Friday, June 05, 2009

Thoughts on privilege (by Suzie)

        I decided to blog (again) on privilege when a friend commented that he didn’t consider something racist, and another reader said he and others needed to “have a chat with a random black person or two,” apparently missing the line in which my friend noted he was African-American.
       We know that all African-Americans or women or members of whatever group you want to name don’t think alike. Their desires differ. What offends one may not offend another. And yet, many of us – me included – may lapse into faulty reasoning when we disagree with someone from a different group, especially when they belong to a group that we consider to have privileges over us. I may gripe about a man who just doesn’t get it, only to encounter a woman who shares his opinion. (And then I write her off as having false consciousness. Just kidding, sort of. I guess that's a post for another time.)
         Some people use “privilege” as shorthand for: You haven’t thought of these issues in the same way that I have because they don’t affect you in the same way. Sometimes that’s true. Then again, there are plenty of people who reach the same conclusions despite different backgrounds and experiences. Conversely, those with similar backgrounds don’t necessarily have similar opinions. They may experience the same things, but they may understand the experiences differently.
          I also see “privilege” used to mean: You don’t have to think of these issues because they don’t affect you. If some people have the luxury of not having to know about, or understand, various issues, it would seem like the converse would be true: Others would have no such privilege – they would have to face these issues. But that’s not necessarily true. A girl who grows up in a small town without sexual violence may have the privilege of not having to worry about it. Meanwhile, a boy who grows up in a household with a single mother and a bunch of sisters might not have the privilege of ignoring issues pertaining to their safety. The middle-school boy who was raped repeatedly by other boys may grow up with issues of personal safety similar to girls who have been gang-raped.
           I thought of these definitions of privilege in recent discussions of people with mental disorders and their caregivers. Caregivers don't have the privilege of being oblivious to (some) issues. They don't experience them the same way the people with the disorder do -- but then again, the latter don't all react the same way either. Unlike many people diagnosed with Alzheimer's, for example, my father was delighted. He often thought he had one illness or another, and when one was confirmed, he almost took pride in it.
         Not having dementia is an unearned privilege over those who do. But I can assure you that a person who is not living with and caring for a parent with dementia has unearned privileges as well. Our society isn't particularly geared to people with Alzheimer's or those who care for them.
       Was it a privilege for my father not to have to care for anyone, not to have to change anyone's diapers, not to have to prepare meals and medications? Yes, it was a privilege he enjoyed all of his life, but he never asked for - nor did he want - the privilege of having his daughters do this for him. He hated old age and would have preferred to die. But, as I yelled at him from time to time, "The law won't allow me to kill you." (We shared the same sense of humor, and he had grown hard of hearing.)
        My father did little child-rearing, and after my parents divorced, he paid very little child support. If I had fallen sick before he did, he might have given me some money, but he would never have cared for me in the way that I cared for him. Nevertheless, I loved him. My father, ambivalent about children, never asked for the privilege of having two dutiful daughters who lived with him and cared for him, but he had them nonetheless, in part, because of a culture that encourages us to love our parents and because he had enough money to support the whole household.
        (Yikes, this turned into a Father's Day post. At least, that's out of the way.)
        In their knapsacks, people carry all sorts of advantages and disadvantages, some earned, some unearned. The contents of their knapsacks will change over time. As a result, I find privilege a useful term in describing groups, but not as useful in sizing up individuals.
       Echidne, Phila and I have talked about writing on privilege. I'll write more, and I look forward to their posts. I hope you will share your thoughts.

Friday butterfly blogging (by Suzie)

This is a zebra longwing, Florida's state butterfly. I can't think of any sexual innuendo or political joke, sorry. 

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Notes For A Post On Terrorist Killings

These are notes for a post I really cannot write with this shitty laptop which gives me garden tiller ads every time I try to learn about the murder of Dr. Tiller. The notes are not the same as a finished post, sadly, but I hope that they are better than nothing.

I watched Rachel Maddow tonight, and she sort of muttered off the corner of her mouth that the killer of Dr. Tiller is a terrorist just as the Muslim man who killed one soldier and wounded another is one. I'm not sure how we define terrorism but Rachel's comment made me think about the possibility that both of these (alleged) killers saw the murders as religiously justified, as 'right' in some sense, as something good people on the correct side would ultimately condone.

Against this background you might find it fascinating that an earlier program (news?) on MSNBC called Dr. Tiller 'controversial'. The American mainstream media does not call the U.S. military 'controversial' though it is certainly described in negative terms in some parts of the world. This difference may be a subtle one, but it has something to do with how we value the victims of violent crimes and how that affects our condemnation of the crimes that made them into victims. It may even define what we call terrorism. If violence is only against women, say, it might not qualify as terrorism.

