Saturday, November 01, 2008

Little Old Ladies (by Phila)

Patricia Lee Sharpe of the excellent blog WhirledView catches this obnoxious quote from Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle:
“We aren’t a bunch of little old ladies in tennis shoes,” Pacelle says, paraphrasing his mentor Cleveland Armory, an animal rights activist. “We have cleats on.”
Ms. Sharpe points out that "the notion that grandmothers generally are soft-headed, slightly-addled bundles of sentimental sweetness who must be protected from ugly realities is...more than a little ludicrous and insulting."

Which is certainly true. But I'm also irritated by the implication that these feeble, silly women (and feminized men like yours truly) have had their chance to address the issue of animal cruelty, and it's now time for a new breed of hypermasculine go-getters like Pacelle to kick ass and take names. Like so many other problems, this one becomes truly serious only when men -- real men, with cleats! -- get involved.

In fact, many of the difficulties involved in protecting animals boil down to gender politics of a particularly witless and ugly kind (as witless and ugly men like Jonah Goldberg and Daniel Clark are more than happy to demonstrate). Which is why I get distressed (in a disgustingly feminine way) when activists like Pacelle -- or the far more offensive folks at PETA -- fail to grasp the ideological connection between their portrayal of women, and the popular view that indifference to the suffering of farm animals is "normal" and "rational."

Of course, I'd argue that this logic cuts both ways, which is why I hope that any readers who are in a position to help California's Proposition 2 pass will do so.

The Concept of Non-Ownership (by Phila)

I've been thinking lately about the form that architecture takes in an economy based on land speculation rather than, say, industrial productivity. Is there a certain type of building, or building style, that becomes dominant during a real-estate bubble?

McMansions seem like the obvious answer. They increase in size as land values skyrocket. And their interiors seem oddly divorced from how people actually live; they recall traditional ideas of wealth and gentility that were based on an entirely different sense of time and space and leisure, with the result that even when they're inhabited they have the feel of something that's outlived its purpose. They seem more like a crude stereotype of a rich person's house than an actual dwelling. Or a marker and a warning, like the hotels on a Monopoly board.

I was also brooding about how shopping centers seem to grow quainter and more village-like as communities become more fragmented, and houses more imposing and unwelcoming. Which reminded me that I'd addressed this question several years ago, in a long post on architectural imitation:
It's strange how often we romanticize aspects of America that we blithely destroyed because there was money to be made. And it's even more strange that having destroyed such things, we replicate them shoddily, and market them as antidotes to the very psychic emptiness that made the real things seem worthless.
At a cost hardly anyone can afford, I should've added.

Apropos of which, the American architect Lebbeus Woods notes that Americans increasingly view homes as "instruments for getting a return on their money," and wonders whether a new and improved American Dream could be built around the idea of non-ownership:
Architects, locked for so long in the ideal of home ownership -— from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City, where everyone would have their sovereign acre of prairie (and a Wright house planted squarely on it), to Frank Gehry’s twisty luxury condo tower in Lower Manhattan —- have difficulty generating any comparable vision of the American home. It is telling that the most gifted designers today —- American and not -— can only come up with snappy new wrappers for prevailing, but finally fading, ideas. The current bursting of the “housing bubble,” and the coming financial shakeout, which will be global in extent, and giga in scale, could leave them with more time to consider the reality of how most people live, and about the nature of home in the contemporary world.

The concept of non-ownership would be good a place to start. Or, at least, with the idea that money is not at the heart of it.
It sounds like Georgism but with state-owned housing, which sounds like communism, which means that Obama will undoubtedly get right on it if he's elected.

Meanwhile, over at BLDGBLOG, Nicola Twilley discusses "micro-territoriality as both a cause and a symptom of social exclusion." She's responding to a cognitive mapping project that asked young people to draw their neighborhoods as they perceive them; what makes this project especially interesting was that the participants' maps included "enemy" areas:
Some of the sketches...remind me of medieval maps: the known world is an island of familiarity, simultaneously shown much larger than scale but made tiny and precious by the monsters of “Terra Incognita” that surround it. In the case of a 15-year-old girl from Bradford, today’s dragons are “moshers,” “chavs,” “Asians,” and “posh people” – all “Enemys....”

In other words, bored and economically deprived teenagers are transforming 1960s council estates and Victorian terraces into a real-world, multiplayer World of Warcraft.
Or perhaps the game was already there, and they're trying to find a way to win it.

Twilley goes on to point out that "current policies in urban regeneration are dominated by strategies to increase 'place attachment' as a means 'to reinforce social networks and maintain the quality of an area through pride.'" This, of course, can serve to encourage micro-territoriality, which seems to persist -- or perhaps even intensify -- when a place has virtually no worthwhile qualities:
It was difficult to say which was more depressing – the relentless defense of a featureless piece of open space on the fringes of a Glasgow housing scheme where there is nothing whatsoever by way of amenities, or the confinement to a socially isolated but densely populated and built-up quarter-square-mile of London of young men for whom the culture and wealth of one of the world’s great cities might as well be on another continent.
She also notes the use of sports as a means to "encourage association" and defeat "problematic territoriality"; Anthony's recent post on sports gives us ample reason to be wary of this strategy (though Subtopia's promotion of border ball is certainly heartening).

Like Woods, Twilley wonders whether these problems can be solved by architects and urban planners: "Can the design of the city itself generate – or mitigate against – territoriality?"

Obviously, urban design doesn't "generate" territoriality; it is territoriality, period. In psychological terms, it seems to me that the question of micro-territoriality hinges on the transgression of micro-borders, which in turn hinges on security and control, and ultimately on identity (which has a lot to do with the sense of one's own position within society).

If urban design is going to reduce this tension, and encourage a relative sense of non-ownership, it seems to me that it has to de-emphasize borders (e.g., by changing the uses of transitional spaces where, as Twilley notes, most territorial violence is concentrated); the installation of a community garden in an abandoned lot would be one possible way of turning a border area into something of value to people on both sides of a divide. Facilities dedicated to community clean-up -- or better yet, mediation -- would be other possibilities.

