Saturday, November 17, 2007

Let’s Try It Again. Force Diane Feinstein To Promise Not to Run Against A Democratic Nominee. Posted by olvlzl.

Diane Feinstein has been treading the path worn by Joe Lieberman and others who have used the support of Democrats and then stabbed us in the back, repeatedly supporting Republicans. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that she will go the whole route and jump parties in order to forestall a challenge to her re-election by a popular Republican. With her record she isn’t shoring up her support from Democratic activists.

Any Democrat in California who is reading this and who gets the chance should get her on record saying she will honor the choice of the Democratic voters of her state, should they decide that she doesn’t represent them again. She should have to say, in absolute terms, that she will not run against a Democrat who wins the nomination, that she will not support the candidate of any other party or who runs as an independent against the Democratic nominee and that she will not leave the Democratic Party if she is elected as the nominee of the Democrats of her state.

All politicians who have won election as Democrats or who ask for the nomination of the Democrats in their state should have to make this promise. If they won’t then Democrats will know what their plans are and they should vote accordingly. Any member of the Democratic Party has the right to press the issue, they do not need the permission of anyone in the hierarchy of the party. The nomination doesn’t belong to anyone, it belongs to the Democratic voters, not the office holders.

Just think what might have happened if Joe Lieberman had been forced to make that declaration before Ned Lamont won the nomination of Democrats in Connecticut. Connecticut might not have a Republican senator today.

A Fischer of Swine. Posted by olvlzl.

In his novella, Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party, Graham Greene looked at the extent to which people will degrade themselves to get a reward and what happens when someone won’t degrade themselves. The return of Don Imus and the flood of announcements from those who hope to benefit from publicly handing him their integrity and respectability for publicity and book sales brings Dr. Fischer and his guests to mind. While Greene probably intended his book as a picture of capitalism it also does as a mirror of the American media.

Greene’s story is narrated by Alfred Jones, Dr. Fischer’s son-in-law, married to Anna, his estranged daughter. Dr. Fischer, being very wealthy, holds ritual dinner parties in which the rich and famous allow him to humiliate and degrade them in exchange for valuable prizes he uses as bait. He considers this research. Anna, who wants nothing to do with her father, refuses to accept the invitation to a party which comes unexpectedly after she married Jones. She calls those who go to the parties her father’s “toads”, obviously short for “toadies”. Her husband, interested in meeting his father-in-law, does go but won’t play along and after putting up with a lot of abuse about his having lost a hand in the war. Having stood up to the abuse, he isn’t asked back until after the death of his wife in a ski accident. Dr. Fischer announces what will be his final dinner party in or on New Years, giving Jones an invitation which he accepts. This time the victims have to take a Christmas cracker from a bucket, they are told that inside all but one of them is a large check but inside that one cracker is a small bomb. If it wasn’t such a good story I’d be tempted to ruin it by telling you how Jones keeps his integrity.

Rory O’Connor has a catalog of Don Imus’ “toads” and the excuses they are giving for going back to the racist ritual where they exchange their honor for a lot less. James Carville, Bob Kerrey, Bill Richardson, Clarence Page, Tim Russert... Imus might taunt them, especially if they happen to be black, but he saves his worst venom for members of other minorities. Unlike Dr. Fischer, no one pretends it’s research and no bravery is required of his stooges. As we can see with Imus, himself, there is no permanent price to be paid for promoting bigotry, sexism, racism, homophobia, if you’re profitable enough.

Dr. Fischer made his fortune by inventing a perfumed toothpaste which one assumes was good at covering bad breath. Imus’ guests should stock up on hygiene products. After his racist, sexist attacks on the basketball players, there’s no more denying what Imus made his fortune on and what they are finally proving themselves to be. They’ll need lots to cover the stench.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Posted by olvlzl.

Or: If You Could See Them Through My Eyes.
Maybe you heard it, the cosy interview that Scott Simon did with Hanna Rosin and a graduate of Patrick Henry College this morning contained a very fine example of a particularly important tactic of dishonest reporting. The kid, whose name I didn’t write down, is apparently an aspiring film maker, which is fine with me. I’d rather have him doing that than working in the Justice Department. Scott Simon, who seldom passes up an opportunity for sucking up to the Republican establishment, asked Hanna Rosin if there was any difference between a far-right-wing, fundamentalist christian* making a movie advocating a position and Robert Redford making a movie advocating a position. Rosin, answering like a true WaPo, New Republic hack, said that there wasn’t any difference between Robert Redford making a movie advocating his POV and an adherent of the Patrick Henry College** mind-set making an advocacy movie.

Concentrating on the form instead of the content and it's predictable results is a favorite tactic of hack media. By pretending that the content of the two points of view are equivalent you can save yourself mentioning some career hindering reality. There is all the world of difference between advocating civil rights for gay people, women having control of their bodies, economic equality, etc. and trying to “take back the country” in order to deny civil rights and to impose a rigid, anti-freedom agenda on the unwilling. Rosin and Simon pretend to not be able to see the difference but anyone with a brain and the slightest hint of intellectual honesty would see that the two are entirely different. The effects of Robert Redford’s ideas becoming law and the country living under the ideas expressed in the Patrick Henry College’s required “affirmations” would be quite real in a way the form alone doesn’t reveal. And both of these hacks know it.

It has been my experience that when you make this point the next part of the discussion most often goes to questions of legal equity, of the law not making a distinction between the two POVs. Ideally, that is how THE LAW should treat people but since when were journalists or anyone else, for that matter, restricted in their personal judgements of peoples’ ideas? And, it’s also my experience that this phony even-handedness is applied quite unevenly. The dishonesty of a lot of the media in the United States stems from its assertion that the left is supposed to not make those kinds of distinctions but it is a rule that has never been applied to the right.

