Saturday, December 22, 2007

Put Jesus Back into Christianity and FOX Will Declare War. Posted by olvlzl.

If Christians are people who try to apply the teachings of Jesus to life, and the word has no meaning if this isn’t the case, they are one of the smallest religious groups in the world. Jesus somewhat cryptically said many are called but few are chosen. I’ve never quite understood what that means but it’s certain, very, very few choose to follow his radical version of the Jewish justice tradition despite their proclaim of his divinity, his status as the one savior of the world whose words are the commandments of God. Attempts, such as St. Francis’, to literally follow these teachings, are inevitably deemed to be too impractical before they are actively and, often, violently suppressed.

While there are a number of points that could be discussed, about the only instance in the gospels of Jesus consigning an individual to hell is the rich man at whose door the destitute Lazarus died in abject misery. Nothing which is commonly identified today as a sin or fault in the rich man is mentioned in the parable. Jesus only felt it necessary to say that he was rich, well clothed, well fed and well housed while a poor person lingered on his doorstep. Yet he is about the only individual Jesus condemned to unquenchable fire, refusing even the request that he be allowed to warn his brothers that the same was waiting for them. This is shocking when you consider the role of “christianity” as one long condemnation of the majority of humanity to hell for things never mentioned by Jesus. Why is this one sin, wallowing in luxury in the midst of poverty, not the cause of active concern among the bible toting, bible thumping and, especially these days, gay hating “christians”? Don’t they care to save the souls of these sinners?

In today’s “christianity” wealth is taken as proof of God’s favor. Those who have enjoyed the greatest success while posing as ministers of Jesus’ message have most typically laid aside his explicit instructions to preachers of his message. They are to not take money with them, to have the most minimal of clothing and to depend on the charity of those they are preaching to for food. They are to eat what is set before them, heal those who need healing and to go on their way. If someone rejects them they are merely to leave. And they are, apparently to go on foot, not in a Mercedes or Jet bought for their use by “the faithful”. Obviously Prada and designer clothes aren’t to be worn. The most basic and clear instructions about their chosen career from the Son of God are found to be inconvenient and are given the status of minor rules to be disregarded.

In the most successful changing of the subject in history, they replace the clearest messages in Jesus’ teachings, justice, remembering the poor, treating them as you would treat yourself, with tabloid style obsession with other peoples’ sex lives. Not that it keeps many of them from enjoying quite exotic sex, themselves. Jesus was almost silent on the subject of sex except to point out to the bible thumpers of his day that prostitutes and tax collectors* would enter into the Kingdom of God before they would. In his most well known treatment of the subject, he pardoned a woman caught in the act of adultery and refused to judge or participate in the prescribed penalty for adultery. Another teaching that doesn’t seem to have taken hold.

Those most constant servants of imperial power, the media, in the past forty years have defined “religion” as being the fundamentalists because of their political utility to the imperial order which the media serves. These religious hypocrites have covered up the justice teachings of Jesus by appealing to the worst in human character, racial, ethnic, gender and religious hatred and subjugation, selfishness and stinginess, cowardly hatred of the poor and powerless. And there is a reaction to this disgusting spectacle.

For the most part liberal religion of all kinds is ignored and so not discussed and so doesn’t exist. Those who the corporate media wish to kill, they ignore.

It’s striking how many active in the current anti-religious agitation are the product of fundamentalist “christianity” and, to a lesser extent, it’s lesser known cousin, integralist Catholicism. They identify “xians” as the target of their anger but their particular indictments are aimed at fundamentalists who have entirely rejected the core teachings of Jesus. Those who bring the person of Jesus into disrepute are those who invoke his name as an excuse for practicing evil. There are none better at generating hostility to Jesus than conservative “christians”, those who are pretended to be the most fervent in their belief but whose every action belies that they don’t really believe in Jesus at all. The most potent weapons of anti-Christian propaganda are the hypocrisies of those who proclaim Jesus loudest while refusing to follow him.

So, what am I proposing? One of the greatest needs in the Christian world today is for those who really, truly, believe in the teachings of Jesus to do as he instructed, to act them out and to proclaim them. And they have to point out the hypocrisy of those who pretend to Christianity while practicing a modern version of Roman imperialism here in the United States. I challenge those who really believe in Jesus to insist on justice, equality, the common distribution of the things people need in order to live. And justice is first and last a matter of economic justice for everyone including the alien and even your enemy. Christianity may require many beliefs in things unseen and taken on faith but one thing is as clear as can be, Christianity cannot exist in someone who doesn’t act as if they believed its central message, economic justice for real people in the physical world. That justice isn’t an extra to be forgotten while setting up a manger scene on public property in an effort to rub the noses of unbelievers in the political power of “christianty”. Where there is no justice there is no Christianity. In the United States during this period of conservative ascendence, it has become almost extinct.

* Yes, tax collectors, a group even more reviled than prostitutes, for whom many of the most vocal “christians” have a most definite use. The “christians” don’t seem to believe Jesus on that point either.