Needless to say, ideas like these are totally alien to current political -- and therefore architectural -- trends, which stress the need for hypervigilance, perimeter security, and preparedness, and which usually boil down to security rituals whose basic steps can be recognized in international airports as well as "across the spectrum of low-income housing stock." In this sense, the maps Twilley reproduces don't seem medieval at all; their assumptions are very much of our time.

But ultimately, the assumption that we can change society by changing architecture relies a bit too much on the assumption that architecture got us where we are today; theory's fascination with power tends to make power seem fascinating, and its plans for opposing that power are too often based on familiar, imperious assumptions about the ability to impose a particular worldview on citizens by rearranging their neighborhoods. Instead of cheap imitations of a conservative past, with fake Victorian lamps, and streets named after whatever natural features were bulldozed to make way for them, we could (continue to) end up with cheap imitations of a utopian future, which pay lip service to radical ideas of community while leaving residents' day-to-day life basically unchanged.

The point is, the struggle to improve neighborhoods is largely a political one, and the work involved is not particularly glamorous, or intellectually stimulating, or aesthetically thrilling. As the radical architect Teddy Cruz acknowledges:
“I can design the coolest-looking building, or I can engage the fact that the minimum parcel size is huge and the economic and political logics have been inflated to benefit privatization,” he says. “Without advancing housing and lending policies and subsidies, we cannot advance design.”
I'd add that without advancing, say, healthcare, contraception, abortion, sexual autonomy, and marriage as basic rights, the physical and conceptual space of neighborhoods is going to be less important than the stress and misery of the people who live in them. The problem isn't simply that housing and space aren't properly designed; it's that human beings (and women too, naturally) are so devalued and debased by the formal denial of rights and autonomy and compassion that their surroundings hardly matter. If you want to move towards a society of "non-ownership," a good first step would be to affirm people's ownership of their own bodies.

The Bible Makes It Clear (by Phila)

Offered without comment:
Some Web sites and conservative Christians have tried to argue that Obama could be the foretold Antichrist. In August, John McCain seemed to tap into evangelical anxiety with his ad, "The One," in which he mocked those who use messianic language to describe Obama.

The Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the millennial Left Behind series, told the Wall Street Journal that he recognized allusions to his work in the ad but comparisons between Obama and the Antichrist were incorrect.

"The Antichrist isn't going to be an American, so it can't possibly be Obama. The Bible makes it clear he will be from an obscure place, like Romania," the 82-year-old author told the paper.

The Democratic Party Has To Get Used To Walking The Ethical Tight Rope, It’s The Only Road To Better Things by Anthony McCarthy

Dan Payne in this morning’s Boston Globe has stolen my thunder in his campaign warp up, no matter how it turns out this election is the nail in the coffin of process liberalism. Thus a hasty re-write.

First and most importantly, if Barack Obama had chosen public financing he would be guaranteed to lose this election. It would already be over and we would know that much of the result. That he has a good chance of winning is due largely to his grass roots* fund-raising which has brought him an unprecedented ability to run a national campaign. His decision to forego public financing was criticized early on by some of the professional process liberals but it was absolutely the right decision. If you need any proof of that you can hear the echoing, outraged disappointment of Republicans that he has beaten them in fund-raising and not done what a good Democrat is supposed to do, accept a preordained defeat on principle. There is, of course, a major difference between grass roots fund raising and the traditional plunge into the deep pockets. Running a campaign on average contributions of $85 isn’t selling access, it’s funding the effort to elect a less corruption prone government.

Process reform as a strategy was flawed at its inception, taking it as a given that the courts would place an egalitarian, honest, representative government at the fore front of those rights The People fully possess. Instead they got the doctrine that money equals speech. What that really meant under the prevailing conditions was that money buys air time to lie the most corruptible politicians into office where they can hand everything over to their owners. Which is what we got, mostly from Republicans with a few Democrats joining in. The spectacle of the Reagan and Bush administrations, objectively the most corrupt in our history when measured by convictions and incompetence, has not moved the Justices off of their stare decisis in order to save the country. We can’t wait for them to see the light or to die off, if we don’t get better politicians in office those anti-democratic Justices are replaced by even worse. Clearly the process reformers are barking up the wrong tree if they think the present day Supreme Court is going to do anything that risks more democracy happening.

Another part of this stumbling over the process, was the Michigan, Florida primary situation. The primary calendar is firmly out of the hands of the parties, except in so far as they can game things through a willing state legislature. In Michigan and Florida, Republican state legislatures set a trap for Democrats and it was only through last minute negotiations that the damage from those was kept to a minimum. The Rules Committee of the DNC has got to be taken out of the hands of people more interested in rules and gaming them for their own advantage than in the Democratic candidates winning elections. I’d clean it out and start anew, dumping the scheming and those addled by abstract theories for those who know that winning elections is the only reason for the party to exist.

The rules lawyers have a lot in common with those trying to figure out how to game the process, their first loyalty clearly isn’t to The People and their ability to govern.

As Payne points out, the long season, far from depleting the funds necessary to run in the general election, gave us a candidate who had the enthusiasm of a far larger number of people. Obama became a stronger and better candidate through the long trial by ordeal.

We’ve got to give up the notion that we are going to be able to change the process at the rules and laws level, the corruptions they are meant to address run deeper, through the unmentionable flaws in our federal system and the anti-democratic rulings of Supreme Courts. Short of amending or changing the Constitution, repairing that level of the system is beyond our reach. We’ve got to work with what we’ve got.

It’s not surprising that the elite insiders in DC and other centers of power can’t understand that going directly to The People, thorough grass roots organizing on a national basis, asking them for their volunteer time and small contributions, is the logical way for The Peoples’ party to get on with things. It’s no surprise that they didn’t get the internet**.