For much more relevant commentary on Dr. Tiller's murder, see Rheality Check posts.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Where The Women Are

This is still on the CAF conference and my impressions on it. The conference just ended and in many ways it's too early for me to write any type of summary post about the 'status of the progressive movement' in this country or some similar high-faluting post. But I did notice that there were women on most panels, plenty of women among the media and plenty of women among the organizers. All this is very nice, though of course we should have plenty of women in most places given that women are the numerical majority. Still, I'm pleased with what I saw and that included many women of color.

Still, only one of the larger sessions was on women's issues (on the treatment of mothers in the labor force). I don't think we live in the post-feminist society quite yet (that will take another millennium or two), and it would have been nice to have more discussion on gender (including its various interactions with class, ethnicity, religion and race) and its impact in a focused way.

Though I must admit that women's issues did crop up in several general sessions and that was most excellent.

Smell The Money!

That wasn't a session at the CAF conference, but two sessions did discuss the financial crisis of the newspapers (and that of the television still to come) and the options that the New Media has for actually paying people enough to make a living, the New Media being this here Internet and all the various ways it can be used to post news and to discuss them.

Sadly, it's tough to make money that way, because advertising doesn't seem to work as well on the net as it does on slices of dead trees. Advertising works better for local news blogs, given that local advertisers can focus their efforts on those, but general blogs don't find it that easy to attract advertising dollars. This means that we have to look for some other means of funding news and analysis on the net. Don't you think it's weird in any case that hot dog or car or bra ads used to pay for all the important news?

So it's not often we smell the advertising dollars on the Internet, and when they do smell they just may smell bad. This is because advertisers want to be linked to the most clicked items on large political blogs, and those are about...boobs! Yup. Breasts, female nudity and such are the most clicked items on, say, Huffington Post.

That is weird and rather disheartening, on many levels, including the feminist ones. Does it really mean that Huffington Post would do best by simply dropping all political coverage and by focusing on all the sex (which translates into women's bodies) and scandals it can dig up? And are women on political blogs such rare readers that their clicks have no impact at all? Or are those simple click measures ignoring the real reason why readers are on the site in the first place? Perhaps they read all sorts of different articles and only click on the sex stuff for whatever reason before leaving? If that is the case then cutting the other coverage would ultimately hurt the blog.

The smell of money is important, because covering political news, investigative reporting and political analysis are all extremely important for a democracy to survive. If we rely on unpaid volunteer work in those areas we are not going to get enough coverage and the coverage we are going to get will be slanted towards the opinions of those who can afford to work for just the love of the task.

The money problem does have solutions (such as nonprofit forms of firms, public sector subsidies etc.), but we haven't really started the debate on those. The time to start talking is now. Feminist writers have lots to say on the topic, by the way, because feminist writing has had to face that marketing problem a long time ago.

A Comment On Commenting

While the cat is away
The mice will play.

I'm not a cat (a snake is not a cat) and neither are you, my sweet and erudite readers, mice (though mice are yummy). But I am on the road and only have access to the most tedious Vista-infested laptop, and I can't really follow the commenting very well under these circumstances. So I have turned on comment moderation (assuming this beta version works). My apologies for any inconvenience that might cause you.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Battle For The Courts

This was a great session at the CAF conference! Marge Baker (People for the American Way) moderated it very well by structuring the questions, Dahlia Lithwick (Slate), Maria Blanco (Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race etc.), Bill Lurye (AFL-CIO) and Adam Bonin (Cozen O'Connor) were all excellent in explaining their deep knowledge about the courts and their political significance.

I learned new stuff, too! For instance, there's no real (legal) definition of an 'activist' judge except that of a judge who decided something the conservatives disliked, and the wingnuts have truly managed to sell us their vocabulary and their political programs. That progressives/liberals are not more concerned about the courts is especially worrisome given that one panel member noted that George Bush The Son appointed roughly one third of all Federal judges and that these judges were carefully picked to be younger, more rigid in their party-political affiliations and more conservative, all following the same playbook. Yet the courts ultimately set the ramifications which govern all our lives.

Thus, we should be concerned about the courts not only because of reproductive choice but also because of cases such as the Lily Ledbetter one and in general the conservative tendency to reduce the little gals' and guys' access to courts as a remedy.

Rethinking Afghanistan

That was the title of a session today at the CAF conference. The speakers were Robert Greenwald (a documentary film-maker), Anand Gopal (a journalist for the Christian Science Monitor), Roshanak Wardak (Member of the Parliament, Afghanistan) and Ann Jones (author). Dr. Wardak is a native Afghani and the other three panelists have spent considerable time in Afghanistan.