Note: Today’s column by Rich Barlow is as good a Christmas piece as I’ve yet read this week.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hell's Grannies

An old Monty Python skit. It's not without the usual dosage of sexism or ageism or violence as funny, but I love the idea of old women misbehaving.

(Link from Richard.)

The House of the Falling Sun

My feeble attempt to say something witty about the New Orleans City Council meeting which decided to "demolish a vast swatch of subsidized housing units". There were demonstrations and riots against this decision, and when I was reading the early reports on them at various links I noticed an unusually biased take in at least three of them, with the implication that the demonstrations were brought in from outside and that all right-thinking people agree with the plan to demolish those units.

And that may well be true, of course. But those articles didn't tell me what it was that the protesters were angry about. I was supposed to assume that they were just a bunch of loonies, and this made me more determined to find out both sides of the issue.

The official side is that the old housing units for the poor were storage facilities, places in which crime and despondency flourished and not homes at all. They segregated the poor from the rest of the community and didn't serve the initial purpose of subsidized housing. From this angle starting from scratch and building new small-sized units in mixed-income areas sounds like a great plan.

But the other side is also important, and it has to do with the suspicion some have that the city of New Orleans doesn't just want to get rid of the old buildings for the poor but that it also wants to get rid of the poor at the same time. At least this Los Angeles Times article covered both sides.

The Holy Highway

Some Christians believe that Interstate 35 is the highway mentioned in the Bible:

According to CNN, the small contingent of churchgoers believe that Interstate 35, a sprawling highway running from Texas to Minnesota, is specifically mentioned in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 35.

"A highway shall be there, and a road," reads a portion of the chapter's verse eight, "and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it..."

But if I-35 is indeed the place, some Christians believe there's a lot of work to be done before the road can fulfill it's saintly destiny, according to CNN's Gary Tuchman, who was on the scene in Texas as believers launched an effort to pray for the road.

"Churchgoers in all six states recently finished 35 days of praying alongside Interstate 35, but the prayers are still continuing," reports Tuchman. "Some of the faithful believe that in order to fulfill the prophecy of I-35 being the 'holy' highway, it needs some intensive prayer first. So we watched as about 25 fervent and enthusiastic Christians prayed on the the interstate's shoulder in Dallas."

It is charming, in its way. Human beings find meaning in the oddest places. I remember reading Nostradamus as a teenager and trying to relate the mumbo-jumbo in his predictions to the political events of my time. It didn't occur to me that Nostradamus might not have had my particular time in mind when he wrote his book. Or perhaps it did, but I wanted it all to apply to the only slice of history I can personally witness.

Something like that might lie behind the desire so many seem to have to live in the Biblical end-times right now. It's more exciting than living in times which are not especially significant in any particular way.

All this ties into the deep and difficult question of how to interpret holy texts (or even Notradamus). How concrete should one be in those interpretations? The fundamentalists prefer to err in the direction of excessive concreteness, other believers go to enormous lengths to turn the meaning of the text upside-down when the direct message appears to be an unsavory one.

I liked Sheri Tepper's take on this issue in a few of her science fiction books set in some future world of planets. In one of the books a woman from our earth is viewed as a prophet. She pops up on various planets at various times and one of the messages she tells people is this: "Don't let them mess with your head."

In another book, set in a time centuries later, a religion flourishes based on the records of this prophet's life. Her followers never cut their hair.

I Went to New York City And All I Got Were These Leg Cuffs

Eva Ósk Arnardóttir had been looking forward to her shopping and Christmas break in New York City with a few other Icelandic women. But when their plane landed it turned out that she had a previous visa violation:

Last Sunday I and a few other girls began our trip to New York. We were going to shop and enjoy the Christmas spirit. We made ourselves comfortable on first class, drank white wine and looked forward to go shopping, eat good food and enjoy life. When we landed at JFK airport the traditional clearance process began.

We were screened and went on to passport control. As I waited for them to finish examining my passport I heard an official say that there was something which needed to be looked at more closely and I was directed to the work station of Homeland Security. There I was told that according to their records I had overstayed my visa by 3 weeks in 1995. For this reason I would not be admitted to the country and would be sent home on the next flight. I looked at the official in disbelief and told him that I had in fact visited New York after the trip in 1995 without encountering any difficulties. A detailed interrogation session ensued.

Not that odd, you might say. She did, after all, outstay her welcome earlier. Laws must be honored. Quite. And would you send someone like that to spend a night in prison before the deportation? According to Ósk Arnardóttir that is what happened to her next:

I was exhausted, tired and hungry. I didn't understand the officials' conduct, for they were treating me like a very dangerous criminal. Soon thereafter I was removed from the cubicle and two armed guards placed me up against a wall. A chain was fastened around my waist and I was handcuffed to the chain. Then my legs were placed in chains. I asked for permission to make a telephone call but they refused. So secured, I was taken from the airport terminal in full sight of everybody. I have seldom felt so bad, so humiliated and all because I had taken a longer vacation than allowed under the law.