I strongly suspect that in the aftermath of this election one of the things that will be clear is that Hillary Clinton’s connections to the connected ended up being a burden to her. How they lost such an excellent candidate so many opportunities has to be studied to identify examples of what not to do again. A lot of the people involved in her and other losing campaigns should be kept at a distance from future campaigns.

This is mighty serious business, electing our government. When conducting The Peoples' business, we can’t allow personal friendships, personal loyalties or insider status to allow the incompetent or inflexible the ability to ruin our chances to win elections.

We also can’t let those who insist on an unrealistic and unavailable ideal to hobble our candidates. That kind of sentimental idealism is a sham. It is the kind of thing that is just barely tolerable as a personal scruple to be preened over in self-congratulation, it is immoral in politics. A political principle which doesn’t get a more egalitarian, democratic and competent government into office is a failed principle. In politics, as in life, it is the results that justify the principle and determine their ultimate morality.

* Howard Dean and his 50 State Strategy and a number of other changes he made have also been incalculably important to changing Democrats prospects.

** The internet is an important part of Obama’s campaign, it’s a permanent and enormously powerful political entity from now on. It is, as this campaing has revealed, one that has inherent problems and dangers of its own. Democrats have to study those dangers and come up with effective means of dealing with them even as they are powerless to eliminate them.

P.S. The absurd idea that the country exists for The Constitution, instead of The Constitution existing for and gaining its legitimacy from The People is something that must be overturned. Unfortunately, that necessary safe guard is in the hands of the legal establishment for now. If we are lucky and he is our next president, we should remind Barack Obama, the former law professor of this generally forgotten fact.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Does that look scary? In any case, today's deep thought is about credit cards and the weird flip-flopping the credit card industry has undergone recently, having moved from trying to stop people ever walking away from a bankruptcy to advocating for forgiveness of some percentage of delinquent credit charges.

Well, it's not quite about that, but close. I have a question:

Why aren't those little pieces of plastic called debt cards? That's what they are, you know, and calling them that might remind people about the fact.

Vote. TODAY.

You might have read my last plea, last week, with a very similar title. If not, I'm going to direct you here and ask that you go read it. And I'm going to be so indulgent as to quote myself:
No one who has the ability and the wherewithal to vote before November 4th should be taking a space in line that day.
The argument goes that long lines on election day are a hindrance to the rights of working people, elderly people, and other people who can't stand in line for four hours to exercise their right to vote. Long lines are encouraged by strict republican vote watchers in districts known to go democratic in the past. Long lines on election day can be avoided by going to vote early. This is one way that you can help make democracy run smoother, and make your life easier at the same time. Read the original post; I yammered about it much more extensively over there.

So instead of yammering again, I'm gonna give you my top ten list of reasons why you should vote TODAY if you're in one of those states that allows early voting (my eternal pardons if your state does not - your job, my friends, is to get on the horn with your elected representatives after this election and demand that early voting be instituted before the next voting cycle). Now, there's a million top ten lists like this over the internet. I'm making most of this up (some I'm cribbing loosely from the one the dems are handing out in my town), but it may sound familiar.

To wit: ten reasons you should go out and vote, TODAY.

10. Because the weather might be bad today, and then you can go home and try again tomorrow. If it's bad on election day, you'll be stuck sitting outside in the rain and that's that.

9. Because once you vote, the democratic canvassers will get you off their list and stop calling you/knocking on your door/interrupting your dinner/making you wish you were signed up for some elitist party who didn't care about getting the populist vote out by hounding their supporters until every last vote is in. And really, who wants to put up with that until Tuesday?

8. Because once you vote you can make smug remarks to your friends about how you've done your patriotic duty, and have they?

7. Because early voting ends on November 1st in many states, so you can't do it on Sunday or Monday in those areas. It's today, tomorrow, Tuesday, or never.

6. Because today is a weekday. If you try to go tomorrow, you better bet that line is gonna be at least an hour longer.

5. Because the kiddies will be dressed up today. Cute! Tomorrow? Hung over on a sugar crash. Not cute. Who wants to stand in line with that?

4. Because the adults will be all jazzed up for a rager tonight. Cute! Tomorrow? Hung over on from last night's bender. Not cute. Who wants to stand in line with that?

3. Because if there's a problem with your ballot or your registration, you'll still have time to haul yourself down to the county clerk's office to fix it if you find out about it today. If you find out about it on November 4th, not only will it likely be sorted into the "provisional ballot" (aka the "fuggeddit") file, but you'll be slowing the line for others while it gets sorted out.

2. Because daylight savings ends on, like, November 2nd. How confusing is that? Don't be that person that shows up at 7pm at your precinct on November 4th only to find out that 7pm is really 9pm, or it's really November 5th already, or something like that. Come on, time just disappears on that day - how eerie is that?!

1. Because let's get back to the basics here: the GOP is relying on long lines in blue precincts to force those working voters, voters with kids in daycare, elderly voters, voters with health problems, voters with any reason (and there are many) to be unable to stand outside for four hours waiting to vote to leave before the cast that blue ballot. The left-leaning candidates are counting on early voting to circumvent the clusterf**k that is our third-world worthy local voting system. They are counting on every person who can vote early to do so, so that those who cannot have a place in line that day. This means Obama at the forefront of course, but this also goes for the congressional races and local races. In my town, these races also include a very good shot at putting a Green candidate in place of a notorious old-school democrat who needs to get the boot.

This will only happen if every person who can gets out there and votes, and votes now. Time is running down, the deadline for early voting in many states is tomorrow.

Vote. TODAY.

Happy Halloween! (by Suzie)

       At the last minute, I got a ticket out of the country. Not only do I get to escape the wall-to-wall political ads, but I also don't have to open my door to strangers seeking candy.
       In that spirit, let me warn you that dressing as Obama may be dicey if you're not African-American, especially if you don't spring for a mask. And not just any mask. 
       If you're a woman, and you dress as Sarah Palin, don't forget to be extra sexy. (Of course, that's the advice for women and girls, no matter what the costume.) Apparently, lots of men plan to dress as Palin because it's always a scream for a man to pretend to be a woman. (Feel free to go back and read my post on blackface and drag.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election Music

"Save The Country" by Laura Nyro. Yes, I've posted it before, too.