Hanna Rosin and Scott Simon seemed to be concerned with whether the product of Patrick Henry College believes that Jews go to hell. I, somehow, had the feeling that neither Rosin or Simon was really worried about going to hell, I suspect most people aren’t. But the matter of who is going to hell isn’t something that is in the hands of the “spearheads” of Patrick Henry College and unless you are on your deathbed it’s not a matter of imminent danger. The rights of women, gay people, etc. ARE decidedly in the hands of these christian zealots, whose representation in the Bush junta is rather enormous considering the size of the student population. They are making policy here and now. Pretending that they are cute, cuddly, friendly and harmless might be good for a hack journalist betting on the continued political and economic power of the very far right, but it’s hardly reporting the facts.

* I have read the gospels, I fail to see the teachings of Jesus in the program of the fundamentalists who pretend to base their activities on his words. I will not capitalize the word for them.

** For those who aren’t aware of the place, for once I’d recommend Wiki as the place to begin finding out about the place. Hanna Rosin might not find it disturbing, I suspect most of the people who read this will. I’ve got a feeling that Patrick Henry, a vehement critic of the church and its establishment would protest in the strongest possible way if he knew his name had been given to a place so at odds with his ideas.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Critter Blogging

These are by Richard. The buffalo was snapped in the wild but the reclining lynx was taken in a zoo. Is that enough of a kitty for you?

Feminism 101: Lab Work

Idaho legislators are very concerned about the problems of Idaho families. They set up a Task Force to look into possible remedies and came up with some:

Lawmakers look for ways to keep moms at home to strengthen families
Task force blames breakdown of traditional family for social ills
Rep. Steven Thayn and his wife, Sherry, raised eight children on their family farm. She stayed home, and they home-schooled several of their children before eventually sending them to local schools.

Thayn said more two-parent homes and fewer working mothers could be both a social and economic boon. The Emmett Republican sees the breakdown of the traditional family structure as the root of societal ills such as drug abuse, crime and domestic violence.

That's why, as chairman of the Idaho House of Representatives' Family Task Force, he and others are considering controversial solutions such as repealing no-fault divorce laws and finding ways to encourage mothers to stay home with their children.

"In one of the articles I read, quite a large percentage of mothers really do want to spend more time at home, and if that's the case, what can we do to help them?" Thayn said.

This whole article is perfect for showing how to do feminist lab work on all sorts of idiotic statements. Note, first that this Family Task Force seems to base its recommendations on Mr. Theyn's personal beliefs and life experiences. Well, they also listened to speakers who associated increased crime and drug use to single-parent families (and probably did this by not taking into account the income levels of those families). But how they came up with the idea that mothers should stay at home is not at all clear, and the idea that a traditional family would have less domestic violence is just plain rubbish.

Second, note that the proposals the Task Force created are both very detailed: repealing no-fault divorces, and extremely vague: finding ways to encourage mothers to stay at home. Why are those encouraging ways left so fuzzy? Probably because Theyn isn't actually planning to help mothers to stay at home in any concrete fashion requiring money.

Will all mothers paid the salaries they forfeit? Will all of them get health insurance for themselves and their children? Will their retirement funds be taken care of? When their children are viewed as acceptably mature, will their retraining costs for the labor market be covered? And when the re-enter the labor market, will their fair treatment and promotion chances be guaranteed?

I suspect not. And this is an important feminist point: The problems this Task Force sees with Idaho families are to be fixed by the mothers, essentially for free. Even a non-feminist reader of the proposals might spot the difficulty in expecting women to stop working when their families depend on that money. But a feminist interpretation gives the woman some rights over and above those of the eternally self-sacrificing mother. It also casts light on all the different costs that the mothers are supposed to bear (in silent submission, I guess).

Third, the odd combination of recommendations: removing no-fault divorce and encouraging mothers to stay at home, have more things in common than just their origin in Mr. Theyn's dreams about the mythological 1950's families. They both serve to lock a woman into an abusive marriage by directly affecting her chances to leave it behind and by making her less able to earn her living in alternative ways.

Fourth, the proposals are utterly and totally based on the view that the best possible family is one where the mother stays at home with the children. Other family arrangements are ignored. There is nothing about "one parent" staying at home. Nope, it's the women who are to stay at home. And the justification given for this extreme focus on mothers? This:

"In one of the articles I read, quite a large percentage of mothers really do want to spend more time at home, and if that's the case, what can we do to help them?" Thayn said.

Note that several recent studies also tell us that quite a large percentage of fathers really want to spend more time at home, too, but Thayn doesn't seem to want to help them achieve this desire. Thus, it isn't families that the Task Force wants to help. Instead, it wants to make women (and men) conform to certain types of families only.

Oh, and what might some of the more concrete ways of "encouraging" mothers to stay at home be? The linked article suggests a few: Making childcare and early childhood education harder to find!

Now that will learn those darned women to stay at home.

Bridge Playing

Remember the furor that the Dixie Chicks caused by their anti-Bush statement? Something similar has happened in the more staid world of professional bridge:

In the genteel world of bridge, disputes are usually handled quietly and rarely involve issues of national policy. But in a fight reminiscent of the brouhaha over an anti-Bush statement by Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks in 2003, a team of women who represented the United States at the world bridge championships in Shanghai last month is facing sanctions, including a yearlong ban from competition, for a spur-of-the-moment protest.

