Saturday, March 28, 2009

Eye Candy (by Phila)

I'm sure that everyone here is aware of PETA's "pro-animal" ad campaigns, which almost invariably present nude women in various exploitative situations. There are countless reasons to oppose such tactics, but one of the most obvious ones is that exploiting women in order to protest the brutal treatment of animals a) doesn't really work; and b) would be unjustifiable even if it did. There's nothing "liberating" about having naked women stand in for dominated animals in a culture that already tends to conflate them, ideologically and legally. Instead, it alienates potential allies, while confirming the basic assumptions of the people who are hostile to feminism and animal welfare.

A new (to me, anyway) PETA ad "attacks" bullfighting by showing a nude woman with three spears in her back (it's a very disturbing image, but you can view it here, if you want to).

Oddly enough, the model in this ad doesn't seem to be suffering; she remains poised and elegant, with an expression that could represent anything from arousal to holy martyrdom; obviously, she doesn't feel it like "we" would. Still, I have no doubt that the ad will shake this hypermasculine tradition to its very foundations, by presenting an equivalence that never would've occurred to any of its devotees. (If eroticizing suffering and death doesn't put an end to bloodsports, what on earth will?)

Unfortunately, PETA's approach seems to be catching on. Also in Spain, protesters against Canada's annual seal hunt recently stripped nude, drenched themselves in fake blood, and lolled around playing dead in a public square. This protest seems to have included some men, for once, but even if all of the protesters were male, equating nudity with vulnerability or abjection or violence still isn't a very good tactic (or a very good metaphor for animality, for that matter). When compared to videos or photos from the actual seal hunts, the protests clearly trivialize real suffering: it seems more like a game than anything else, with the thrill of being naked in public as a central motivation.

To certain limited extent, this approach reminds me of the old argument that men should respect women because they may be mothers or sisters. It's one of those "enlightened" arguments that reinforces the founding concepts of the domination it claims to challenge: Be careful how you treat women, because some of them have value, thanks to the relationship in which they stand to men. The respect that PETA claims to have for animals is undercut by its belief that people — people of a certain age, gender, and physical appearance, that is — can and should represent their suffering in strictly human terms; never mind that those terms are part of the problem, if not its source.

PETA's use of nude female models is justified, allegedly, by its founder's belief that people don't want to see photos of slaughterhouses; the corresponding belief that they do want to see photos of a naked young woman with spears in her back is apparently not suggestive of anything at all. And so in one exceptionally ugly gesture, these ads ignore the political implications of offering images of suffering women as eye candy, and deny animals virtually the only "power" they have in their situation, which is to represent their own suffering.

from The Possible by Anthony McCarthy

A kitchen in a small inland town in Maine. Two men past 50 at the end of an uncomfortable but civilized discussion before going to work.

> is a native Mainer with a genuine Oxford County accent. He’s shorter and thinner and a little more rustic than his partner. He is self-employed.
- might or might not be a native. He’s got a less distinct accent. He’s taller and wearing a suit like a school teacher might. He teaches math.

- .... you know what I mean. If you could have him back, would you trade our relationship? (After a long, nervous pause) You don’t want to answer the question?

> He’s dead, he can’t come back. The question’s meaningless

- But would you rather have him back if it meant you’d never have met me?

> [sighs and looks up as if to beg for deliverance]

- We’d never have met if he was still alive.

> (dug in for the long haul now) I can’t rather have what wasn’t possible so I can’t want it more than what’s possible now. It wasn’t that way, it didn’t happen that way. We did meet. Isn’t it enough to say we met and got together?

- I don’t get you.

> It’s a waste of time wondering about something like that. It won’t ever happen. I don’t think about it.

- You don’t think about things like that?

> No. (a pause) You don’t seem satisfied with the answer.

- It wasn’t really an answer.

> (after some consideration) Well, is a question about something that’s impossible a real question? It can’t have an answer.

- You’re the most aggravating person I know sometimes.

> (Looks surprised, then laughs) He said exactly the same words. (they both laugh) You want me to be different? That’s a question about something possible.

- I wish you would just answer a simple question like a normal person.

> It’s not a simple question. You’re asking to compare you to someone who’s dead and asking me if I’d rather have him back than be with you now. It can’t be done.

- It’s simple. OK, which one of us did you love more?

> (thinking he’s not out of the mine field yet) I didn’t know you when I knew him and he’s not here now that I know you. I can’t tell you.

- Can’t or won’t.

> Won’t because I can’t. You don’t have to be so jealous of him. I don’t keep his pictures all over the place. Have I ever called you his name?

- I’m not jealous of him. That’s not what this is about. (Trying to keep it going a while longer) You don’t have pictures of anyone all over the place.

> I’m in most of those pictures, you think I want to be reminded of how old I am? (With a half smile) Besides I haven’t noticed you’ve put pictures of me anywhere.

- You won’t let anyone take a picture of you.

> Exactly.
We’re together now. I want to make the best of that.

- Right. Guess we’re stuck with that.

> Don’t think you all of a sudden have to be so agreeable on that point.

