Saturday, December 20, 2008

Free Yourself From The Burden of Creating The Best Christmas Ever!
by Anthony McCarthy
his poor holiday, Christmas, has some of the heaviest baggage heaped on it. The entire bounty of Santa’s sleigh is as nothing compared to the fascism of the multitude of perfect Christmases dreamed up by the advertisement industry, Hollywood and hack writers going back into the 19th century. That a holiday allegedly in celebration of Jesus, one of the least materialistic of prophets, has become a huge part of the most materialistic of cultures shows that things have been out of hand for several generations now.

People with children will have the hardest time liberating themselves from the burden. Parents and the rest of us have been sold on the bizarre idea that it is a moral duty to indoctrinate children into the cargo cult that is our real state religion. But it’s the opposite. Children who aren’t burdened with excess junk in their lives, who aren’t fashion conscious from the age of five, who aren’t bothered by the competitive aspects of materialism seem happier to me than those who are fully programmed. Who needs it? Children who have too much seem to be the ones who turn into jerks at such an early age.

Women carry the greatest burden of the modern, American Christmas, but I suspect they have no matter where they lived. Someone once pointed out that the introduction of the sewing machine into the home didn’t free women from the drudgery of hand sewing, it led to their being required to produce absurdly ornate clothing in order to be considered respectable. That requirement, the appearance of material respectability, is one of the greatest burdens women carry. Even the appearance of adult men gets blamed on women, and they know it. Back in the 1970s, while standing in line at the supermarket, I noticed the woman’s magazine cover that carried the order to “Have Your Best Christmas Ever!” I recalled having seen it on the cover of some woman’s magazine every year from the time I learned to read. If anyone has seen the equivalent on a man’s magazine cover, I’ll eat my balaclava.

Just the other day I heard one of the ubiquitous TV cooks bragging about beginning her Christmas cooky baking on Columbus Day and having a freezer full of cookies to give away. She said that it was a tradition in her family going back three or more generations. Well, if that makes you happy, it’s not a particularly bad way to spend some free time. That is assuming you don’t rub it in the nose of the receivers - somehow, I’ve got a feeling that for many for whom Christmas is a competitive sport, that’s the point. No one should feel it’s a moral duty to bake thousands of cookies. Or to have the perfect display, or buffet or to find the choicest presents wrapped in the latest style. Women are made to feel guilty for the whole thing, for not having the time or money and so not trying, they are made to feel inadequate if they don’t go nuts over it and, let’s be honest, you’re not meant to ever achieve perfection. If you did, how could they sell you something to top it next year.

It was also in the 1970s that my very large family decided to free ourselves of having to give presents to each other and the resultant burdens that entailed. My mother instituted pulling names from a bowl at my sister’s birthday party (which comes about at Columbus day) and buying one moderately priced present for one person. It’s made the family Christmas party a lot merrier than it was before. About the only problem is that people forget who they have drawn so you have to keep a list. Secret Santa only complicates things. In recent years some of us have been agitating to just have children under 16 draw names but we haven’t won that one yet. But hope springs eternal.

So, instead of having an unpleasant Christmas of competition and excess, have a laid-back one. Don’t get conned into asking for much or spending too much. Have a Christmas with few trips to the store and fewer boxes delivered by UPS or Fed Ex. Don’t give the kids enough stuff to turn them into insufferable brats. You might find you actually like playing a board game with them if you take the competition out of it. If they read something instead of playing with whatever computer game is the hot thing this season, they might have something to say that’s worth listening to. Don’t go into debt, don’t fight the crowds. Make a few cookies if you want to, have a bit to drink. Leave the Christmas come ons at the check out line. It’s not your duty to go into debt to support the economy. Give money to the food bank, they can make it go farther than you can at the grocery store, give money to a street person. Don’t worry what they’re going to spend it on.

Happy Winter Solstice (by Suzie)

     One of my favorite essays on spirituality comes from Amy Martin. Here is how it begins
We are spinning.
Like the Sufi mystic who whirls as a spiritual practice, this planet rotates on its axis. We see this every morning, as we spin toward the sun and it appears to rise, and in the evening, it appears to set. The moon spins on its axis and orbits around us, and we spin together as we orbit around the sun. The sun spins on its own majestic axis as it orbits around the black hole at the center of this magnificent galaxy we call the Milky Way.

