above quote: that gender equality in the private sector, especially at home, is still an unattained goal of feminism. Not that second wave feminists didn't try; I have read dozens of books advocating the sharing of housework and childraising, and some minor progress can be noticed even here. But achieving full equality at home requires something more than women's eager participation in another revolution. It requires men's active participation, too, and so far the society does not reward men for such participation. Neither does the new men's rights movement attach any importance whatsoever on the kind of fathering that all men deserve to experience: hands-on and daily. Rather, the movement is more interested in returning us to a pre-1960s status quo.

So what is a feminist woman to do in this situation? Clearly, women follow various strategies and as pointed out by Hirshman, some of them are more damaging to the general progress of women than others. To give one example, if many educated women decide not to use their degrees in the world of work how long will it take before we start reading about the waste of societal resources on the higher education of women? It's worth pointing out that graduate education is highly subsidized by the general society and that tuition only pays a small fraction of the costs of, say, a medical degree. If women don't plan to use this subsidized education should they really have equal access to it? And as the original article points out, where will we get the female decision-makers of the future if the current crop of educated women retreats from the public sector altogether?

But it's good to remember that women are put into a double-bind here, as I pointed out in the first part of this post. Hirshman is correct when she argues that the gendered allocation of work at home is to blame for this. The right-wing propaganda aiming at causing guilt among employed mothers isn't helping, and neither is the unresponsiveness of the labor market to the needs of parents.

All this is hidden when feminism is interpreted as the idea of increasing women's choices. I find the idea of feminism as "choice" very close to feminism "lite", something that advertisements employ to make us buy more stuff we don't need, something so vague and generalized that it doesn't ultimately mean anything. Almost anything can be framed as a choice, after all, including the "choice" to become subjugated to a religious wingnut godly husband.

Add to this the fact that when most people hear the term "choice" they immediately visualize a situation of leisurely freedom, a situation of someone picking, say, the favorite color of a t-shirt or a dessert from a restaurant menu. This connotation of "choice" totally ignores how choices are made under constraints of power, of societal gender roles and of money. It is not at all clear that women's choices to drop out or not are "free" choices.

Choices also have consequences. As Hirshman points out, when couples with children calculate the financial effects of hiring a nanny or having one partner (usually the woman) stay at home with the children the calculations are often done not only unfairly in the sense of deducting all the costs from the potential stay-at-home parent's earnings but also shortsightedly by ignoring the long-term effects of the stay-at-home parent's financial outlook. Women and men who drop out of the labor force for longer periods of time never really catch up to their continuously working counterparts and their retirement incomes will be diminished. These costs should be taken into account in the financial calculations.

And choices have societal consequences, although these are probably unimportant in the private calculations of individual men and women. Nevertheless, if the stay-at-home parents are almost always women employers will start assuming that most, if not all, women will quit working in the middle of their careers. Why train such women? Why promote them? Though not doing so might be illegal we all know that such calculations are being made by those hiring and promoting workers all the time, and the overall effect of this will be to depress women's average earnings. This, in turn, will almost guarantee that it is the women who are going to stay at home if someone is, because the loss of their earned income will be less. Circles within circles.

At the same time, parents are concerned about the rearing of their children, and most want to spend time with them. Childcare can be difficult to find and of low quality, and when good childcare is available it will be expensive. The labor market is not kind and gentle towards parents with small children or towards anyone with caregiving obligations and the parental leave in this country is a truly nasty joke for most. And, as Hirshman points out, taking care of children is very much seen as the mothers' responsibility.

Maybe the third wave of feminism will solve these problems. Or maybe not. It could be that a wholesale refusal by educated women to have children would force the necessary changes in the societal value judgements and the labor markets. But I doubt that, and most women do want to have children.

In the absence of a new wave of feminism, Hirshman advice to a career-minded young woman is well worth considering:

There are three rules: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don't put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry.

The preparation stage begins with college. It is shocking to think that girls cut off their options for a public life of work as early as college. But they do. The first pitfall is the liberal-arts curriculum, which women are good at, graduating in higher numbers than men. Although many really successful people start out studying liberal arts, the purpose of a liberal education is not, with the exception of a miniscule number of academic positions, job preparation.

So the first rule is to use your college education with an eye to career goals. Feminist organizations should produce each year a survey of the most common job opportunities for people with college degrees, along with the average lifetime earnings from each job category and the characteristics such jobs require. The point here is to help women see that yes, you can study art history, but only with the realistic understanding that one day soon you will need to use your arts education to support yourself and your family. The survey would ask young women to select what they are best suited for and give guidance on the appropriate course of study. Like the rule about accepting no dates for Saturday after Wednesday night, the survey would set realistic courses for women, helping would-be curators who are not artistic geniuses avoid career frustration and avoid solving their job problems with marriage.

