Saturday, May 02, 2009

Policy Differences (by Phila)

Lately, the nation has been debating torture. Some people think it's a great idea, and other people think it isn't. This kind of polarizing argument is always disheartening. But in this case, it's also dangerous, because it might distract us from doing whatever's necessary to protect Western Civilization from the forces of barbarism.

Fortunately, we have thoughtful centrists like Will Marshall to keep us from becoming any better than we ought to be. Since he's not an extremist, he understands that we are not debating torture, but policy.
Are political activists losing their ability to distinguish between policy disputes and mistakes and criminal behavior? The distinction is crucial, and it has apparently has been lost on those who demand that the authors of the Bush administration's infamous torture memos be prosecuted for breaking the law.
You'll recall that this country once spent an enormous amount of money and time to investigate Bill Clinton's infidelity. But after all that effort and expense, Clinton wasn't actually removed from office. Which just goes to show that there's not much point in trying to punish the authors of the torture memos.
The activist group MoveOn, for example, is calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor. There's more than a little irony here. After all, MoveOn was born in reaction to a partisan attempt by Republicans to impeach Bill Clinton for his dalliance with a young White House intern. The effort foundered because most Americans could tell the difference between poor judgment and the "high crimes and misdemeanors" standard that impeachment requires.
They didn't want a special prosecutor for Clinton's grimy little affairs, but they do want one for Bush's systematic use of torture. How can they expect to be taken seriously?

Some people might find this reasoning specious, so Marshall proceeds to more weighty objections. First, there's the fact that if we go after members of the administration for embracing ritualized extralegal sadism and murder, there's a possibility that the GOP will seek revenge once they get back into power. If we don't, they'll probably be much easier to get along with (as long as we don't start agitating for anything that strikes them as "socialistic").

Second, there are no facts, only interpretations:
At a more basic level, those clamoring for "justice" overestimate the law's ability to provide policymakers with fixed and unambiguous guides to action.
Indeed. The situation is so ambiguous that "justice" must be presented in scare quotes, lest we mistake it for a desirable outcome of "due process" under the "law."

And what is the "law," anyway? Can you see it or taste it or hold it in your hand? By no means. It's some sort of...of...ongoing, abstract process. Worse, it's inherently adversarial, which is the last thing we need.
In fact, our laws are always open to varying interpretations - that's why we have a whole third branch of government to adjudicate among them.
If you're thinking that this third branch could adjudicate whether we're talking about policy differences or crimes when it comes to the torture memos, think again. Marshall has already pointed out that this would enrage torture-fanciers, who may decide to strike back. It's much better to stay on their good side by whitewashing their bad side.

Besides, aren't we all guilty, in a certain sense? And doesn't that make us all innocent, in a far more important sense? If everyone's guilty, why should any particular person, or group of people, be singled out for prosecution?

Now, some people will claim that the reason we should bring "torturers" to "justice" by "trying" them for their "crimes" is so that a) they won't do it again; b) other countries will see that we're making an honest effort to live by the principles in whose name we bomb and brutalize them; and c) future administrations might possibly think twice before committing crimes that are even worse than the ones we've heard about.

But Marshall doesn't see it like that. He's got a much better idea:
[T]he impulse to criminalize differences over policy and presidential prerogative is corrosive to democracy. More than legal accountability, we need political accountability. Elections are the best way to stop bad policies. When it comes to judging any administration's actions, there should be a strong presumption in favor of letting the voters decide, rather than the courts.
I've seen plenty of warped, incoherent, stupid, and morally obscene propositions over the last eight years, but this just about takes the cake. Not only are we expected to have an indulgent view of torture, but we should also restrain the judicial branch from deciding whether an administration is abiding by the law (which would presumably include reducing its already limited access to information). Rather than identifying and punishing torturers, and affirming that all our smug liberal-humanist boilerplate actually contains a tiny grain of sincerity, we should forego judicial oversight, and turn the really tough decisions over to an electorate that, if this plan went through, would be even less informed than it already is.

Our worst enemies could hardly ask for worse things to befall us.

The Unreliability of Identity by Anthony McCarthy

Here is the entirely eccentric list with which David Shribman begins his tribute to Justice Souter:

SO WHO are the quintessential New Englanders of our time? Senator Edward M. Kennedy, as the living reminder of his family's legacy. Bill Russell, Carl Yastrzemski, and Tom Brady, as exemplars of hope and faith on the fields and in the arenas of our dreams. John Updike, J.D. Salinger, and Stephen King, symbols of the literary strain. Paul Farmer, personification of science and service. Drew Gilpin Faust, named Harvard president and Pulitzer finalist in a two-year period.

