Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sick As A Dog

Will post tomorrow.


P.S. No, I'm not eating grass.

Saturday Bad Poetry Hour


I keep my ironed business face
in the old yellow travel case
under the stairs.

I lost the key.

My mirror stares
back at me
dressed in morning nudity.


In Memory

The woman has been killed.
Her eyes do not see.
Her body has been tilled.
It feeds a rattle tree.

And merrily we dance
around the rattle tree.
And when we get a chance
we tell her she is free.


This one is not about Hillary Clinton, by the way.


I met her in the swimming pool.
I cannot stand the crowd.
But Hilary was different
and seemed to say so, loud.

Her skin was silvery and cool,
her swimming like a dream.
Her crawling style was ancient
but made the waters stream.

Her eyes were deep and green as sea.
I never saw them blink.
Yes, Hilary was different
but how, I could not think.

Until at last it came to me
and I saw what I had missed.
These facts made it evident
that Hilary was a fish.

These Are Some of My Least Favorite Things

1. A list of stuff from TPM Muckraker about the way information has been withheld or removed during the Bush Administration. The list doesn't really cover the cases where information was altered.

2. The "administrative mistake" which stopped cheap contraception from being available to college students also stopped it being available at 400 community health centers serving the poor. It's bad enough about the students, but to do this to poor women is really evil.

3. The fraud and waste in the funding of the Iraq occupation. Reading just a few articles on where the money has actually gone reveals a group of American contractors bathing in money, asking for more money and throwing the excess money away, without having very much to show for any of the output the money was supposed to have bought.

This is a real scandal and deserves much more attention, especially from the conservatives who used to be the party of the fiscally conservative government. Note that very few of those jobs were allocated through any sort of competitive bidding to begin with. It almost sounds like Government Gone Wild.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Democrats: The New Party of the Rich

This is a new conservative meme, making its way around the right blogosphere. It is based on a Heritage Foundation (rrrright-wing) study, which the Washington Times summarized as follows:

Democrats like to define themselves as the party of poor and middle-income Americans, but a new study says they now represent the majority of the nation's wealthiest congressional districts.

In a state-by-state, district-by-district comparison of wealth concentrations based on Internal Revenue Service income data, Michael Franc, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation, found that the majority of the nation's wealthiest congressional jurisdictions were represented by Democrats.

He also found that more than half of the wealthiest households were concentrated in the 18 states where Democrats hold both Senate seats.

"If you take the wealthiest one-third of the 435 congressional districts, we found that the Democrats represent about 58 percent of those jurisdictions," Mr. Franc said.

A key measure of each district's wealth was the number of single-filer taxpayers earning more than $100,000 a year and married couples filing jointly who earn more than $200,000 annually, he said.

But in a broader measurement, the study also showed that of the 167 House districts where the median annual income was higher than the national median of $48,201, a slight majority, 84 districts, were represented by Democrats. Median means that half of all income earners make more than that level and half make less.

Mr. Franc's study also showed that contrary to the Democrats' tendency to define Republicans as the party of the rich, "the vast majority of unabashed conservative House members hail from profoundly middle-income districts."

It sounds very convincing, does it not? There's only one problem: The study doesn't actually say that it is the rich who vote Democratic and the poor or the middle-class who vote Republican.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand what is wrong with the Times arguments is to imagine a slightly different study, one relating the percentage of blacks in a state to whether the state, on average, tends to vote Democratic or Republican. I would not be at all surprised to find in such a study that the states with the highest black populations also tend to elect Republicans to the Congress. Now, does this mean that the Republican Party is the new party of the minorities? Of course not.

And the same argument applies here: The rich are more likely to vote Republican, and especially so in states with lower average incomes. In states with higher average incomes the tendency of the rich to vote Republican is less pronounced.

Friday Cats

These are hj's Aino and Iippa, Korat cats all sated and sleepy.

Oops! Sorry, We Didn't Mean It. Could You Come Back, Please?

I wrote about the Circuit City policy earlier this year, the policy of letting more experienced workers go, just to save money on the wages. That policy was based on the workers doing nothing wrong at all, just being "too expensive."

Well, Circuit City has learned that there is a reason why more experienced workers get paid more, and they are now asking them to come back. Please. Pretty please:

In March, Circuit City let go more than 3,000 workers and replaced them with lower-paid staff, a move criticized by analysts who said the loss of the more-experienced employees hurt sales of items such as extended warranties.