Very good advice. I have been shocked to find that a large number of the women I have talked to admit that they paid no attention to the profitability of the field of work they chose until it was too late to do much about it. Remember the circles within circles? Given the fact that most men choose their careers largely based on income potential this gender disparity means that it will be the women who will opt out or at least bear the brunt of household and childrearing tasks.

Why this difference in the economic awareness of men and women? I suspect that it is mostly a reflex-like leftover from the era of traditional gender roles though some individuals probably make these choices consciously, too. Whichever the case, a career-minded woman should pay much more attention to what she studies and how she treats her job.

Avoiding a marriage or a partnership with someone who has access to more resources might also be good advice if it can be achieved, and so is the emphasis on more equal sharing of chores:

If you are good at work you are in a position to address the third undertaking: the reproductive household. The rule here is to avoid taking on more than a fair share of the second shift. If this seems coldhearted, consider the survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy. Fully 40 percent of highly qualified women with spouses felt that their husbands create more work around the house than they perform. According to Phyllis Moen and Patricia Roehling's Career Mystique, "When couples marry, the amount of time that a woman spends doing housework increases by approximately 17 percent, while a man's decreases by 33 percent."

And please remember the chore of keeping track of the chores in the fair division of labor within the home. Almost nothing is as soul-draining as having to be the one who is always in charge of remembering whether the toilet paper has run out, whether there is enough milk for the morning cereal and whether Fido's veterinarian appointment was this week or the next.

Struggles. A lot of individual struggles. It would probably be more efficient to just initiate the third wave of feminism and get some real change in the societal institutions. What would such a movement look like? As I mentioned earlier, it would certainly have to include men in much more active roles and it would have to address the question of who does what at home as well as at work. But I also believe that we need much more discussion on the value of the unpaid and paid work done in households, including the work of caring for children and for the elderly, and more real societal valuation of those who do such work. True, we pay lip service to the mothers (and fathers) who care for their children or to the daughters (and sons) who care for their elderly parents, but we expect them to do all this work without any more compensation than perhaps bread and board and while sacrificing their own future prospects. And paid providers of care are not only paid poorly but on the whole distrusted and viewed as inferior to the unpaid providers.

There are women (and men) who want nothing but a flourishing career from this life, and there are other women (and men) who want nothing but a life spent at home. But if meaningful work is bread and meaningful relationships roses most of us want both. We cannot live by bread alone and we cannot eat the roses. A society that demands we "choose" between the two is indeed ripe for a new feminist movement.

The Longest Revolution, Part I

Or the Woman Question, if you wish. When I was a very young goddess with soft scales and all I thought that this gender business was easy: just share things equally and let everyone have a piece of the cake. Some day I will tell the story of how I lost my innocence and what happened next, but right now I want to talk about Linda Hirshman's recent article in the American Prospect, entitled Homeward Bound. It has created quite a furore in the feminist blogosphere and some very good debate, too. You might do a lot worse than reading the posts by Bitch PhD and 11D and the attached long comments threads.

Hirshman's article talks about the elite women who decide to drop out of their careers and stay at home when they have children. In this she follows the general fashion in writings about women these days: it seems that we are all white, highly educated and homeward bound, that our education was a waste and our biologies the destiny. Where she differs is in her take on all this. She is definitely not delicately analyzing the problem or bemoaning the death of feminism or even really ridiculing the uppity ex-career women who are now ladies-who-lunch. Rather, she is giving us a feminist bootcamp and telling us how to change things. More about that in The Longest Revolution, Part II. In the first part I want to address the validity of Hirshman's basic premise and why the blogosphere discussion on the article is so heated.

Hirshman sets the stage by arguing that a real shift has taken place in the rate at which educated women drop out of the labor force:

Half the wealthiest, most-privileged, best-educated females in the country stay home with their babies rather than work in the market economy. When in September The New York Times featured an article exploring a piece of this story, "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood," the blogosphere went ballistic, countering with anecdotes and sarcasm. Slate's Jack Shafer accused the Times of "weasel-words" and of publishing the same story -- essentially, "The Opt-Out Revolution" -- every few years, and, recently, every few weeks. (A month after the flap, the Times' only female columnist, Maureen Dowd, invoked the elite-college article in her contribution to the Times' running soap, "What's a Modern Girl to Do?" about how women must forgo feminism even to get laid.) The colleges article provoked such fury that the Times had to post an explanation of the then–student journalist's methodology on its Web site.

There's only one problem: There is important truth in the dropout story. Even though it appeared in The New York Times.