All of them, plus one more: David Hackett Souter.

Nine men, one woman. So pretty shoddy work right there. And I’d debate some of these as being “New Englanders” never mind the quintessence of the imaginary breed. Faust’s bio hardly indicates that she’s a product of New England, other than a stint at Concord Academy. Her origins, education and professional expertise are more a Southern manifestation. Maybe Schribman’s out of touch with the region from his years in DC but there are actual women who have lived longer in New England and who have more significant accomplishments in public service than many in his list. It’s pretty insulting that he couldn’t find a few women of more note than Tom Brady, hardly a New Englander. And I’d really rather not be linked with John Updike and J.D. Salinger, even on the superficial level of regional association, thank you very much.

To give Shribman some credit, he does later mention my two senators, Collins and Snowe and the late New Hampshire Senator Susan McLane as exemplars of “moderate” Republicanism of a sort dead in the real world. As well as a host of other men. I’m not particularly impressed with “moderate” Republicanism or my senators. When you look at what they do, as opposed to what they say, on occasion, it’s not all that much different from the voting records of far-right Republicans. On many issues both of them have put party before principle, such as that might be. I’d very much like to see them both retired and have tired to help that effort whenever possible.

I was opposed to David Souter’s nomination to the Supreme Court, someone who was unfamilir with him, asked me why at the time. I said he was an “aparatchik of the Republican New Hampshire establishment”, which he had been up till that time. I wasn’t the only one to have noticed, his service to that establishment was the reason that John Sununu, Bush I’s Chief of Staff promoted his appointment to the court. In his earlier career Souter was a fully fledged part of a Republican Party that included Sununu, the repulsive Meldrim Thomson and overseen by the Manchester Union Leader run by the slimy paleo-fascist William Lobe. They ran New Hampshire in those years, they were as bigoted, irrational mean-spirited, corrupt and far right as the most extreme conservatives you will find anywhere today. If there was always a moderate inside David Souter back then, it was a moderate fully willing to make common cause with some of the most demented and rotten right wingers of the time.

I don’t know how to explain the transformation, nor do I think it’s necessary to explain it. His voting record on the Supreme Court was sufficiently moderate to make him a hated figure among the right wing of the Republican Party. Like Warren Berger, they see him as a traitor. This is more a revelation of the fundamentalist extremism of American conservatism than it is of the character of either of the Justices. It is a record that largely makes up for his earlier career, though not entirely. I don’t dislike David Souter now, in some ways he’s an appealing person. I have a hard time seeing him as one person but as two people separated by the fall line of his appointment to the Supreme Court.

There isn’t a ‘quintessential New Englander’, a romantic composite of Pepperidge Farm style PR, The Old Farmers’ Almanac and Yankee Magazine bilge. Having lived in and been formed by what I’ve know of New England culture my entire life, one of its more important features is an eclectic and unprejudiced adoption of ideas and ways from wherever they come. If there is anything about New England that is worthy of pride, it isn’t the self-centered, often anti-social, “rugged independence” that, after all, every region of the country is supposed to imagine sets them apart from any other. Thinking that is relatively free from social bias would tend to break down regional distinctions. The things that New Englanders do that makes me happiest are the progressive, at times even liberal acts that earn us the disdain of many in other places.

One of those things is certainly acknowledging the contributions of women from New England to the cultural life and welfare of the world. I have a slight feeling that Souter might include a few if he made a list.

Feminism And All Struggles For Human Rights Is An Idealist Struggle Not A Complex Recombination Of Chemicals by Anthony McCarthy

I. For Once, An Easy One

A Reader Asks: You write for a feminist blog. How come you spend so much time talking about biology and psychology?

Answer: Gender discrimination in all its permutations from patriarchal religious dogmas down to the justifications for it in alleged “cognitive science” has always found their excuse in biology. Gender is a fact of biology. The struggle against patriarchy is inescapably linked with the struggle against biological determinism as applied to the lives and rights of women.

II. And One That Requires More Time Than I’ve Got

Another Reader Asserts : No rational person can not be a materialist.

Answer: To start, I’m paraphrasing a long diatribe which wasn’t a very clear demonstration of reason. I’m also going to assume by materialism, you mean the idea that nothing but the material universe, as we can know it, is real.