At issue is a crudely lettered sign, scribbled on the back of a menu, that was held up at an awards dinner and read, "We did not vote for Bush."

By e-mail, angry bridge players have accused the women of "treason" and "sedition."

"This isn't a free-speech issue," said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. "There isn't any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them."

Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. "If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition," he said by e-mail.

Treason and sedition? My, my how incivil the language gets these days. And what is the punishment for this act of sedition? It's pretty steep, actually, and not what I'd imagine a democratic country would assign someone who merely criticizes the government:

Three players— Hansa Narasimhan, JoAnna Stansby and Jill Meyers — have expressed regret that the action offended some people. The federation has proposed a settlement to Ms. Greenberg and the three other players, Jill Levin, Irina Levitina and Ms. Rosenberg, who have not made any mollifying statements.

It calls for a one-year suspension from federation events, including the World Bridge Olympiad next year in Beijing; a one-year probation after that suspension; 200 hours of community service "that furthers the interests of organized bridge"; and an apology drafted by the federation's lawyer.

It would also require them to write a statement telling "who broached the idea of displaying the sign, when the idea was adopted, etc."

Alan Falk, a lawyer for the federation, wrote the four team members on Nov. 6, "I am instructed to press for greater sanction against anyone who rejects this compromise offer."

At least one of the players makes her living by playing bridge, so the punishment would make her lose all income for one year.

It could well be that the federation has the legal right to do all this. But I think it is not going to do any good for the U.S. reputation as a beacon of liberty.
Via Southern Beale.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia II

A woman who was gang-raped will also get a prison sentence and 200 lashes:

An appeal court in Saudi Arabia has doubled the number of lashes and added a jail sentence as punishment for a woman who was gang-raped.

The victim was initially punished for violating laws on segregation of the sexes - she was in an unrelated man's car at the time of the attack.

When she appealed, the judges said she had been attempting to use the media to influence them.

The attackers' sentences - originally of up to five years - were doubled.

Extra penalties

According to the Arab News newspaper, the 19-year-old woman, who is from Saudi Arabia's Shia minority, was gang-raped 14 times in an attack in the eastern province a year-and-a-half ago.


The Arab News quoted an official as saying the judges had decided to punish the girl for trying to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.

The victim's lawyer was suspended from the case, has had his licence to work confiscated, and faces a disciplinary session.

What does 200 lashes do to you? Can you die from it?

Then the required statement: No, this does not mean that the U.S. should invade Iran or even Saudi Arabia. (I so wish politicians would stop exploiting feminist causes when it benefits them and dropping them the minute they don't, by the way.)

But it is still very wrong.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Balance at Newsweek

Via ThinkProgress, we learn that Newsweek has hired a conservative blogger to balance the DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas as a liberal blogger. Guess who that conservative blogger is? Karl Rove.

Waiting for that Cuppa, and Waiting....

Tim Harford at Slate discusses a new study addressing the question whether coffee shops discriminate against women:

I'm a real cappuccino lover myself, but many of my female colleagues don't seem to go for the stuff. I'd never thought too much about it until recently. I suppose I carelessly assumed that men and women have different tastes, probably as a result of different social influences. Now I know better: My female colleagues don't go to coffee shops because they're shabbily treated when they get there.

That's the conclusion of American economist Caitlin Knowles Myers. She, with her students as research assistants, staked out eight coffee shops (PDF) in the Boston area and watched how long it took men and women to be served. Her conclusion: Men get their coffee 20 seconds earlier than do women. (There is also evidence that blacks wait longer than whites, the young wait longer than the old, and the ugly wait longer than the beautiful. But these effects are statistically not as persuasive.)

Perhaps, says the skeptic, this is because women order froufrou drinks? Up to a point. The researchers found that men are more likely to order simpler drinks. Yet comparing fancy-drink-ordering men with fancy-drink-ordering women, the longer wait for women remained.

It is also hard to attribute the following finding to a female preference for wet-skinny-soy-macchiato with low-carb marshmallows: The delays facing women were larger when the coffee shop staff was all-male and almost vanished when the servers were all-female.

I haven't looked at the study itself yet, because I wanted to address something else in Harford's piece, this:

This is an intriguing piece of research because coffee shops appear to be a competitive business, and one thing we economists think we know about discrimination is that competition should tend to erode it.

The idea comes from an article published 50 years ago by economist and Nobel laureate Gary Becker. The reasoning is simple enough: A business that deliberately offers shoddy service or uncompetitive prices to some customers, or that turns down smart minority applicants in favor of less-qualified white male applicants, is throwing money away. If it is a government bureaucracy or a powerful monopolist, that's a loathsome but sustainable choice. But racist or sexist businesses with many competitors are likely to be shut down by the bankruptcy courts long before the human rights lawyers get to them.

Becker's theory is powerful, and there is evidence to back it up. Economists Sandra Black and Elizabeth Brainerd found that the surge in international trade, which has increased competitive pressures in many markets, has reduced the ability of firms to discriminate against women.

It's worth pointing out that Becker's seminal (ovular?) work looked at three types of discrimination, all aimed at the workers in the firm, not at its consumers: discrimination by the owners of firms, discrimination by other worker groups (e.g. whites against black colleagues or men against women) and discrimination by the firm's customers against one type of workers (who might be directly serving them, say).

It's in the context of the owners discriminating against workers that Becker draws the conclusions Harford mentions. The conclusions in the other submodels are less clear-cut. Note, also, that Becker's model has no uncertainty and lack of information. In reality, women at coffee shops may not know that they are being served more slowly, and you can't react to something you are not aware of.