I stumbled across the news three years ago when researching a book on marriage after feminism. I found that among the educated elite, who are the logical heirs of the agenda of empowering women, feminism has largely failed in its goals. There are few women in the corridors of power, and marriage is essentially unchanged. The number of women at universities exceeds the number of men. But, more than a generation after feminism, the number of women in elite jobs doesn't come close.

Why did this happen? The answer I discovered -- an answer neither feminist leaders nor women themselves want to face -- is that while the public world has changed, albeit imperfectly, to accommodate women among the elite, private lives have hardly budged. The real glass ceiling is at home.
Even Ronald Coase, Nobel Prize–winner in economics in 1991, quotes the aphorism that "the plural of anecdote is data." So how many anecdotes does it take to make data? I -- a 1970s member of the National Organization for Women (NOW), a donor to EMILY's List, and a professor of women's studies -- did not set out to find this. I stumbled across the story when, while planning a book, I happened to watch Sex and the City's Charlotte agonize about getting her wedding announcement in the "Sunday Styles" section of The New York Times. What better sample, I thought, than the brilliantly educated and accomplished brides of the "Sunday Styles," circa 1996? At marriage, they included a vice president of client communication, a gastroenterologist, a lawyer, an editor, and a marketing executive. In 2003 and 2004, I tracked them down and called them. I interviewed about 80 percent of the 41 women who announced their weddings over three Sundays in 1996. Around 40 years old, college graduates with careers: Who was more likely than they to be reaping feminism's promise of opportunity? Imagine my shock when I found almost all the brides from the first Sunday at home with their children. Statistical anomaly? Nope. Same result for the next Sunday. And the one after that.

Ninety percent of the brides I found had had babies. Of the 30 with babies, five were still working full time. Twenty-five, or 85 percent, were not working full time. Of those not working full time, 10 were working part time but often a long way from their prior career paths. And half the married women with children were not working at all.

And there is more. In 2000, Harvard Business School professor Myra Hart surveyed the women of the classes of 1981, 1986, and 1991 and found that only 38 percent of female Harvard MBAs were working full time. A 2004 survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy of 2,443 women with a graduate degree or very prestigious bachelor's degree revealed that 43 percent of those women with children had taken a time out, primarily for family reasons. Richard Posner, federal appeals-court judge and occasional University of Chicago adjunct professor, reports that "the [Times] article confirms -- what everyone associated with such institutions [elite law schools] has long known: that a vastly higher percentage of female than of male students will drop out of the workforce to take care of their children."

There is only one thing wrong with this analysis: it is wrong. In fact, as Ampersand points out on Alas a Blog, married women are not opting out in any greater numbers than they did in the 1980's:

Media outlets, and in particular the New York Times, have frequently suggested that mothers - and in particular, well-off, well-educated mothers in their 30s - have been more and more frequently "opting out" of jobs and careers in order to become full-time homemakers. Linda Hirshman recently declared in The American Prospect that "among the affluent-educated-married population, women are letting their careers slide to tend the home fires."

All of these articles were based on a mixture of anecdotes, bad data, and quasi-relevant data. The most relevant data - the labor force participation rates of women with and without children - is collected by the federal government, but hasn't been looked at in these articles. Economist Heather Boushey has put together the data and published the unsurprising truth: women with children are not more likely to opt out nowadays than in previous decades. In fact, the "child penalty' to the likelihood of women working has been in steady decline for years.

Although all women have been less likely to be working in recent years (due to the job market's slow recovery from the last recession), the labor force participation rate (LFPR) of women with children hasn't gone down any faster than the LFPR for women in general. And although it's true that mothers are less likely to work than non-mothers, that difference has become smaller over the years - just the opposite of what "opt-out revolution" articles claim.

This is where I should end the post, because all this opt-out revolution has in fact not happened. Yes, there is anecdotal evidence of women dropping out, especially among the very affluent class that puts wedding announcement in the New York Times, but there has always been such anecdotal evidence. I suspect that there is even anecdotal evidence of men dropping out if someone bothered to dig it up. Of course that would require some fascination with the topic of men dropping out. Not gonna happen. Ask yourself why that would not be news and you immediately enter the wonder halls of feminism.

So married women are not dropping out in larger numbers than before. In fact, women's labor market participation rates are beginning to respond exactly like men's rates which is a fancy way of saying that women no longer view themselves as secondary earners.

But if you cruise the blogosphere you will find that nobody cares about the fact that there is no opt-out trend to talk about. People want to talk about it anyway, and the discussion gets extremely lively. Ponder upon this and you enter even deeper into the labyrinths of the Woman Question. You will also find battles in the mommy wars: affluent versus poorer women, employed women versus mothers at home. And the popcorn is served to those in the audience. They are not mothers, by the way.