Circuit City's "execution remains a significant concern," Sanford Bernstein analyst said in a research note on Wednesday.

Cimino said Circuit City's changes include the creation of a supervisor position for stores and the elimination of shelf- stocking duties for sales associates to give them more time with customers.

The moves have "improved the associate morale in the stores," Cimino said. "We're getting feedback from our customers that they are having a better experience in the stores."

Compare this with what Circuit City did last March:

The electronics retailer, facing larger competitors and falling sales, said Wednesday that it would lay off about 3,400 store workers. The laid-off workers, about 8 percent of the company's total work force, would get a severance package and a chance to reapply for their former jobs, at lower pay, after a 10-week delay, the company said.

No wonder that morale went down after that move and that reversing it would be a morale improvement.

Why is it so hard to understand that a sales associate who actually knows the product is an asset to the firm?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving 3!

I want to give thanks to visual arts. They are one of the deep mysteries for me because what they give is not easily explained using just intellect or aesthetics or in fact any arguments at all. Some works of art are like a fist into the stomach, unyielding in their demand to look, to see, to understand something which always just escapes understanding. Others are like the scent of vanilla or cinnamon or like the scent of Solomon's Seal: the more you try to inhale the scent the less you smell it, but when you give up and stop trying there it is - suddenly - and gone as quickly, leaving behind only something which matters but why?

Trying to analyze art is for me a fascinating and fun game but it never gets to the reasons for that basic reaction, a physical one, which forces me to pay attention to something. It's not that the analyses don't matter, they do. But they cannot unravel the mystery completely and totally, and they can never make the explanation for that initial stunned moment something that one can just file away as an intellectual fact.

I have many favorites among the visual artists, but today I'd like to mention Leonora Carrington. She is not well known but her work gives me that inexplicable initial thump. Or perhaps something subtler in her case. Anyway, this is one example of her paintings: Adelita Flees

She is a surrealist as you can see, but what kind of a surrealist? What is surreal in her world view? What is the painting really saying? It speaks to a nonverbal part of me, sadly. Also happily, of course.
Link to the Guardian article by Darryl Pearce.

Happy Thanksgiving 2!

I wanted to put up this short story about sexual desire but it's not on the computer and I can't find the notebook in the mess that is supposed to be my libraries. Instead, you are going to get another short story about root canal work. Well, it's a short story but the events described in it actually happened to me. I know it is very unsuitable for today. But then it is unsuitable for every day.

A Dental Appointment

Sara is late. She is running for the train. The driver sees her running and takes off exactly one second before she reaches the still open door. Sara swears silently. She can still make it, she hopes. The coin exchange machine is malfunctioning again. She starts turning her pockets and bag over in search for coins. The next train should come within ten minutes. Her appointment for a root canal isn't for another forty-five minutes. Not that she is looking forward to it.

Once she has the coins she sits down on the bench and looks at the pigeons perching on the roof of the deserted station building or flying through the empty shell of its second floor. The station house is a ruin, of some long-gone civilization, and the pigeons are the new power that has taken it over. Lucky birds, they have no teeth.

A woman and a man cross the tracks and join Sara and another woman already there at the train stop. The new arrivals look Middle Eastern, probably a mother and a son. He looks affluent, Americanized, in his forties. She doesn't look Americanized. Her scarf is on crooked and she wears no bra. She has missing teeth in the front.

Sara practises deep breathing. Her stomach rebels against the prospect of a dental visit. The couple seem to know the other woman on the bench. The mother doesn't speak any English. She wants to compare how dark her hair is to the other woman's grey curls.

The train arrives. Sara finds a single seat in the back and continues deep breathing and relaxation. She has a fobia about drills. The trio from the stop seat themselves across from her. The man has brilliantly white teeth. Breathe gently, breathe deeply.

He talks with the American woman over his mother's head. "Do you know how many children my mother has had? Sixteen! And do you know how many survived? Eight!"

The train takes off from the station and slowly rolls through the suburban landscape. Backyards and trees go by. Birds without teeth. One neat fence has graffiti which Sara can't read. She can never read any graffiti, and it is all in the same handwriting. She imagines a jet-setting graffiti artist, flying from one country to another, scrawling graffiti everywhere. Most likely someone with perfect teeth.

The train stops and takes off again. The houses look more expensive now, and less of them is visible from the tracks. There are proper woods now, green. Sara tries to relax in the green.

"Don't you think that women belong in the home?" asks the Middle Eastern man of his neighbor. Sara can't hear her answer. A group of schoolgirls enter the train, laughing and chattering. Sara hopes that their voices would drown out the man but they move on.