They would not tell me where they were taking me. The trip took close to one hour and although I couldn't see clearly outside the vehicle I knew that we had crossed over into New Jersey. We ended up in front of a jail. I could hardly believe that this was happening. Was I really about to be jailed? I was led inside in the chains and there yet another interrogation session ensued. I was fingerprinted once again and photographed. I was made to undergo a medical examnination, I was searched and then I was placed in a jail cell. I was asked absurd questions such as: When did you have your last period? What do you believe in? Have you ever tried to commit suicide?

It sounds like a police state to me. Of course we don't have the story from the authorities yet (or at least I couldn't find one), and it could be that Ósk Arnardóttir is a dangerous criminal or that she attacked the people who interrogated her or something like that. But if her only crime was to have overstayed her visa over ten years ago, well, I for one would recommend that foreign tourists stay out of this country, never mind the cheap dollar right now. Yes, even if those foreign tourists are squeaky clean, because records can be wrong and someone else can have the same name and you might end up leg-cuffed, too.

My guess is that her experiences are one of the fruits we are now harvesting because of the fear of illegal immigration and terrorism. The irony is that she is not exactly a member of those groups we are supposed to fear.
Thanks to Swampcracker for the link.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Spears Soap Opera

Where to begin? Perhaps by noting that soap opera is what our public conversation most seems to love. I don't really want to write anything about Jamie Lynn Spears, the younger sister of Britney Spears, and her pregnancy at the age of sixteen, both, because it is a fluff topic (except for the people intimately involved) compared to the other stuff that happens all the time and because the not-so-fluffy parts of the topic have been ably covered by Lauren here, and by Scott here.

So why am I sitting here pecking at the keyboard anyway? Probably because the Spears sisters have become archetypes in the media and because their lives are read and interpreted as morality lessons for all. And because of what Lauren and Scott said in the above links: That "taking responsibility" means to have the baby once you have made the irresponsible decision to have sex, but this only applies to girls and women. Men and boys don't take responsibility for sex as they are assumed to have it all the time and its possible connection to someone else having babies is kept vague and muffled by our popular culture. It's very odd, this idea that recreational sex is an accepted male activity but not something good women practice, especially in a country where homophobia is not uncommon. Who are all these hip young men having sex with? The double standards sometimes require that I stand on my head AND read from left to right to get the message.

Then there is the list of major parts in the soap opera. They are all played by women: mama Spears and her two daughters. The men only have character roles to play and certainly don't have to take responsibility for how their daughters turn out or how their girlfriends or wives get pregnant. No. Those we laugh at or ridicule or blame are all of the girly persuasion, and the values we engage in doing so are the old patriarchal values: all men do it, good girls don't do it or don't get caught, but if they do get caught they will either take their punishments like a man (heh) and/or they will turn into another archetype: the all-loving mother.

And all the time we stare the way people stare at traffic accidents.

The Cost Of Not Having Health Insurance

A new study tells us something that is not unexpected: You are more likely to die when you don't have health insurance:

Ward and colleagues looked at data from 598,635 cases in the National Cancer Data Base (NCDB). The NCDB is held by the ACS and collects data from 1,500 hospital registers. It tracks about 70 per cent of the cancer cases in the US.

They also included information from the 2005 and 2006 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which covers about 40,000 American households and is carried out by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The patients in the sample were either privately insured, covered by Medicaid (the government scheme for individuals and families on low incomes), or not insured at all.

The results showed that:

* Patients on lower incomes were less likely to have insurance.

* Patients without insurance were less likely to use certain health services.

* For all cancers, uninsured patients were 1.6 times more likely to die within 5 years than individuals with private insurance.

* About 54 per cent of patients aged 18 to 64 without insurance did not have a usual source of health care.

* Nearly 23 per cent of patients without insurance did not get care because of the cost.

* About 26 per cent of patients without insurance delayed care because of the cost.

* About 23 per cent did not get prescription drugs because of the cost.

* Patients with health insurance were twice as likely to have had a recent mammogram or screening for colorectal cancer, compared to the uninsured.

* Regardless of race or ethnicity, women without health insurance were half as likely to have had a mammogram in the last two years compared with women who were insured.

* About 48 per cent of insured adults aged 50 to 64 underwent colorectal cancer screening compared with 19 per cent uninsured.

* Insured patients were more likely to have been diagnosed early and less likely to have an advanced cancer diagnosis compared with uninsured patients.

* About 89 per cent of insured white women with breast cancer survived at least 5 years.

* This compared with 76 per cent of white women on Medicaid or no insurance.

* About 81 per cent of African-American women with breast cancer survived at least 5 years.

* This compared with 65 per cent of African-American women on Medicaid and 63 per cent of those with no insurance.

* There was a similar pattern for colorectal cancer.

Not having insurance can kill you.