There are good reasons for all this. The value of a woman, both to herself and to the wider society, may seriously depend on her perceived track record as a mother and as a worker. Almost every mother fears that those other mothers who made different choices make her look bad. If she is at home she has opted out, is a lady-who-lunches, lazy, a traitor to feminism. If she is working her children are going to turn into mass murderers or Bush-voters, she is a selfish and ambitious mother, a bad mother, and she will roast in hell, too. And a woman who has taken time off for her family will forevermore be labeled as someone uninterested in her career, not promotion-material, whereas the woman who hung on to her job all through her mothering years will be worn to a shred of her former self and probably still won't get the promotions.

I am exaggerating slightly, by the way. Most of the discussions I link to are courteous. It is my internal debates that rage and flame like that. And I haven't even gotten past the elite group of women who can easily afford to have children and then afford to decide on either staying employed or not. The majority of women struggle much more.

The society gives women a heavy burden of guilt, of accusations, of demands for perfection, and the society gives women almost zero help and support or understanding in how they struggle with the mutually impossible demands for their time and energy. For these are mutually impossible. We have the traditional idea of what a Perfect Mother does (stays at home, bakes pies, sacrifices all, endures all) and then we have the traditional idea of what a Perfect Worker does (always works hard, never fails to turn up, has no dependents) and the two cannot be squeezed into one person. But it seems that we are still trying.

And we hold this mirror of perfection in front of every single mother and decide that she doesn't reflect too well. Or that is how it feels to many mothers, and this may explain the extreme sensitivity of this topic, its hurtfulness and its ability to provoke anger. It also explains why the media is so eager to do stories with these messages, for angry people are more likely to read them and publicity is what the media wants. I find that pretty nasty of the media, myself.

Note also that the idea of a Perfect Mother means that we are comparing millions of individual women, all different in various ways, to one single standard. That is crazy. We don't expect all marriages to be exactly the same or all children to have exactly identical needs but we do expect every single mother to be some sort of a hybrid between Virgin Mary, a masochist and an earth mother with no self, yet with the instincts of a Ninja when the children are threatened. This means that if two mothers differ in their childrearing choices, well, one of them must be further away from the Perfect Mother and there will have to be a battle to determine which one it is.

I am not denying that people have strong opinions on whether to have children and on the way to bring them up, just as they have on the type of car to drive or whom to vote for. But hidden in these strong opinions about children and childrearing are strong opinions on how women should behave, how women should lead their lives, and given this I'd expect that people would think twice before giving me their opinions on the whole womankind. When they don't I get truly pissed off, because we rarely if ever tell the whole class of men how to lead their lives or even how to be good fathers. And also because it is impossible to be both a Good Woman and a Good Careerist, given the definitions we have chosen to use.

In my muddled way I have tried to show in this part of my post one reason why the feminist revolution is such a long one. In the United States it has to do with the myth of good mothering, the myth of the lone rugged individual making it all unassisted in the labor force and the incompatibility of the two. It has also a lot to do with the societal mirror which reflects only the woman, all alone with her babies and her job, all alone with the problems and all alone responsible for their solutions. This is the myth which is the most poisonous one and the one I meet all the time when I read articles about feminism. It is as if the society didn't exist, as if fathers didn't exist and as if maternity leave wasn't a pitiful few months.

Hirshman is wrong in her thesis that the rate at which educated women opt out of the labor force has increased recently. But she has clearly struck a nerve with her article and some of the other concerns she addresses are worth a post of their own. This will be the second part of The Longest Revolution

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bush's Speech

I haven't written about it because it was just the old-same-old-same emotional soundbites about terror and how 911 changed everything and how he will not run away because he is a real Texas cowboy and in any case it's somebody else doing the dying. And we will stay until victory which will remain undefined.

Oh, O'Reilly

I should pay no attention to Bill O'Reilly because he has gone totally bonkers. But it's sort of funny. O'Reilly has notched up the culture wars a tad:

Bill O'Reilly on the Today Show this morning:

These pin-heads running around going, "Get out of Iraq now" don't know what they are talking about. These are the same people before Hitler invaded in WWII that were saying, "He's not such a bad guy." They don't get it.

You should click on the link to look at the picture of O'Reilly. He looks like he is melting, like a snowman. I'm only writing this because he calls thinking people pin-heads.

More generally, his language has become one of eager hatred:

From the November 28 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: It is now time to draw the line, ladies and gentlemen. We must decide whether we value our heritage or not. Make no mistake about this. Merry Christmas is an emotional, but small, issue. The drastic change the secular progressive movement wants in this country is the big issue.

Those people want an America free from spirituality and judgments about personal behavior. And they may get it.