Most importantly, materialism can’t account for human rights, individual rights, dignity and a host of other assumptions and ideas that are non-optional prerequisites for a decent life. The non-objectification of women was one of the early and most basic demands of second wave feminism. The demand that people not be considered and treated as objects, is inherently anti-materialistic. This demand’s continuing relevance can be found most weeks on talk shows on which a psychologist, “cognitive scientist” gives a reductionist explanation of the “differences” between men and women. Heard one just last Monday on NPR. Materialism is not as often discussed a problem for feminism and other aspects of human rights* as its manifestation in speculative psychology, but it is an important one. I don’t think the two are unrelated.

Objectification is one of the sturdier legs of the oppression of women, objectification is part of the dark side of materialism. Its continuing relevance is seen in entertainment programming that encourages a view of women as objects for use, as seen below. Our experience and history convincingly demonstrates that unless a society is pervaded with both the ideals and FEELINGS that people are more than objects for use, that they have inherent rights, that they are not bound by the material comprising their bodies, liberty will disappear. Watching the current popular culture of the United States, I’m convinced that viewing people as merely manifestations of their chemistry leads to the opposite of dignity and freedom. The continuing oppression of women, minority groups, workers, children, those kept in sexual bondage, is based in the treatment of people as material objects. You can not escape the fact that to see people as anything else you have to go outside the limits of what is commonly bounded within materialism.

The short answer to the question itself is that materialism is an ideology that makes the claim that nothing but the material universe exists. It is a philosophical ideology, not a fact of science. Its inflexible and presumptive exclusion renders it no kind of fact.

Though many scientists are materialists, some aren’t. The activity of science is exclusively concerned with the material universe so it could be said to be formally materialistic, if the idea didn’t carry too much of that metaphorical garbage talked about here last week. Scientists, being people, aren’t limited in their personal lives by the subject matter of their work, they can have ideas apart from it and often do. That some avowed materialists sometimes are genuine supporters of human dignity and freedom, is evidence of this flexibility of human beings and the limits of ideology. Their genuine feelings for these things are often explained through their generally astute observations of the incompleteness of our knowledge of biology and the material universe. In a number of cases, their support of human rights and dignity so clearly overrides their adherence to an ideology that I think is destructive of those things that I’m happy to give them the benefit of whatever doubts I could have. I could be mistaken, though I don’t think I am. I’m not going to question their sincerity.

The complications of the ideology of materialism begin in the fact that what is included in the “material universe” isn’t agreed on even by materialists. For a lot of them, especially the devotees of the most popular forms of sci-jockery, it excludes an entirely arbitrary list and forms a kind of Index of Prohibited Ideas.. Though some of those ideas are included by other materialists. As a general rule, sci-jocks are generally very, very light on the philosophical part of it, most of them can’t argue their way out of a paper sack. Ideologues generally aren’t too good with dealing with ideas and even evidence not contained in their ideology. When it pretends to be an extension of science, the results are anything but the discourse of reason.

Materialism isn’t a matter of reason, it’s a matter of exclusion. It’s a matter of pretending that we know the limits of existence and those are contained within the abilities of human reason and science . But it is among the clearest of facts that human beings in 2009 possess nothing like a complete knowledge of the universe, not even the observable universe. And it is just as clear that there could be an infinite realm of “things” that are beyond human capability to perceive. The pop materialism that pretends ours knowldge is sufficient to support their prejudices is proof of its irrationality. But, then, pop materialism has always seemed to be mostly a frat boy affair. Excluding the unworthy, an often mean-spirited bonding among the in crowd, spitting at those passing on the sidewalk below.

Some materialists give lip service to liberal ideas but are obviously more wedded to their ideology than they are to the essential foundations of liberalism. Those materialists seem especially to congregate in the social sciences and are often clear advocates for the opposite of liberalism. Quite frankly, unless someone supports the basic assumptions required for liberalism, I suspect their liberal positions will always be shaky at best, too often a sham. That sort of pseudo-liberalism isn’t limited to materialist ideologues. It is pervasive among liberals who strike a generally libertarian line as well. Unless you are willing to take the leap into the metaphysical position that people have rights and dignity that result in their freedom you will end up supporting positions destructive of those . You can’t be a liberal if the results of your program aren’t liberal. I don’t have any confidence in that kind of superficial liberalism. We can see its results every time we turn on TV.