- I’m going to be late. You need me to pick up anything on the way home.

> No. You getting back the usual time?

- Might be home early.

> Good. (After reconsidering) There’s your answer.

Advice To Bloggers by Anthony McCarthy

When you read that interview in the paper, the one that sears you to the very core of your experience, one that infuriates, one that touches on memories so personal and painful that you had not given into the temptation to write about it. Think three times about responding to it. Then think some more.

Note to readers: I’ve put a filter on my my e-mail and will not be responding to them for the time being. I will write on the topic of my second post last Sunday more fully in the future.

Friday, March 27, 2009

‘Dollhouse’ and rape (by Suzie)



            The premise of the TV show is that the Dollhouse can wipe the minds of its Actives and implant new personalities and skills to suit each client. Some clients want sex. Others want other services, from a safecracker to a midwife.
            Co-creator Joss Whedon has compared the Dollhouse to human trafficking, and last Friday’s show dealt explicitly with rape. I’m hoping the show will teach lessons about consent. I've spelled some out for those who don't get it.
           Allegedly, all the actives (or dolls) volunteered to work for the Dollhouse. But the choice of the main character, Echo, seems about as free as the one made by La Femme Nikita. Lesson #1: Consent can’t be coerced.
          Clients have no way of knowing whether actives have freely consented or not. Lesson #2: Don’t have sex with someone if there’s any chance that she is being coerced.
          On a thread at IMDB, someone suggested that the sexual assignments amounted to rape. Others denied it. They insisted that Echo signed a contract, and thus, she agreed to whatever might be done to her, and it’s her fault if she didn’t know what she might face. (My guess is that these commenters do not specialize in contract law.) One dissident summed up my own feelings: “She signed a contract so whatever Dollhouse does to her is okay? You might as well say ‘she knew what she was getting into when she went to that frat house.’ Talk about a creepy blame-the-victim vibe.”
          Even if consent is freely given at the outset, the actives are put into a state in which they no longer can consent, and there’s no way they could know everything that would happen to them. Lesson #3: If a woman agrees to sex, but then passes out or slips into a coma or has a psychotic break or becomes incapacitated in some other way, think twice before you do whatever you want to her.     
            Lesson #4: People should have the right to withdraw consent to sex, even if they consented initially. Not all judges agree.
           Lesson #5: Don’t have sex with someone who cannot legally consent because her mind has been wiped by the Dollhouse or she’s too intoxicated or she’s mentally ill or she lacks the mental capacity to consent or she’s in a coma or she’s a child.
              An IMDB commenter said: “Just because they are given a different personality and their mind wiped clean doesn't mean they are not consenting.” Another retorted: “This is why I love this board ... you can always find somebody willing to argue ‘it's not rape if she's been brainwashed.’ ")
               Some of the clients are attractive rich guys. Lesson #6: Attractive rich guys can commit rape, too.
                Last Friday’s episode had an unattractive rich guy who bought a dream house for his wife, but she died before he could show it to her. Every year on the anniversary of her death, he hires an active who is programmed to be his wife. He wants to see her surprise at the house … and, yes, to have sex with her. It is played so that a lot of people will sympathize with the man, but there are other ways to remember our loved ones, other than hiring people to impersonate them. Lesson #7: A man may have touching and compelling reasons for wanting the company of a woman, but it can still be rape.
                  The Dollhouse staff can be witty and likable. Lesson #8: Witty and likable people can be complicit in wrongdoing.
                 Two characters, Echo’s handler and the doctor, dislike what’s going on. Lesson #9: If you’re part of a business in which women get raped, tell the authorities or find some way to shut it down or get out. Otherwise, you’re not a good guy. (In the show, we don't know whether some of the staff are trying to subvert it.)
               An IMDB commenter said: “It's comparable to sex slave prostitution not rape.” Lesson #10: Slaves and prostitutes and sex-slave prostitutes can be raped. They also should have the right to withdraw consent, even if they agreed initially, even if they've accepted money.
               Speaking of sex slaves, a commenter mentioned BDSM, saying a lot of women want forced sex. Lesson #11: “Forced sex” stops being “play” when the woman no longer has a choice.
               A commenter said: “I've been raped. Yet, I don't think this is 'rape' in the strictest sense of the word and doesn't keep me from watching a great series... Okay, example... You cannot technically 'rape' your wife. A marriage license is considered consent in a court of law.” Lesson #12: Know the law. Although marital rape is a crime in all 50 U.S. states, some consider it a lesser crime than raping someone outside marriage.
              Another commenter said: “There's different degrees of rape ranging from getting a girl tipsy and taking advantage of her in her drowsy state to full-blown assault and rape. This show leans toward the former but is still rape.” Yes, laws often distinguish which rapes are considered worse than others, but victims may see it differently. 
------------
      Pocochina calls what happens to the actives "rape." Plus, she's blogging on each episode. 

Friday flower blogging (by Suzie)


Don't you want to dive in?