That women on Medicaid, the government health insurance system for some selected groups of the poor, also had higher death rates than those with other types of insurance suggests to me either that Medicaid is a little bit like not having insurance, what with the large number of doctors who don't accept it because of its low reimbursement rates, or that the study still failed to control for something else associated with poverty, something which affects mortality rates.

The study author also pointed out that the lack of insurance doesn't explain all the mortality differences by race or ethnic group. I wonder if controlling for income and education at the same time would do that? Or if environmental factors from, say, living in polluted and dangerous areas would still exert an independent effect?

UNICEF Photo of the Year

Is this one:

Stephanie Sinclair took it in Afghanistan. The couple in the picture are going to get married. He is forty years old, she is eleven.

Child brides are not uncommon in this world, and neither are child mothers, despite the fact that having children early is a very dangerous business.

What drives this custom? It may have once been necessitated by a short and brutal life and the need to leave progeny even under those conditions. But today it probably has more to do with the low value placed on daughters and the desire to get rid of them early in order to avoid the expense of feeding and educating them. The parents of Ghulam, the girl in the picture, also needed money, and she was what they had to offer in exchange for it.

Our views about childhood have a strong cultural component. An eleven-year-old girl is a child in our eyes but a woman, ready to be married, in the eyes of someone else. There was a time when the Europeans held those views of children, too, seeing them as miniature adults. Upper class families would marry their children off whenever it was most economically and politically convenient, even in the cradle. But I doubt that those marriages were consummated until much, much later.

The above paragraph does not mean that I see nothing wrong in that picture. Children are not psychologically or physically ready for marriage, and the early marriage age of girls mostly dooms them to a life of no education and few opportunities for any improvement. I'm just trying to avoid "othering" the Afghanis, because doing so will not improve the lives of girls like Ghulam.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Out in 2008: The Letter "K"

I'm playing one of those end-of-year games which tells people, firmly and authoritatively, what will be in fashion next year and what will not. Among conservative pundits at Time the letter "K" will not be in fashion, for neither William Kristol nor Charles Krauthammer are having their contracts renewed.

The reason for their departure? Search me. But it's not a sign that Time is becoming more liberal, as they are thinking of replacing these two writers with Ramesh Ponnuru, an editor at the National Review and hailed everywhere as the famous author of Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life (Regnery).

Ponnuru is not known for politeness or comity or bipartisanship. Of course those things are needed only if one blogs. The opinion magazines can be as rude as they wish, and so can the television networks.

The Pretty Bird Woman House

It's the time of giving and then basking in the pleasant glow one gets from doing good deeds. If you can afford it, the Pretty Bird Woman House is a very worthy cause for you to contribute.

Use the comments thread here to add your own worthy causes if you wish. I know that there are many, many more.

On Jamie Leigh Jones

The Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security has just finished hearing the case of Jamie Leigh Jones. A Justice Department official was expected to attend the hearing in order to answer questions but did not appear. That tells a lot about how seriously this administration takes Jones's accusations that she was gang-raped by her colleagues while working for Halliburton/KBR in Iraq:

A Houston, Texas woman says she was gang-raped by Halliburton/KBR coworkers in Baghdad, and the company and the U.S. government are covering up the incident.

Jamie Leigh Jones, now 22, says that after she was raped by multiple men at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, the company put her under guard in a shipping container with a bed and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.

“Don’t plan on working back in Iraq. There won’t be a position here, and there won’t be a position in Houston,” Jones says she was told.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court against Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR, Jones says she was held in the shipping container for at least 24 hours without food or water by KBR, which posted armed security guards outside her door, who would not let her leave. Jones described the container as sparely furnished with a bed, table and lamp.

And why is this in a special hearing? Because of the way the contractors in Iraq have been defines as being outside the law. This means that the case can't be taken up by a criminal court in Iraq or here in the United States.

The following YouTube video is of Jones reading her opening statement. It may be upsetting for some to watch:

A transcript is available at the Pelosi blog, as well as a video and a transcript of the questions the Committee Chairman John Conyers asked.

I can't believe that the Justice Department official didn't turn up. Most unfortunate.

The Housing Market Tsunami

This is a fairly good diagnosis of the disease the U.S. housing markets suffers from. It is not a head cold or even a bout of flu, by the way, but something far more serious. And the disease is contagious, spreading fairly rapidly into the whole banking system, the general financial markets and skipping from one country to another.

As the linked article points out, the major cause of the current housing market woes is in the lack of regulatory oversight. The market invented a new game and then played it. Nobody looked at the rules of the game or at the possible harmful consequences of the game being played. The people in power simply assumed that anything the market gets up to will be good, almost by definition. This is reprehensible, given that the 1929 stock market crash had a lot to do with the market introducing "innovations" while the government looked elsewhere. Not all innovations are good ones, especially in a market where the buyers and sellers possess very different amounts of information, and all games, including the market ones, need externally set rules.