* You could suspect this is a remnant of the real contributions of Western Marxists to early civil rights struggles, though I think that support was never supported by the materialism of Marx but in the better nature of many idealistic Marxists. I don’t think the best intentions of some Marxists are the results of their adherence to materialism but an expression of their best intentions. I think it's time that the struggle for human rights drop the reluctance to call its philosophical basis what it is, a idealistic struggle essentially at odds with materialism.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Men who play with dolls (by Suzie)

          Although I want to revisit “Dollhouse,” which airs tonight, I hope those who don’t watch the TV show will stay with me for the broader discussion of sex and relationships.
          An article on Daily Kos calls “Dollhouse” meta-fiction.
It's not about guys with a brain washing machine who can make someone behave how they want. It's about what it means that guys with a brain washing machine use that device to satisfy shallow, mostly sexual, fantasies. ... I suspect that there's still a lot of folks who think the point of this show is watching [star and co-producer Eliza] Dushku in her underwear. I think -- I hope -- they're going to be shocked.
          But what point are they going to get? So far, a number of fans seem to think the Dollhouse isn’t that bad. They may like the staff and clients who aren't violent. They seem to identify more with men who pay for sex than the women who provide it. They identify with corporate workers who rationalize their actions. To be blunt: They identify more with the abuser than the abused.
          One episode showed the madam with a male doll, longing for a real relationship. It reminded me of the captain in “Star Trek: Voyager,” who decides she would rather have a holographic man with flaws, rather that one tailored to her tastes. That story stood out to me after seeing so many Star Trek men use holographic women without concern that they might be too perfect. (I’ve commented before on female robots and other forms of artificial intelligence that service men in popular sci-fi.)
          I know some women want sex with no attachments and no concern for the other person, but I lose patience with the number of male sci-fi fans who express this desire. Maybe it’s the longing of the master or boss who wants work done without having to think of his slave or subordinate.
           Consider this thread on Whedonesque, the popular blog on the works of Joss Whedon, co-producer of “Dollhouse.” M said the Dollhouse could be great “for giving people an emotional outlet." But who provides that outlet and at what cost to their own emotional psyche?
           The argument turned to sex work, and DM gave a standard argument: "I know prostitutes who love their work. Sex, meeting new people, the strength from giving happiness to someone who might not be able to find it elsewhere." I’m sure women like that exist, but what about the ones who don’t love their work or didn't choose it?
           DM responded that clients have no responsibility to find out the circumstances in which people entered or remain in prostitution. I assume these are the same people who don’t care if their clothes are made in sweatshops or their diamonds funded conflicts. 
           I suggested they didn’t think men needed to care whether the prostitute liked her job or not. R said:
That's close to what I was suggesting, but actually I was suggesting that no one should deny themselves the pleasure of sex even if the sex worker, regardless of their gender, isn't really enjoying it.
         "Regardless of their gender" obscures the fact that there are many more men who pay for female prostitutes than vice versa. But I see this argument all the time: Some people insist that such-and-such isn’t about gender because it happens to men, too.
          R took me to task, saying: “… it's kind of a cheesy shortcut to take an argument about sex and turn it into an argument about gender.” Wow, who would mix sex and gender? But I’m capable of turning an argument about anything – let’s say Chihuahuas – into an argument about gender.
         Earlier, M suggested that “the Dollhouse could be seen as a better alternative” to prostitution because the dolls have their minds wiped after each assignment and are not supposed to remember.      
         Who gets aroused, who gets off, despite the very real possibility that the other person isn't enjoying herself and may even be so harmed that it would be better if the memory could be wiped from her mind? 
         R said he never intended to use a prostitute. But he argued that there are plenty of bad jobs.
... any job that involves, to use your phrase, "servicing others" is a soul-deadening proposition. Serving drinks, driving a cab, juggling geese, cleaning houses, whatever - they're all bad, soul-deadening jobs. Unless they involve sex or sexuality in some way, we tend not to talk about the "consequences" in grand, ominous terms. 
          Well, we do if we're socialists. More to the point: Around the world, too many men force themselves sexually on women, with no concern for the women, or with the intent of hurting them. Why would I be happy that men can pay for this? 
          I've decided that “Dollhouse” would make a great boyfriend test. A woman would be forewarned if the potential said: "Well, heck, this is no different from all the prostitutes who have serviced me and really loved it. … OK, maybe they didn't love it, but at least they didn’t get hurt … and not everyone loves their jobs ... and I have needs ... and they consented, more or less … and no one can say what's right or wrong … and slavery isn't necessarily bad."
        Yes, all of these are taken from real comments. But I don't mean to imply that all fans react this way. I'm grateful that many don't. Check out Ladybusiness's analysis.
         Giandujakiss has a disturbing video set to the song "It Depends on What You Pay," from "The Fantasticks." I was horrified by this song, which I had never heard before, but felt better after I heard this NPR interview with the writer. 
         Giandujakiss also mentions the Star Trek captain, but I swear I thought of this on my own, which just indicates what a geek I am.
          Want more? Read my older posts on Dollhouse here and here.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Here are Bella and Clifford (the underdog) playing outside my apartment. Every evening, people with dogs sit outside -- the modern equivalent of porch sitting -- while our dogs run, wrestle and chase sticks. My Ginger is a tenth of Clifford, but she has grown accustomed to the big dogs.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Also Worth Reading

