Saturday, September 01, 2007
Greed is one of the deadly vices in old-time Christianity. Not so much in some of the newer interpretations seen among the fundamentalists in the United States. I've read about churches where the sermons are all about how Jesus will give the faithful more stuff in this life, too. Does that remind you of the old Janis Joplin song about her asking God for a Mercedes Benz and a color tv?
When did greed turn into a virtue? Probably quite a long time ago, because capitalism does require it to be rehabilitated. But it's the combination of greed and ignorance that has fueled the housing markets crisis; greed mostly on the side of the sellers of loans and ignorance mostly on the side of the buyers of loans, though not completely.
What IS greed? I'm sure there are good definitions to be found by the click of the mouse, but I don't want to know what they are because then this post would end right here. It's more fun to try to figure a definition out of the pure air that floats inside my head.
The first aspect of my definition would be that greed doesn't really apply to, say, a starving person's dreams about fantastically excessive meals. That person is not being greedy; only starving. In a similar vein, a poor person wanting to buy a modest house he or she can't really afford is not greedy. Thus, wanting something very much is not in itself a sign of greediness. We all have dreams and desires and needs.
The second aspect then has to do with the inappropriateness of certain dreams or desires. If you already have enough food and enough shelter and so on but you still want more then you are probably greedy. Now, this is not a definition from traditional economics course where a consumer is always assumed to be on the road to ever higher levels of consumption and only held back by the inevitable constraints of money and time. But in reality people do sometimes sit down and say, in a quiet and zen-like voice: "I have enough material possessions."
Note that the question of what is "enough" is not something easily determined from the outside. But clearly one can have too many cheesecakes and even too many Rolls-Royces. The sad part of greed is that a genuinely greedy person will never be satisfied, by definition. Perhaps that is what made the early Christians view greed as a vice: it hurts.
How do greed and ignorance dance together, then? I pointed out those two as the culprits in the housing market collapse. Ignorance in that context has to do with three things: First, most mortgage-seekers have very little understanding of interest rates and defaults and so on. Those are hard topics to understand without some training. Second, humans tend not to take the long view in general, and even less so when times are hard right now, say. If you live in a crisis, you want to struggle your way through that crisis and then think of the rest of your life. But if life is nothing but a crisis after crisis, well, you will live in the short-term by necessity. Focusing on the near future makes things like balloon loans seem harmless, and an adjustable rate mortgage something really helpful. But today turns into tomorrow and so on, and suddenly you can't afford the new higher interest rates and bankruptcy beckons.
Third, the mortgage lenders also suffer from ignorance. They may be aware of their greed, at least some of them. But they may be ignorant of the overall effects of their individual acts. It wouldn't matter if one lender seduced borrowers into bad loans, but it does matter when many, many lenders do that at the same time. The outcome is a lot of people working in the lending industry losing their jobs.
If you watch commercials on television or ads on the net you know that greed is encouraged every day of our lives. There is always a solution to something that should bother you, and the solution is achievable by just paying some money. It was only a few days ago that I learned I could get a 500,000 dollar mortgage for less than a thousand a month! Honest. Of course I didn't read the small print on the offer, and by now the offer has disappeared into the Orwellian Memory Hole.
The short point of all these musings is that we have to decide how to deal with greed. Is it the engine that drives the society? Or is it a vice? And whose greed is it that matters here?
Did you ever see the Woody Allen movie called Zelig? It's a mockumentary about a man named Zelig in the 1920s America who supposedly had the ability to mirror the people he was with. Thus, when he was among gypsies he turned into a gypsy. When he was among psychiatrists, he started talking like one, and when he was next to a fat man he also became fat. Except that he didn't do any of these very convincingly.
I think my writing is like Zelig, always trying to bend itself to some rules but never quite making it. That's why I like this here blog. No writing rules, heh.
The deeper message of Zelig is valid for many of us, especially for many women. It's hard to know who you really are when the environment keeps demanding that you mirror something else altogether.
Friday, August 31, 2007
I know criticizing President Bush's language problems is boring and repetitive, but it still has to be done. Here he is answering questions in an interview with an Australian reporter:
Speers: So you need those Australian troops there?