On Polygyny

This gossipy little article about the First and Second Ladies of Kenya reminds us all that it is not only the Muslims (and some Mormons) who practise polygyny, but quite a few African countries in general. I once started collecting sources for a feminist article on polygyny (one man being married to two or more women at the same time), but somehow I ran out of steam on it. Or rather, I ran to many other topics instead.

The gist of the feminist critique of polygyny seems pretty simple to me: The arrangement is never run on an egalitarian basis. If you imagine the relative power in a marriage as a cake, an egalitarian arrangement would give each spouse an equal wedge of it. Thus, adding an extra wife would mean that the existing wives AND the husband all get a smaller wedge now. This might make all of them consider before adding that new wife to the family.

The actual arrangements in polygyny are more like this: The husband gets three quarters of the cake and the remaining one quarter will be sliced into as many wedges as there are wives. The size of those slices will depend on how much the husband wants each wife to get. Adding new wives will not reduce the husband's relative power at all, but it will reduce the existing wives' power (though of course the husband may have to support the new wife, too, unless he actually has the wives all work and support him).

It is the unequal sharing of power in a polygyny that makes it an anti-feminist form of marriage. There is also some evidence suggesting that polygyny is not good for the children of the marriage, perhaps because one father is expected to be stretched over more and more children and because the mothers might have to fight each other for resources for the children.

I Couldn't Have Made This Up

If I had aimed for the effect of maximal sarcasm:

A 710-year-old copy of the declaration of human rights known as the Magna Carta — the version that became part of English law — was auctioned Tuesday for $21.3 million, a Sotheby's spokeswoman said.

The document, which had been expected to draw bids of $30 million or higher, was bought by David Rubenstein of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, the spokeswoman said.

The Carlyle Group is regarded by some to be a powerful mover in the shadows. Its members are important and rich and its influence far-reaching. This sort of clashes with what the Magna Carta is ultimately supposed to reflect: the rights of the little people, really.

On the other hand, the Carlyle Group could be just a bunch of very nice people who love the concept of habeas corpus and its roots in the Magna Carta. I guess there is no way to tell.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

All The News That's Fit To Print, According to Rupert Murdoch

The FCC with its runaway head has relaxed the media ownership rules. This means that Rupert Murdoch can determine an even larger portion of the news and analysis that you get. Of course all this is good for the blogs which cover local news, because there will not be much competition from the traditional media which will become increasingly monopolized. Sadly, blogs usually can't afford reporters.

This story is a good example of how the current administration runs this country and to whose advantage. The real base is the moneyed one.

Happy holidays?

What the Three Wise Men Say

In this pre-Christmas season the "three wise men" among the conservative political talk-show hosts are all retracting their testicles in fear of the vagina dentata. First, Glenn Beck makes fun of Hillary Clinton by miming her shaving while looking into the mirror:

Next, Chris Matthews (a.k.a. Tweety) argues that Hillary gets power from all those girls who will vote for anything as long as it has a toothed pussy.

Then Rush Limbaugh meditates about the ephemeral aspects of female beauty, points out how ugly prezdenting made George Bush (well, I added that specific example), and then demands to know if American people really want to watch Hillary Clinton age right in front of their eyes. As Digby points out, it would seem safer to ban older women from going out so that no sensitive man's eyes might unexpectedly come upon someone with wattles AND a vagina. Which reminds me of how Rush Limbaugh looks these days:

So it goes, I guess. Women should be eye-candy and not heard. And women should stay in the kitchen and in the bedroom.

A Stanton For the Saudis

Anne Applebaum gives American feminists a spanking for not doing enough to liberate the women of Saudi Arabia. She uses the example of the "Qatif girl", the woman who was gang-raped and then given 200 lashes and six months in prison for having been together with a man not her relative when the crime took place. The Qatif girl has now been pardoned, so the time is ripe for Applebaum to tell why American feminists failed in her case and more generally, in the case of helping all those unfortunate women not living in the United States:

First, none of us has written on that topic at all. Second, we only pay attention to trivialities (such as sexual violence in the U.S. which doesn't exist, according to Applebaum). And third, we apply quite the wrong type of feminism to the topic (though I thought we avoided the topic altogether):

The reigning feminist ideology doesn't help: The philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers has written, among other things, that some American feminists, self-focused and reluctant to criticize non-Western cultures, have convinced themselves that "sexual terror" in America (a phrase from a real women's studies textbook) is more dangerous than actual terrorism. But the deeper problem is the gradual marginalization of "women's issues" in domestic politics, which has made them subordinate to security issues, or racial issues, in foreign policy as well.

American delegates to international and U.N. women's organizations are mostly identified with arguments about reproductive rights (for or against, depending on the administration), not arguments about the fundamental rights of women in Saudi Arabia or the Muslim world.

Until this changes, it will be hard to mount a campaign, in the manner of the anti-apartheid movement, to enforce sanctions or codes of conduct for people doing business there. What we need as a model, in other words, is not the 1960s feminism we all remember but a globalized version of the 19th-century feminism we've nearly forgotten. Candidates for the role of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, anyone?