And Tracy Chapman:

And Johnny Nash with "I Can See Clearly Now":

And The Impressions with "This is My Country":

6. The Longest Revolution

This is the sixth post in my "back-to-basics" series about why I became a feminist and why feminism is still needed. I'm not certain if this is the last post, but I believe that I'm going to pause for a while after this one. The earlier posts are:

1. The Right to Go Out
2. Planet of the Guys
3. Our Father Who Art in Heaven
4. The Invisible Women
5. The Female Body As Property

The posts are not in any order of importance. Neither do they aim at being a logical classification of all the issues that matter about the status of women in this world. Indeed, I doubt that I will even end up covering the most common topics of such discussions: sexual violence, sex discrimination at work or at school or religious laws which regulate women's lives in many countries.

All those topics matter, a lot. But if you think about the treatment of women as an onion, the layers we usually talk about are around the outer skin of that onion. I'm trying to drill into the very middle, to talk about the hidden layers, the ones which we truly cannot see. I'm not going to get at all of them and my interpretations are not the only possible ones. Still, I think doing this can be of some benefit, at least as the starting point for a conversation.

Then to the post itself: Remember our earlier discussion about the odd way women are often viewed as a subspecies of homo sapiens while men are viewed as not a separate gender at all? Remember how that makes women both invisible as persons and very visible as specimens of womanhood? Remember that separate box I drew to represent women in the second post?

Mmm. Now I'm going to turn the whole thing upside-down by arguing that despite all that treatment of women as one of the groups of Others, women are also extremely tightly intertwined with every level of every society! They are integrated, scattered evenly all over the place like raisins into a cake batter! Every single one of us has a woman for a mother! By necessity, because we earthlings haven't figured out a way to make babies without women's wombs. This means that the richest people on earth will have women in their families and so will the poorest people on earth, and women themselves are both rich and poor on this planet. Indeed, there are women in all sorts of families, from all races, religions, ethnic and cultural groups!

That women are so integrated on that most primal of levels probably explains why sexism is harder to see than other -isms which oppress people. If women are killed because of their sex it mostly doesn't happen in large public slaughterings but privately, one woman at a time, and in each case we wonder if the cause for the killing might not have been something personal, something unrelated to the gender of the victim. And note that while most racists don't have parents of the race they now hate, all misogynists do. -- It's all too close, too intimate, too hard to see because we lack the necessary distance, the necessary ability to see the possibly oppressed as a separate group.

You may wonder where I'm going with all this, other than pointing out that sexism is hard to see because of the integrated nature of women in the society. I could go many different ways, actually, ranging from a long discussion about why women will never be a clear-cut interest group because of their multiple allegiances to an angry discussion about why a male politician telling us that he loves his mother says nothing about what he thinks about women in general. But instead of that I'm going to pick a topic which my visiting alien found confusing.

It is this one: Suppose that in a few large countries on this planet the population is determined to make one ethnic group extinct, not by killing the adults in that group but by making sure that babies in that ethnic group are not born or by killing the babies which are born. Suppose that the killing consists of feeding the babies dried beans or by letting the umbilical cord become infected, of abandoning the babies at the roadside or of letting the babies starve to death.

What would you think the media coverage of these events elsewhere in the world would consist of? Do you think that it would carefully explain why that particular ethnic group isn't as important as other ethnic groups (so that their annihilation is sorta understandable)? Or do you think that it would worry about the resulting mix of the remaining ethnic groups and how that mix hurts the ethnic groups which were never assaulted in the first place?

That sounds so ridiculous, does it not? But this is exactly how the newspaper stories about the vanishing girls of India and China are often framed. First we get a careful explanation why girls are not wanted (and, yes, I have written like this, too): sons are needed for the hard work at the farm, for the support of the parents in old age and for the religious roles which only men can carry out.

Then we get articles about how bad it is for the society in general and for men in particular not to have access to adult women at the breeding stage. Men need wives! If they don't get them, violence will erupt! Even the term usually employed to reflect the reasons for the wonky sex-ratios in some parts of India and China: "son preference", serves to hide the underlying real problem: Daughters. Not. Wanted. The articles which point that out and suggest policies which might make daughters more wanted are extremely rare. It's as if we all take it for granted that daughters are inferior creatures but, really, women should try to have them as later on they will turn out useful as peace-keepers in the society and as providers of more children. Though for other families, of course, and it will still be true that a mother who gives birth to yet another daughter has failed her family.

These descriptions of the two possible ways to cover the disappearing women of India and China as a news item are caricatures, of course, and a more complicated and deeper treatment is possible. But note the basic reason for the prevalence of the second treatment: It has to do with the way women are integrated into almost all families and how this disguises the resulting consequences for the class "women". Thus, we calmly report that sons are preferred in most cultures of this planet. It's Just The Way Things Are. Now, to act on that preference is bad, because of the "imbalanced" society it creates. But to have the preference is understandable.

I called this post "The Longest Revolution", both after an early second wave feminist book and because feminism indeed always takes a very long time to get anything changed in the society. The snail's pace has a lot to do with the way women are everywhere and nowhere at the same time, with the idea that we all have mothers and many of us have daughters which must mean that women don't suffer from any specific ills in this society and with the way we have "biologized" or "naturalized" anything that ends up treating women poorly. Our cultures themselves take precedence over "women's concerns": If traditional cultural values are misogynistic many argue that those values must nevertheless be respected. Yet many traditional cultural values are also xenophobic, for instance. Should we respect those values, too?

My alien visitor has gone out to buy a t-shirt saying "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like." Now isn't that something? It's useful to point out, once again, that much progress has taken place for women in some places on earth, much.