Now the landscape is citified. Poor backyards with clotheslines and derelict cars, more graffiti. Then highrises. Soon the train would go underground. Then she'd be nearly there. Breathe in, breathe out.

"My mother never liked girls", says the man. "Why do you think she doesn't care for girls?" There are no free seats, no standing room anywhere. Sara starts to sing quietly to keep his voice out. Her stomach has clutched into a tight fist. It won't relax. It won't let go.

The train dives into darkness. The color inside changes to greyish cold. Everybody suddenly looks tired and old and in need of dusting.

Sara counts the remaining stops. Three. She is afraid that she'll need to find a restroom soon. The train slows in preparation for a stop. Large advertisements flash by. Do you need to lose weight? A woman in bikinis lying in the sun. Two happy people buying insurance. No graffiti. Nothing about root canals or the dislike of little girls. They take off again.

Sara has forgotten to sing, so she can't avoid hearing the man. "What is wrong with selling your daughters if you don't want them?" She has to get up. She has to leave right now. On the next station. It means having to run three more blocks. She gets off. She runs three more blocks. She is late for her dental appointment.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This song is wonderful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Taser Video

By Digby, who also provides the background for it. Warning: Possibly upsetting to watch.

Spotting Patterns

Texas and Taliban. The post by a male undergraduate urging women - those hussies - to get back into flowing and elegant (and constricting) dresses to better reflect their innate passivity and modesty has something in common with the fervent kind of Talibanism of the Muslim extremes. Consider this quote from the student's sermon:

The androgynous masculinization of the modern woman, through the donning of pants, suits, uncovered shoulders and unveiled hair, has in a sense led to the slow whorification of ladyhood. In discarding feminine dress, women seem to have symbolically discarded femininity and modesty (the virtues of women) in favor of sexual virility, promiscuity and immodesty (the vices of men).

The bolds are mine. I think Osama bin Laden would nod his head while reading those words. Isn't it weird?

Other patterns crop up in some of my recent posts, too. For instance, the idea that women are often seen as at least partially responsible for their own sexual victimization, even when there are no real grounds for that. I think this has a lot to do with our unstated assumptions about what is normal and who determines what normal behavior might be.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia III

Remember the 200 lashes and six months in prison a gang-rape victim in Saudi Arabia was given for talking to the media about the case? Her initial punishment was 90 lashes for being in contact with a man not her relative, but the extra lashes and those six months were added because her lawyer talked to the media. The lawyer had his license revoked for that same act.

What all this means is that the gang-raped woman is now totally without legal representation. The human rights organizations are outraged:

The case has sparked outrage among human rights groups.

"Barring the lawyer from representing the victim in court is almost equivalent to the rape crime itself," said Fawzeyah al-Oyouni, founding member of the newly formed Saudi Association for the Defense of Women's Rights.

"This is not just about the girl, it's about every woman in Saudi Arabia," she said. "We're fearing for our lives and the lives of our sisters and our daughters and every Saudi woman out there. We're afraid of going out in the streets."

Human Rights Watch said it has called on Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah "to immediely void the verdict and drop all charges against the rape victim and to order the court to end its harassment of her lawyer."

Even John Edwards is outraged. From an e-mail:

Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Today, Senator John Edwards released the following statement;

"Today's news that a Saudi Arabian court has chosen to punish the victim of a gang rape is an appalling breach of the most fundamental human rights. I am outraged that President Bush has refused to condemn the sentence. We need a president who will reengage with the world and restore our moral authority - only then will we be able to lead other nations in protecting the basic rights and human dignity of every person on this planet."

How about it, President Bush? You could tell your pals to go a little easier on their womenfolk.

Show Us Yer Boobs!

The New York Times tells us about what some football fans use for kicks when their team isn't playing very well:

At halftime of the Jets' home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, several hundred men lined one of Giants Stadium's two pedestrian ramps at Gate D. Three deep in some areas, they whistled and jumped up and down. Then they began an obscenity-laced chant, demanding that the few women in the gathering expose their breasts.

When one woman appeared to be on the verge of obliging, the hooting and hollering intensified. But then she walked away, and plastic beer bottles and spit went flying. Boos swept through the crowd of unsatisfied men.