Into the wild with BSG (by Suzie)



         Even if you never watched the new “Battlestar Galactica,” you may find the following interesting. I want to comment on gender, ethnocentrism and disability in the finale.
         Spoiler: The remnants of a human civilization and their Cylon (cyborg) allies settle on our Earth. They break into groups around the planet. Of the main characters, one woman dies of cancer, as expected. Another vanishes into thin air, not as expected. One goes off with her husband and child. Another is with her husband. A third is with a male lover. Three men end up on their own, but no woman does. Our society has a hard time imagining women on their own, not in relation to men.
         A man alone in the wilderness can prove his “masculinity,” i.e., traits that have been associated with men, such as strength and independence. Women may explore nature for various reasons, but they usually do it despite traditional notions of femininity.
         Artists often have depicted women in nature, usually for the pleasure of the male viewer, such as a naked nymph bathing in a stream. A fascinating commentary on this is Swedish photographer Annika von Hausswolff’s series “Back to Nature,” crime-scene-style photos of dead women in natural surroundings. Her work, which I saw as part of the Global Feminisms exhibit, may remind men that women in the wilderness can become prey because of their gender. Men may attack other men, but their gender is unlikely to be the main reason.
           Once, when I found myself in the neighborhood, I visited Yellowstone National Park in the late fall. I remember looking back on a trail, seeing a man ascending, and feeling a moment of panic. I was relieved when a ranger came along. Not all women think this way, but there are enough of us to make it an issue. For example, Melissa McEwan at Shakesville writes about TV shows that make some women uncomfortable by ignoring the risk of sexual assault.
           Back to BSG: The humans and Cylons decide to give up technology before heading into the wild, except for a few tricks they will teach the preverbal humans already inhabiting the planet. For more on the colonialism of the Colonial fleet, check out Hoyden About Town.
           It might seem odd for cyborgs to give up technology, but these wanted to be more human, and some felt love and devotion for humans. They already had given up the ability to reproduce and resurrect through technology. One of the show's themes was how enemies could leave war behind. In the end, the Cylons who had remained at war and who valued themselves as creatures of technology were all killed, and no one seemed to mourn this huge loss of life. The robots that looked less human went off on their own, but again, no one seemed to care.
         Amanda at Skepchick brings up the disability angle:
And then 39 thousand people all together decide to give up all technology? … 
 In one fell swoop, they created new disabled people and guaranteed deaths for others. What happened to those without good vision or hearing that was previously fixed with glasses and hearing aids? What about the diabetics? What about those with curable cancer?
           Without my glasses, I can’t find my glasses. And I hate the thought of whittling a catheter for myself. I have incurable cancer, but I’d still like to live a bit longer. Although there are people with disabilities who head into the wilderness and give up technology, we can’t afford to valorize and romanticize it the way others do. The BSG finale would have been no happy ending for the likes of me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Interesting Times...



The new unemployment numbers are out:

Showing the labor market's considerable strain, the number of people collecting state unemployment benefits reached yet another new record, jumping 122,000 to a seasonally adjusted 5.56 million, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The four-week average of these claims rose 123,750 to stand at 5.33 million -- in itself a record high since the U.S. began compiling these statistics -- also as of in the week ended March 14.

So is this piece of news concerning IBM:

Reports of deep job cuts at International Business Machines (IBM) come at a potentially delicate time for the company—just as it is hoping to secure money from the federal stimulus package. The company will lay off as many as 5,000 U.S. workers in its Global Business Services unit, transferring some of the work they performed to India, according to media reports.

IBM spokesman Mike Fay declined to confirm or to comment on any job-cut plans, which were reported on Mar. 25 by The Wall Street Journal (NWS) and Bloomberg News. The cuts will affect mainly information technology and consulting work in such areas as customer relations management and supply chain management, says Lee Conrad, national coordinator of Alliance@IBM, a group that is seeking union representation at IBM and is allied with the Communications Workers of America Local 1701.

Substituting cheaper Indian workers for the more expensive American ones may make sense for IBM. But should a firm like that get subsidized by the U.S. taxpayers?

An interesting question, don't you think?

Odd Bedfellows...



What a difference a president can make! During the era of George Walker Bush the United States were in bed with the Saudis, the Iranians, the Pakistanis and the Vatican in all conferences having to do with women's rights. This may surprise those of you who have read about the Iranians, say, as a possible U.S. enemy. But when it comes to the proper roles of women the fundies of all religions agree!

Which is scary. But at least that odd symbiotic arrangement doesn't function under the Obama administration. The U.S. fundies don't have the weight of the U.S. government behind their views. I'm grateful for that.

Well-Aimed Anger



I wrote about the dearth of women among Op-Ed columnists not that long ago. This beautifully angry letter to the Washington Post makes that point and a few others:

Sunday's editorial pages are presumably the most-read of the week. They should represent the most critical and varied thinking of the week and set the standard for editorial pages. Help me understand the thinking behind the selection of the March 15 writers:

Eleven white guys, one white woman. At least six are more than 60 years old. Four are elected Republicans, but none are elected Democrats, even though the Senate, the House and the White House plus a majority of the governorships are controlled by Democrats. I do not remember Democrats being overrepresented on your pages during their "wilderness years." Quite the opposite.