So "Talking Points" is putting together a coalition of the willing to fight against this secular movement. George Soros and Peter Lewis, the money men behind the secular curtain, have financed a number of websites which routinely attack those with whom they disagree in the most vile ways.

Most mainstream media avoid the far-left smear sites, but some help them. In the coming weeks, we will expose those media which pass along the vicious personal attacks.

We've already listed some of them on And we hope you steer clear of those organizations.

If traditional America rises up and punishes the mainstream media, which furthers the cause of Soros and the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union], they will lose. The defamation pipeline that has been cleverly devised will collapse. If Christmas in America can be marginalized, any tradition can be, including marriage and the way you raise your kids. This is what the culture war is all about.

And what will we marginalize next? Easter bunnies? Falafels?

Note also how our side is described as "special interests" and George Soros as the money man, while O'Reilly's side is described as "traditional America". Let me correct that false framing: O'Reilly's side is financed by Scaife and other wingnut billionaires and its beneficiaries consist of O'Reilly and Fox News.

Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England

This parental notification case concerns the question whether states can make laws on abortion which ignore the pregnant woman's health. Specifically:

The substantive issue first: The Supreme Court has ruled that states can require that doctors notify a pregnant teenager's parent before performing an abortion. But the court has also made it clear, beginning with its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, that any restrictions on abortion rights must contain exceptions to protect a woman's health and life. This is a core principle that New Hampshire lawmakers ignored in 2003 when they passed a parental notification law that omitted any exception for medical problems that were not life-threatening.

Quite predictably, the law was challenged. Two days before it was to take effect, a federal trial judge in New Hampshire issued an injunction barring its enforcement. Neither the trial judge nor the reviewing appellate court had any trouble dismissing the claim by New Hampshire's attorney general, Kelly Ayotte, that the state had covered the problem of the health exception by giving a pregnant minor the option of seeking permission for an abortion from a judge. Neither should the justices. In an emergency, as Planned Parenthood of Northern New England notes in its brief, a young woman needs to get to a hospital, not a courthouse.

The implications of the procedural issue are even more serious. With support from the Justice Department, Ms. Ayotte is asking the court to end, or severely constrict, the longstanding power of federal courts to do what the trial judge in New Hampshire did: bar the enforcement of potentially dangerous and unconstitutional abortion restrictions before they go into effect and injure people. Though it is obscured by technical-sounding legalese, this issue concerns what would essentially be a radical court-stripping plan, one that would leave state legislatures free to ignore the Supreme Court's parameters for abortion regulation until a minor, already unconstitutionally endangered and in the midst of a medical crisis, somehow made it to court to challenge the law.

In short, this is about states' rights and the lack of rights for women, pretty much.

And how is the new Chief Justice doing? Well, he is showing his true colors:

New Chief Justice John Roberts seemed sympathetic to the state, but other justices said they were troubled that the law does not make an exception for minors who have a medical emergency.

At the same time, the court did not appear satisfied with an appeals court ruling that struck down the law, one of dozens around the country that require parental involvement when a teen seeks an abortion.

Although the case does not challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that said abortion is a fundamental constitutional right, the stakes are still significant and could signal where the high court is headed under Roberts and after the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

This case will not overturn Roe. I suspect that the process of dismantling Roe will be a slow strip-tease, to keep the radical clerics at a fever pitch and their constituency voting for the Republican party.

The Virtuous?

We keep being told that the religious right are good people, righteous people, more ethical people than us godless (goddessless?) lefties. Hence I am always confused when I see evidence of something quite different amongst the faithful. Like this ad in the wingnutty Newsmax:

Does God Want YOU To Be a Success?

When God wants something done, He always gives it to ONE PERSON to do—a Moses, a Peter, a Paul, a David, a Gideon, a Mary. Had you noticed?

In Pray and Be Rich, Dr. Richard Gaylord Briley reveals a startling Biblical truth that has great implications for your life:

One person, committed to a goal, is all God needs to change the world.

He's done it many times. And if history turns many more pages, He'll surely do it again. At the very least, you and God together can change your world.

The new audio program – Pray and Be Rich – is about one person—YOU—and the success plans that God has for all who believe, pray and act on the message of the Bible.
It astonishes many that Jesus spoke more about wise use of our possessions (our wealth) than any other subject. Riches are extensions of whatever we make of ourselves. Wealth is extra power to use for good or evil.

All babies are born poor. But as you'll find out in Pray and Be Rich, five percent of them, in free societies, grow up to be richer than the rest.

This widely-ignored fact gives extra hope for success to anyone with a clear goal in life.

Pray and Be Rich reveals the Biblical secrets that will enable you to become a member of the five percent of people who rise to the top and succeed.