The rethinking the panel urged us to do is about the role of the U.S. military. All four argued that the presence of American military forces makes life more difficult in Afghanistan, and that those forces should be withdrawn, if the well-being of ordinary Afghanis is what we are concerned about.

But the military invasion wasn't about the well-being of the ordinary Afghanis, whatever Laura and George Bush once told us. It was about Afghanistan as a terrorist haven and training camp, and given the similar role of the nearby tribal areas in Pakistan it's not terribly likely that the U.S. military would just leave.

I found the discussion on women's issues most interesting. Several panelists pointed out that the women in Kabul and a few other larger cities may have benefited from the 'liberation' the American forces brought. Girls can go to school in those areas and some women can work outside the home or choose to do without the burqa. But nothing at all has changed for the vast majority of women, especially those who live in very traditional rural areas. One panelist quoted a Supreme Court judge who had stated that women in Afghanistan have two rights: to obey their husbands and to pray at home.

Ann Jones argued that the presence of U.S. forces in rural areas actually diminishes the freedom of local women and girls. The men lock them up to protect them from foreign men. She also pointed out that the U.S. military has been taught to respect the local 'cultures' so well that they only talk to the powerful men in the villages and ignore all other villagers, including all women. But this makes the Afghanis think that the American talk about women's rights is so much hogwash. After all, Americans themselves only pay attention to the men in the villages!

What are we to conclude, then, about the future for the women of Afghanistan if the forces stay or if they leave? The message I got (though I'm feeling unusually cynical, these days) is that their future is gloomy either way but perhaps slightly less so if the forces leave.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Find The Flaw

I'm at the conference organized by the Campaign For America's Future. (Many thanks to you for paying for the hotel room which is charming and old-fashioned and fits me to a t.)

One of today's sessions was called "Affordable Health Care For All". We heard what U.S. Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, had to say on that topic. We also heard Governor Howard Dean, Dr. Salomeh Keyhani and William McNary, and all four agreed that the public insurance option should at least remain on the table.

A single-payer system appears to be ruled out on political grounds, went the consensus of this panel. Instead, we should aim at --oh, let's say -- affordable high quality insurance for all Americans!

And pigs would float if they were born with parachutes. I'm getting tired of a list of desires when combined with a plan which will do nothing to fulfill them. Sure, we need affordable insurance. But how are we going to get that?

Note that the reason other countries have lower health care costs is largely because they have one dominant source of public health care funding, perhaps combined with a small private insurance market. It is this which keeps the costs low. One large buyer can negotiate low prices and take advantage of huge quantity discounts and the public sector has the power to make new rules and regulations to limit the high rate of price increases in health care.

But we are not going to have that. We might not even get a public insurance option! So what is it exactly that we would get in the most recent Obama plan?

I guess there would be extra emphasis on preventive medicine and cost-savings through information technology, with the hope that these would lead to cost savings. But those savings are unlikely to be very large. They certainly won't balance out the enormous cost increases which will come about when all those previously uninsured people suddenly get medical insurance (remember the goal of having universal coverage).

All that suggests a further nasty thought in my tired head: If there are unexploited ways of achieving cost-savings, how come didn't all those health care firms already take advantage of them? Hmh? Especially given the great advantages those firms are supposed to have over a governmental delivery system? You know, the brisk competition in price we see all over the place?

Without the public insurance option the Obama plan will contain very little that would slow down the rate of increase in health care costs. That's the flaw I see in the plan and that's the flaw which would ultimately make it fail. This means that we really must fight for the inclusion of the public insurance option.

Coverage of a killing (by Suzie)


       A few thoughts on the killing of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider. First, my former newspaper has this headline: "Abortion provider was polarizing force." This, from a paper whose longtime political cartoonist, Wayne Stayskal, championed the right to own guns and equated abortion with murder. I love it when the media accuses others of being polarizing.  
       The headline is on a shorter version of this AP story, which describes Tiller as "strident" in its first paragraph. "Strident" is generally defined as loud and harsh, but the article doesn't give any evidence of that. Instead, it says, he rarely gave interviews in recent years.
        William Saletan has written a piece for Slate in which he suggests that most people who are pro-choice would have a hard time performing a late-term abortion, just as most people who oppose abortion rights would have a hard time murdering a doctor.
        But the analogy doesn't hold. Any nut can get a gun and kill someone at close range. But Tiller had medical training, years of experience and a clinic in which to operate. Those who have no qualms about late-term abortions cannot simply step up to take Tiller's place. 
        Saletan compares both abortion providers and their assassins to veteran soldiers. That must make women the battlefield.     