And at the most elemental level are the spinning atoms that coalesce to make all of matter, including you.

Circles inside circles inside spirals in the sky. All of it, supported by the dark.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lawmakers go after "child modeling" (by Suzie)

        Two Republican lawmakers in Florida “are pushing legislation to help prosecutors go after operators of Web sites that, under the guise of legitimate modeling businesses, post photos of scantily-clad minors striking suggestive poses.”
         Similar legislation was proposed by the infamous former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley. That might make liberals think: Those damn, hypocritical Republicans are wasting our time on prudery. If you’re unfamiliar with these sites, click on this example at your own risk. ETA: Beware of using a work computer because this does look like child porn, even though it is readily available from a Google search.
         Doesn’t it seem like child abuse to allow your daughter to pose spread-eagled in underwear for men who pay a subscription fee? I’d worry how these pictures might encourage pedophiles, but the champions of free speech have assured us that images have no effect whatsoever on people’s desires, and thus, presumably the billion-dollar advertising industry is all for naught.
          In 2006, the NYT described 
the latest trend in online child exploitation: Web sites for pedophiles offering explicit, sexualized images of children who are covered by bits of clothing — all in the questionable hope of allowing producers, distributors and customers to avoid child pornography charges. …
They first appeared in the late 1990’s, when entrepreneurs, and even parents, recognized that there was a lucrative market online for images of girls and boys. …
Unlike the original sites, the newer ones are explicit in their efforts to market to pedophiles, referring to young children with phrases like “hot” and “delicious.” The children involved are far younger, and the images far more sexual ...

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

         This is Hayden, courtesy of my friend Susan Snyder's blog, Nature's Call. She took the photo of the gray wolf "at the Gizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Mont., gateway to Yellowstone National Park." It's a fascinating place. She writes:
Frankly, if you have never seen wolf up close -- as I haven't -- it is plenty close. There is no mistaking one of these fabulous animals for a dog. Their fur is the thick, coarse variety that only a wild animal possesses, and their eyes have a depth that domestic animals lack.

But Hayden's sheer appearance of wildness isn't what took my breath. It was his howl -- a long, mournful wail that traveled up my spine and made my scalp prickle. It is deep, haunting and nothing whatsoever like the almost comical yip-yip-yawooo of a coyote. It is unlike any sound that I have ever heard.

I stood there under a cold gray sky and watched as Hayden pointed his nose into the falling snow and howled again, this time eliciting responses from other members of the pack. 
Susan goes on to discuss what humans have done to wolves. Please read her whole post.

Alec Baldwin alienates me (by Suzie)

         Thanks to Melissa Silverstein, I recently started watching "30 Rock," which I find hilarious, including the loathsome Alec Baldwin. No, I don’t mean the pompous character he plays, although I do loathe the character. I mean the pompous actor. This interview sums him up well.
          Although he’s known for supporting liberal causes … quelle surprise … he’s not so good on feminism. He told "30 Rock" creator Tina Fey: “You are a very attractive woman and you’ve got to work that. You’ve got to pop one more button on that blouse and you’ve got to get that hair done and you’ve got to ... glamour it up." I wonder how he would respond if she talked about him needing to lose weight.
          He has written for the Huffington Post. Here's an example:
When Hillary Clinton ran for President, she ran as a woman, in my opinion, and I believe that is why she lost. She invoked her Glass Ceiling Sister Act whenever she found it useful ...
          His book, “A Promise to Ourselves,” came out this fall. Once more, he attacks his ex-wife, Kim Basinger, and the legal system. Here’s a New York Times review. An example of his venom: "My ex-wife reaches an almost sexual level of satisfaction when she's in a room full of highpriced lawyers." Saying nasty things in court is one thing; it's another to write them up and travel the country, giving interviews. 
          You may remember him calling his daughter a "thoughtless little pig" in a voice mail last year. If not, the transcript is here. It's comically bad. 
         To the thrill of “men’s rights activists” – those who can forgive his other political views – Baldwin says the legal system is biased toward mothers; children suffer when they’re raised by single mothers; and feminists should recognize “parental alienation syndrome.”
         NOW criticizes the media for allowing Baldwin to push this debunked syndrome, which Sara Huizenga Lubbers calls the “It’s Not My Fault!” Syndrome. She takes on Baldwin here, and she notes PAS was invented by a pedophile. (Thanks to the latest Carnival Against Sexual Violence for including this.)
         Defend the Children explains:
Playing upon the familiar that some parents badmouth each other to children in divorce, Gardner called this experience a “syndrome.” Gardner then concocted the PAS strategy to prevent child abuse investigations by claiming children were “brainwashed” into making false abuse allegations by one parent against the other. Thus PAS strategy says whenever a child discloses abuse and fear of a parent in the context of a custody dispute, they should not be believed. The PAS tactic encourages judges to assume without investigation that child abuse allegations are false, placing abused children in grave danger…
Studies show 50 percent of abusers who batter their partner also physically abuse their children. But tragically, a 1996 study in the Family Law Quarterly found child custody evaluators did not consider a history of domestic violence as a major factor in their recommendations, but three-fourths of them cited alienation as a major determination.