In karate this would be called a gauntlet (though of course that gauntlet involved physical attacks by everyone you pass). The women must run a gauntlet. Not only that, but they are unpaid entertainment for the men, not professional strippers or employees of the stadium. Imagine the feelings of any woman who comes across this scene unexpectedly. She's treated as...what? I have no kind description of what the asshole men are doing there.

And what happens when a woman actually responds by flashing her breasts at this horde of salivating imbeciles? This:

Denisse Rivera, a 23-year-old from the Bronx, was on a first date Sunday. When she arrived at the crowd at Gate D, several men pointed at her, signaling men at all levels to chant in her direction. After a brief moment of hesitation, she flashed them. Then she took a bow.

"I don't care," Rivera said when told that video clips of previous incidents, taken on cellphones, ended up online. "I love my body and I like what I have, so let everybody share it."

Two security guards soon approached Rivera. The guards warned her about indecent exposure laws, she said, and let her go.

There you go. It's the woman who is breaking the law, apparently not all those menacing men hooting, hollering and throwing things.

And no, the security can't cope with this at all, though they do have time to warn the women involved. What are they supposed to do, one man asks? Arrest everyone who starts humming?

Much easier not to bother, of course. And in any case, everybody likes a little of Girls Gone Wild, even if the girls aren't actually volunteering for it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Give Thanks VI

And I promise that this will be the last one of the series. So let us give thanks for feminine virtues, as described by one male undergraduate:

What's not sexy is feminism (not to be confused with femininity), which is directly responsible for the disappearance of our beloved dresses and the adoption of pants by the "new woman." Like all fashions, pants are symbolic of something - in this case masculinity - through their allowance of physical activity. Dresses, the antithesis of pants, symbolize femininity through grace and elegance. Men find elegance in women to be attractive, and dresses are a physical manifestation of femininity. The wearing of pants by women represents the masculinization of the fairer sex, which is not at all attractive.

In advocating the wearing of dresses, I must distinguish between the flowing elegant dresses of tradition and the more degenerate and immodest dresses of our present culture. The miniskirt, a dress of sorts that doesn't extend below the knees, is both lacking in modesty and elegance. Elegance is essential to femininity, and the lack thereof implies a sort of masculinization. Modesty is essential to feminine virtue, and the lack thereof implies a state of whorification. Immodest, inelegant dresses constitute a degeneration and androgynization of true dresses.

There ya go. And yes, indeed, it is Thanksgiving 2007, not Thanksgiving 1937.

Also give thanks to whoever taught this boy to use dualistic thinking: Either women are modest, in a long dress or they are whores. Too bad that he never developed this idea any further:

Like all fashions, pants are symbolic of something - in this case masculinity - through their allowance of physical activity.

Therefore, it follows that being paralyzed in a bed would be the greatest epitome of femininity? If allowance of physical activity is only for men, that is.

I'm still hoping that Mr. Ryan Haecker is a joke. I'm willing to give thanks to the great spaghetti monster or to the Pope (in his dress) or to almost anyone if that should prove to be true. Though if this is a joke it is not well-told.

May the last words go to Mr. Haecker:

If all fashions are symbolic, dresses in particular symbolize womanhood by more fully embodying the ideal of a true lady, the objective understanding of what men find attractive in the fairer sex: passivity, domesticity, childrearing, coital love, piety and fertility. These defining aspects of womanhood are immutable.

Give thanks, my feminist friend, that you don't have to marry him.
Via Pam's House Blend.

Give Thanks V

Aren't you happy that this man does not yet speak for the majority of Americans, and with any luck never will?

Only strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities can forestall these terrible scenarios. This would not require a "declaration of war," an antiquated concept that has not been employed since World War II and rarely before. We would send no troops, conquer no land. Rather, we would act in pre-emptive self-defense.

At stake are supreme issues of national safety. The president alone, as Alexander Hamilton said, is positioned to operate with "decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch." Of course, Congress can block presidential action, but in this case, most members will be satisfied to stand clear and let the president do what must be done.

Give thanks that we still live in the world before the nuking of Iran.

Give Thanks IV

Give thanks for the messengers of bad news who are attacked for merely being the messengers. Give thanks for the majority of the world which hears the bad news and is willing to act on them:

The world's scientists have done their job. Now it's time for world leaders, starting with President Bush, to do theirs. That is the urgent message at the core of the latest — and the most powerful — report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 2,500 scientists who collectively constitute the world's most authoritative voice on global warming.

Released in Spain over the weekend, the report leaves no doubt that man-made emissions from the burning of fossil fuels (and, to a lesser extent, deforestation) have been responsible for the steady rise in atmospheric temperatures.