Remember the eight-year old girl in Saudi Arabia whose father married her to a middled-aged man in exchange for money? She has finally obtained a divorce.

In Kenya, women are using a sex strike as a political weapon. Make sure to read upyernoz's links in that post.

O Sancta Simplicitas!

Yes, I know that I already used that headline for an earlier post. But reading how the Egyptians are culling pigs (a polite name for getting your throat cut) to prevent the swine flu, even though no infected pigs have been found makes me feel...evil. Then Russia, China and South Korea have banned pork imports. Pork is safe to eat, but better be absolutely sure, you know! Oh, and let's call the flu something different, say the North American flu. That way we can cull only North Americans and ban their importation.

And then there's stupidity of the other sort, advocating that Tamiflu should be available over-the-counter because nobody would ever take it for some unrelated sniffles, nobody!, and certainly nobody would stockpile it.

Or what about the idea I've read several times that we should all go out and spit in each other's faces so that we'd get the flu in a mild form, before it starts killing, and get treated quickly (by our stockpiled Tamiflu, no doubt) in spacious hospitals in advance of the mass deaths? That's doable, it is.

The next round of stupidity will probably consist of self-flagellation and knee-marches to ancient plague shrines.

Still, even the more moderate policies look a little bit silly to me. Note how it's not practical to stop air traffic to and from Mexico or to close the border, because the flu will get across anyway. But somehow it's then perfectly practical to try to isolate each outbreak and to close schools. I understand where this combination comes from but it fails to satisfy my logical goddess.

This is a fairly good post on some real concerns with the swine flu. I'd like to learn more about why it assumes that nobody will have immunity against this particular combination of strains. Not saying that isn't so, just wanting to learn more.

Not A Highest Legislative Priority

Freedom of Choice Act is not Obama's highest legislative priority. From yesterday's press conference:

OBAMA: The reason I'm pro-choice is because I don't think women take that _ that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day. And I think they are in a better position to make these decisions ultimately than members of Congress or a president of the United States, in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their clergy.

So _ so that has been my consistent position. The other thing that I said consistently during the campaign is I would like to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion, or at least considering getting an abortion, particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again.

And so I've got a task force within the Domestic Policy Council in the West Wing of the White House that is working with groups both in the pro-choice camp and in the pro-life camp, to see if we can arrive at some consensus on that.

Now, the Freedom of Choice Act is not highest legislative priority. I believe that women should have the right to choose. But I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on. And that's _ that's where I'm going to focus.

The U.K. Reuter's picked this bit to quote:

Asked about the Freedom of Choice Act at Wednesday's news conference, Obama said it "is not the highest legislative priority."

"My view on ... abortion, I think, has been very consistent," Obama said. "I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue."

"There are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations," he said. "I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with and families and individual women have to wrestle with."

The UPI had the same interpretation.

Now scroll back to January 2008. This is what Obama said then:

"When South Dakota passed a law banning all abortions in a direct effort to have Roe overruled, I was the only candidate for President to raise money to help the citizens of South Dakota repeal that law. When anti-choice protesters blocked the opening of an Illinois Planned Parenthood clinic in a community where affordable health care is in short supply, I was the only candidate for President who spoke out against it. And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.

Bolds are mine.

When The Levee Breaks

This old recording has wonderful guitar work by Memphis Minnie. I think the singer is Kansas Joe.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lord Saletan, Again.

He's tiresome. His most recent opinion piece on abortion sets the stage with a neatly biasing trick:

Eight years ago, the Alan Guttmacher Institute surveyed over 10,000 American women who had abortions. Nearly half said they hadn't used birth control in the month they conceived. When asked why not, 8 percent cited financial problems, and 2 percent said they didn't know where to get it. By comparison, 28 percent said they had thought they wouldn't get pregnant, 26 percent said they hadn't expected to have sex and 23 percent said they had never thought about using birth control, had never gotten around to it or had stopped using it. Ten percent said their partners had objected to it. Three percent said they had thought it would make sex less fun.

