Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Statistics Primer Revisited

Both this and my gender gap series are available on my homepage (check the top of this blog), but they were lots of work and might as well be made to dance here again.

This series grew from the idea of trying to explain political polling, but it's also an introduction to statistics in general. It is NOT a substitute for a course in statistics.

Statistics Primer:

Part 1. Samples

Part 2. Probability

Part 3. Sample Statistics

Part 4. Sampling Distributions

Part 5. Constructing a Confidence Interval For The Sample Proportion

Part 6. Wrapping Up

I also wrote this warning earlier:

I stayed up a few nights trying to think of a way to give the gist of the statistics used in surveys without lying or doing violence to the theories. I didn't end up with any very brilliant ways of doing that. Not very surprising, of course, but then I always try to reinvent the wheel.

Those of you, my dear readers, who are statistics geeks can see where I skate on a fairly thin eye and get off just before the ice cracks. But I think I avoided any outrageous lies. I hope I avoided them.

The problem is in approaching the whole field as someone who hates statistics might do. Statistics is actually not difficult, but it can be tedious, and that turns a lot of people off. So I tried not to be tedious but that came at a cost of being a bit eellike. If you want a slower pace and firmer instruction, try one of the online statistics courses.

Posted earlier.

Friday, December 25, 2009

How To Make Lasagne

This is an old short story I wrote. It has feminist implications. I hope you like it, because that's all you are getting as a present from me today.

How To Make Lasagne

First you need an incentive. In-laws will do. They don't like your cooking, they don't like you. You wish that they'd like you, or at least your cooking, because then life would be easier for everybody. And you are a woman who has been taught that it is worthwhile to seek approval.

The in-laws like lasagne. You are going to make it and then they'll love you. The whole world will love you, and suddenly you'll be given the credit you deserve.

The next step is to learn how to make lasagne. You don't want to ask anybody for advice; it would show them that you, at your age, don't know how to cook. But you can read. The library is full of cookbooks, brimming over with food, love and assurances. You take home as many as you can carry. They all have recipes for lasagne. Some are very complicated, beginning with how to make the pasta from durum flour and water, and ending, some years later, in a steaming hot dish from the oven. Love can't require this. The easier recipes allow for shortcuts but you worry about them: what if a shortcut lasagne isn't good enough, after all? Is it the hours spent in the kitchen, the mess made, the aching backs, the burnt fingers, that bring esteem and approval? What happens elsewhere at the same time?

Then you read a cookbook which tells that it is your love that makes your cooking good. Now you've had it. Do you love your in-laws enough? Do you love your husband enough? What about God? You bury your head in the mountain of cookbooks and weep.

But don't give up just yet. There might still be salvation through cooking. Think of all those old women in black dresses, old women with pinched mouths and flat feet who cooked away their whole lives. Weren't they esteemed for what they did? Think about it. When grandma died, didn't the funeral guests say that she would never have served them food as bad as what the catering service provided? Wasn't she valued? Was she?

You don't know. But you are going to learn to make lasagne, to pluck this one laurel leaf from the female crown. So back to the cookbooks.

You learn that lasagne is made of layers: sauce, pasta, perhaps cheese, another sauce, pasta, sauce...Every one of these layers can be made from scratch, or replaced by a shortcut. What is the right thing to do? Should you make a meat sauce which starts with making broth for the sauce, letting it simmer for two hours first? Should you peel organic tomatoes for a tomato sauce by dipping them in boiling water first? Are broth substitutes loving enough? Are canned tomatoes acceptable? What is a cream sauce? Who controls the alchemy of the gradual swelling of flour in the cream to make a smooth, velvety sauce, not bitter lumps of raw flour? Did you make the right choices about college? Were you unselfish enough as a daughter? What kind of cheese is correct? Have you found the right path in life? What is a moderate oven temperature? Should you have been more politically engaged, should you have tried to stop the idiots that go for power like wolves to a lamb they have slaughtered? Must all herbs be freshly picked? Are you genuine enough? Is a quick lasagne really distinguishable from one into which you have poured your best years? Will the world ever forgive you for not giving birth to children? Will your husband love the lasagne? Will he know that it is your love, your soul, your naked self that you have chopped up, stewed, melted, arranged and offered for ritual sacrifice? Will he fail to notice that it isn't exactly like the lasagne at home? Will you be in peace, finally?