If these emissions are not brought under control, the report predicts, the consequences could be disastrous: further melting at the poles, sea levels rising high enough to submerge island nations, the elimination of one-quarter or more of the world's species, widespread famine in places like Africa, more violent hurricanes.

And it warns that time is running out. To avoid the worst of these disasters, it says, the world must stabilize emissions of greenhouse gases by 2015, begin to reduce them shortly thereafter and largely free itself of carbon-emitting technologies by midcentury.

Then give thanks to whoever decided to have the two-term limit on American presidencies.

Give Thanks III

Give thanks if you are on the waiting list for a private jet but manage to re-equip a commercial one in time for your Thanksgiving vacation. Give thanks for your new Patek Philippe that cost you $900,000. Give thanks for the economic situation which, astonishingly, is very good for the super-rich:

The quest for things exorbitantly exotic has reached a fever pitch of late. For one thing, more people than ever can afford to join in the pursuit. "This is the richest year ever in human history," said Steve Forbes, chief executive of Forbes, whose recent Forbes 400 list consisted entirely of billionaires for the second year since its inception. The past year has seen the number of billionaires grow 19%, to nearly 1,000, according to the company. In the past 10 years, the number of financial millionaires has more than doubled.

Half the new members on the Forbes 400 list come from hedge funds and private equity, and they form a fiscal fraternity that is not only wealthier but also younger, more diverse and more numerous than ever. While managing and making billions, the economy's latest whiz kids are shaking up the financial world and, quite often, the planet's spending habits along with it. "Never before have so many Americans gotten so wealthy so quickly. And never before have the wealthy spent so much on lifestyle and consumer goods," says Robert Frank, author of Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich. "So what do you do to stand out? The challenge for today's rich is to set themselves apart from the merely affluent. You want things no one else can afford or experience. The challenge is to always stay ahead." And while the recent stock-market turbulence may stall the tide, it is unlikely to stem it. "You can't get rich off financial markets and not be exposed if they fall," Frank says. "The next year or two, we might have a slight decline in numbers of millionaires as well as a decline in the amount of their wealth. But long term, I'm bullish on wealth. The rich are going to get richer, and more important, they are going to get more numerous."

Give Thanks II

Give thanks if you are not in Iraq and if you don't have a loved one over there. Give thanks if you do have a loved one over there and she or he is well. Give thanks if your loved one came back all broken but alive, yes, still alive! Give thanks that our government is saving money by taking away some of the signing bonuses of those wounded in action, perhaps because they can't complete the period of time they signed up for:

The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.

One of them is Jordan Fox, a young soldier from the South Hills.

He finds solace in the hundreds of boxes he loads onto a truck in Carnegie. In each box is a care package that will be sent to a man or woman serving in Iraq. It was in his name Operation Pittsburgh Pride was started.

Fox was seriously injured when a roadside bomb blew up his vehicle. He was knocked unconscious. His back was injured and lost all vision in his right eye.

A few months later Fox was sent home. His injuries prohibited him from fulfilling three months of his commitment. A few days ago, he received a letter from the military demanding nearly $3,000 of his signing bonus back.

Give thanks.
Link via Carpetbagger Report.

Give Thanks I

Bob Herbert tells us how the housing market bubble burst all over one disabled woman in her sixties:

Like vultures, the mortgage lenders began circling the single-family house with the tiny front lawn on Merrill Avenue.

They knew that the woman who owned the house was old and sick and that her two aging daughters were struggling with illness and poverty as well. That was all to the good as far as the lenders were concerned. The predator's mission is to home in on the vulnerable.

"The people that wanted to put through the loan called me about a hundred times," said Rosa Dailey, who is 65 and going blind and needs an oxygen tank at times to help her breathe. "I kept telling them no, because I didn't think we could afford it. But they kept saying how it was to our advantage. So I finally said: 'All right, let's see what we can do.' "


That was the beginning of a tragic spiral, with one unaffordable loan following another. As Ms. Dailey put it: "I feel like they led me down a dark alley."

Ms. Dailey told me her story in the freezing living room of the house on Merrill Avenue, which no longer has a working furnace and is growing shabbier by the day. It's all she has left. Her mother and her older sister are dead now. Her only income is about $1,300 a month from Social Security — less than the monthly note on the house, which is in foreclosure proceedings.