Yet even here in the U.S. we earthlings discuss the cleavages or butts of female politicians and our media wonders if those female politicians make "us" think of our ex-wives at the divorce court and frets over the immense, unquenchable, rabid ambition of women who dare to run in politics, Hitlery and Caribou Barbie and so on. This, my friends, is the post-feminist world.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sam Bee And Women's "Health"

If you missed it you should watch it. It's funny.

Alternatively, you can watch the video here.

5. The Female Body As Property

My embroidery called "Choices".

The fifth post in this series about why feminism still matters. The earlier ones are:

1. The Right to Go Out
2. Planet of the Guys
3. Our Father Who Art in Heaven
4. The Invisible Women

Yesterday my visiting alien from outer space came to me all excited (you can see it from the quivering antennae). It had learned the concept of property, both public and private, and it had decided to apply it to women's bodies and sexuality. Its conclusion was that women and their sexuality are private property, belonging to husbands, fathers and sons, in much of the world, including most Muslim countries, and that women in the Western democracies are public property, belonging to everybody.

"Nononono!" I said. "You have it all wrong. Women do own their bodies and sexuality in most countries of this world. They can decide what to wear and who to have sex with. They can decide if they will be pregnant and so on."

My alien friend wasn't convinced. It asked me what would happen if I went out shirtless and braless, for example. Wouldn't I get arrested, unless my name was not Echidne but Ed? And can a woman choose whether she uses contraception or not, in all countries? Can she use it if her husband doesn't want her to? Can she breastfeed her baby in public?

It then asked me about pornography. Why is the majority of porn about women's bodies? Why is most of it aimed for men's consumption. Who owns the right to view the generic "female body"?

Sometimes I really hate this alien. I had to explain about the sexual difference between men and women, how men get turned on by the very sight of the female body and how that means that women must cover those bits of their bodies which mostly inflame men's desires. Otherwise the men can't control themselves. Men are so much more visual than women, and the society reflects that, by regulating the amount of female nudity allowed in the public sphere. We can't have naked breasts slip out suddenly on television, in the middle of a football game, say.

"Breasts.." mused the alien. "They are for nurturing the young humans, right? But what about pornography, then? If men are more visual than women and easily inflamed, shouldn't porn be illegal or severely regulated? It sounds to me as if women are not in control of the female body, even in the West. Someone else, is. Someone else determines when that body can turn up naked in your visual fields."

OK. So I stormed out of the room, slamming the door. The sound almost covered the alien yelling at me something about ancient Chinese foot binding and female genital mutilation and plastic breasts and the permeability of the female body in general. I'm sending the poor thing back as a rabid feminist and its planet has no genders!

Now I wish I hadn't lost my temper, because even though the alien got some of the arguments clearly wrong, there is something odd about the way we view the female body and female sexuality in general, something non-exclusive, something that is more like a shared natural resource than a characteristic of the individual woman. Even the very concept of a sexy picture brings to mind -- what? Probably the idea of scantily clad women or naked women in alluring positions. And this idea is so general that even women or men who don't get turned on by women's bodies might get it. It's as if sex is something women "own" in a very passive sense: The sex is there. Now come and get it if you can.

This is a very different view of property from the first one this post mentions, but it's almost as common, especially among the traditionalists. According to them, it is women who are responsible for sex, the gatekeepers who are somehow supposed to control men's sexual desires by how they dress and by what they say. This view ignores the possibility of rape and other forced uses of female sexuality and altogether gives women far too much responsibility for something they probably can't control. Think of that lack of control this way: If men indeed are almost complete slaves to visual images then a woman walking below a porn poster would be at risk of attention from passing men even if she was totally covered except for one visible eye. Because that poster is there, inflaming the dangerous desires of men.

Now, I don't actually believe that men are slaves to visual images of sex. Most of the arguments I've heard in its support are circular: Why is there so much porn for men? Because men are very visual in their sexuality. What's your evidence for that? All that porn for men. And round we go again.

This post is a mess, mostly (though so is our overall discussion about sexuality), and I don't want to give the impression that women are total victims in the sexual games people play, because it's certainly possible to play these games with the hand of cards women are given and to sometimes win. Still, to understand female sexuality within our current cultures is not possible without understanding how we define sex in general and who owns the female body.

A Support Thread For All Who Suffer From Election Stress

This picture is about volunteers in Costa Rica (click to see the baby). They have worked a month to help an endangered turtle species to get enough eggs to hatch and to make sure that the baby turtles make that dangerous trip from the nesting sites into the ocean. Here's one of the very last baby turtles desperately racing for the big win.

I will add more pictures as I find them.

The last picture by NTodd, taken around Halloween last year.

Cranberry Election Cake

This is a coffee cake. If you make it now it will actually taste better on Tuesday night.


4.5 dl of flour
3 dl brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp baking soda
2 dl mashed cranberries (canned ones are fine)
2 eggs
2 dl cream
1 dl melted butter

dl=desiliter, tsp=teaspoon

What to do:
1. Heat the oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a cake pan that takes about two liters of batter. Melt the butter. Beat the eggs together in a small bowl or cup.
2. Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Add to the dry ingredients the cranberries, eggs, cream and melted butter. Stir until the batter is even.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and put it into the oven.
5. Bake for an hour. Test with a fork after fifty minutes.
Other stuff to do:

1. Go out for a brisk walk (or run if you run). Pay attention to nature around you if there is any. In any case, put your mind first in your feet and really feel them. Feel the earth below them. Then put your mind in your head. Feel the sky above it. Then put your mind in your belly. Feel your body, from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. It's all one.

2. If you can't take a break long enough to exercise, do this: Have a quick check-through of your body, starting at the bottom of your head and going down to your toeses. Anything feeling tight? Anything feeling achy or painful? Are you clamping your teeth together? Are your shoulders trying to rise to your ears? Let them all relax. Give them permission if that's what they need but don't boss them. Just be aware of the tightness, because that can be enough to make it release. Get up for a second and shake your arms and legs and your whole body if you can. Take a few deep breaths and walk around a little, focusing on earth, sky and your middle.