Bush: Well we need... we need all our coalition partners, and I would hope that... And I understand, look, everybody's got their own internal politics, my only point is that, um, whether it be Afghanistan or Iraq, we've got more work to do. We the free world has got more work to do, and I believe those of us who live in liberty have a responsibility to promote forms of government that deal with what causes 19 kids to get on airplanes to kill 3,000 students.
It isn't the 3,000 students who were supposedly killed six years ago that is my point, but the way Bush draws a direct line from those events to the need to have Australian troops in Iraq, a country which sent none of the 19 "kids" to massacre people. It isn't Bush's difficulties with words that is the problem here but his difficulties with facts.
Not that he is stumbling here at all, in the deeper level. On that level he is pushing our fear buttons and associating that post-traumatic stress syndrome with his essentially unrelated war in Iraq.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Picture by Mr. French
My garden has had to fend for itself this year, and it has done it quite well. The phloxes have self-seeded and astonishingly the babies are not washed-out lavender in flower but the same harsh pink which wars with everything else in that bed. The lilies "Casablanca" have won over the lily beetles all on their own, have risen from what-I-thought-was-dead, and have, once again, opened those white chalices of pure sexuality, while resting them, tipsily, on the nearby branches of roses and peonies, causing me to almost faint when I go down the porch steps. The perfume! It should be made illegal by all those who hate sex. The ivy covers competently what used to be a wheelbarrow, I think, and even the weeds look healthy.
But as usual the daylilies have collapsed after flowering, their leaves decorating the ground like so many rusted swords. So goes the garden as does life: Ups and downs and unpredictable miracles or messes.
What I really wanted to write about was the Return of the Bees. They are back, bless their little furry pollen-smeared bottoms. I first noticed them on the sedums which look like pink broccoli right now. Then I saw them from the second floor windows on the Rudbeckia "Goldsturm" which reaches up to those windows. Lovely to see bees again. They are not back in force, but they are back.
This was not a topic I planned to address. The problems with discussing politicians' private lives are many, and those private lives are largely none of our business. I said "largely" which means that there are some exceptions. The ones I view as valid is when the politicians engage in illegal activities, especially if those activities intertwine with their jobs as politicians, and the cases where a politician's private choices directly clash with his or her stated political ideals or opinions. The latter incongruence is useful to analyze because it gives us more information on how truthfully the stated political beliefs are held, for instance.
Now, the Larry Craig case (a conservative, "pro-family", anti-gay Senator apparently caught soliticing for gay sex in a public toilet) does fit those exceptions, assuming that what Craig did was illegal. So does the earlier case of Senator Vitter (Louisiana, married) admitting to using prostitutes, a crime in the jurisdiction he was at the time of the events. Senator Vitter also promoted "pro-life" policies, such as abstinence and marital fidelity, yet his own life choices revealed the difficulty of walking his own talk.
Given that the Craig case fits my exceptions rule, why was I not going to write about it? Because it is being used for gay bashing, mostly.
But now Republicans are trying to make him go away altogether, to appeal to the homophobic part of their base. Note that his resignation is called for by conservatives who found no need to call for the resignation of Senator Vitter. That the Vitter case was about heterosexual sex (with no dead girls) and the Craig case is about homosexual sex may be one cause for the different treatment. But a more important one is the fact that Craig would be replaced by another Republican Senator, whereas Vitter's state has a Democratic governor who might nominate a Democrat to take his seat.
So I got annoyed by the political exploitation and decided finally to jump in and join the fray. Heh. In any case, the focus on the discussions on Craig I've followed have been on predatory behavior in public toilets. This, in turn, is associated with homosexuality. Senator Vitter's case is somehow less serious because he contacted for the "massage services" by phone.
Perhaps. But predatory behavior is something many women have experience with and not only in same-sex contexts. Come to think of it, mostly not in same-sex contexts. That's why the toilets are traditionally the place one uses to escape too ardent propositioners.
Still, is it really true that openly gay men would regard public restrooms as the place to find sexual partners? I'm not sure, but I suspect that this behavior has much to do with being in the closet and therefore being unable to go to the places where sexual partners are usually found. If I'm correct in this, then what happened to Larry Craig is partly a consequence of the policies that his party pursues, policies which try to keep gays in closets and ashamed of their sexuality.
This post has no links because I'm very lazy today and because I have a niggling headache which gets stronger whenever I think of doing some research.