The letters chosen for publication show the same lack of diversity: six letters by five men and one woman.

Do you think that men submit eleven times as many manuscripts to WaPo than women do? And five times as many letters to its editors? Because one might make some sort of a case in WaPo's defense if that were the case. But I veryvery much doubt that the differences in submission rates are that vast.

I still think that what we are seeing is the odd way women count in the public sector: as a representative of the group 'women'. Hence the soap operas where we have the funny guy and the serious guy and the nasty guy and the old guy and --oh-- a woman or two.

This is not something only newspapers or television shows do. It's almost everywhere! Honest. I've been entertaining this flu by reading books and magazines and newspapers, by listening to foreign news radio stations and by watching television fluff, and the Incredible Invisible Women are everywhere! We are even invisible to ourselves!

Thus, William Saletan is the great expert on liberal views on abortion, Nicholas Kristoff is the go-to-guy on helping the women of the world and the most famous child-rearing experts and chefs are men, too, even though women do most child-rearing and cooking in this world. If this is true in such clearly female-dominated fields, how audible do you think women's voices will be outside those fields?

So I'm angry. Or at least discontented. And yes, I know that the reasons for all this are complicated and not amenable to instant correction, and I also know that matters are much improved from the past in this country. But I'm beginning to suspect that anger is a very important and useful emotion, because it's harder to treat angry women as invisible.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hedging Your Bets



The New York Times tells us this lovely morning that some hedge fund managers are still rolling in it:

As major markets and economies careened downward last year, 25 top managers reaped a total of $11.6 billion in pay by trading above the pain in the markets, according to an annual ranking of top hedge fund earners by Institutional Investor's Alpha magazine, which comes out Wednesday.

James H. Simons, a former math professor who has made billions year after year for the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, earned $2.5 billion running computer-driven trading strategies. John A. Paulson, who rode to riches by betting against the housing market, came in second with reported gains of $2 billion. And George Soros, also a perennial name on the rich list of secretive moneymakers, pulled in $1.1 billion.

Of course, their earnings were not unscathed by the extensive shakeout in the markets. In a year when losses were recorded at two of every three hedge funds, pay for many of these managers was down by several million, and the overall pool of earnings was about half the $22.5 billion the top 25 earned in 2007.

Remind me to do an economics 101 post on those odd labor markets for 'financial geniuses' when I feel better. I'm not quite up to making it juicy and fascinating right now.

Instead, I'd like to draw your attention to an earlier post of mine, one about a study which argued that aggressive and risk-loving men have an edge in financial trading. It's a fun study to contemplate now that the markets have truly exploded. Some people even suggest that it may have been the macho corporate culture of financial firms that landed us in this mess.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Good News



This is:

Exerting its authority under the Clean Water Act, EPA notified the lead federal permitting agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, yesterday that it planned to review permitting for two coal mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky.

In a statement, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said her agency "will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment."

EPA plans to assess the Central Appalachia Mining's Big Branch project in Pike County, Ky., and the Highland Mining Company's Reylas mine in Logan County, W.Va.

Mountaintop mining involves the removal of summit ridges to expose coal seams and the dumping of debris into valleys, a practice EPA says is likely to pollute water and severely damage or destroy streams.

EPA said it found the companies' plans for mitigating environmental damage in the two projects inadequate. The agency said it would meet with representatives of the Army Corps and the mining companies to discuss additional protective measures.

Imagine the Environmental Protection Agency actually protecting the environment!

The recession has taken over the news coverage to such an extent that it's easy to walk by all these other good news. But they do matter, especially because they are trying to reverse some of the damage done during the eight Bush years.

Now, if we only could regulate the financial markets....

Did You Know



That women in Hollywood give birth really young? Like before they were born themselves:

The common belief that one dog year is equal to seven human years could just as easily be applied to female actors as Alsatians. It must be down to the Californian water, but something seems to happen to the women in LA so that they speed through the years at a far swifter rate than that of their male contemporaries. According to film casting agents, anyway.

It is all too easy for a female actor to find herself cast as the mother of someone who once played her boyfriend as soon as she blows out the candles on her 35th birthday cake. This has long been an accepted fact of Hollywood life, and one that most women keep schtum about as they know they should be grateful to get any roles at all in their decrepit post-30s.

But last weekend, Hope Davis finally broke ranks to admit she was somewhat "peeved" when she was recently offered a role playing the mother of Johnny Depp, a concept that would have tested the skills of the most talented special effects department, seeing as Davis was actually born the year after Depp.

Astonishing. And I never realized this:

Rewind to The Graduate. Unfortunately, that ultimate older woman, Anne Bancroft, was older than Dustin Hoffman by a mere five years.

So how common is this particular type of ageism/sexism? And how does it affect male actors? Do they get cast into fatherly roles too young? Heh.

Reading While Sick



Not necessarily a good idea. I surfed the net inbetween coughing fits only to come up with stuff like this:

SHE may have the most talked-about forearms in US political history, but Michelle Obama revealed yesterday that she has a weakness for hamburgers and chips and is more concerned about her hips.