Funny that. I have read the Bible, more than once, and my impression is that on the whole it's not too hot on the chances of the rich to get into heaven. Blessed are the poor, for example. But never mind. The new wingnut religion is not exactly the same thing as Christianity, anyway. For one thing, the Republican party is not mentioned in the Bible (unless the pharisees remind you of our radical clerics).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Atrios links to Rude Pundit's post about an editorial in the wingnutty Newsmax which states that John McCain's experiences with being tortured proves that torture works:

Sen. John McCain is leading the charge against so-called "torture" techniques allegedly used by U.S. interrogators, insisting that practices like sleep deprivation and withholding medical attention are not only brutal - they simply don't work to persuade terrorist suspects to give accurate information.

Nearly forty years ago, however - when McCain was held captive in a North Vietnamese prison camp - some of the same techniques were used on him. And - as McCain has publicly admitted at least twice - the torture worked!
He described the day Hanoi Hilton guards beat him "from pillar to post, kicking and laughing and scratching. After a few hours of that, ropes were put on me and I sat that night bound with ropes."

"For the next four days, I was beaten every two to three hours by different guards . . . Finally, I reached the lowest point of my 5 1/2 years in North Vietnam. I was at the point of suicide, because I saw that I was reaching the end of my rope."

McCain was taken to an interrogation room and ordered to sign a document confessing to war crimes. "I signed it," he recalled. "It was in their language, and spoke about black crimes, and other generalities."

"I had learned what we all learned over there," McCain said. "Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine."

That McCain broke under torture doesn't make him any less of an American hero. But it does prove he's wrong to claim that harsh interrogation techniques simply don't work.

There are two ongoing conversations about torture; the public one which states that the United States does not torture but reserves the right to define what isn't torture in the interrogation methods it uses, and the real one which is all about how torture was employed in Abu Ghraib, in Guantanamo and in Afghanistan. And probably elsewhere.

Torture has a long history of use among humans. It was employed by the Spanish Inquisition and in the European medieval witchhunts. Rulers routinely tortured most everyone they didn't like. It didn't really matter whether the victims were guilty or not; the idea was that something would always crop up when a person was stretched or chopped or burned or skinned. And something usually did crop up. But whether that something was the truth is much harder to judge. Note that what McCain signed was "generalities". I suspect that most victims of torture will tell a story, any story, to have the pain stop.

Torture has also been used to entertain the masses in the form of rather warped public festivals. Those accused of treason were publicly drawn and quartered, and the torture of animals was common entertainment for the masses. Something similar took place in Iraq when a group of American contractors were killed.

If there is such a thing as true evil in the human beings then this is where it emerges. Osama bin Laden's greatest victory may well be in the fact that articles like the Newsmax one are now being seriously discussed.

Help Wanted

The Council of Economic Advisers for the president has several vacancies, including the chair. I would have thought that conservative economists would all be fighting for the chance to steer the economy of this country in the rightward direction. I would have been mistaken:

The White House and Congress need as many as five academic economists of high caliber, and it's not obvious where they will come from. The Republican Party may be facing something of a shallow bench.

"Bush's reputation in at least the academic community is about as low as you can imagine," said William A. Niskanen, who was a member of the council during President Ronald Reagan's first term and is now chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian research group. "A lot of people would not be willing to give up a good tenured position for a position in the White House."

Back in 2003, the choice of N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard professor, to head the council initially provoked some wonderment from economists. He had condemned supporters of some Reagan-era tax cuts as "charlatans and cranks" in the first edition of his basic economics textbook, and he had suggested replacing part of the income tax with higher taxes on gasoline - a nonstarter in this White House. But it's possible that the administration had few other options.

There are several reasons for the wingnut economists' reluctance to serve on the Council or in the other currently vacant posts. But the major one surely is that Bush will not take advice from mere economists (perhaps because he is more used to talking to God), yet it would be the same economists who would be associated with any failures in Bush's economic policy.

Rats and the ship.

A Political Quiz

What do the following people have in common?

Randy "Duke" Cunningham
Tom DeLay
William Jefferson
Bob Ney
Bill Frist
"Scooter" Libby

It looks like a list of thug names to me, and that might not be a bad guess. But the correct answer is that all these men are either being investigated for various wrongdoings or have been found guilty of them. Some of them may turn out to be innocent, of course. But not Randy Cunningham who just pleaded guilty to accepting bribes of at least 2.4 million dollars.

All these men are also politicians, and with the exception of William Jefferson (who is a Democrat), wingnut politicians. As the Republicans are selling themselves as the moral party it is truly spectacular that the list also includes several of the top wingnuts in the country.