One of my major handicaps in writing about politics is that I get into screaming hair-tearing fits when people go on and on about itty bitty details to discuss whether the surge is working, and not only minor details but details which have pretty much nothing to do with the question whether the surge can ever work or not.
Why? Because a) the people in power refuse to give us a practical and precise definition of what "surge is working" would actually mean. The definition flows like melting ice-cream. And because b) we have no way of judging who has the correct information that is needed to answer the question or even if anyone has it. All we have are various bits of propaganda, really. And finally, c) because it is not kosher to discuss the possible motives Bush might have in this case or the motives the poor generals might have to now refuse to take the blame if the surge doesn't work, after all.
Kabuki theater. There are probably very good reasons to engage in it but my nerves are wired all wrong for that.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Two years later, and we have still not helped those who were hurt by a storm. New Orleans is a travesty of what it once was, and the Bush administration is not blamed for the disappearance of an American landmark, not to mention the deaths and dislocations of so many. Where is the famous conservative patriotism when it is needed?
This news story is a very odd one. I have bolded the bits that are attention-worthy:
Police are searching for the mother of a small fetus found by utility workers at a sewage pump station Monday in Morgantown, W.Va.
The fetus will be sent to the state medical examiner's office in Charleston for an autopsy to determine race, sex and age.
Morgantown police said a worker whose job it is to check screens at the pump station found the fetus during his daily routine Monday morning.
The fetus was so small that police don't yet know if a crime was committed or if the mother had a miscarriage.
It's likely the fetus was flushed down a toilet, Green said.
Authorities were trying to locate the mother of the unborn child to learn what happened.
The story doesn't tell us the actual size of the fetus, only that it was bigger than three-quarters of an inch and therefore stopped by the screens.
But note the language of the story. I couldn't stop thinking how in some future dystopia all women must prove monthly that they are not pregnant, and when something of this sort happens there will probably be pelvic examinations for all women who were found pregnant in the previous month.
Link via halfdan on Eschaton threads.
It's a very odd thing: On the one hand it is women who are traditionally expected to gate-keep (heterosexual) sex. On the other hand, it is women who are regulated and controlled and managed in the field of sex. It's as if women own sex but someone else owns women and tells them how to deliver it or not to deliver it.
Men are argued to have a stronger sexual instinct, an instinct that somehow cannot be controlled or managed by men on their own, an instinct which instead causes large markets to crop up to further incite desire and lust. Women are argued not to be that keen on sex, but still most societies traditionally make rules about how to limit women from having sex and how to ostracize and otherwise punish "loose" women. Women are both devilishly sexual and insatiable, what with all those multiple orgasms, and almost totally without sexual interests. A round-heeled woman is - well - round-heeled. A round-heeled man is a stud, an object of envy.
That is the first paradox, though perhaps a paradox only if we start from the assumption of no power imbalance between the sexes. The second paradox concerns the private-public definition of sex. Traditionally the women who have public sex have been separated from the women who have private sex. The former are hookers, whores, sluts, prostitutes or sex-workers, depending on the level of sophistication one wants to assume. The latter are ideally first virgins and then wives. In the private sector, a woman's sex is the property of one man. In the public sector,traditionally, a woman's sex is the property of all men, even if she is also managed by a pimp.
In a similar vein, women's naked bodies are viewed as either public or private property, to be revealed indiscriminately or to be hidden completely. Thus we get female newsreaders who are expected to show legs and breasts while reading news and thus we also get countries where nothing of women's bodies except the face can be shown on television. Often the paradoxes of private vs. public sex and the private vs. public ownership of women's bodies get confused with each other, and then we get those cross-cultural cases where some men from the Middle East think that all Western women are whores, say. But note that there is no real confusion about who is supposed to own the women's bodies or their sexuality in either case. At least when viewed traditionally and without feminist understanding.
The third paradox is linked to the first paradox I described but slightly different. It is the answer to the question: "Who is responsible for sex?" The traditional answer is almost always: "Women". Even when the woman in question has no real power to influence the events. This may be one reason why the victims of rape often feel so much guilt, wonder so incessantly about what they could have done differently, feel partly to blame even if they are not.