Blerg! If Baldwin were my father, I'd be plenty alienated.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tis the Season To Be Merry!

And to smell of broiled beef:

Looking to beef up your mojo this holidayseason? Burger King Corp. may have just the thing.

The home of the Whopper has launched a new men's body spray called "Flame." The company describes the spray as "the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat."

The fragrance is on sale at New York City retailer Ricky's NYC in stores and online for a limited time for $3.99.

Burger King is marketing the product through a Web site featuring a photo of its King character reclining fireside and naked but for an animal fur strategically placed to not offend.

Is this real? I have no idea, but to mix lust and hunger might not be a good idea. Some of us already have enough problems with social intelligence. Now we have to walk around muttering "if it stands and moves it's not food", and muttering is another social faux pas. So is eating the dinner guests.

A very odd thing, altogether. Male objectification?

Mysteriouser and Mysteriouser

Such fun to break the grammar! I've been reading more on the opinions expressed on Rick Warren's website. He's almost your average right-wing Christian in that the website is opposed to abortion, believes in male leadership in family and in the church and is adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage. Where Warren differs some from the usual type of wingnut fundie is in talking more about AIDS and poverty and such. That's a good thing.

Still, I find his pick as the invocation speaker at Obama's inauguration a most mysterious one. Is the political intent really to attract Republican evangelists to vote for the Democratic Party? This will not work. As Warren states somewhere, no abortion and no same-sex marriage are among their non-negotiables. As one might argue that the reverse of those are among the non-negotiables of many, many progressives and liberals it would appear that the Democratic Party would have to change some of its basic policies to attract the evangelists, and changing those policies would lose them a large number of current Democratic voters.

What does Obama say about all this? Let's see:

"I am a fierce advocate of equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something that I have been consistent on and something that I intend to continue to be consistent on in my presidency," Obama said at a morning news conference to announce several financial appointments. "What I've also said is that it is important for American to come together even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues."

Here's that term 'social issues' again. Note that Warren's website resources include an article which tells us how Christian women must subjugate themselves to male leadership:

4. Submission does not mean slavery.
Let's release a few old notions and fears! Paul uses an entirely different word in Ephesians 6:5 when he instructs slaves to obey their masters. This Greek word for "obey," huakouo embraces more of the meaning people often mistakenly associate with marital submission. Hupaaakouo means "to obey, to yield to a superior command or force (without necessarily being willing)." The term draws a picture of a soldier saluting his commander, not a wife submitting to her husband!

Hubba, hubba! (I have no idea why I wrote that.)
Aravosis has more on Obama's reaction and so does Sargent.

Who the invocation speaker is might ultimately not matter very much, of course, and I'm not criticizing the Warren choice as some indication of what Obama will do in his administration. But I'm concerned about the choice nevertheless, because these choices are meant as signals. So what is the signal? And to whom?

The oddest thing of all is that Warren was a McCain supporter. His sermon from October says this about the presidential election:

We don't need more visionaries in America. We don't need more smart leaders. We need leaders with character. We need leaders who aren't interested in image, but are willing to say: "What you see is what you get."