The current study is therefore not an obvious application of Becker's reasoning. It looks at a different type of discrimination, one possibly by workers towards customers, and it's not clear whether the female customers think (or know) that they are served more slowly or not. If they are unaware of this the firm has no real incentive to fix any problems.

Broder on Hillary Clinton

I hope all women who look at all like Hillary Clinton wear those orange caps for it is indeed the hunting season right now. First that nice little word "bitch" was released into the political debate by a questioner at a McCain event. Then David Broder, the pundit of the pundits, chips in with some carefully nonsexist dilemmas that Hillary Clinton's candidacy presents, framed within discussion about Bill Clinton's role in his wife's campaign:

The former president's intervention -- volunteered during a campaign appearance on her behalf in South Carolina -- raised the second, and largely unspoken, issue identified by my friend from the Clinton administration: the two-headed campaign and the prospect of a dual presidency.

In his view, which I share, this is a prospect that will test the tolerance of the American people far more severely than the possibility of the first female president -- or, for that matter, the first black president.

As my friend says, "there is nothing in American constitutional or political theory to account for the role of a former president, still energetic and active and full of ideas, occupying the White House with the current president."

Of course this very dilemma is a direct consequence of the tradition of having only (at least apparently) heterosexual men be presidents of the United States. Thus, the quandary Broder argues the Clintons present is not separate from the American tradition of barring women from positions of public power.

Broder really cannot swallow the idea of an ex-president as the First Lady. Bill might steer the country from the back seat, you know! What does this do to the American system of government? How are we going to preserve our myths of the First Spouse as a powerful image of utter supportiveness but of zero real-world significance? What could Bill Clinton possibly do that wouldn't either make him the mastermind of the universe or a silly henpecked husband in an apron, breaking champaign bottles against the sides of new destroyers, all named Vagina Dentata?

If I were an observer from another planet I'd find this all most hilarious. Alas, I'm stuck here on earth, and that makes me wonder just how much the various pundits in the media who hate the Clintons would be willing to sacrifice not to have to write about them anymore. A war or two abroad? A Supreme Court full of little cloned Scalias? Perhaps.

A Nun, A Maid, What's the Difference?

Perhaps none at all:

Nuns know they are signing up for a hard life when they take their vows, stretching from dawn prayers to gruelling missionary work, but three nuns working in a community near Rome decided they had been pushed too far when the local bishop demanded they double up as personal cleaners for two ageing priests.

The nuns, supported by their mother superior back at their order in Lucca, refused to interrupt their good works with local youngsters to pick up mops and start cleaning.

After digging in their heels they were fired for their disobedience by the bishop, Marcello Semeraro, according to La Stampa newspaper.

Would the bishop have asked the same of younger priests had there been aging nuns around to care for?

Just Curious

Is it the researchers of evolution who seem to be almost totally interested in only one topic: women's bodies and how women walk or don't walk and which types of women men might want to mate with? Or is it the popularizers who do this?

I'm not a zoologist, but the focus on women's properties suggests that these researchers think men are the sex which does the choosing. Yet in most of the evolutionary psychology literature I've read the argument is that prehistoric women did the picking. Or is it whatever is most convenient?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

They Forgot To Dance

That's my explanation why Georgia's Governor Sonny Perdue's rain prayer meeting failed to work. Everybody knows that you've got to dance, too. In a circle, while bending back and forth from the waist. That is what makes the rain fall.

Must hand it to Sonny, though. If the prayer had been successful think how much the government could have saved on water provision. Just pray whenever things get too dry.

Meanwhile, in Colorado

An anti-choice group is collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would define a fertilized egg as a person:

If approved by voters, the measure would give fertilized eggs the state constitutional protections of inalienable rights, justice and due process.

"Proponents of this initiative have publicly stated that the goal is to make all abortion illegal — but nothing in the language of the initiative or its title even mentions abortion," Kathryn Wittneben of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado said in a statement. "If that's not misleading, I don't know what is."

Wittneben and others said the measure would have would hamper in-vitro fertilization and stem cell research and would effectively ban birth control.

Proponents of the measure disagree.

"It doesn't outlaw abortion, it doesn't regulate birth control," said Kristi Burton, 20, of Colorado for Equal Rights. "It's just a constitutional principle. We're laying a foundation that every life deserves protection.

We should look to Nicaragua for information about what such measures can do. For instance, they can kill women with ectopic pregnancies because the fertilized egg, doomed to die in any case, is still alive outside the uterus proper, and that life is more important than the life of the pregnant woman.

I can imagine all sorts of terrible dilemmas this measure could create. For instance, how do we KNOW if there is a microscopic American inside a woman? What if she hides the presence of one in order to get rid of it? We should probably test all fertile women every month to be sure that no microscopic Americans are flushed down the toilet.

And do pregnant women count as two persons if this measure is passed? Do they have to pay for two at theaters and at movies? Do they get double rations in the military? What about a pregnant woman who watches an R-rated movie? Should we punish her for exposing the microscopic American to filth?

It would be a very odd world to live in, especially if you happen to be a woman. On the other hand, if the quote is correct and this ballot measure wouldn't ban contraception or abortion, why bother with it? Microscopic Americans would still be denied life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by being prevented from birth. The real kind of birth, I mean. The kind that takes place nine months after fertilization.
Link via this Kos diary.

Eliot Spitzer and Licenses for Illegal Immigrants

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has relinquished the proposal to give drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants. The proposal and the reactions to it are an interesting study in the way politics work. The reactions were pretty much that illegals shouldn't be rewarded and that doing so will encourage terrorists to drive in New York state. Or something with the same meaning but without my writer's exaggerations.