3. Take a hot shower. Let the water wash away tension and fatigue and aches. If you are not in a place where you can take an actual shower, take an imaginary one. I use warm summer rain for this. I try to feel it gently falling on me, first my head, then my neck, shoulders, torso arms, pelvis, legs and feet. It refreshes and takes away all the stuff I don't need right at that moment.

Have Your Kleenex Ready

HoneyBearKelly found this touching video about a volunteer in the Obama campaign.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

May I Have Some Cheese With This Whine?

I think some Wensleydale would hit the spot right now. Or possibly a nice farmhouse cheese rolled in cracked black peppers. The whine I can provide myself. It's all about the tense last week before the elections and my extreme loathing of any topic having to do with campaign shenanigans combined with the inner librarian who tells me firmly that I should live in the moment and write about only the campaign.

But wait, there's more. Next time I offer to write a series about why feminism is still needed, please get a rubber mallet and hit me with it on the head. Or suggest the Iron Man competition as an alternative. If I had known the energy needs and the emotional wear and tear of that series I would have done it with a fund-raiser so that I'd have the money I need for that month in a darkened room.

Perhaps quite a few of you are tense, too, what with the elections and the roller-coaster of the financial markets? I'm not sure if a support thread for that would be good or bad. Would it be tension-enabling?

To atone my conscience about not writing enough on the elections, here's Pat Schroeder with a message for Colorado voters (and really all of us):

Social/Cultural Conservatives

The Republican Party appears to be heading towards some internal power struggles, as discussed in these two pieces. Reading them reminded me how very much I hate the labels "social conservatism" and "cultural conservatism." There are liberals/progressives who think that cultural conservatism has something to do with flower arranging and museum visit. Oh, and gay marriages. Oh, and abortion. But can we please stay serious and discuss the real issues which are of interest to all lefties.

Likewise, social conservatism sounds as if it's about just keeping things the same, whereas in actual fact it is about changing things (such as Roe v. Wade) and it is also very much about, say, the subordination of women within families and in the wider society. That some people find all this a special interest topic is of special interest in itself.


The Washington Post has an interesting article on Rwanda:

On a continent that has been dominated by the rule of men, this tiny East African nation is trying something new.

Here, women are not only driving the economy -- working on construction sites, in factories and as truck and taxi drivers -- they are also filling the ranks of government.

Women hold a third of all cabinet positions, including foreign minister, education minister, Supreme Court chief and police commissioner general. And Rwanda's parliament last month became the first in the world where women claim the majority -- 56 percent, including the speaker's chair.

One result is that Rwanda has banished archaic patriarchal laws that are still enforced in many African societies, such as those that prevent women from inheriting land. The legislature has passed bills aimed at ending domestic violence and child abuse, while a committee is now combing through the legal code to purge it of discriminatory laws.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Modern Day Sex Slavery

The FBI and the police have rescued a further 47 children from pimps. Here in the USA:

"This is organized crime, these people are moving kids from city to city," said Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "They are involved in 21st century slavery. This is a problem that is happening on Main Street USA."

These children were in nightmarish conditions, said Matthew Friedrich, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division.

Adults are held in such conditions, too.

Ted Stevens Found Guilty

I haven't written much about the corruption scandals which have pestered mostly Republicans recently, but it's worth pointing out the Ted Stephens case:

Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Senate Republican in history and patriarch of Alaska politics, was found guilty of felony charges for making false statements.

The verdict could spell the end of a 40-year Senate career for a man who rose to be one of the most dominant figures in the upper chamber and who helped transform Alaska in its 50 years of statehood. The verdict was reached after the jury deliberated since Wednesday and found the 84-year-old senator guilty of failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts from Bill Allen, the former head of Veco Corp., and other friends.

Corruption is a bad thing, for all sorts of fairly obvious reasons. But I'd love to see a proper court case into all that money that has disappeared into the Iraq reconstruction project without creating much reconstruction at all.

4. The Invisible Women

This is the fourth post in my series about why feminism is still needed and why I am a feminist. It's useful to point out that we have come a long way, baby (yeah!), and that progress takes place all the time. Still, too many people want to go backwards in time and culture and too many people are blind to the reality we all share. A shaking of those hidden basic assumptions is in order. The earlier posts are, in order: The Right To Go Out, The Planet of the Guys and Our Father Who Art in Heaven.

This post is about the odd way earthlings see and don't see women, from the detached view of a visiting alien from outer space. There is no good title for the post, though I settled for "invisibility" in it. "Settled", because women are often both invisible as human beings and extremely visible as women. This creates the odd impression that the U.S. Congress, for instance, is teeming with women (just think of Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi), whereas in reality the percentage of women in the U.S. Congress is only 16%.

For another example, consider this publicity photograph of the popular "Seinfeld" television series:

For those of you who haven't viewed the series, the four people in the picture are the main characters in the series. One of them, Elaine, is a woman. There's nothing wrong with having a series with 75% male characters. But note that we tend not to think of this series as something for the guys or with a guy angle. We think of it as a fairly mainstream program intended for both men and women. Yet Elaine really stands for "woman" in this series. Now do a reversal. Imagine that picture with three women and one man as the main characters. What would that look like? It would look like something for the chicks ("chicks" being female human beings, not individuals from the species gallus domesticus).

Astute readers might complain that this sounds exactly like my second post, all about men being the default as human beings. But this is where the current post deviates from that one: One of the consequences of the separate-but-not-equal view of women as a subspecies of homo sapiens is that just a sprinkling of women in some group appears to be enough to get that subspecies covered! So one Elaine covers the need to have women in "Seinfeld", a handful of female politicians appears to cover the need for female representation in politics, three woman columnists in the stable of 27 political columnists of the Washington Post appears plentiful for the coverage of the "woman angle"!

Our alien visitor finds all this extremely fascinating. It just pointed to me how this approach is in direct conflict with the fact that 50.7% of all Americans are female. Mostly earthlings think that having one woman on a committee or a couple of women in a movie or television show is plenty! A movie which reflects that 50.7% frequency from real life is at risk for being labeled a chick flick, something for women only. A movie with 100% male cast has a fairly good chance of being seen as mainstream unless it's about porn.