Here's where I see the task of the future for us dirty fucking hippies and feminazis and such: To teach politicians that 'social issues' is not about what we eat for Thanksgiving or how we arrange flowers. Those issues are about freedom, justice, economics, dignity and respect.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rick Warren

Is to give the invocation at Obama's inauguration, maybe as part of the new inclusiveness: Everybody can be a Democrat now! Even a wingnut!

It certainly seems that a social conservative is to be welcomed in this rather noticeable manner. You see, social conservatism only hurts women, gays and lesbians and people in similar categories, so it's nothing to worry about.

Alternatively, letting Warren speak at the inauguration might be a way to give something to the social conservatives without actually letting them influence government policy. That way everybody is included but the policies can stay sane!

Clever politicking, in other words, if you ignore how the choice of Warren looks from the progressive side of the political aisle. Why is it that the Democratic Party always ignores the progressives, I wonder?

Well, not always. Progressives are greatly in demand for all that drudge-work right before elections. But that's about it.

Note: I'm unsure who invited Rick Warren in an attempt to butter up the religious right. It might not have been Barack Obama himself.

Added: It appears to have been the The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, run by the House and Senate.


This video. What is it that makes me want to watch something like that? After the first car slides backwards it's pretty obvious that the video is all about more cars sliding backwards.

Nobody Could Have Predicted

That a political ideology of markets-gone-amok combined with at most voluntary self-monitoring as the ideal way to manage the beast could result in this:

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox said the agency failed to act for almost a decade on "credible and specific allegations" of wrongdoing by Bernard Madoff, who authorities say bilked investors of as much as $50 billion.

Allegations dating back until at least 1999 "were repeatedly brought to the attention of SEC staff, but were never recommended to the commission for action," Cox, 56, said in a statement yesterday. He announced an internal probe to review the "deeply troubling" revelations.

"He's revolted by what he found out, but it's also in his interest to be revolted," said James Cox, a securities law professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina who isn't related to the SEC chairman. "He's taken a lot of heat over SEC enforcement."

The SEC, already faulted in connection with the collapse of Bears Stearns Cos. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., now faces criticism for failing to detect what Madoff termed "a giant Ponzi scheme." Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd yesterday called on the agency to explain how the "massive fraud" went undetected. Madoff, 70, was arrested Dec. 11 after he allegedly told his sons that his eponymous firm, founded in 1960, was no more than "a giant Ponzi scheme," the SEC said.

Instead of wielding subpoena power to obtain information, SEC staff "relied upon information voluntarily produced by Mr. Madoff and his firm," Cox said.

Hmm. And now Madoff voluntarily tells us that his sons knew nothing about the scheme.

It's crucial not to separate every one of these cases or to look at them as some sort of bad apples in an otherwise most wonderful American apple pie. The incentives the government gave to the financial industry in the last twenty years were not that different from an invitation to a nonstop orgy with free booze. Nobody had to really read the small script at the bottom of the invitation which mentioned that of course people should drink responsibly and keep the noise levels down. And if you didn't drink responsibly? Nothing bad would happen to you.

Except the party is over now. It's the cold light of the morning-after and everyone fights over whose puke it is all over that white sofa. Guess who gets to pay the cleaning bills?

The Caroline Kennedy Story

I like Digby's take on it. Dynasties are not good in a democracy. Or perhaps it is that democracy cannot survive under a dynastical form of government? It's not just Caroline Kennedy, by the way. Ken Salazar's brother has been proposed as his replacement. Nepotism is a general danger very much alive in American politics (the Bush dynasty being just one of many examples).

At the same time, it has always been harder for women to get to the top and being born or married into a political family has historically been almost the only avenue which women have had to power. Just check what would have happened to the early women Representatives and Congresswomen in this country if we had applied a no-nepotism rule for the last eight decades.

That's part of the Caroline Kennedy story, together with all the other threads which make the story up: her father's sacrifice, the enormous appeal of her family, her own possible qualifications for the job and then the questions about someone being inserted from outside the political arena in a way which doesn't allow the citizens of the state of New York to truly learn what the candidate stands for.