This isn't a shortage of pills or condoms. It's a shortage of cultural and personal responsibility. It's a failure to teach, understand, admit or care that unprotected sex can lead to the creation — and the subsequent killing, through abortion — of a developing human being.

Note that by using a study which looked at women and not at men Saletan can then concentrate his rants largely on women. Had he started with a study about men who don't use condoms, say, the conclusions might have been different. Not like this, for instance:

Our challenge is to put these two issues together. For liberals, that means taking abortion seriously as an argument for contraception. We should make the abortion rate an index of national health, like poverty or infant mortality. The president should report progress, or lack thereof, in the State of the Union. Reproductive-health counselors must speak bluntly to women who are having unprotected sex. And as Mr. Obama observed last year, men must learn that "responsibility does not end at conception."

The bolds are mine. It may seem silly to point this out, but many of those abortions could have been avoided if the men had used condoms.

Lord Saletan is an arrogant asshat, by the way.

Statistics is HARD

Byron York seems to find it so:

On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

Bolds are mine, but the mistake is all Byron's. The overall rating is based on all those surveyed, you see, and you cannot take those people out of it whom you'd prefer not to have included in the first place. That would be African-Americans in this case.

See how very gently I approached this topic? A Serwer is a lot more decisive:

I'm not sure how it makes sense that this means Obama's positions are "more popular overall than they actually are", unless you're arguing that black people don't actually count.

This is another example of a really bizarre genre of conservative writing, which I call "If Only Those People Weren't Here." It reminds me somewhat of the absence of black people in most non-dystopian science fiction, except the subtextual desire in York's column is far more deliberate: If black people weren't able to vote, Republicans would win more elections. And Ann Coulter, at the very least, has had the chutzpah to say directly what she's really thinking: "If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democrat president."

Indeed. Another recent example of this can be found in Peter Thiel's ode to libertarianism:

The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of "capitalist democracy" into an oxymoron.


The Ones That Got Away

Great blogging ideas, that is. I usually remember them long enough to jot something down within a reasonable time frame, but last night I had three great (well, not really, but great to me) ideas. Three! And I have forgotten every single one of them. At least one seemed to demand a whole big (possible even paying) article! Alas, they have drifted down that dark stream of oblivion, never to be spotted again.

Instead of those ideas, I found (jotted down) the fascinating coincidence of patter, patten and pattern being almost the same word! Duh. And below that I had scribbled:


Which was a joke I made up after reading people calling each other anti-semites in a debate concerning two Semite groups. I think it would be fun to call myself an anti-semenite, though I'm not really one. But neither am I a feminazi and I get called that fairly often. This is probably about as fascinating as patter-patten-pattern.

Today's Funny Post

Perhaps funny-peculiar instead of funny-ha-ha:

Remember the lawyer who sued Columbia University for failing to offer classes in men's studies? His contention was that Columbia was being biased against men, since the university offers women's studies.

The lawyer, Roy Den Hollander, contended that he was trying to save the men of the world, one chauvinistic lawsuit at a time. But he'll have to do better next time, because his suit against Columbia was thrown out on April 23 by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of United States District Court in Manhattan.

In his decision, now released, the judge noted that Mr. Den Hollander claimed Columbia was violating the first amendment because "his central claim is that feminism is a religion."

"Feminism is no more a religion than physics," the judge wrote, "and at least the core of the complaint therefore is frivolous."

The usual argument men's rights activist make is that if universities offer women's studies programs then they should offer men's studies programs, too. The usual counter-argument to that one is that most other university courses were men's study courses when feminists first wanted women's experiences to be included, both in their methodological approaches and their subject matter, and that this is still the case, especially when it comes to the methodologies and the question of what is seen as worth studying.

But I like the religion idea. Perhaps we could do something with that? Ahem.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sebelius Confirmed In The Senate

So now Kathleen Sebelius is the health and human services secretary. I don't envy her, actually, but wish her goddess-speed. If there's such a word.

The conservative opposition to her confirmation:

Republican opponents cited Sebelius' position favoring letting women decide whether to have abortions and raised misgivings about whether the Obama administration's plans to overhaul the nation's health system would lead to rationing of care.

Yawn. Women can't make any decisions but they sure can be left alone with tiny vulnerable children all day long. And note that all systems of health care already ration care, even the American one. Only here the rationing is based on whether you have enough money to buy care or not and whether your insurance policy lets you get something or not.