Curious stuff. Now for the odd paradox of extreme visibility/invisibility: Because women are still often seen as Others, one or two representatives from that group both suffice AND draw our attention! This means that most women are invisible as people, but that the women in the public eye are extremely visible as spoonfuls of that amorphous substance called womanhood.

The consequences of this to women are complicated but mostly negative. For an example, female actors will find it harder to find interesting roles to play, because they might be cast as "women" (which means as wives, girlfriends, mothers, and whores) and not as the absent-minded person, the geeky person, the stupid person, the jock person. Likewise, women who write (ahem) might find their writing task interpreted by others as pertaining to only female matters. After all, female writers are first seen as specimens (or tokens) from that separate group "women" and only then as individuals with their own strengths, weaknesses and interests.

So much for the extreme visibility of women as "women." But note that this means the extreme invisibility of most women, the ones whom we don't see on television anywhere near to their population proportions, the ones who don't get roles in movies because they are too old or too ethnic or whatever other characteristic disqualifies them from standing as a representative of womanhood. It also means a lot of invisibility to women as individuals with their own particular character traits. As is well known, only default human beings can truly be seen as individuals.

What our visiting alien finds especially sad about all this is that women are not just invisible as persons to many men; they are also invisible as persons to many women. Thus, sports programs with nothing but men shown in them are called "sports" and the female fans are perfectly comfortable with that.

I've tried explaining that the fishes who swim in the ocean don't find the water wet, but to no avail. Perhaps I can turn the tables when I visit the home planet of our distant guest. But for the time being, it has a point worth thinking about.

A slightly different aspect of the invisible women cropped up in the conversation the alien and I had yesterday (inside my head, of course). It remarked on the frequency with which conversations on the Internet turn to questions about female breasts, female attractiveness and how very often quarrels result in one discussant scolding another for "acting or thinking like a twelve-year girl" or something similar. This happens even when many of the people talking are female and clearly express their gender in their comments.

The alien wanted to know if women often turn the conversation in a mixed-sex setting to the thickness of various penises and the faulty thinking of pre-pubertal boys, and if not, why not? My hesitant answer was that women are aware of the presence of men in the conversation and would not wish to make insulting comments or to turn the male body into the meal de jour. I call the answer hesitant, because I'm not sure that the women in the discussion truly are invisible to those men who take the described types of liberties. But the alternative is even less flattering to those who rant and rave about "bawling like a twelve-year old girl".

Teh Stupid It Burns

This is a terrible article about divorce and its possible correlation with recessions. It pulls out every single old stereotype, sweeps together the dust off the floor and pretends that all this makes an article. Thus, women mostly divorce to clean out the husband's bank account, men to get more pussy. Women are homebodies (not working out there as the majority of women actually are). Men are into Internet porn and infidelity when stressed, women into talking things out and eating too much. Nobody has any deep regrets or sadness over a pending divorce, nobody thinks that the death of love is not that different from the death of a loved one. Nope. Everything is trivial, breezy, cobbled together from various pop-science sources.

For example:

Apart from the ready access to high-speed online porn, what makes this recession different from others is that it's centered on real estate and thus on people's homes, which may explain why women are feeling more anxious about it than men are. In a survey released in October by the American Psychological Association (APA), more women than men reported feeling stress about money (83% vs. 78%) and the economy (84% vs. 75%). And women were more likely than men to say they had symptoms of stress--including irritability and weariness. Plus, their stress levels had risen more sharply over the past six months than men's. So it's harder for women to take up their traditional role as household comforter and easier for the wheels to fall off the whole enterprise.

Nothing in that piece about women earning less, on average, which is reason enough for more of them to be worried.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


This Florida interview of Joe Biden has the most astonishing questions I've ever heard.

Open Letter Addressing E-mailed Objections by Anthony McCarthy

The pieces I posted over the last two weeks prompted a thought provoking e-mail correspondence over the issues of free speech and freedom of the press. I think some of the points raised are important and will answer them here.

Free Speech

The First amendment prohibition of the suppression of free speech only applies to the government. It doesn’t apply to anyone else, least of all private citizens. Short of violence and the threats of violence, private citizens are entirely free to approve or disapprove of anything that is said by anyone else in the space of public discourse.

In the context of a scheduled lecture or other event, the freedom to disrupt is not absolute. But like it or not, the morality of disrupting a public speaker isn’t clear cut. It depends on the content and context of what the speaker is saying. There are times it is clearly either wrong or tactically stupid to shout down a speaker, there are times when it is a moral imperative to do so. That this becomes murky might be unfortunate, but the facile drawing of a phony bright line in a situation that is comprised of many different variables, some of life and death consequence, is irresponsible and idiotic.

The fad that took hold among liberals that held that we had to be nice about even those who advocated the denial of rights to other people, especially those in targeted minority groups is absurd. The assumption always seemed to be that conservatives would learn from our good example of niceness and broad mindedness. Well, as anyone with any grasp of real life would know, they didn’t see it as an example to emulate but proof that liberals were suckers giving them an opportunity. Did these deluded liberals really think that conservatives were going to really give liberals an opportunity for their ‘more speech’ to be heard, especially if it could have some effect in real life?

As to bigots allegedly on the left, I think I said enough about that last Saturday, I stand by that.

Freedom of the press

The freedom of the press is primarily important in so far as it is a necessary part of the right of The People to govern themselves. When the press not only refuses to inform the public of reality but actively undermines that function through propaganda, their right to freely publish effectively disappears. Our broadcast and cable media have reneged on the implied contract and have actively sought to undermine the ability of The People to cast an informed vote. I am not going to pretend that they have a right to do that which is superior to the right to self-government. It is stupid for us to promote their right to undermine the conditions necessary for the press to retain that very conditional right

I think the history of the media in the past century to today shows that mass media, in the form of broadcast, cable and others have an enormous ability to damage democracy, much more so than print. Almost all modern despots have used that fact to their advantage. The most dramatic example from recent times was the use of hate-talk radio to incite the genocide attempt in Rwanda. I’d say that example is too clear and horrible not to learn from. And the stuff that issues from our radio is not all that far removed from it. I do think it could incite mass violence. It certainly incites bigotry and I fully believe it incites violence on a more disbursed though hardly less important scale here and now.