After a national discussion about her taste for sleeveless dresses - and the consequent exposure of her toned biceps – the wife of President Barack Obama appears to be having a little more trouble keeping other parts of her anatomy in trim.

Mmmm. And sigh. A big sigh.

Then I came across yet another article about Weird Stuff Women Do. They hump poles in front of men and this humping has increased with the lack of non-humping jobs. But that's really great news for the women because they make humongous amounts of money:

As a bartender and trainer at a national restaurant chain, Rebecca Brown earned a couple thousand dollars in a really good week. Now, as a dancer at Chicago's Pink Monkey gentleman's club, she makes almost that much in one good night.

The tough job market is prompting a growing number of women across the country to dance in strip clubs, appear in adult movies or pose for magazines like Hustler.

Employers across the adult entertainment industry say they're seeing an influx of applications from women who, like Brown, are attracted by the promise of flexible schedules and fast cash. Many have college degrees and held white-collar jobs until the economy soured.

...

Brown, meanwhile, has a ready answer for those critical of her career choice.

"I have job security," she said.

But does she have job security? Health insurance? I wonder, given this explanation of how the women are paid:

Dancers are independent contractors, paying clubs a nightly flat fee depending on how long they work. At the Pink Monkey, for example, dancers who arrive at 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday pay a $40 "house fee," while women who don't arrive until midnight pay $90. And they keep their tips.

That's not a description of an employee. So why are the clubs called employers in the earlier quote?

I should have stuck with Terry Pratchett.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Idle Thoughts



This could be because I have the flu (after getting the shot, too), but I see a connection between the kind of culture that results in 'honor' killings and what quite a few guys here say to each other when they get angry.

An example of the latter from Eschaton comments threads:

You know, your sister gives lousy blowjobs.

Toothy.

But you knew that already, didn't you?
Z
----
That's the Z we all know and love! Good to have you back.
(I sort of feel like the guy who dangles a drink in front of the recovering alcoholics nose.)

And that thing I said earlier about your mother, I didn't mean it. After 8yrs in the ground, her puss doesn't smell half as bad as it did when she was alive. The necrophilia fetish was her idea, though...
E

Note how the attacks are against the other man's female relatives and their sexuality? You insult a man by insulting the sexuality of his mother or his sister or his wife. Probably his daughter, too. But you don't insult the sexuality of his father or his brother or his son. Interesting, is it not?

These slurs are not the same as a culture which assigns women the whole burden of honor in the family, but it's not that terribly different, either. Same roots, perhaps? It would be an interesting study to see how many people actually hold those views, clutched deep inside their puny hearts or something, and to look at their cultural backgrounds. The view of family honor as lodged within the women's genitals is supposed to have been prevalent around the Mediterranean.

O'Reillery



This is very weird, unless one thinks of it as bullying. Which it is. Also an attempt to make everybody so scared of 'sudden interviews' that they won't say anything unpleasant about old Bill:

According to a summary posted on the website of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, on the program's March 23 edition, host Bill O'Reilly will address "why ... the far left, in cahoots with NBC News, hurt a rape victim and her family." The post appears to be a reference to an "ambush" interview of Center for American Progress deputy research director Amanda Terkel reportedly conducted by Factor producer Jesse Watters. In a March 1 post to the blog ThinkProgress, Terkel noted that O'Reilly was scheduled to speak at a fundraiser for the rape survivors group Alexa Foundation and wrote that he "has made controversial comments about an 18-year-old woman, Jennifer Moore, who was raped and murdered, implying that it was partially her fault." In a March 23 post, Terkel wrote: "This weekend, while on vacation, I was ambushed by O'Reilly's top hit man, producer Jesse Watters, who accosted me on the street and told me that because I highlighted O'Reilly's comments, I was causing 'pain and suffering' to rape victims and their families." But O'Reilly has previously suggested that the "ambush journalism" conducted by his producers is limited to targeting "public servants" and stated that prior to those "ambush" interviews, subjects would either be asked on the program or asked "to issue a clear statement explaining their actions."

Amanda Terkel presents her statement of the events here. Much of it sounds icky.

Pseudo-trendlettes



I'm so fucking tired of these so-called* social trends. They are always about women and how hard it is to be one. Honest. The New York Times specializes in them, though this particular example is from USA Today:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 67% of women with children under 18 work, and women make up 46% of the labor pool. But this recession could soon make women a majority of America's workforce: 82% of the 2.5 million jobs lost since November were held by men.

Behind that cold statistic is an often heated rearrangement of the family dynamic. With gender roles and responsibilities being radically redefined, wives now face the pressure inherent in being the sole breadwinner while also retaining their household responsibilities. Meanwhile, husbands must reconstruct their definition of contributing to the family enterprise, often swapping a paycheck for a broom.

Read through that a few times. It doesn't get any clearer, actually. Somehow the suggestion is that if 46% of the labor pool is female we have a patriarchal home for the majority of people, a home where women do the sweeping and such, but if that percentage rises past 50%, the sky will fall! Menz will have to clean! They will become depressed because of the loss of status and so on.