The radical clerics of this world want to control sexuality. And the way they want to control it is by forcing "modesty" on women. The way women dress is regarded as responsible for the way men might react. The burden of managing sexuality is put on women's shoulders. Hence it is women who become the guilty parties when sex escapes the role the society has limited it to.
The idea that women are responsible for men's sexuality is not just common among many Islamic mullahs but also among American fundamentalists. A recent "Modesty Survey" posted on an American website tells Christian ladies that they shouldn't wear sleeveless tops, fix their bra straps in public, wear bathing suits and so on. All this to "help their brothers in Christ to control lust".
The focus on women's modesty is the other side of the coin from the focus on women's immodesty. Both are desirable, actually, but in different places and by different women. This is where the whore vs. Madonna mythology is so handy. Women can be either bad women, available for sexual consumption by all and sundry, or good women, essentially asexual and bent on nothing but motherhood. That way sex is available when men want it but men can also have their own private property for procreation. But note that a "whore" can never say no and a "Madonna" surely is powerful enough to be responsible for all sexuality. It's a win-win for the patriarchy.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
(This is a post I didn't put up when it was current. It's nice to be ornery)
Several recent opinion columns about Karl Rove's departure from the Bush administration have compared him to Niccolò Machiavelli, the author of The Prince, a sixteenth century how-to book about ruthless political leadership. These quips most likely play on the assertion that Rove was the architect of Bush's rise to power. They also describe some of the near-mythical qualities some attribute to Rove as a secret master-mind working coldly and quietly behind the scenes.
Whatever the truth of that matter might be, it is interesting that the ruthless leader Machiavelli most admired, Cesare Borgia, did not fare well in actual life. He began promisingly enough to be thought of as the model of Machiavelli's Prince:
Cesare also seized (1502) Piombino, Elba, Camerino, and the duchy of Urbino, and he crowned his achievements by artfully luring his chief enemies to the castle of Senigallia, where he had some of them strangled. By killing his enemies, packing the college of cardinals, pushing his conquests as fast as possible, and buying the loyalty of the Roman gentry, he had hoped to make his position independent of the papacy, or at least to insure that the election of any future pope would be to his liking.
But the end of his life was nowhere nearly as successful:
Cesare was struck in 1503 by the same poison (or illness) that suddenly killed his father. Cesare recovered; however, his political power had suffered a fatal blow. Pius III, after a short reign, was succeeded by Julius II, an implacable enemy of Cesare Borgia. Louis XII then turned against him. Julius demanded the immediate return of what territory remained to Cesare and had him temporarily arrested. Returning to Naples, Cesare was soon arrested by the Spanish governor there as the result of collusion between Julius II and the Spanish rulers, Ferdinand and Isabella. Sent to prison in Spain, he escaped and finally found refuge (1506) at the court of the king of Navarre. He died fighting for him at Viana.
Cesare Borgia was all of thirty-one years old at his death in 1507. His was not the long and powerful rule that Machiavelli's writings suggest the imaginary Prince would gain from the strategies his book proposes. There is a lesson to be learned from that.
The horror! I woke up to the news that the SAT scores this year are the lowest since 1999! What is happening here?
The simplest answer is that more students are taking the test. Given its intended objective: to predict college performance in the first few years, those who have traditionally taken the test have been the ones most likely to plan to go to college. When the pool of test-takers increases for various reasons a larger percentage of them will consist of those who have not done that well at school and are likely to score lower.
The SAT tests have always been controversial. For instance, they predict college performance better for some ethnic groups than others and the way the questions have been framed or adjusted over time has been argued to favor certain social classes or one of the genders. Given this background, it is interesting that the new writing section in the SAT is called controversial because it increases the length of the test and causes more student fatigue. It also happens to be the one part of the tests which showed a significant difference in favor of female test-takers in 2006, the first year the test was included.
Cross-posted at TAPPED.
Is there a gray area in muggings, an area where a mugging isn't really a mugging? Perhaps someone offered to lend you that diamond ring but then withdrew the offer so you took it anyway, using your fists in the process? Or perhaps the victim went out decked with stuff like a Christmas tree. Mugging someone like that is almost understandable. Let's just call it gray mugging.