Where to begin? Perhaps that bit about "sexual terror" not being as dangerous as "real" terrorism. What do you think kills more women in the United States? Or in the world?

And of course the Stanton for the Saudis would have to be a SAUDI WOMAN, NOT AN AMERICAN FEMINIST SAVING SAUDI WOMEN. Yes, I was shouting there, because Applebaum seems to be hard of hearing and not very well versed with the actual intricacies of doing international feminism. Women in many countries resent the Americans butting in, and the ideas of Western feminism have become associated with colonialism and American imperialism and things such as the most recent Iraq campaign of importing democracy through the means of violence and thereby wiping out all the improvements women's lives had enjoyed there during the last few decades. All this makes life harder for feminists in those countries, you know. It would be easier to play the Superwoman saving women everywhere if the U.S. didn't invade countries so very easily.

Some more shouting is in order: WHY THE FUCK IS THE PLIGHT OF WOMEN ONLY THE BUSINESS OF FEMINISTS? Women are the majority of this world's people. Is it perfectly ok to oppress them, to traffic in them and to treat them like cowdung or bicycles, unless enough American feminists say otherwise and show themselves willing to sacrifice their lives for that cause? Everyone else can just sit back with a cold beer and some nice popcorn to watch, and then to grade the feminist performances?

All this reminds me of that earlier post I wrote in some anger, too, about feminists being needed for a cleanup in Aisle 8 of the great supermarket of life. We are the night-time cleaning crew, expected to turn up with pails of water and brooms, but to be otherwise invisible. Oh, and we are also whom to blame when everything doesn't sparkle and shine. It's probably because we were fighting over male-only golf clubs that women die in Saudi Arabia.
Added later: Another writer criticizing the feminist charladies for not mopping up that large bloodstain in Aisle 8 is Emily Yoffe at Slate. I look forward to all the feminist work that she will now initiate on behalf of the oppressed Muslim women.

The Francisco Nava Case

Nava is a Princeton undergraduate, very active in conservative causes. He felt that those conservative causes were not getting enough attention, so he staged an attack against himself and sent some nasty e-mails to a conservative professor and some other members of the conservative Anscombe Society at Princeton. The idea was to blame the political opposition for these deeds:

Francisco Nava '09 said his falsification of threatening emails to prominent campus conservatives and subsequent assault on himself stemmed from a belief that his actions would draw attention to the pro-chastity cause, attendees at a Monday-evening meeting said early Tuesday morning. The gathering included Nava, Butler College administrators and fellow Anscombe Society members.

During the meeting, Nava also reportedly said he was the only person responsible for sending threatening emails to himself, three other Anscombe members and noted conservative politics professor Robert George and had no assistance in fabricating the alleged Friday-evening assault on him. Additionally, he described how he inflicted upon himself the injuries he had claimed resulted from the attack.

"He said he pummeled his face; he didn't say what with. He scraped his head against a brick wall [and] broke the bottle ... over his head," Anscombe president Kevin Staley-Joyce '09 said, referring to a glass Orangina bottle with which Nava had initially said his assailants beat him during the attack. "It certainly was enough to merit treatment by doctors," Staley-Joyce added.

Fairly odd behavior, and all this could have been quite embarrassing if the planned publicity had followed as rapidly as Nava probably hoped:

Both Staley-Joyce and Girgis said they believe the Anscombe Society has weathered the incident with its integrity intact. "It is important to note that we refused to capitalize on [this incident] politically," Girgis said. "We were at the very forefront of uncovering the truth once we had any reason to doubt Francisco."

Staley-Joyce cited the "quick thinking and very good judgment" of George as essential in the past few days, pointing to the decisions to turn down media requests and not to publicize the situation until the facts had been ascertained.

"We made sure this is not a repeat of other situations where people started jumping to conclusions before all the facts were in," Staley-Joyce said.

Actually, Britt Hume of the Fox News had a piece on this yesterday, though it was withdrawn rather rapidly. But the gist of it was that Princeton wasn't doing enough to protect conservative students against violence. In the light of these new twists to the story Princeton probably should have done something to restrain Nava earlier.

Vagina Dentata

Chris Matthews fears that Hillary Clinton might have one of those, and that she will use it to snap off the penises of all the boys. Or perhaps she will castrate them with her pinking shears? Or saw their testicles off with a nail file?

Not sure, but I'm pretty sure that the nightmares of Chris Matthews must have had something like that as their plot. For why would he otherwise harp and harp on the castration fear when discussing powerful women in politics?

An example:

On the December 17 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews claimed: "Every day I pick up the paper and there's another quote out there from somebody who's a wannabe, saying whatever the Clinton people told them to say apparently." Moments later, Matthews asked Financial Times U.S. managing editor Chrystia Freeland: "[A]ren't you appalled at the willingness of these people to become castratos in the eunuch chorus here or whatever they are?" Matthews made the comment in the context of discussing endorsements of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and specifically that of former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE), who made reference following a December 16 campaign event to, among other things, Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) middle name.