Another part has to do with the loss of a female Senator if Hillary Clinton resigns and Governor Paterson appoints a guy in her place. This matters, because women are too few in the Senate and the loss of any one of them may reduce the number of women below a level where they cannot effectively work to bring up issues which are traditionally seen as women's issues (even though they are human issues). But there are other women vying for the seat of the Junior Senator from New York:

Kennedy is not the only woman interested in succeeding Clinton. Also eyeing the seat are Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City teachers union President Randi Weingarten and actress Fran Drescher, best known for her starring role on "The Nanny."

Carolyn Maloney has a lot of feminist support, by the way.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Favorite Christmas Present

But of course it would be world peace, a just and caring society and the end to all horrible diseases. In reality, though, my best present was one I got at age eight or so. A caleidoscope, a modest tube covered in gray paper, so modest that I tore some of the paper off before realizing it wasn't just some more wrapping paper.

Yet what worlds opened up inside that humble tube! I never grew tired of the fantastic patterns it created, in brilliant jewel colors, or my attempt to find repeats in the patterns or asymmetries. Learning how the images was created was fun, too.

So what was your best present ever and why? It doesn't have to be a Christmas present, but it can't be world peace or anything similarly noble.

Penis Envy

This is the seventh post in my series about why feminism is still needed. (You can find the earlier six here.)

This one is about science and pseudo-science, about the study of sex differences and about the motives for such studies and their consequences.

Doesn't that look objective and scientific to you: 'the study of gender or sex differences'? I can see the men (and women! there must be a few women!) in their white coats in laboratories all over the country, sincerely and earnestly staring into test tubes or the desperate eyes of monkeys in cages, all studying gender differences without any preconceptions, without any bias. Just a pure-as(s)-snow scientific inquiry into why biology is destiny, but only for women. Almost as if the researchers just dropped to visit us from outer space, themselves un-gendered and totally uninterested in the uses their studies, totally unaware of any societal effects which mediate and influence any possible innate sex differences.

Which reminds me of my visiting alien. It has spent some time in university libraries, studying the biological and psychological explanations for why men and women differ. It just came back with a large pile of books (stolen! I must explain libraries better) and a list of comments and questions it still has.

We had a fun chat on the history of this field and the many accounts of female inferiority (for that's what the history of the field boils down to), ranging from the suspicion that women were deficient because of an imbalance of humours to worries about the womb over-riding the puny female brain (about as small as that of a chimpanzee) to penis envy and finally to evolutionary psychology and various current-day biological theories.

What's astonishing about all these theories is their almost total ignorance of the sexual division of labor, my alien friend pointed out, the fact that it is women who give birth to children and women who mostly spend years taking care of them. To an alien that looks like the sex difference, you know. But human theorizing gives the visible sex differences fairly short shrift, preferring to focus on the fascinating insides of the skull. Well, the female skull. And all the other bits of the female body which might account for the lesser female lives.

That this is the political use to which theories of sex differences are put to is obvious to my visiting alien. If the ancients 'proved' that it's women's bad humours which make them weak and scatter-brained it wasn't so that they could institute affirmative action programs for women in the government and the military, you know. Rather, it was to allow the then-status-quo to continue.

Likewise, the sudden focus on the dangerous and all-consuming wombs in the late nineteenth century had nothing to do with some new epidemic of 'women's complaints' but the desire of more women to enter higher education, a previously male arena, and the corresponding desire to keep them out. Hmm. What might work to achieve that? Let's see. Maybe women will have to choose between their mental health and fertility on the one hand and education on the other?

The most intriguing part of this odd history is the penis envy episode. Old Freud sure explained the Woman Problem there, in a totally untestable way, too! But it was Science speaking. Or Pseudo-Science, if you like. In any case, to criticize it means that you are politically motivated and probably have a wondering womb inside your brain. Hysteria, that's what you are suffering from! Real women learn to revel in their submission to vaginal orgasms and the ever-existing penis envy.