I haven't read very many answers to the question what illegal immigrants already in New York state will do about driving without licenses. My guess is that they will drive without them. They might even drive without any driver training, perhaps even when they can't drive very well at all. I'm not sure if that will make the state on the whole safer.

Woe is Maureen Dowd

If you are pressed for time and can't possibly read all Evolutionary Psychology junk science on gender in detail, you can just read the latest Maureen Dowd column. She is summarizing them all for you and accepting their message without a single tiny question in her pretty head. Odd, that. And especially odd given the logical conclusion I'd draw from her column which is that there is no hope for women such as Dowd to find partners. No hope whatsoever, unless she packs in her job at the New York Times and takes up something more suitable, something less cerebral, something more suited for male ego propping.

A snippet:

Hillary Clinton, who is trying to crash through the Oval glass ceiling, may hope that we're evolving into a kingdom of queen bees and their male slaves. But stories have been popping up that suggest that evolution is moving forward in a circuitous route, with lots of speed bumps.

Perhaps smart women can take hope — as long as they're built like Marilyn Monroe. Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Pittsburgh have released a zany study on the zaftig, positing that men are drawn to hourglass figures not only because they look alluring, but because hips plumped up by omega-3 fatty acids could mean smarter women bearing smarter kids.

Yet Alex Williams recently reported in The Times that the new income superiority of many young women in big cities is causing them to encounter "forms of hostility they weren't prepared to meet," leaving them "trying to figure out how to balance pride in their accomplishments against their perceived need to bolster the egos of the men they date."

It is such an odd column in many ways. On one level it's all about the impossibility of a woman ever being happy if she is smart and earns too much. On another level it's all about what horrible creatures men are, but women can't do anything but go along with that. Well, those that try to do something different, such as Hillary Clinton, obviously want to be queen bees and to make men into slaves.

What can one say about this all? That Dowd probably dug rather selectively in the available studies to find those which support her own odd powerless melancholy? That perhaps she should have asked some scientists not linked to the studies for some criticisms? That she confuses cultural influences and evolution and appears to use the term "evolution" for all sorts of things which are not evolution at all?

I have never quite been able to figure out what the audience is that Dowd writes to. Sometimes I think she writes to herself. A lot of her arguments appear to center on her own experiences. If I wrote a similar column on my own experiences in the dating scene I'd argue that my smartness always served me very well, and I'd probably dig in the available studies for those which support that opinion. Note how very different that story would be. Yet it's Dowd's story the New York Times chooses to give us, not mine.
Added later: To give you an example of the kinds of studies which Dowd could have cited: There are some which show that more educated women have happier marriages and fewer divorces.

You People Are Really Nuts

Remember the Hillary Clinton tipping debacle? The waitress it was all about, Anita Esterday, said this to the New York Times when asked for more and more stuff:

"You people are really nuts," she said. "There's kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now—there's better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn't get a tip."

I was planning to put that statement up as the Deep Thought of The Decade but forgot, because I was watching Chris Matthews tell us how Clinton's "people" are trying to intimidate CNN host Wolf Blitzer about the debates. Even though Blitzer denied that accusation! Now isn't that fun and relevant for understanding the candidates, too.

It is mostly Hillary Clinton who is the object of the really weird stuff that some pundits write these days. Maureen Dowd wrote two columns on her perfidies, one after the other, and she is supposed to be one of the liberals in the New York Times stable. Andrew Sullivan told us how horrible writing will be if the Clinton's get back into the White House. Indeed, many of the arguments I hear against Hillary Clinton have to do with how unpleasant her presidency would make the job of a pundit.

That's a fair argument, among pundits. But it doesn't say very much about her impact on the rest of the country. For instance, would she attack all sorts of small Muslim countries or not? Would she pour the rest of the Constitution down the toilet and flush afterwards?

It's hard to know whether the dirt-digging on Hillary Clinton is to do with her gender or with the Clintons who evidently were greatly hated among the press corps. But in either case I think we all have gotten the message already. Please stop with the silly Hillary-bashing. Bash her on the issues, sure. And no, that Chris Matthews has issues with her does not legitimize those as real issues.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Value For Money?

It is difficult to estimate the total costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan military operations, but the newest figure is $1.6 trillion. This figure does not attempt to price the suffering caused by the wars nor does it include the costs that fall to parties other than the United States.

A trillion is an astonishing amount of money. And what is it that we are all buying with 1.6 units of trillions? Peace for all time? End of terrorism? A vibrant and democratic Iraq at least? Or two more theocratic Muslim states, after some more blood-letting? Do we at least get an unending stream of oil now?

The answer to that last question might depend on what we mean by a stream of oil. It's available, at a price:

Oil prices have surged since the start of the war, from about $37 a barrel to well over $90 a barrel in recent weeks, the report said. "Consistent disruptions from the war have affected oil prices," although the Iraq war is not responsible for all of the increase in oil prices, the report said.

According to George Bush, this country cannot afford to pay Social Security to its elderly, cannot afford to pay health insurance to children who are poor, cannot afford to fix up the environment. Cannot afford. We are broke. But this country can afford to pay trillions for poorly planned wars abroad. Or at least can afford the loans from China to pay for those wars. Or can it? Those chickens seem to be coming home to roost, too.

Fluffy Tarantulas

The Salon has a critical piece on Mike Huckabee. He seems to be the new media sweetheart among the presidential candidates, other than the always straight-shooting McCain. The piece refers to the Wayne DuMond scandal:

If I could resurrect one batch of files, it would be those reflecting the advice of his staff that he not pursue his desire to free convicted rapist Wayne DuMond. By "advice," I mean I think some of them all but pleaded with Huckabee not to do it.