As I’ve asked the absolutists, where is the “more speech” they’re always giving as their lofty answer to those of us who have given up on that easily stated position. The clear evidence is that liberals, leftists, even Democrats are not allowed media representation commensurate with our percentage of the population. The very far right, a very small fraction of the population, is given a a megaphone large enough so that even the most willfully denying absolutist should hear the electronically enhanced roar. About the only lesson I derive from their denial of that situation is that they have professional and personal interests unrelated to the desire for decent, democratic government. Many of the professional absolutists have careers in the media and are often quite comfortably affluent and members of groups seldom put at risk from hate-talk media.

In a media environment dominated by electronic media the position of print inevitably changes and becomes far less influential. I don’t think that print carries the same potential to damage democracy and incite violence, though it isn’t innocuous.

In both the matter of private citizens address of free speech and The Peoples’ right to have the press serve their needs, the assertion of content neutrality is absurd. There is all the difference in the world between promoting legal and political equality and the promotion of the subjugation and even genocide of entire groups of people. There is no right to suppress the first, there is no right to broadcast the latter.

It is equally absurd to assert that the medium doesn’t matter. TV, especially cable TV, and radio have enormous power to do harm. They installed an illegitimate president here and incited a war which was unprovoked, illegal which has killed hundreds of thousands. What is the difference between what our electronic media has done and what those did in Rwanda? Both produced huge numbers of dead and maimed people, both did incalculable harm. It wasn’t print media that did that here and now. History has shown over and over again that pretending the electronic media should have the same freedom as print is entirely detached from reality and that it is a dangerous and delusional practice.

Media should be entirely free to tell the truth, the facts verified and supported. That right should be absolute and trumpeted as a service to humanity. When the media informs of reality it’s rights are as close to absolute as corporate entities should be allowed. They shouldn’t be allowed to vary from that practice by replacing facts with lies, bias, pseudo-scientific polling and predictions and rumor*. Those have become the dominant content of the American ‘news’ media, they are cheaper than reporting and easier to manipulate for the purpose of propaganda. That it is impossible to effectively ban the opportunistic use of opinion in the electronic media makes the regulation of it for fairness and balance essential. The rise and dominance of right-wing, hate-talk media followed the FCC’s abandonment of those regulations, modern hate-talk media was created by media corporations in order to install politicians who would maximize their profits, impure and simple.

Liberals and others who believe in self-government, equality and a decent society can’t continue to delude themselves on these matters. If we don’t learn from the example that the history of the modern media provides we will lose all three of those. I’d rather take a chance on the status quo media from the period when it was regulated than on what has happened since it was deregulated.

* The media promotion of politically motivated rumor has led me to think that public figures should, once again, be able to sue for slander and libel. Our media, freed from the dangers of those, have used the freedom to lie against anyone who they thought would not enhance their profits.

Update: Answers to a persistent questioner.

The idea that access to use the mass media is the exercise of a speech right is a mass delusion, one at times encouraged by those habitually granted access to it. Free access to the media is a situation that has never existed in either corporate or non-commercial media. All mass media is restrictive in its content, it isn’t an open forum like some blogs allow in their comments*. Look at the troll population of some of the more popular blogs to get some idea of why that is so. Editors edit, publishers refuse material, they don’t accept all content for publication, that is the right of any media operation which doesn’t use public property in its operations and many which do.

Unlike an individual’s right of free speech, there is also no absolute right to broadcast a message in the mass media, it is a privilege granted by the government or at the whim of cable companies, sometimes on the basis of contracts. The public access channel, which in many places has apparently has gone from its perpetual sick bed to the grave in the past several years, was a fig leaf of free access covering the reality of raw corporate opportunism. As I remember it, public access channels were instituted in return for communities granting monopoly rights to cable firms. Those kinds of piddling mitigations of corporate privilege are generally disposed of in the fullness of time.

It not being a right to broadcast, it being a privilege, there is no reason that those granted the privilege can’t be forced as a condition of their continuing in that form, to serve the public whose eyes and attention they are in the business of selling. The Peoples’ time to inform itself is a publicly held resource. If that time is not partly dedicated to becoming informed enough to participate in self-government, democracy can’t exist. The People in the form of their government have a responsibility to force media to do its civic duty in reality, not in the pantomime of flag waving and slogan peddling it does now.

A broadcast corporation wanting to be unrestricted by those conditions has an absolute right to give up broadcasting and go into print. No one is stopping them from doing that.

The freedom of religion from regulation is also contained in the Bill of Rights, but the right to have tax exemptions isn’t part of that. A religious institution which forgoes tax exemption can endorse political candidates, parties, ballot questions, etc, and no one can deny them that right. But if they want to retain their tax exemption they are under an obligation to forego that kind of explicit advocacy. It’s not the right for religious institutions to advocate a position that is at question, it’s the privilege of receiving a tax exemption that is. I think it is about as close a parallel to the ability to hold a broadcast license as there is.

I advocate extending the regulation of broadcast media to cable and satellite on the grounds of necessity. They have the ability to destroy democracy and to cause enormous harm, that is reason enough to impose conditions on their ability to operate in the United States. Any right to conduct commercial activities can be regulated if there is an overriding public interest. The selling of the Iraq war, the impeachment of President Clinton, the blatant example of FOX on election night in 2000, all prove an overriding public interest. Democracy can’t be allowed to die because people can’t distinguish between a privilege and a right or between individual citizens and pretend persons in the form of corporations.

* Blog owners who restrict the content of their blog are as much practicing their rights as those who choose to have an open forum.