That was gender science then. Doesn't it look silly in hindsight? Remember that one day the same might be said about today's studies of gender differences. Don't you think that a fair spoonful of cynicism is important before agreeing with the current popularizers that, yes, women indeed are dripping, dripping with empathy but utterly uninterested in the single-minded male occupation of collecting coins without even a lunch-break (to paraphrase some ideas popularized by Louann Brizandine and Simon Baron-Cohen, respectively)?

My alien friend thinks so. It points out several reasons for such cynicism:

1. There's no field called 'the study of gender or sex similarities'. No fledgling assistant professor will make tenure or get promoted by publishing an article which points out that men and women really are rather similar in some characteristic. Just imagine the sensation that would be caused by a book titled Men Are From Baltimore. Women Are From Philadelphia. Snores.

2. New declarations of innate biological sex differences proceed with unseemly haste. Indeed, we have hardly learned one explanation (the left- vs. right-brainedness by sex, say, or the idea of man-the-bee flitting from one female flower to another) when we are offered another one (men use one brain half more, women use both halves, or the older man-the-provider looking for that young symmetrical woman with a 0.7 waist-to-hips ratio) and then yet another one (the female and male brains: meet the empathizer and the systematizer). And so it goes. Yet at every stage the argument is presented as a final one: The mystery of that elusive difference between men and women has been pinned down, finally! Conversation closed.

3. The flag of science is hoisted over all these inquiries! To criticize them must be politically motivated! To criticize them must be a sign of someone denying the value of scientific inquiry! To criticize them must mean that the critic thinks men and women are exactly identical!

To ask about the motivations and biases and the training of these researchers is simply an indication of the critic's own bias: Those who study gender differences (or rather, those who popularize them) are coldly objective thinking machines, have no axe to grind, don't even have a gender themselves! All they are asking are difficult questions with answers which are unsavory, even politically incorrect. And those answers must be scribbled down in great haste, great haste, the minute one study looking at the brains of four women and five men comes out. So it goes.

Why does any of this matter? First, because these studies are always a defense of the status quo. That status quo is always "the worst of times and the best of times" for women; the worst because the studies have established that women really can't (and don't even want to be) be equal with men due to all those hard-wired (by some prehistoric electrician) sex differences, and the best because the current arrangements in the society are the best women really can hope for. But of course the status quo of the different-humors theory was different from the status quo of the late nineteenth century which is different from the status quo of today.

Second, bad just-so theories about the difference between men and women affect more than what people talk about at cocktail parties. They affect the culture and its norms, and they affect the beliefs, aspirations and self-confidence of girls and boys yet not born.

One might think that this would make the popularizers of various gender essentialist theories pause and even have a sleepless night or two. One might think that they'd get up and read a few more articles critical of their theories. One might.

But then again, it might be my penis envy talking there.

Questions, Questions...

Why am I not too big to fail? Damn.

Could this blog be turned into a Ponzi scheme? Let Echidne teach you how to be rich! Let her list the 3 Secret Ingredients and the 11 Exclusive Wisdoms of Rich People! Or any number of items on any list you care to cook up! For only 29.99 per month, you get not only my brilliant guide-book (with faux snakeskin covers and absolutely real-looking gold initials -- your initials (or mine if you prefer) -- surrounded by a ring of rhinestone diamonds shaped like dollar signs) but a weekly reminder e-mail asking you if you are rich yet! I care! That's why I'm rich and you are not.

But wait! There's more! I will also teach you how to manufacture very similar-looking guide-books and how to sell them to others on your Very Own Richy Blog, where all you need to do is to lie back and count the money!

Nah. I cannot do it. Must be something about all the girly hormones coursing through my divine body...

Did you see Bill Moyers interview Glenn Greenwald? It will take you about twenty minutes and leave you with no more money, sadly.

Monday, December 15, 2008

This Slipped Past Me

Last summer. It's an excellent series of six short posts by Amanda Schaffer on the new gender difference evangelists (think of Stephen Pinker and Simon Baron-Cohen and Louann Brizandine and Susan Pinker). I highly recommend it for everybody. Schaffer talks science and evidence. I hope she will write a book on that topic.

The Red Shoes?

In the fairy tale the red shoes could not be removed and their movement could not be stopped. They just danced on and on down the road and up the hill and into the horizon:

From Think Progress.