This is all in relation to a recent Cosmopolitan magazine article about something called gray rape. Or rather, in relation to a post about the article. Some snippets from that post:
True story that I wrote in three minutes because that's exactly how much time I felt like dwelling on it: this one time about nine years ago I got locked out of my house and went home with some vaguely smarmy hair-product using type from my ex-boyfriend's frat. I had slept with maybe two or three guys prior to that -- it was the summer between sophomore and junior year of college -- so when he, after about a half hour of fooling around, put on a condom I was like, "Whooooah, what are you doing?" But I'd had two forties and I kept drifting in and out of consciousness -- my tolerance, obviously, wasn't what it is today -- and I woke up to find him sticking it in. I'd said 'no' a bunch of times and when I came to I just froze, stopped, turned over and slept. In the morning I chewed him out (by informing him I wasn't putting him on "my list" -- oh no she didn't!) and after that he kissed my ass so liberally I thought he might have learned from it.
But then in Israel I saw this other girl who used to hook up with him and she assured me he remains a douchebag, only now one that practices medicine in New York. Anyway, I sure hope he saves some lives, and I remember that sexual experience a little more vividly than most of the consensual sexual experiences I've undergone in a similar state of intoxication, but neither sentiment makes it RAPE, does it? It's something, "date rape" I guess, but it's not rape unless I say it was, right?
I feel terrible about discussing this, to be quite honest, because I think the post reveals something quite private. But it is the part about the man "remaining a douchebag" which made me decide to address the "gray rape" issue (also discussed very well by Shakes and by Ann at feministing.com). Because my interpretation of that sentence is that this man has continued raping women ever afterwards. Except that what he does is not seen as rape, as long as the victim is just too drunk to resist. Just douchebaggery.
There is no such thing as "gray rape". There are aggravating and extenuating circumstances to crimes, sure, and some rapes are more heinous than others. Some people who are raped are not as damaged by the rape as others are, also true. But rape, by definition, is nonconsensual sex of the penetrating kind. And someone unconscious or asleep cannot consent. It doesn't matter if the rapist is known to you. It doesn't matter that you don't feel harmed by the rape. It's still rape.
This whole discussion about "gray rape" sounds to me like an attempt to return to the era where a woman had to be pretty much killed to prove that she had been raped. Judges used to argue that the rapist's body must show violent marks from the raped person's resistance, for example. Otherwise it was just "bad sex". Of course fighting back may not be such a good idea when someone holds a knife on your throat, say.
Do we really want to go back to those times?
Monday, August 27, 2007
I have written a couple of geekier posts for the TAPPED blog. But the real reason I'm adding this post is to remind you to read Phila's Friday Hope Blogging regularly. It's an important antidote to the teeth-gritting, misery and moaning which is the style of so much political blogging. Our psychological health requires balance, so a dose of Phila at least once a week and some time with children, lovers, animals and nature is absolutely necessary.
And real books, of course. I'm not sure if I would still be alive without books. You can tell us what you are reading and which books have saved your life in the comments below. Also, which books are really funny, because laughter is one of those things we need, too. My humor reading has recently consisted of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, but things always change in that field.
Atrios has some ideas about this today:
One problem that the "netroots," whatever that is, has is that there's tendency by Democrats to see it as just another player in the interest group checklist politics game. So, sometimes "this will piss off the blogs" is a consideration, and a similar one to "this might piss of NARAL" or "this might piss off the Sierra Club." We're a noisy somewhat influential group to be placated somehow.
Now that's not how I see things as I think blogs should be seen more as an opportunity to influence media coverage and narratives, as well as helping to stitch together a broader-based political movement.
But it isn't very surprising the Democrats don't really understand how blogs work within the media, as they've long failed to understand how the media works generally. So it's difficult to communicate and explain the "good" the blogs can do when a lot of them just see us as a noisy sometimes-pain-in-the-ass. This isn't true of everyone in DC, of course, but one has to remember that of congressional staffers are often shockingly young and really can't be expected, no matter what their talents, to have a grip on all this stuff in a sophisticated way.
I agree that people who don't read blogs on a regular basis often have very weird ideas about what blogs are. This even includes some people in the traditional media, and many of the discussions on blogs I read there reveal more about the fear of blogs as a competitor for the financially troubled newspapers than about what blogs actually can do and can't do.