One aspect of the so-called mortgage crisis that hasn't been adequately explored is the extent to which predatory lenders have committed fraud against vulnerable homeowners. They have pushed overpriced loans and outlandish fees on hapless victims who didn't understand — and could not possibly have met — the terms of the contracts they signed.

I guess we could all say thanks for not being Ms. Dailey, at least yet. Many people probably did take badly thought-out loans because of greed or gullibility. But the case of Ms. Dailey is unlikely to be a unique one. It's still not uncommon for ordinary people to view bankers or lenders as professionals, as people in a trusted role, as people who will tell you, with a heavy and serious tone of voice, if you really can't afford that mortgage you set your heart on. This is how mortgage lenders have been regarded for quite a long time. And my guess is that Ms. Dailey believed the lenders. If they said that she could afford the loan and that it would make her payments smaller, well, they must be right, given that they know all those technical terms and wear three-piece suits and so on.

It's almost as if your physician suddenly turned on you and started feeding you drugs you don't really need or urging you to have unnecessary operations. Such physicians do exist but they are rare, because the legal framework and training is geared towards making physicians behave in a different manner, that of a trusted professional. When did this change about bankers and mortgage lenders?

Ms. Dailey is going to have corn flakes and canned vegetables for Thanksgiving, while sitting in her cold house.

May Colvin

I was reading an old flea market book of poetry the other night and came upon this old ballad


False Sir John a-wooing came
To a maid of beauty fair;
May Colvin was this lady's name,
Her father's only heir.

He woo'd her but, he woo'd her ben,
He woo'd her in the ha';
Until he got the lady's consent
To mount and ride awa'.

"Go fetch me some of your father's gold,
And some of your mother's fee,
And I'll carry you into the north land,
And there I'll marry thee."

She's gane to her father's coffers
Where all his money lay,
And she's taken the red, and she's left the white,
And so lightly she's tripp'd away.

She's gane to her father's stable
Where all the steeds did stand,
And she's taken the best, and she's left the warst
That was in her father's land.

She's mounted on a milk-white steed,
And he on a dapple-grey,
And on they rade to a lonesome part,
A rock beside the sea.

"Loup off the steed," says false Sir John,
"Your bridal bed you see;
Seven ladies I have drown'd here,
And the eighth one you shall be.

"Cast off, cast off your silks so fine
And lay them on a stone,
For they are too fine and costly
To rot in the salt sea foam.

"Cast off, cast off your silken stays,
For and your broider'd shoon,
For they are too fine and costly
To rot in the salt sea foam.

"Cast off, cast off your Holland smock
That's border'd with the lawn,
For it is too fine and costly
To rot in the salt sea foam."

"O turn about, thou false Sir John,
And look to the leaf o' the tree;
For it never became a gentleman
A naked woman to see."

He turn'd himself straight round about
To look to the leaf o' the tree;
She's twined her arms about his waist
And thrown him into the sea.

"O hold a grip o' me, May Colvin,
For fear that I should drown;
I'll take you home to your father's gates
And safe I'll set you down."

"No help, no help, thou false Sir John,
No help, no pity thee!
For you lie not in a caulder bed
Than you thought to lay me."

She mounted on her milk-white steed,
And led the dapple-grey,
And she rode till she reach'd her father's gates,
At the breakin' o' the day.

Up then spake the pretty parrot,
"May Colvin, where have you been?
What has become o' false Sir John
That went with you yestreen?" –

"O hold your tongue, my pretty parrot!
Nor tell no tales o' me;
Your cage shall be made o' the beaten gold
And the spokes o' ivorie."

Up then spake her father dear,
In the bed-chamber where he lay:
"What ails the pretty parrot,
That prattles so long ere day?" –

"There came a cat to my cage, master,
I thought 't would have worried me,
And I was calling to May Colvin
To take the cat from me."

It's quite an old ballad and reminds me of the Bluebeard fairy tale. But this heroine is resourceful and clever and carries out her own rescue. Interesting.

A daylily has been named after May Colvin, too.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Little Drummer Boys

These are the hawks, always eager to have a little bit more war. The problem with their eagerness is that going to war in, say, Pakistan (the newest possible target) while also staying in Iraq requires some sort of cloning of the military and the Bush administration is dead-set against cloning. Or it requires hiring mercenaries and we know how well that works.

In short, the U.S. does indeed have the largest stock of WMDs and nuclear bombs and the like, and the largest military budget of any country on earth (in fact, several times larger than the next largest such budget), but the U.S. does not have millions and millions of spare soldiers. Any attempt to extend some sort of warfare to several countries would fail unless it was carried out by distance bombing only. I wish the little drummer boys would make it clear that they are talking about turning countries into glass-covered parking lots, because that's what the only realistic strategy to winning such wars would entail.