Media Matters for America cites some other examples, both by Tweety and by other boys.

Me, I'm really fed up with this avenue of exploration. It would be more interesting if someone actually made up a snapping vagina and then took it to Tweety's show. Do you think that he would run?

Monday, December 17, 2007

From My Tinfoil Files

Those of us who wrote a lot about the scope for election fraud in the 2004 elections got awarded tinfoil hats. (Tinfoil is supposed to keep the government thought reading rays off from your noggin, and given that those thought reading rays don't yet exist anyone with tinfoil for headgear has been labeled as a nutter.)

But sometimes a tinfoil is not a bad thing to wear. For instance, a recent study of the Ohio voting system reveals some really big problems. I don't want to say "I told you so", of course.

But the truth is that a person with minimal computer knowledge could rig up the results:

All five voting systems used in Ohio, a state whose electoral votes narrowly swung two elections toward President Bush, have critical flaws that could undermine the integrity of the 2008 general election, a report commissioned by the state's top elections official has found.

"It was worse than I anticipated," the official, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, said of the report. "I had hoped that perhaps one system would test superior to the others."

At polling stations, teams working on the study were able to pick locks to access memory cards and use hand-held devices to plug false vote counts into machines. At boards of election, they were able to introduce malignant software into servers.

A similar study done earlier in Florida demonstrated similar weaknesses. Anyone thinking that these convenient frailties of the system will not be exploited by someone, somewhere, gets a lovely hand-knitted tinfoil straitjacket from me.

While we are on the topic of voting, may I ask why the voting days are not during a weekend? The current system means that some voters must lose income or pay for childcare in order to vote. I would think that everybody in a democracy should be encouraged to vote and that voting should be made as convenient as possible.

Krugman on Comity

Paul Krugman's most recent column is about the Democratic front-runners, or at least about Obama and Edwards. He points out something which is worth thinking about: The desire for comity and politeness and holding hands in a country where we all sing the National Anthem or Kumbaya together while following the Dear Leader:

Broadly speaking, the serious contenders for the Democratic nomination are offering similar policy proposals — the dispute over health care mandates notwithstanding. But there are large differences among the candidates in their beliefs about what it will take to turn a progressive agenda into reality.

At one extreme, Barack Obama insists that the problem with America is that our politics are so "bitter and partisan," and insists that he can get things done by ushering in a "different kind of politics."

At the opposite extreme, John Edwards blames the power of the wealthy and corporate interests for our problems, and says, in effect, that America needs another F.D.R. — a polarizing figure, the object of much hatred from the right, who nonetheless succeeded in making big changes.

Krugman then goes on to argue that Obama's approach would not work, because those who have power are never going to give it up over some tea and cucumber sandwiches. They are going to fight, and fight dirty, and if you are not prepared for this you are going to lose.

But it's an interesting thing to ponder, this desire for comity and cooperation. I'm sure that most voters would prefer things to be chummy and calm, as long as their ideologies are winning. That is just not going to happen, and the real question is whether voters desire comity more than they desire real political action.

Of course the above paragraph has to do with the recent definition of politeness in politics, not with the real definition of politeness. The Republicans are not going to make compromises, and this means that all politeness from the Democratic side means to let the Republicans win. There were no calls for politeness when the Republicans had total control of the government, and there will be no calls for it when/if they return to power again.

The Ten Best Books of 2007. Or On Women and Writing.

The Ten Best Books of 2007 were listed some time ago in the New York Times Book Review, right after the 100 notable books of 2007. I have kept from posting on the 100 notable books because I haven't had time to do the research on names it requires. But the Ten Best Books is interesting. It divides the books into five from fiction and five from non-fiction. The five best fiction books are all by men, the five best non-fiction books are by two women and three men.

Now, these are small samples of books, and it is quite possible to have a year when all the best novels are by men or by women, so it could well be that we just happened to have one of those years of all-men in 2007.

This suggests that keeping an eye on the Ten Best Books of each year would be a useful feminist exercise. So would looking at the number of books the Book Review picks for closer examination each year and the gender of the authors as well as the reviewers, not because of any fanatical feminist quota demands, but because judging books is very much like judging ice-skating in the Olympics, influenced by whom you know and like and also influenced by social norms of what one expects to see or read. And because my own impression is that the Book Review is tilted towards favoring male writers and male topics.

The area of writing is an interesting one for feminism, partly, because the evolutionary psychology arguments are usually that the special skills of women (the area where the poor puny-brained women indeed excel) are in language use. But then their arguments crash straight into the relatively few women who are historically viewed as Great Writers. Of course one can always marshal auxiliary arguments to explain the dominance of men in the field (for example, that men are always dominant, even when less endowed by those helpful language genes). But these arguments don't quite explain why women did so well when the novel was a new and untried field , why the very first known novel is by a woman, and why things changed when the industry of novel-writing developed those social structures that then made it harder for women to get into print. (This theory of new areas being more open for women and minorities is one which I think can explain quite a few of the handful of female scientists who excelled, too.)