Though DuMond's prior record included a conviction for assault and his alleged involvement in a slaying and one other rape, by the start of Huckabee's governorship DuMond had become a national figure thanks to Republican efforts to depict him as a victim of the Bill Clinton machine. The rape victim was a distant relative of Clinton's.

Huckabee, perhaps persuaded by DuMond's supposed conversion to Christianity, announced his intention to commute DuMond's sentence without talking to the victim. Outraged, she stepped forward to protest publicly. The backlash was swift and powerful. Huckabee backed away from commuting DuMond's sentence, but in a private meeting lobbied the state Parole Board to release him. Huckabee said, in writing, that he supported DuMond's release. DuMond moved to Missouri in 2000, where he molested and killed one woman and was suspected of doing the same to another, but died in prison before he could be charged in the second case.

I have read about this earlier, with a suggestion that the victim's family relationship to Bill Clinton had an effect on the urge to free DuMond. If that is true the other murdered women must weigh heavily on the consciences of some politicians.

Whatever the truth about all that might be, I find it astonishing how being a social conservative is somehow seen as almost the same as being a cuddly and furry pet. Like a tarantula, perhaps, at least from the angle of those whom the social conservative would like to put back into their proper places. So we can read reams about McCain, the straight-shooter, but very little about McCain, the anti-choicer. Because social conservative issues are irrelevant for most of the political writers, I think. They're on the other side of the fence. It is not their freedoms which will be curtailed, not their human value which will be doubted.

This is perhaps also why Glenn Greenwald thinks that Ron Paul is getting a bad deal among the liberals. After all, the guy wants to honor the constitution and to get the U.S. out of Iraq. That he also otherwise resembles the Taliban in his social values is not that important for Glenn, it seems. There are certain tradeoffs one can contemplate when called Glenn rather than Glenda, I guess. Though I'm not sure what Ron Paul might have in stock for gays, so it could be that Greenwald is serious about the tradeoffs involving his own life.

All this is somehow linked to that idea of politics as all about hard stuff: money and bombs and jostling elbows. In that definition it is mostly men who are into politics and nobody much cares about those fluffy labels such as "social conservative." It's other people that fluffiness would suffocate, and it's not really politics but special interests. Or so I have been told by some liberals on the net.

A Le Carre Novel Plot?

Not sure what to think about this story.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Today's Brain Exercise

This is a fun one to figure out.

Today's Paradox

Abstinence programs do not work. Hence the Congress wants to spend more money on abstinence programs than George Bush even asked for. Five days ago:

A spending bill before Congress for the Department of Health and Human Services would provide $141 million in assistance for community-based, abstinence-only sex education programs, $4 million more than what President Bush had requested.

Yes, the Democrats supported it, too. It's nice money to hand out to religious organizations who then can use that money to help the Republicans in the next elections.

Oh, I almost forgot. These programs prohibit any mention of condoms and such.

Today's Odd Screed

It's a few days old. Still a mighty screed, and by Andrew Sullivan, one of the conservative bloggers at the Atlantic Monthly. It is about the horrors that await us all if Hillary Clinton gets elected. Instead of the last eight years, the fat and peaceful Bush ones, we get the lean and mean Clinton eight years again. The horrors! Wars and economic collapses are much, much better than cocksucking in the Oval Office, or the ensuing wingnut mental collapse:

Barack Obama put it gently, with respect to Bill Clinton's increasing role in trying to ensure that he gets his wife (and himself) back into the White House:

"My understanding is President Clinton's not on the ballot."

The problem is: he is and he isn't. His wife wants to use him as a weapon in the campaign, but still insist that it is she who is running, and not him. She wants to appeal to a return to his policies, but still insists that she does not represent a third term for the 42d president. She wants him on her resume until it's not convenient. Then she pretends to be a feminist. She wants to include in her "experience" her attempt to get everybody's healthcare under her beatifically benign control in the early 1990s. But in turn he insists that her failure to achieve anything - because of her reflexive secrecy, paranoia and over-reach - was actually his fault, not hers. She wants credit for being a feminist, while still running in part on her husband's record - both claiming credit for the good parts and disowning the bad parts. They will keep playing this game - arguing every which way, passing the buck from one to the other, never accepting responsibility, for as long as it gets them past the latest news cycle.

Ok. Let's just elect a Republican who will start a few more wars, who will get rid of the Social Security and Medicare, who will get rid of all Civil Rights legislation and who will turn those pesky 5-4 decisions in the Supreme Court into resounding 9-0 ones for Vaterland and against the little people. At least we don't have to fret over the Clintons, and if we are really lucky we will die in those wars and will have to fret over nothing.

That was my mini-screed back.

Later in the same post Sullivan notes that:

I am told by my Clinton-friendly readers that I am obsessed with this matter, seized with hatred, a mouthpiece for Republican talking points, a woman-hater, etc etc. Fine. Whatever. Have your say.

Hmm. Wasn't Sullivan the guy who in the 1990s wrote a long piece about how women are biologically constrained never to be able to rise to the level of men? I somehow happen to remember that piece. Odd how certain things stick to my goddessy mind.

And wasn't Sullivan the guy who argued for something called "gender patriotism"? Meaning that men should sort of side with men and against women? Now, these statements don't necessarily make him into a woman-hater. But they make his use of feminism a little wobbly as a weapon.