I'm not ridiculing the people in these stories. Losing a job is a very unpleasant experience. But this making up of silly trends is such an insult to all those 67% of women with children under 18 who have jobs outside the home. Actually, it's an insult to everybody.

----
*So-called trends, because there's usually no follow-up of any of these astonishing trends and when someone carries out such a follow-up the trend turns out not to have been a trend at all (Remember the large bump in births which was supposed to happen after 911? Never happened.) Also so-called trends, because there's never any attempt to define how many people might be affected by the said trendlette. All that are usually offered are anecdotes. As we all know an anecdote is not hard to find on anything.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Insoluble Problem of The Rights of People With The Most Severe Mental Illness by Anthony McCarthy

Sometime this month would have been the 37th birthday of one of my nieces, if she hadn’t died several years ago. Her death certificate didn’t state the cause of her death which was complications of severe mental illness. We don’t know what mental illness, she’d had about as many diagnoses as she had psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers over a period of twenty-two years. And those are just the ones I remember.

Her life started out with such promise, she was, in many ways a very fine person. She was very talented in many things and she was very intelligent. Unfortunately, that intelligence matched with an incomprehensible maze of diseased thinking, which made any attempt at treatment even less effective. She resisted everything, she turned everything into a maze of frustrating games, guessing, dodges and deceptions. Her father abandoned her when she was quite young, my sister did everything possible in the two decades that she went from being difficult to being impossible and then on into a spiral that ultimately led to her death. Until the last months of her life just a simple change of behavior would have saved her but even that possibility entered into the spiral of manipulation. And no one was more manipulated by the madness than she was. She wanted to be well. She wanted to be able to function and have a better life.

One of the few times she improved in the last decade of her life was when she was involuntarily admitted to the state hospital. It could have been the enforced order or just the desire to get out but she came out in a lot better shape than she went in, she kept herself together for more than a year afterwards. When the engine of madness that killed her started up again the psychiatrists and psychologists and clinical social workers all seemed to be more interested in pleasing a client than they were in saving her life. She was a danger to herself, we all knew that she belonged in custodial care. I was and am convinced that the refusal of the mental health professionals she dealt with was largely due to the fashion for dumping the severely mentally ill out of the state hospital to save money. After watching her deteriorate over the following years, it was clearly not done in her best interest. She was desperately unhappy out of the hospital, she was the toy of her illness and of the people who took advantage of her diminished state. We were shocked how many people are low enough to prey on the mentally ill, we hadn’t suspected there is a class of slime that seems to look for them.

My sister and the rest of the family did what we could, she lived with four of us in those years. There were several of the 28-day clinic stays, which did no good except to run up huge bills that my sister is still paying off. I’m sure the length of those has something to do will billing insurance companies. Those never paid the full cost, even at that. Some helped more than others. The worst one provided her with models of self-destructive behavior learned from other patients and buzzwords with which to assert an independence that was illusory. The week before her 18th birthday her pediatrician, who was a friend of mine, told me that once she was legally an adult that no one would be able to help her, that the law would prevent that. That advice, given from lengthy experience with treating mentally ill children was spot on.

So she died a long, horrible and unnecessary death.

That experience, lasting two decades, leaves me very ambivalent of assertions of the “rights” of people suffering with severe mental illness. Part of that problem comes from the term being used as a blanket to cover so many different conditions. Many of those with mental illness are able to cope with life and to make sensible and rational decisions, some of them can intermittently. For those people the concept of rights to autonomy make complete sense. But for others, like my niece, the slogans become tools of the illness, the resulting madness, self-destruction and predatory exploitation of their incapacity is anything but an exercise of autonomy. My niece belonged in a very long term custodial care facility, life outside one was impossible for her. It would have been a sad life but it would not likely have been as sad as the life she had on the street and her horrific death.

Pretending that someone as sick and irrational as my niece was can exercise autonomy and make rational choices when they so clearly can’t is a denial of their most basic right, the right to be protected. The attempts to give her the language of rights was twisted by her disease and became a hurdle she couldn’t pass.

For another view, you might want to read this interview from today’s Boston Globe.

Update: Thanks to the commenters for your condolences, it's still an open sore after six years. A family doesn't get over something like this.

If you haven't experienced something like this, you really can't imagine what it's like. I've never seen a literary description of the reality that we faced, not in either fiction or non-fiction. What I said is the merest of outlines of what played out for more than twenty years. I can't tell you of the list of horrible degradations and worse that she was exposed to while she was "enjoying her liberty". I will tell you that included a period in jail, the one institution that didn't turn her away on the basis of not being covered by insurance.

Believe me when I say that we tried everything that was legally possible including just about everything mentioned in the comments.She was under some form of professional supervision just about the entire time. It became clear, as those professionals came and went, that more than a few of them dumped the case out of frustration with her worsening condition that resisted any kind of treatment. It was the most frustrating aspect of her illness that she could understand everything that was tried and it was turned and became part of the web of irrationality. This was not a mild to moderate case of mental illness. Let me remind you, it proved to be fatal.