Who Does The Laundry?

An interesting interview with two American women who write on mothers and work.

Today's Post on Economics (Less Filling And Tastes Great)

One of the effects of globalization or international competition in general is well known: Certain domestic industries suffer because they are no longer competitive and workers in them will be laid off. What should those workers do next?

The traditional economics answer is retraining. You go back to school, get new skills in something your country still can compete in, you then get a new career and all will be fine.

The shorthand of this pretty much states that there will be those immediate losses of jobs and earnings but in the longer-run everything will be just dandy. A comment at Eschaton threads the other day points out that this shorthand story is a fairy tale. Here is the comment by jen:

Yup. And the rest of us who make well under that amount are suffering what I like to call "regressive wages." Meaning, your career gets tied up with a big red bow and shipped overseas, leaving you to deal with unemployment or underemployment for a year or two or three. Then you spend your savings to go back to school and start over in a new career. Upon starting over you can't make any better than a shitty entry level salary despite two decades of work experience. Meanwhile the nest egg is gone and you're up to your eyeballs in debt again, because even though your wages have taken a nose dive, the cost of living has continued to increase.

You're forty-something now and have no idea where your child's college money is going to come from, let alone retirement savings. And then, as if you haven't been kicked in the balls hard enough, you find out your new career is likely to experience an "explosion" in offshoring by the end of 2008.

The point jen makes is an important one: Changing careers is not a costless operation but an incredibly costly one, and the post doesn't quantify the costs of mental suffering at all.

In general economic arguments tend to downplay the costs to people from moving or from changing careers or from other adjustments the market deems necessary. Moving, for instance, is seen as an easy way to adjust to your firm juggling its operations, and it may well be better than being laid off. But moving means losing all the support structures your family may have developed, pulling the children out of the schools in which they have made their friends and possibly also causing your spouse to lose a job he or she likes and needs. Moving is expensive.

And so is job retraining caused by globalization. These costs should be kept in mind when discussing the advantages of global markets.

A Bitch-Hunt

Maureen Dowd is ready for one:

The debate dominatrix knows how to rattle Obambi.

Mistress Hillary started disciplining her fellow senator last winter, after he began exploring a presidential bid. When he winked at her, took her elbow and tried to say hello on the Senate floor, she did not melt, as many women do. She brushed him off, a move meant to remind him that he was an upstart who should not get in the way of her turn in the Oval Office.

He was so shook up, he called a friend to say: You would not believe what just happened with Hillary.

She has continued to flick the whip in debates. She usually ignores Obama and John Edwards backstage, preferring to chat with the so-called second-tier candidates. And she often looks so unapproachable while they're setting up on stage that Obama seems hesitant to be the first to say hi.

And what have we learned from these beginning paragraphs of yet another entry in the "id" diaries of one Maureen Dowd? That a woman in power is a dominatrix? How very feminist. Or that Hillary Clinton, specifically, is a dominatrix? What is the evidence Dowd provides on this? That she is cold towards Barack Obama. This, my friends, is how a woman becomes a dominatrix.

What else might we learn from these few paragraphs? Might there possibly be an innuendo here about race, too? I'm not sure about that. But Maureen Dowd sure hates Hillary Clinton and thinks that it's important for her readers to know that, including the reasons for her hatred which appear something to do with sado-masochistic sex and Dowd's insistence of interpreting a powerful woman in politics in such terms. Dowd also wants to tell us that she knows the inner motivations of Hillary Clinton ("a move meant to remind him that he was an upstart").

It's pretty sickening. Politics is not really who gets to tie whom to the bedposts with those velvety ties, Maureen. It's about which people get bombed in the future, about the Constitution, about unemployment, health care, education and all those other incredibly non-sexy matters.

Sigh. I'm preaching to an empty room while all the fashionable pundits sharpen their pencils to scribble down intimate details about the Clinton's marriage and about Hillary being a dominatrix in a leather harness and about the Democratic men all being bottoms. If you are not convinced by Dowd's series of "I Hate Hillary" columns, Andrew Sullivan has joined in the bitch-hunt, too:

Here's a more paranoid explanation: at some point in this campaign, if you believe the Washington rumor mill, there may well be some Clinton bimbo eruption stories, i.e. Bill's post-presidential extracurricular activities will come under discussion again. This Novak flap therefore may be a dummy-run for the various responses if such alleged doodoo eventually hits the campaign fan. The story would be relevant again not so much because of Bill but because of Hillary. She is now the candidate and would be forced to respond to such allegations if they became in any way legit.