If you are interested in this topic, check out Jill's post on Feministe. Warning: It's really disgusting stuff.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Krugman's Latest Column

Talks about the lack of economic security in the United States:

American workers at big companies used to think they had made a deal. They would be loyal to their employers, and the companies in turn would be loyal to them, guaranteeing job security, health care and a dignified retirement.

Such deals were, in a real sense, the basis of America's postwar social order. We like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists, not like those coddled Europeans with their oversized welfare states. But as Jacob Hacker of Yale points out in his book "The Divided Welfare State," if you add in corporate spending on health care and pensions - spending that is both regulated by the government and subsidized by tax breaks - we actually have a welfare state that's about as large relative to our economy as those of other advanced countries.

The resulting system is imperfect: those who don't work for companies with good benefits are, in effect, second-class citizens. Still, the system more or less worked for several decades after World War II.

But it doesn't work now. Every year fewer and fewer firms offer health insurance or retirement benefits, and every year more and more jobs are outsourced to other countries. Firms get rid of workers whenever they feel like it and call it becoming efficient or lean-and-mean. And the government safety net is being gnawed by the little rats from the right.

What this all amounts to is a new age of uncertainty, a time when the foundations are shaky and nobody knows what the future might bring, a time when we need strong and positive leadership for the whole country. But instead we get fearmongering and finger-pointing and pointless wars abroad. I suspect that all this partly explains the recent increases in fundamentalism: people blindly groping for something that won't fail them. It may not be a coincidence that the party that promotes fundamentalist thinking is also the one causing all the insecurity.

Done My Blogging Duty

I went wading in the Wingnuttia blogs and columns, and I found out many interesting factoids about us liberals/progressives. Now I'm too scared of myself to fall asleep. Here is Ann Coulter's take on my people:

The Democrats are giving aid and comfort to the enemy for no purpose other than giving aid and comfort to the enemy. There is no plausible explanation for the Democrats' behavior other than that they long to see U.S. troops shot, humiliated, and driven from the field of battle.

They fill the airwaves with treason, but when called to vote on withdrawing troops, disavow their own public statements. These people are not only traitors, they are gutless traitors.

Let me see. How does this relate to the often heard argument that it is the lefties who are full of hate?

Nannannah, I Can't Hear You!

Your hair will stand up when you read this post, I swear. First, the New York Daily News writes this about the Bush administration:

Embattled White House aides have begun to believe President Bush must take the reins personally if his evaporating agenda and credibility are to be salvaged.

"We're just plodding along," admitted a senior Bush aide from deep within the West Wing bunker. "It's up to the President to turn things around now."

Even as his poll numbers tank, however, Bush is described by aides as still determined to stay the course. He resists advice from Republicans who fear disaster in next year's congressional elections, and rejects criticism from a media establishment he disdains.

"The President has always been willing to make changes," the senior aide said, "but not because someone in this town tells him to - NEVER!"

For the moment, Bush has dismissed discreetly offered advice from friends and loyalists to fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and bring back longtime confidant Karen Hughes from the State Department to shore up his personal White House staff.

"He thinks that would be an admission he's screwed up, and he can't bring himself to do that," a former senior staffer lamented.

So aides have circled the wagons as Bush's woes mount, partly hoping they can sell the President on a December blitz of media interviews to help turn the tide.

"The staff basically still has an unyielding belief in the wisdom of what they're doing," a close Bush confidant said. "They're talking to people who could help them, but they're not listening."

Second, this is what Seymour Hersh said in an interview with Wolf Blitzer (via this Daily Kos diary) about George Bush:

BLITZER: But this has become, your suggesting, a religious thing for him? HERSH: Some people think it is. Other people think he's absolutely committed, as I say, to the idea of democracy. He's been sold on this notion.

He's a utopian, you could say, in a world where maybe he doesn't have all the facts and all the information he needs and isn't able to change.

I'll tell you, the people that talk to me now are essentially frightened because they're not sure how you get to this guy.

We have generals that do not like -- anymore -- they're worried about speaking truth to power. You know that. I mean that's -- Murtha in fact, John Murtha, the congressman from Pennsylvania, which most people don't know, has tremendous contacts with the senior generals of the armies. He's a ranking old war horse in Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. The generals know him and like him. His message to the White House was much more worrisome than maybe to the average person in the public. They know that generals are privately telling him things that they're not saying to them.

And if you're a general and you have a disagreement with this war, you cannot get that message into the White House. And that gets people unnerved.

BLITZER: Here's what you write. You write, "Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the president remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding."

Those are incredibly strong words, that the president basically doesn't want to hear alternative analysis of what is going on.

HERSH: You know, Wolf, there is people I've been talking to -- I've been a critic of the war very early in the New Yorker, and there were people talking to me in the last few months that have talked to me for four years that are suddenly saying something much more alarming.