To return to the judging of writing, I remember once reading a male critic say that Jane Austen is uninteresting because she only writes about getting married. This points out that the question of gender in literature is not just about the sex of the writer but also about which topics are regarded as important and which topics are not. For example, war books (or books about trying to kill the species) are always viewed as serious and important and worthy of inclusion, but books about getting married (or about reproducing the species) are not. It is easy to think of a system of deciding what to include in the Book Review which is arrived at on totally neutral-seeming grounds but which ends up biasing the field against female writers and reviewers.

But it is also true that women submit fewer articles and book proposals in general. Why this happens is unclear to me. It could be that women hold their own work to a higher standard or that women don't care as much about getting published, or that women know they will have a harder time to get accepted. Or it could be that the way the markets work is geared towards male writers and the way they work best. After all, labor markets in general are based on the outdated assumption that every worker has a full-time housekeeper at home, so it's not too far-fetched to ask whether the current system of acquiring manuscripts is the one that results in the best possible works being published.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Should The Christmas Village Vandal Take It On The Lam? Posted by olvlzl.

We have yet to know if I will survive the unpacking of the Christmas Village at my mother’s house this year. The thing doesn’t belong to her and its annual erection is met with the fixed smile she gets when the doctor advises an unpleasant medical treatment. The Sharer, who hasn’t got the room for the full display at her place, doesn’t notice this or perhaps sees it as an effusion of pleasure.

Some of you will know that the Village itself isn’t the problem. Not exactly. The thing goes up a lot easier than it comes down and it seems to get put away later every year. Last year I finally packed it up just before Martin Luther King day. The furor then endured is, I’m afraid, going to be mild compared to how it’s going to go in the all too near future. Like towels folding it’s clear that no two people pack away a Christmas village the same way. It has the feel of the kind of disagreement that leads to violence. Lord help me if a chip is seen.

Perhaps real CVers don’t feel an inverse proportion of charm as the thing grows ever bigger. And it does grow bigger with every post-Christmas sale. I’m told that as displays go it’s in the middle range, covering only three long tables and a bench, all covered with white poly-fill snow and complex wiring. I’m told that this years great innovation will be LEDs, more of them than ever since they’re energy efficient.

So I sit here waiting for the call complaining that I’m a vandal, threats of legal action, who knows what else. Maybe as an alternative to the tedious and ubiquitous, lazy-assed Christmas season pieces about who and how much to tip, the deep pocketed etiquette police could come up with rules governing when and who takes the thing down.

An Alternative To The 6x8', $400.00 Houser's Hut

This one will go without comment. None needed.

About Torture American Style posted by olvlzl

The reason that Darius Rejali’s article in the Boston Globe about torture is important comes at the end, the possibility of suppressing its use.

Still, history shows that the cycle of torture can be broken. Americans put an end to most domestic torture between 1930 and 1950. We did this, in part, by exposing torture. The American Bar Association's 1931 report transformed American law and policing. The document was cited in court decisions; newspapers and true crime books drew on the group's investigations to educate the public as to what the modern face of torture was. And police chiefs instituted more checks on police behavior, including clear punishments for violations of the law and regular medical inspections for detainees.

Many European states now have reasonably good records on torture precisely because they call torture techniques by their proper names, give them histories, and institute strong domestic and international monitoring of police, prisons, and asylums. The French have a far better human rights record now than they did in the 1960s, even if it is by no means perfect. There is no reason why America cannot restore its own reputation.

The biggest surprise, perhaps, is that torturers care what the public thinks. For more than a century torturers have voted with their hands: Governments that continue to use torture have moved to techniques that leave little trace. The same public pressure - built on unequivocal disapproval - should eventually be able to bring an end to this sorry history. Strange as it may seem, torturers and their apologists really do care.

It’s a hard article to read, going into some detail about methods, including the water boarding that our Attorney General doesn’t seem to be able to make up his mind about. Rejali gives some examples of how the refinement of modern tortures seems to advance when “democracies” impose colonial rule on unwilling populations and how it is brought back home by the soldiers who become accustomed to using it when they join the police. This is an example of the truth of Mark Twain’s statement that you can have democracy or you can have an empire but you can’t have both. Maybe if you give up the empire you can get democracy back. But that's going to be hard work.
In related news, no doubt we've all heard that FOX’s 24 star is spending the holidays in jail. Kiefer Sutherland’s celebrity work on behalf of the cause of torture isn’t the reason, more’s the pity. Glamorizing torture, making the infliction of terrible pain sexy and heroic should earn the creep an indictment for crimes against humanity. Or, probably more feared in his circles, the kind of oblivion that Hollywood reserves for the blond starlets it chews up and spits out so profligately. But as he has a penis show biz history shows that fascist chic is a road to eternal employment. You caught Chuck on Huck?

For any Canadians in the audience, what do you make of Kiefer being an active NDP supporter? No, me neither.