"She is now the candidate and would be forced to respond to such allegations if they became in any way legit." Oh my. Hillary Clinton is both a dominatrix whipping the Democratic girly-men into submission AND the person responsible for any possible future affairs Bill Clinton might have. Either way, she is defined by sexuality, not by the politics she proposes. And that is what makes these unsavory messes my business, a feminist business.

So stop it, already. Criticize her policies or her expertise or other relevant matters.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday Night Truth or Dare Posted by olvlzl.

Maybe it's the queasy stomach, maybe it's the insomnia or the SAD or writer's block but I'm feeling reckless tonight, so I'll tell you one of my deepest, darkest, most scandalous secrets.

I learned to read and speak Esperanto a couple of years back. And even worse than that, I think it's a fine idea and I don't care if it makes me disreputable. After a few months of studying Teach Yourself Esperanto I could speak it better than I can French, which I studied all through high school and college. And the books I've read are pretty good, especially the poetry.

There. Isn't that scandalous? Now it's your turn.

What Do You Know? Reading Something New About Thanksgiving. Posted by olvlzl.

I almost passed by Eve LaPlante's article about Thanksgiving, which looked like it would be a rehash of nonsense about the Pilgrim Fathers and associated New England Yankee propaganda but that would have been a mistake. Oh, it is all about the Pilgrim-Puritan tradition of "public days". However, at the heart is interesting information about one of LaPlante's ancestors, Judge Samuel Sewall, of witch hunt infamy. In addition to leaving a full description of an early 18th century thanksgiving menu (yech!), LaPlante gives details about how he came to see the error of his witch persecution and became a better person for it.

In January 1697, for example, the Massachusetts government called a public day so the community could repent and beg God's forgiveness for the disaster of the Salem witch hunt, in which a Colonial court had executed 20 innocent women and men. One of my ancestors, Judge Samuel Sewall, was one of nine judges who had presided over the 1692 witchcraft trials. On Jan. 14, 1697, during the fast-day service at Boston's Third Church, now Old South, 44-year-old Judge Sewall stood up from his bench and bowed his head as his minister read aloud Sewall's public statement of acceptance of "the blame and shame" for the witch hunt. Sewall donned a coarse penitential hair shirt on that fast day and wore it, according to family lore, for the rest of his life, as a constant, painful reminder of his sin.

During the long period of repentance that followed, Judge Sewall tried to improve not only himself but also his society. He became an unlikely spokesman for the advancement of civil rights and individual liberties. In the summer of 1697, not long after the fast day, he published an essay, "Phaenomena quaedam Apocalyptica," that portrayed America - and Native Americans - as virtuous and godly. In 1700, when one in five families in Boston owned African or Native American slaves, Sewall composed and published the first abolitionist statement in America, "The Selling of Joseph," which argued that slavery was immoral. His 1725 essay, "Talitha Cumi," or "Damsel, Arise," stated the "right of women" and women's fundamental equality to men.

Having had the traditional myths of ye olde Pilgrim fathers force fed in my youth- largely created by ye olde Yankee historians and used as "nativist" propaganda- I'd never gone into the aftermath of the anti-witch mania and so didn't know about the repentance. Holding a grudge against the Puritans, I'd assumed that anti-slavery efforts began with John Woolman, the Quaker saint. And I'm ashamed to say that I knew little about feminism before Anthony. It's good to be upended once in a while, forced to question basic assumptions and customs of thinking. Apparently Sewall found that to be true.

I have a hard time imagining Scalia or Roberts or Alito repenting their corrupt actions in public or reforming themselves into something other than henchmen of the powerful establishment. Thomas, as his recent book proves, is never going to be any better than the pathetic, self-motivated, limpet to the powerful that he has always been. Ronald Reagan liked to make fun of the Puritan tradition for all the wrong reasons. He saw the discouragement of self indulgence as their major failure. The refusal to self-indulgence is one of the primary sins of our establishment today, usually expressed in some pop-psychological terms of inhibition and hang-ups. Fun is good but it isn't the greatest good. The real sins of the Puritans weren't the ones cited most often today, they were injustice, inequality, sexism and bigotry, hypocrisy and vainglory. The sins of the Puritans are exactly the virtues of today's conservatives.