As we had to face that fact that she was dying and up to now, we wonder if she had been put under involuntary commitment in the state hospital - where, as mentioned, she had improved - if she might not have outlived the disease or even just the worst part of it. She died quite young. It's possible that an effective treatment could have been found within her life time and she might have managed outside of an institution. With her death that possibility ended. I think she had a right to that possibility to the possibility that she might have been able to survive and to have had a life that was denied to her by those claiming to be champions of her "rights". I don't think any of us who knew her and loved her would have made that mistake. But, then, we knew her, we knew the reality of her life and her situation while they only knew her as a political abstraction. As has been said, you can't know what the reality of this kind of fatal mental illness is unless you have experienced it directly.

Aren’t These Obvious Questions? by Anthony McCarthy

Having never heard any explanation of derivatives or credit default swaps or any of the other myriad “new financial instruments” that doesn’t sound like a complex scheme of theft, considering the havoc they’ve played with the world’s well being and our own security, why is just about no one suggesting making them illegal?

These “new financial instruments” seem to be just another way to wring value out of the labor of those who actually produce something or provide a real, necessary service. They should be made illegal and possibly void. Wouldn’t getting rid of these drive investors away from the piratical economy and in to real investment in something productive?

A Place Where The Needs of The People Come Last Isn’t Our Country by Anthony McCarthy

In all the media and governmental talk about the depression we are in there is a curious assumption of priorities. Why is it domestic spending on services and benefits to The People of the United States that are considered to be the optional frills? Why is it that spending on healthcare, environmental preservation, education, programs preventing or alleviating poverty, housing, etc. are the things that are held up to the coldest of lights and the first things that “have to be cut”? I think we won’t get out of this without facing up to the very unpleasant truth that we can’t afford the overhead that our elites have erected and I don’t mean Social Security and the such.

Let’s put a few of the details of that overhead on the table for examination and ask about those.

Military spending, and I don’t mean support for the troops. The People of the United States cannot police the world. First, our spotty history of sending in our military with the motive of doing actual good to people in other countries disqualifies our various elites from the position. That is the moral disqualification and the most important. The practical one is that we’re broke. We can’t sustain that position no matter how much those elites and Hollywood enjoy the idea that we can control the world. After the two wars under the Bush years and the debts incurred by theft, incompetence and criminal ambition in Iraq and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan we are ruined. And notice where the bulk of that treasure was spent, in the country which so conspicuously didn’t attack us. You have to wonder what we’ve got left to conduct even a defense if there is another attack on us.

The idea that the United States can unilaterally end evil in other countries is a delusion. A delusion on top of the one which holds that is what our military has been used for in every instance. We start out with the decided disadvantage of not living in those places and having a direct ability to govern them. We can’t determine the governments that are possible and behavior of the people who can. We have severely limited abilities to change bad behavior in the corruptible governments that have been bought. We definitely have limited abilities to rapidly change the cultures which lead to bad behavior. Look how long it takes to make that kind of change in our own country.

Most apropos to us who write for this blog is that the ability of the United States to affect the continuing oppression of women in the two countries we invaded during the past decade is clearly limited. The evidence is that the position of women in Iraq has plummeted due to the invasion and change of government. The position of women in Afghanistan might be more mixed but from what I understand, the women in Afghanistan didn’t enjoy anywhere near the freedom or benefits that they had under the former Iraqi regime. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator but in the context of Islamic countries, his regime was relatively good for women. Clearly the facts of that context matters for the position of women in that country. George Bush didn’t invade on behalf of women there. The pretext that Bush and, more to the point, Cheney cared about the status of women in Iraq was the emptiest of PR.

Bailing out the financial sector is another area which it is understood comes before the direct welfare of The People. That is an unspoken assumption among of our elites, most aggravatingly, in our media elite. Notice who has gotten dibs when it comes to spending in this economic collapse. The bankers, the insurance companies and Wall Street. Notice that it was the stimulus bill intended to benefit us directly as well as the domestic spending in the appropriations bill that was the occasion of deepest scrutiny and objection. Notice what programs are called “entitlements” in a clear attempt to elicit envious criticism of them. In the emergency adoption of the TARP program, at the most urgent insistence of the Bush Treasury department, there were some unstated truths. Things were falling apart. Credit was freezing and with that the entire funding base for the economy was going to go. That was considered an acute emergency, action on which was unquestioned. The continuing, even chronic emergency of the uninsured, the ill housed, the ill educated, the financially ruined citizens of the country, are optional and of little interest to our real governing elites.

I don’t think much more of that is sustainable, certainly not now that the media have finally noticed that the thieves are stealing a not inconsiderable part of the money that has already been given to them. It is interesting and was entirely predictable that it wasn’t the money handed over to them during the Bush administration that is getting the most mention but that’s not the point of this piece. Considering how much money AIG was given by Bernanke and the FED without congressional approval, you would think he’d be in more hot water than Geithner and Summers over it. Though any criticism of Democrats who protected the bonuses of those crooks is earned and should be taken as such.