Idle Reading

I grabbed a book almost blindly, to read during my trip. So it turns out to be Fraser's The Golden Bough, and I'm reading it before bed:

For five days afterwards this song was sung in all the houses: --

Dread Fairy King, I sacrifice before you,
How nobly do you stand! you have filled up my house,
You have brought me a wife when I had not one,
Instead of daughters you have given me sons.
You have shown me the ways of the right,
You have given me many children.

What strikes you about that little ditty? It's sort of funny to note the "ways of the right", of course, but the really noteworthy bit is about how the singer (who is to think of himself or herself from a man's point of view) is happy to have a wife and happy not to have daughters. Apparently the question where the wives are grown doesn't enter into the calculations.

I was also struck by the fact that the preceding paragraphs in the book suggest this song was certainly sung by women. The training in self-loathing used to start early. Probably still does, in many parts of the world.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

I have decided to stop blogging. The decision is entirely my own and, I think, it came as a surprise to Echidne and my fellow guest bloggers when I told them last week. I greatly admire their work and hope they and other guest bloggers will continue here for a long time. This is one of a handful of truly original and important blogs and I was deeply honored to be asked to contribute to it.

The form of blogging doesn’t lend itself to what I’m trying to do. That is the reason I’m not going to continue. Dealing with complicated issues, avoiding the customary language, a shorthand that is a hindrance to real thinking, doesn’t work. It would seem, more often than not, readers come away thinking I’ve said the opposite of what I tried to make clear.

But the typical ways of talking about issues, trying to make complex realities into easily recognized and manipulated building blocks, only leads to propaganda and the results that you can get from that degraded form of discourse.

These issues can’t be reduced to a series of tweets and I will not distort them in order to attempt a deceptive simplicity that is no better than lying. I can’t make people read what I’ve actually written or prevent them from misrepresenting what I’ve said. That is the real sticking point. I can choose to stop.

If I can figure out another way to do this on a blog, I might try again. For now, especially in this economy, my style doesn’t seem to be useful for that.

I hope that those who are serious about the fight for equality and democracy, to save the environment and to prevent injustice will continue to be active. I will, just not in this form. It is for good this time.

yours truly,

Anthony McCarthy

A Guest Post

We are honored by not one but two guest posts this weekend. Here is the second one. It is by Liz O'Donnell*:

The Audacity of Dopes: Thoughts on the Double Standard

As we know, conservatives and some media types are crying racism based on one 33-word sentence from a 3,930 word speech Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor gave in 2001. Noting that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had said that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases, Sotomayor remarked. "First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Said Rush Limbaugh about Sotomayor's comment, "Here you have a racist — you might want to soften that, and you might want to say a reverse racist.

It was Rush, wasn't it, who said during the presidential election, "Clinton's testicle lockbox is big enough for the entire Democrat hierarchy, not just some people in the media. ... Her lockbox, her testicle lockbox can handle everybody in the Democrat hierarchy."

I say of Limbaugh: Here you have a misogynist – you might want to soften that, but I don't.

CNN's Glenn Beck said of Sotomayor's statement, "She sure sounds like a racist."

It was Beck, wasn't it, who said of Hillary Clinton, "She is like the stereotypical -- excuse the expression, but this is the way to -- she's the stereotypical bitch, you know what I mean?"

I say to Beck: You sure sound like a sexist.

On MSNBC, Nora O'Donnell discussed Sotomayor's nomination with Pat Buchanan who said Sotomayor was an affirmative action nominee. O'Donnell asked Buchanan if he considered that maybe there were no qualified white men to which he responded, "No, it did not occur to me. You mean there are no white males qualified? That would be an act of bigotry to make a statement like that. [...]

It was Pat Buchanan, wasn't it, who said when Sen. Hillary Clinton "raises her voice, and when a lot of women do ... it reaches a point ... where every husband in America ... has heard at one time or another."

I say to Mr. Buchanan: That would be an act of sexism to make a statement like that.

Tucker Carlson said of Sotomayor's 2001 comment, "That's a racist statement, by any calculation."

It was Carlson, wasn't it, who said of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, "There's just something about her that feels castrating, overbearing and scary."

I say to Tucker Carlson: That's a sexist statement, by any calculation.

To be clear, I am not comparing Sotomayor's statement, taken out of context, to the statements these men made during the last election. Anyone who reads the entire speech will glean a broader understanding of the judge's remark. I am merely pointing out the blatant double standard to which these men subscribe. Their righteous indignation (pun intended) doesn't fly and quite frankly their identity politics tactics are premature. Two women on the Supreme Court would not equal white male oppression.

*Liz writes about F words: feminism, (life in her) forties and
sometimes family. Her work has been published in The Boston Globe Magazine, The Atlanta Journal Constitution and The Glass Hammer where she covers women and the workplace.