They're beginning to talk about some of the things the president said to him about his feelings about manifest destiny, about a higher calling that he was talking about three, four years ago.

I don't want to sound like I'm off the wall here. But the issue is, is this president going to be capable of responding to reality? Is he going to be able -- is he going to be capable if he going to get a bad assessment, is he going to accept it as a bad assessment or is he simply going to see it as something else that is just a little bit in the way as he marches on in his crusade that may not be judged for 10 or 20 years.

He talks about being judged in 20 years to his friends. And so it's a little alarming because that means that my and my colleagues in the press corps, we can't get to him maybe with our views. You and you can't get to him maybe with your interviews.

How do you get to a guy to convince him that perhaps he's not going the right way?

Jack Murtha certainly didn't do it. As I wrote, they were enraged at Murtha in the White House.

And so we have an election coming up -- Yes. I've had people talk to me about maybe Congress is going to have to cut off the budget for this war if it gets to that point. I don't think they're ready to do it now.

But I'm talking about sort of a crisis of management. That you have a management that's seen by some of the people closely involved as not being able to function in terms of getting information it doesn't want to receive.

Rumors always fly around in Washington, D.C., and I have been reluctant to write about those rumors which imply that Bush is out of touch with reality, that he will not listen to criticism or to any evidence which is negative. But too much has taken place recently which can't be explained in any other way except by assuming that several politicians are trying to get the president's attention via various public stunts simply because they can't get Bush's ear in any other way.

I believe that the American citizens have the right to know what is going on with their president. Bush could clear up any confusion by giving a few interviews in which he answers his critics and explains how he is taking the criticisms into account.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

What A Coincidence!

And what a sudden change, too!

The White House has for the first time claimed ownership of an
Iraq withdrawal plan, arguing that a troop pullout blueprint unveiled this past week by a Democratic senator was "remarkably similar" to its own.

It also signaled its acceptance of a recent US Senate amendment designed to pave the way for a phased US military withdrawal from the violence-torn country.

The statement by White House spokesman Scott McClellan came in response to a commentary published in The Washington Post by Joseph Biden, the top Democrat of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he said US forces will begin leaving Iraq next year "in large numbers."

According to Biden, the United States will move about 50,000 servicemen out of the country by the end of 2006, and "a significant number" of the remaining 100,000 the year after.

The blueprint also calls for leaving only an unspecified "small force" either in Iraq or across the border to strike at concentrations of insurgents, if necessary.

Less than two weeks ago, McClellan blasted Democratic Representative John Murtha, saying that by calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, the congressman was "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore," a stridently anti-war Hollywood filmmaker.

Biden's ideas, relayed first in a November 21 speech in New York, however, got a much friendlier reception.

It is all very surprising and oh, so sudden. I thought that the Bush administration doesn't pay any attention to polls. Biden does, probably.

But I still don't believe that the administration actually has a plan to withdraw.

Colonel Ted Westhusing

Arthur Silber has a very good post on Col. Westhusing's death. So many important questions, so few answers.

Christmas Trees

They are endangered by the horrible politically correct people. The PC brigade has exactly zero power these days, except in the case of Christmas which they are slowly erasing from our calendars. Or this is the wingnut take on the matters, anyway:

Boston set off a furor this week when it officially renamed a giant tree erected in a city park a "holiday tree" instead of a "Christmas tree."

The move drew an angry response from Christian conservatives, including evangelist Jerry Falwell who heckled Boston officials and pressed the city to change the name back.

"There's been a concerted effort to steal Christmas," Falwell told Fox Television.

The Nova Scotia logger who cut down the 48-foot (14-meter) tree was indignant and said he would not have donated the tree if he had known of the name change.

"I'd have cut it down and put it through the chipper," Donnie Hatt told a Canadian newspaper. "If they decide it should be a holiday tree, I'll tell them to send it back. If it was a holiday tree, you might as well put it up at Easter."

Falwell and the conservative Liberty Counsel led a campaign that threatened to sue anyone who spreads what they see as misinformation about Christmas celebrations in public spaces.

The controversy reflects the legal vulnerability of city and state governments over taxpayer-funded displays of religious icons and concern over crossing the line in the separation between church and state.

What does the Christmas tree symbolize in Christianity? Was Jesus found on one of its branches, for example? The answer is no, of course. The Christmas tree has a pagan origin:

Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.

In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called the winter solstice. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.

The ancient Egyptians worshipped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from the illness, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.

Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.

In Northern Europe the mysterious Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder.

If Christmas is so endangered could someone ask Mr. Falwell why I hear nothing but Christmas songs in the stores?