Catching Up To The Boyz: Equal Pay Day

That's today. I wrote a three part series on the gender gap in wages three years ago, and it's still pretty much readable. Highly recommended, because usually I'd charge for all this information, and here you can get it for nothing! Whatta bargain! Also probably one of the reasons women earn less. Heh.

The story is actually fairly complicated. The theories about the gender gap are discussed in Part I of the series and the empirical evidence in Part II. Part III answers the usual wingnut counter-arguments and shows why they are wrong.


So Arlen Jumped, Eh? And Other News Of The Day.

There was a time, not that long ago, when Democrats packed up their tiny suitcases and left the supposedly-sinking ship of the Democratic Party. Now it's Arlen Specter swimming the other way. Of course he gets something for that: the promise of no support for a primary challenger from the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

If the above paragraph gives the impression that I call Specter a rat, my apologies. Rats are noble in their own way.

Some very good news for rats which are rare enough and for those of us who'd like to pass some wildlife on to the next generations:

The Obama administration on Tuesday revoked a rule enacted toward the end of the Bush administration that it said undermined protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Federal agencies must "once again consult with federal wildlife experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — the two agencies that administer the ESA — before taking any action that may affect threatened or endangered species," the Interior and Commerce departments said in a statement.

I was furious when the Bush administration changed those protections and I'm very happy to see them back. Even if they then end up protecting a few rats.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bea Arthur, RIP

Bea Arthur died on Saturday at the age of 86. She was an actor especially known for her role in The Golden Girls, a soap about older women in which they (eek!) actually had sex and stuff, yet were also individuals.

Hmm. There's an idea for a television series!

When Spring Is In The Air

The Washington Post gives us an opinion piece on the importance of women marrying young. Amanda at Pandagon took the piece apart in a nicely surgical manner, and Atrios drily noted that "our elite media seems to love to publish creepy old dudes who are obsessed with what young women spend their time doing."

Now, I haven't checked if Mr. Regnerus indeed is a creepy old dude, but he's certainly not a feminist, so I'm going to call him a creepy old dude. He begins as he plans to go on:

Spring is here, that glorious season when young men's fancies lightly turn to thoughts of love, as the poet Tennyson once suggested. "Lightly" is right.

The average age of American men marrying for the first time is now 28. That's up five full years since 1970 and the oldest average since the Census Bureau started keeping track. If men weren't pulling women along with them on this upward swing, I wouldn't be complaining. But women are now taking that first plunge into matrimony at an older age as well. The age gap between spouses is narrowing: Marrying men and women were separated by an average of more than four years in 1890 and about 2.5 years in 1960. Now that figure stands at less than two years. I used to think that only young men -- and a minority at that -- lamented marriage as the death of youth, freedom and their ability to do as they pleased. Now this idea is attracting women, too.

He's a very outspoken creepy old dude, is he not? He doesn't really care what age men marry. As far as he's concerned, men just get better and more erotically enticing with age (as you can see by reading the whole piece). It's women who go bad, like peaches, losing first that gentle bloom and then those eggs (or whatever peaches have). You better hurry up, girls, if you don't want to be left on the marriage store's shelves.

Just for the sake of facts, have a look at the actual median age at first marriage in the United States, from 1890 to the present time. Notice something odd about that age difference between the spouses? I think Mr. Regnerus is interpreting the data in a rather ham-fisted manner.

Mr. Regnerus's Ode To Spring (And The Sell-By-Date of Ovaries) is not something new. I have heard the very same arguments over and over from the American wingnuts, though the exact form does vary. Often the theme is the harm higher education does to women, leaving them unweddable and all alone, except for cats, or the fear of infertility (which never affects men: neither the fear nor the infertility, it seems). Funnily enough, the theme is never the desire of the wingnuts to have control over female fertility, and it's never men who'd prefer to see very young women eager and willing for marriage, preferably with much older men. It's also funny how these explanations never account for the men who don't get the young peaches as wives, being too young to be really attractive to women (according to the evo-psycho rules, at least). How do these men satisfy their sexual needs? Whatever, I guess.

I'm not attacking this crappy piece as light-heartedly as I should. The reason lies in the eery echoes that still toll in my skull after reading several articles on what the Taliban plans for young women in Pakistan: No education allowed, early marriage obligatory, with no real say over whom the girl is supposed to marry, then a lifetime of incarceration within the house.

This coincidence makes the Regnerus article come across as obscene.

On The Swine Flu

Did you know this?

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year's emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.