On The Hillary Clinton Tipping Controversy

You can read all about it here. I have sometimes wondered why so many Americans believe that the way politicians tip or treat their family members or pets is helpful for deciding whom to vote for. Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian, you know. It is quite possible for a person you'd never want to have a beer with to be an ok politician. In reverse, I know lots of people who are fun to drink with and great with children or dogs or cats, but I would not sleep a wink if one of them was running this country.

I am not arguing that there is no useful information to be gleaned from the sort of private anecdotes the press seems to love, but their value is considerably less than learning what the politician actually plans to do. Mostly that's what they will try to do, too, at least after ignoring the usual campaign promises which all of them give.

Sometimes I think that we are supposed to view the politicians as prospective suitors and to choose on that basis. Or on the basis of our lizard brains, which might tell some voters that no woman shall ever again tower over them (mommy!) or that no black man should run this country.

In any case, I'm fed up with silly political stories about the presidential candidates. I'd like to hear the detailed policies of the Republican lot. It almost seems as if they have no detailed policies.

How Low Prices Sometimes Work

Remember those Aqua Dots containing a dangerous chemical? Why would such a chemical be included in a toy? The answer is simple: The dangerous chemical is a lot cheaper than the safe one the toys should have contained:

The toys were supposed to use 1,5-pentanediol, a nontoxic compound found in glue, but instead contained the harmful 1,4-butanediol, which is widely used in cleaners and plastics.


It's not clear why 1,4-butanediol was substituted. However, there is a significant difference in price between the two chemicals. The Chinese online trading platform ChemNet China lists the price of 1,4 butanediol at between about $1,350-$2,800 per metric ton, while the price for 1,5-pentanediol is about $9,700 per metric ton.

Note that unless you get caught you get the same price whichever you use. And getting caught is not that easy in China, where subcontracting has become an art form.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Media Will Pretend They Haven’t Seen This All Before If We Let Them.

This is a worrying article for Armistice Day, contractors in Iraq are being pressured to come up with “evidence” implicating Iran.

Micah Brose, a privately contracted interrogator working for American forces in Iraq, near the Iranian border, told The Observer that information on Iran is 'gold'. The claim comes after Washington imposed sanctions on Iran last month, citing both its nuclear ambitions and its Revolutionary Guards' alleged support of Shia insurgents in Iraq. Last week the US military freed nine Iranians held in Iraq, including two it had accused of links to the Revolutionary Guards' Qods Force.

Brose, 30, who extracts information from detainees in Iraq, said: 'They push a lot for us to establish a link with Iran. They have pre-categories for us to go through, and by the sheer volume of categories there's clearly a lot more for Iran than there is for other stuff. Of all the recent requests I've had, I'd say 60 to 70 per cent are about Iran.

'It feels a lot like, if you get something and Iran's not involved, it's a let down.' He added: 'I've had people say to me, "They're really pushing the Iran thing. It's like, shit, you know." '

Brose said that reports about Washington's increasingly hawkish stance towards Tehran, including possible military action, chimed with his experience. 'My impression is they're just trying to get every little bit of ammunition possible. If we get something here it fits the overall picture. The engine needs impetus and they're looking for us to find the fuel - a particular type of fuel.

Afghanistan is an unusual Bush war, the two which the Bush family has waged in Iraq are more typical. Bush (pére) had lies about babies taken out of incubators, Bush (fils) had “Curve ball” and the rest of the lies told to sell the current disaster. The media can be counted on to, once again, pretend that the Cheney Bush regimes' lies tab is clear as they report the stenography they’ve taken from Cheney’s henchmen. A war mongering media can make it politically impossible to avoid war by selling one with lies, they’ve been showing it since 1845. They’ve done it in almost every war fought by the United States except the Civil War and World War II and Afghanistan.

You might also want to read this long list of Condi Rice's incompetence. She is, to date, the most incompetent National Security Adviser by any objective measure and is well on her way to being in the running as the most incompetent Secretary of State, though the competition is a bit stronger for that position. The world can not stand another American administration as bad as this one. America can't retain its position in the world if it carries on like this.

Help Sought Posted by olvlzl

The computer crashed on Friday. I won't go into details except to say that this is the second time I've learned the lesson that you WILL wish you had made those backups you were supposed to. It's also clear that you don't put things back the way they were, not even when the technician assures you your computer will be exactly as you got it from the factory.

Some questions:

Can you make a copy of the set up programs that take my slow connection an hour to download from the web? Do you just save the set up program to a disc?

What is the best way to back up your programs these days? I haven't thought about it since the days zip drives were prohibitively expensive.

Anyone have any experience with Mac Minis?

Is there an environmentally safe way to dispose of antiquated computer stuff?

When The Stakes Are This Big One Mistake Per Person Is The Maximum Allowable Limit Posted by olvlzl.

Remember last year when we were hoping that Democratic voters in Connecticut would not make the mistake of electing a Republican to the Senate? Joe Lieberman? Remember the Democratic operatives and even some Senators who thought that description was over the top? The proof is in the pudding head. Read this account of the speech the “Independent Democrat” gave last week.

Thursday, Joe gave a morning talk at The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, and Friday, I read it in an advanced state of stupefaction. Here was a United States Senator talking, and talking ... and talking, and sealing his diagnostic fate with every word. He had come with a dagger in his teeth, but proved only the need for a needle in the arm.

His target? Democrats. Pretty much all Democrats -- the base, the candidates, the blogospheric backgrounders and any peripheral hangers on. That in itself, God knows, is no sign of insanity, since no one excels at self-loathing like Democrats themselves. But it was the foils that Joe chose to make Democrats look ridiculous that boomeranged throughout, paradoxically making the latter's case and utterly destroying the pixilated prosecutor.