Making Off With Your Money

One of the odd things about the collapse in the financial markets is all the creepy-crawlies found slithering desperately when yet another rock (or what seemed as reliable as a rock) is turned over. It's hard not to think that the free-market adulators just decided that ANYTHING the market decides to do is OK, including all sorts of fraud.

Take the Madoff (pronounced made-off) case. Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme:

Most Ponzi schemes collapse relatively quickly, but there is fragmentary evidence that Mr. Madoff's scheme may have lasted for years or even decades. A Boston whistle-blower has claimed that he tried to alert the S.E.C. to the scheme as early as 1999, and the weekly newspaper Barron's raised questions about Mr. Madoff's returns and strategy in 2001, although it did not accuse him of wrongdoing.

Investors may have been duped because Mr. Madoff sent detailed brokerage statements to investors whose money he managed, sometimes reporting hundreds of individual stock trades per month. Investors who asked for their money back could have it returned within days. And while typical Ponzi schemes promise very high returns, Mr. Madoff's promised returns were relatively realistic — about 10 percent a year — though they were unrealistically steady.

Mr. Madoff was not running an actual hedge fund, but instead managing accounts for investors inside his own securities firm. The difference, though seemingly minor, is crucial. Hedge funds typically hold their portfolios at banks and brokerage firms like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. Outside auditors can check with those banks and brokerage firms to make sure the funds exist.

But because he had his own securities firm, Mr. Madoff kept custody over his clients' accounts and processed all their stock trades himself. His only check appears to have been Friehling & Horowitz, a tiny auditing firm based in New City, N.Y. Wealthy individuals and other money managers entrusted billions of dollars to funds that in turn invested in his firm, based on his reputation and reported returns.

The linked story recounts in great detail the S.E.C.'s attempts to investigate Madoff's firm. That all the earlier attempts failed smells funny to me. Remember that because Mr. Madoff had his own securities firm, the only sort-of outside check on his activities was the auditing firm, Friehling & Horowitz? Here's how that firm is described:

When Aksia researched Madoff last year, it learned the firm's books were audited by accountants Friehling & Horowitz, operating out of a 13-by-18 foot location in an office park in New York City's northern suburbs. One partner, in his late 70s, lives in Florida. The other employees are a secretary, and one active accountant, Aksia said.

I would love to see a careful study of what steps the earlier S.E.C. investigations took before deciding that Madoff was as pure as this new snowfall.

More Shoes

The shoe throwing incident in greater detail:

President Bush made a valedictory visit on Sunday to Iraq, the country that will largely define his legacy, but the trip will more likely be remembered for the unscripted moment when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at Mr. Bush's head and denounced him on live television as a "dog" who had delivered death and sorrow here from nearly six years of war.

The drama unfolded shortly after Mr. Bush appeared at a news conference in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to highlight the newly adopted security agreement between the United States and Iraq. The agreement includes a commitment to withdraw all American forces by the end of 2011.

The Iraqi journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, 28, a correspondent for Al Baghdadia, an independent Iraqi television station, stood up about 12 feet from Mr. Bush and shouted in Arabic: "This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!" He then threw a shoe at Mr. Bush, who ducked and narrowly avoided it.

As stunned security agents and guards, officials and journalists watched, Mr. Zaidi then threw his other shoe, shouting in Arabic, "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!" That shoe also narrowly missed Mr. Bush as Prime Minister Maliki stuck a hand in front of the president's face to help shield him.

Bush called the incident a 'sign of democracy', and many Iraqis are demanding the release of al-Zaidi.

I hope that he will be released, too, and in no worse health than he was after being kicked and beaten by Maliki's security guards:

Mr. Maliki's security agents jumped on the man, wrestled him to the floor and hustled him out of the room. They kicked him and beat him until "he was crying like a woman," said Mohammed Taher, a reporter for Afaq, a television station owned by the Dawa Party, which is led by Mr. Maliki. Mr. Zaidi was then detained on unspecified charges.

Funny how saying that a man acts like a woman is always an insult.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Shoe Incident

You can watch a journalist throwing his shoes at president Bush in Iraq and calling him a dog, both rather extreme insults in the culture. For extra interest, count the women present at this press conference.