Now, as the World Health Organization says a deadly swine flu outbreak that apparently began in Mexico but has spread to the United States has the potential to develop into a pandemic, Obey's attempt to secure the money seems eerily prescient.

This quote is not posted in order to attack the Republicans (though that's a nice side-effect), but in order to complain about the whole idea of politics as some sort of a fucking football game rather than the care of common concerns.

More generally, this is a good article on the swine flu, especially this bit:

The central question is how many mild cases Mexico has had, Dr. Martin S. Cetron, director of global migration and quarantine for the Centers for Disease Control, said in an interview.

“We may just be looking at the tip of the iceberg, which would give you a skewed initial estimate of the case fatality rate,” he said, meaning that there might have been tens of thousands of mild infections around the 1,300 cases of serious disease and 80 or more deaths. If that is true, as the flu spreads, it would not be surprising if most cases were mild.

Even in 1918, according to the C.D.C., the virus infected at least 500 million of the world’s 1.5 billion people to kill 50 million. Many would have been saved if antiflu drugs, antibiotics and mechanical ventilators had existed.

Another hypothesis, Dr. Cetron said, is that some other factor in Mexico increased lethality, like co-infection with another microbe or an unwittingly dangerous treatment.

Every flu epidemic results in deaths, though those who die are usually the very young and the elderly, not people in the prime of life. Still, it matters to learn what the actual percentage of severe cases might be.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Julissa Brisman. Do You Recognize Her Name? By Anthony McCarthy

How many times have you heard her name? How many times have you heard the name Philip Markoff?

I’m not going to discuss this in terms of Markoff’s guilt or innocence. No one should jeopardize the right of the accused and, as is always forgotten, The People’s, right to a trial that is unbiased and fair. The People have the right to have only the guilty convicted, after all.

But in the blanket coverage of the “Craigslist killing” the name of the murdered woman is eclipsed by the accused killer’s. Julissa Brisman’s name also seems to be less often mentioned than “Craig” insofar as Craig Newmark is an actual person and perhaps even Jim Buckmaster, the CEO of the company. Checking just now, I’ve found Wikipedia listings for the three men. You could understand Newmark and Buckmaster having one for reasons not directly related to this crime but Philip Markoff would be unknown if not for it.

A person was murdered. We know with certainty that Julissa Brisman was brutally killed, we might know the name of the person who killed her, we might know the name of a company whose services were used to entrap his prey*. In these kinds of cases the cabloids and tabloids and even real news sources will focus on the life of the accused. He will turn into a complete character in our minds. Unless we studiously avoid the case, we will be compelled to construct a picture of him out of defense PR, prosecutorial PR, investigative reporting, the casual and irresponsible speculation of the kinds of irresponsible people the media increasingly depends on to speculate on him. It might be a distorted picture but someone named Philip Markoff will be a fully filled out form.

Based on what has happened in just about any case like this one, The murderer will be the only person who is focused on. If there is a conviction, cable TV programs will be made that will lovingly detail and depict the most minute aspects of his life and crime. Julissa Brisman will probably remain what we have already been told about her. And that is mostly about how she made her living. She’s already been judged by many based on that. Reading letters to the editor this morning and hearing some of the more repugnant media and soap box pundits she’s already been found guilty of her own murder. She has already been widely judged guilty of her own death due to either foolishly working in a dangerous industry and/or immorality. Where is her defense team?

I’ll have more to say on this subject later.

* With the list of violent and other crimes associated with Craigslist and the erotic services they have insisted on listing under various slogans of freedom and service, you wonder why it isn’t at least as hated as the now gladly defunct “Juicy Campus”.

Tal Wilkenfeld

It Really Is About The Women

Kali in comments suggested this, but I wasn't quite convinced. Still, the more I read about the Taliban inroads in Pakistan, the more I'm beginning to think that Kali may be correct. For example:

As in Swat, once his forces had established themselves, Khalil began to impose the movement's repressive rules on what had once been a peaceful valley. He ordered girls over seven to wear veils and directed men to keep their women inside and to grow beards. He banned music. In several villages the Taliban were snatching mobile phones on the pretext that they had musical ring tones or photos of women on them.

The Taliban stole livestock, took vehicles belonging to government officials and ransacked the offices of some local nongovernment organisations. In a phone call, Khalil denied the Taliban were terrorists. He said: "We've raised the arms to spread the message of Allah. This is the responsibility of each and every Muslim." But residents fear it is just a matter of time before their daughters are forced to marry Taliban commanders, a process that has begun already in Swat, along with public floggings.

See also this item.