But in the renewed interest by our media in looking at the ugly truth of our economic elite, we need to go a lot deeper than the easily understood and relatively petty scandals.

In the crisis adoption of TARP there seemed to be a fear of calling the situation what it was, the collapse of the financial system. Calling it what it was would cause panic which would make the collapse worse. It could have killed off the all important Christmas season spending which, it was hoped, was already starting. And that wasn’t to mention the election. Not being a fan of denial of reality, I thought the opposite was necessary. We needed to know how bad things had been allowed to get under deregulation and other assumed boons of market capitalism. And there was nothing that needed to be known more than how much money had been stolen and who stole it.

I got the feeling that there was an unmentionable aspect of treat in the situation, unstated blackmail which explains a lot about the behavior of otherwise good and sensible members of congress. I got the feeling that the people in control of the financial industry would crash the economy, holding it hostage if they didn’t get what they wanted. What they wanted was, clearly, the rest of the money. Facing the prospect of possibly heading off, perhaps an even greater depression and the certain disaster to their constituents Democratic members of congress cooperated with Paulson and others they had no reason to trust based on ideology and past performance.

Faced with Republican opposition and opportunism, they clearly have done some bad things out of necessity. Trusting the likes Paulson was one of those. But even that folly pales in comparison to two others. Believing that bankers and other executives would do the right thing was one of those. With what they’ve observed in the past six months from the highest reaches of management, that is a delusion that should be dead. The managers don’t even care about their companies, never mind the country. They’ve rigged things so they benefit no matter how badly they damage both. The other is that conservatives in business, finance, the media or in the government itself, are patriotic enough to put country over personal benefit.

The cold truth is, neither the fat cats, nor their conservative assets in the government, actually care about the country. That is except as a PR slogan. That is if by “the country” you mean The People of the United States, the land and environment that we depend on for our lives. That is the true meaning of the period of conservative ascendancy and dominance. They have changed the meaning of “The United States” away democratic idealism to the empty and dishonest rhetoric of an imperial oligarchy. They have created a fictitious cover of televised glamor and feigned glory to cover up sordid, systematic theft and negligence. And, holding the media, controlling the message, they can thwart even the best of our elected leaders.

I don’t think we can afford this elite anymore than we can another unprovoked military adventure. Considering that the big bang of exploding debt is largely caused by them and on their behalf, that the invasion of Iraq was for their benefit and its massive thefts their direct benefit, we clearly can’t afford the wealthy elite we’ve got.

By “we” I mean us, the ones who are supposed to really own the United States and its government. That our government puts our needs behind the insatiable greed of the economic elite is the clearest of all signs that our legal and governmental system is entirely gone awry. That our clearest needs and our ability to force our government to address those needs are constantly undermined by the mass media is the fact that they are the servants of that economic elite. The judiciary and legal orthodoxy which enforces a system that protects both a lying, propagandistic media and the direct theft of our money is another basic aspect of the ruin of our country and our lives.

The crumbling empire is not The real United States, it is not a country created by the more idealistic of our founders and the continuing, two-hundred plus years of struggle by our democratic idealists. It is not the country we have a stake in. It is the product of an elite supported by the various elites in even our most would-be scared institutions. It is imposed on us through a system of phony PR and corroded piety. It has been propped up with legal rulings by a distant and compromised judiciary and hireling crooks in the legislative and executive branches. It is crumbling and those very elites it is created for are sticking us with the cleanup and the bills into the distant future. We have got to face that truth and find the real United States which is OUR country. We’ve got to give up the flickering, celluloid delusion and embrace the hard work of that real country.

I believe that President Obama will have to face up to this and abandon the present course, I think that the proposed solutions of the Treasury and others will not be even legislatively sustainable. President Obama was not elected to keep the horrible truth from us, he was elected to tell it and to deal with the consequences.

In my more suspicious moments, I think the timing of this financial crisis was too just a bit too convenient. By the time it was announced, well into everything falling apart, it was pretty clear the Bush era wouldn't be continuing under John McCain. Things were almost certainly going to change. The massive change necessary to address the common good of The People, the chance that Barack Obama might do that most horrible of all things, govern on behalf of the common people, is most certainly not what our elites really want.

I expect that eventually there might be evidence that supports that suspicion, though it is possible that the timing was just how things happened. It certainly made President Obama’s agenda a lot harder to achieve. Our stake is in his administration, our right is to pressure him and his administration, as well as our representatives in congress and the balky Senate to put our needs before the crooks in the financial sector. And the judges, those who can be counted on to observe executive contracts even as they abridge those of fire fighters and teachers, have to feel the full pressure on them to serve The People. They, no less than the meanest member of congress or town official, are paid to be PUBLIC SERVANTS. It's time the judges are required to serve us and not who has the most money.

Ultimately, it is our most basic civic responsibility to insist on our needs, on the needs of the entire population of the country be served. We are the real foundation of the government, not those we hire. We have seen the results when we don’t insist on our rightful priority. As good Americans, assuming THAT burden of self-government should be a welcomed relief, a justification of well earned self-respect for doing what is really essential.