There was far too much in Joe's unhinged torrent to cover in detail here, but a few droplets should suffice for your reasoned consideration.

"Since retaking Congress in November 2006," Joe began, "the top foreign policy priority of the Democratic Party has not been to expand the size of our military for the war on terror or to strengthen our democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East or to prevail in Afghanistan. It has been to pull our troops out of Iraq, to abandon the democratically-elected [sic] government there, and to hand a defeat to President Bush."

Joe Lieberman would be just another talk show flake if Al Gore hadn’t listened to the idiots telling him that running him for VP would be a good way to distance himself from Bill Clinton. He was a talking head precisely due to his demonstrated disloyalty to Democrats. He was operating as a Republican shill even while he was posing as a Democrat in the Senate. His role in the aftermath of the vote in 2000 was notable for its helpfulness for the Bush Crime Family in their theft of the election. He has gone from being a Republican enabler to being one of their most trusted tools. Since his failure to get the nomination for President in 2004 and his failure to get the Democratic nomination in his last Senate bid, Joe Lieberman has been on a campaign to destroy the Democratic majority and will almost certainly do his best to elect a Republican as President.

Al Gore knows who those idiots are, the people in his campaign know who they are, we can only suspect who they are. There needs to be a rule for Democrats, people who make mistakes as big as promoting Joe Lieberman get one, and only one disaster. Someone who makes a mistake as big as promoting Joe Lieberman should never, ever be allowed to work on an important Democratic campaign again.

The pundits and insiders think that they are not expendable but at the level of national and state politics, they are not only expendable, they should serve only on continuing and proven merit. And in politics merit is judged only on winning elections and making laws. It is so important that only the best should be allowed to serve us. No one who advised Al Gore to select Joe Lieberman and no one who encouraged Democratic voters to support him for the Senate last year have any credibility left.

Freeze Frame: Before You Watch Nova This Week Posted by olvlzl.

Earlier this year there was a blog row over the issue of how scientists and educators should frame the topic of evolution to better make the case for science. As always, it was the great struggle for evolution. Following it from outside, not being a scientist, it was discouraging to see some rather bright people making some pretty childish and irrational proclamations about their position.

One of the most foolish was the insistence on bringing the great war against religious faith into the matter. The problem isn’t religion, it’s scriptural fundamentalism. To insist on attacking all religious people indiscriminately, even those who are prominent biologists who not only support evolution but in cases such as Francis Collins have bolstered its case through their work, is pure idiocy. For those who have some ability to compare numbers, the large majority of Americans, indeed of humanity, believe in some form of religion. How to you expect to win politically if you insist on needlessly antagonizing the majority? It’s not only idiocy, it’s a strategy that has been given the test of time and it has failed it rather spectacularly. More people reject evolution today than before Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris began their war against faith. That rejection has helped create political conditions that have put a Supreme Court in place which has been demolishing the wall of separation between church and state. It is beyond question that the votes of biblical fundamentalists have made that possible and that their leaders aren’t the idiots they are often portrayed to be. They know how to take any statement made by the likes of Dawkins* and to use it to their political advantage. You see, in politics it’s often not necessary to have scientific evidence to win. This is a lesson too advanced for some of the most brilliant minds of anti-religion to fathom, apparently.

Another idiocy was the childish insistence on other brilliant minds that they weren’t going to use language that the ignorant masses could understand. The worst cases seemed to be insisting on their right to be arrogant. Again, these brilliant minds, and they don’t mind telling you how much more brilliant than you they are, don’t seem to understand that adults who can’t understand the language you are using won’t learn a long vocabulary list and master your entire subject to understand you. It is politically necessary for the teaching of evolution that an effective voting plurality at least not reject it. While understanding is very important, not offending that potential plurality is absolutely vital to political success. And it is political success, putting people into office who will appoint judges supportive of a secular government that is the goal in this struggle.

This isn’t difficult to understand, you would think. What is it about this problem that is so difficult for these brilliant minds to understand? No, they aren’t blinded by science. But pride makes fools of us all.

NB: Since every week brings news of the ever greater destruction of the biosphere, extinction of species, the peril that global warming holds for the survival of many if not all of us, the topic of evolution isn’t the most pressing problem for us to be dealing with at this time. The preservation of species, the actual, living, part of the world is at stake. Evolution, while extremely important, is only the abstract description of how species arise. It is important primarily in how it can be used to serve the preservation and extension of life, it isn’t as important as life itself. And politics are the primary tool through which that preservation can be accomplished. The political success of the left is certainly at least as important as the teaching of evolution without creationism in public schools** . And it is obvious now that teaching science is dependent on the left succeeding politically. If Republicans win the next presidential election you can depend on creationism being taught in the public schools WITH the Supreme Courts' blessing.

* Richard Dawkins has been thanked by some of the leaders of creationism for making their job so much easier. Somehow, I don’t think that Dawkins' response, calling William Dembski a “loser”, is an adequate response. And I’m afraid the United States Supreme Court will soon prove him wrong. Science may have won the court case in Dover PA, but it is always short sighted to depend on the courts. Courts are, in turn, dependent for their make up on the politicians who are elected and their election depends on the votes of The People. The understanding and support of The People is the only secure guarantee of political success.

** Considering the condition of America’s public schools, students will be lucky if they learn anything about biology. I wonder how many Americans who took biology in high school completely absent any pseudo-scientific creationist nonsense could tell you the primary parts of a cell, what DNA is or the difference between a genus and a species. My guess is it would be fewer than ten percent. Evolution certainly won’t be accepted by people who don’t have an even more basic understanding of biology and chemistry. Not except as an act of faith competing with other faiths.