Blogs don't do actual reporting, or only in very few cases. Blogs can't replace a news office, or only in the very unlikely case that a blogger has independent sources of wealth. Blogs will not make newspapers obsolete, though the newspapers of the future will be on the Internet and most likely somewhat changed from their current form.
So what are political blogs for? To provide a conscience for mainstream journalists, sure. To be a whipping boy or girl when politicians need one, sure. To provide a way of creating mass movements or of nurturing them, sure. But to me the most important job of blogs is to turn silence into sound, to give those who are not listened to in the corridors of power some place to say what they want to say, to make the political conversations more inclusive and more thorough.
I only wish they had come up with some better name for these things than "blogs". It sounds like a hot potato in the back of your throat.
I finally saw that movie, but I'm using the headline to refer to Alberto Gonzales's departure from the Department of Justice. I hope we now have better luck.
President Bush's reaction to the news shows very clearly that those who believe he simply hires friends are correct. George sees his pal Bertie as a totally innocent guy who was dragged to mud for political reasons.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
(The picture doesn't really go but it was too funny not to include.)
This is the beginning of one popularization article about a health study. The study, which followed a large group of European women for six years, was about the effect of exercise on the prevention of endometrial cancer. It tried to include all forms of physical activity, not just what is usually regarded as exercise, but also activity at work and at home. This is how the results were summarized:
Premenopausal women who are very physically active --especially those who put in the most work around the house -- may be cutting their risk of developing cancer of the uterine lining.
Among 253,023 women followed for more than six years, those who had not yet reached menopause at the study's outset and were the most physically active were 34 percent less likely to develop endometrial cancer than their more sedentary peers. Three to four hours of household or recreational activity each day produced the greatest benefit.
"This amount and type of activity is achievable by many in the at-risk population," Dr. Christine Friedenreich of the Alberta Cancer Board in Calgary, Canada and her colleagues write in the International Journal of Cancer.
Three to four hours of household activity each day, achievable by many in the at-risk population????? Does Dr. Friedenreich plan to do that now herself? And what will she clean after the third day or so? I assume her children are all grown up, based on the picture of her I've seen.
The study itself may be perfectly fine. Or not. I have not read it, but the point it makes is a valid one: exercise and moving the body in general may prevent certain types of cancer. It suffers from the usual problem of these studies, which is that someone might do less exercise because of already suffering from early parts of the ailment or general ill health, and that the correlation one finds could be because of that and not because exercise has prevention benefits.
But the popularizations I have seen latch on to the household chores part of the study and never really let go. They also don't mention, on the whole, that post-menopausal women had no benefits from exercise at all. So you could pack your vacuum cleaner away when your periods stop, with no ill effects.
Why is any of this worth writing about, except for the discussion of the general benefits of exercise? Because Dr. Friedenreich's results are candy for the anti-feminists who think that women have a gene for vacuum-cleaning which men miss even though most machine genes are lodged inside the bulldog-shaped male heads (see post below). Now they can tell long-suffering women saddled with all household work on top of a paying job that it's for their own good.
The real difficulty is this: Any follow-up study of men and exercise will NOT find a beneficial effect from household chores simply because men don't do them to the tune of three or four hours of day. It's quite possible that this would benefit men, healthwise, but we will not establish it from a study looking at actual time use data. In that sense all these studies are deeply reactionary or at least non-feminist.
I found a column pointing out this, too. The writer notes:
Let's see. If I can leave the office at 5 today, I'll be home by 6 and I can do housework until 10! Oh, goody! I can't wait to get started. Do you think the boss might even let me leave early? I don't want those 250,000 European women in the study to beat me at this game. Ladies, start your vacuum cleaners!
There's just one problem. I hate housework. In fact, my entire philosophy of who should do housework can be summed up in one sentence: "There's a reason God invented teenage boys."
Just last night, I was lying on the couch reading when, in the midst of the leisurely act of turning the page, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a tumbleweed of dog hair roll gently by. "Somebody vacuum that up!" I yelled to my boys, and went back to reading.
Feel guilty? Who, me? Not a chance. I'm just trying to protect them from prostate cancer.
Mmm. Perhaps the writer doesn't have a husband around to protect from prostate cancer. But I have recently noticed these kinds of discussions once again avoiding any mention of the adult male partner in the household, as if women are afraid to make the point that actually needs to be made, which is that the household work is not hers alone by some divine obligation.