You decide on a compromise, always a compromise for you: pre-made pasta, two sauces made from scratch and Mozzarella cheese. You make a shopping list, and name the following Saturday the Lasagne Day. Then you realize that you don't have enough pans for the sauces or knives for the cutting. You make another shopping list.

On the Thursday before Lasagne Day you go shopping for the tools. You never understood how many things could be fitted into a kitchen. Buying saucepans is like buying a car: you need to know about gasoline consumption, size, safety, speed, technology. There are no such things as just saucepans. The sales assistants have PhDs in engineering and psychology. You are taken along on a trip to the wonders of modern culinary arts and when you return to earth, dazed and out of breath, you are the proud owner of a set of copper saucepans, of German steel knives and of something called a mandoline which has nothing to do with music. Back at home you find that your new belongings don't fit anywhere in your small kitchen. You need a drink badly, you need to put your feet up, preferably somewhere far away from the kitchen.

It is comfortable in the study. The curtains are drawn and the lights are dimmed. Your wine glass is at hand and your body slowly drains off its fatigue. You refuse to think about your credit card balance or your humiliation at having been talked into unnecessary purchases. You think about food instead, and the tools to make it.

Your grandmother - not the one with pinched lips but the one who was bent over at the waist like an upside-down L from years of carrying full milk pails at the farm - this grandmother had a wood stove in her kitchen. It dominated the whole room from its corner, crouching there, huge, black, with a hundred yellow eyes which were really the flames showing through small openings in the iron body. Grandmother would feed it everything from paper to coffee grounds. She'd lift one of the cooking rings on top with a stick and drop in something for the stove to eat. The stove was always burning; it had to be fed and stoked to keep the room warm enough in the winter, to keep its inhabitants alive. Grandmother had to feed it. No-one else knew how to tame the beast.

Her kitchen had also a brand-new electric range. Grandmother would have nothing to do with it; she didn't trust electricity. She cooked by touch, sight and smell. Spitting on the wood stove told her when the heat was right. Her saucepans were few, battered, ancient.

Why do you think of her now? The food from that grandmother's kitchen was bland and plentiful. She wasn't a great chef. Most great chefs have been men. For the usual reasons and also because men don't have what women do: those long, messy, invisible strings dragging behind them, weighing them down with equivalences between love and food, between guilt and food, between salvation and food. No woman can ever wholly escape her shadows full of sticky connections from chocolate chip cookies to motherhood or from hunger through thinness to independence and once again to hunger.

Food is a weighty topic, you think. Maybe because the extreme opposite of food is death, and this confuses us into believing that the extreme opposite of death is always more food, more giving, more sacrifice?

On the Friday before Lasagne Day you go shopping for food. The supermarket you pick is a high-quality one; they stock organic produce and use halogen lights. The supermarket is beautiful: clean, spacious, ordered, full of colors. The aisles are wide and lead to most delectable altars.

You wander around, admiring everything: the space, its contents, other shoppers. Some people think that shopping has replaced gathering and hunting, but you see something deeper and more mystical in this behavior. You are awe-struck, a little girl in the museum of perfect food. You handle the packages with reverence.

The supermarket stocks ten varieties of pasta for lasagne, five varieties of tomatoes, organic and nonorganic garlic, cheese from fifteen countries, milk from freely roaming happy cows, corpses of chickens that died of sheer happiness. You pick the most expensive products, for nothing must diminish your triumph or hamper your efforts. Your shopping cart is now full, yet your hands are still clean.

Such a happy store. But not all shoppers look happy. Many look tired, worn out, old, irritated by fractious children. The workers look even more worn out. Still, the soft lights make it all bearable, even the large total the cashier demands from you at the end of this adventure.

At home you admire the food you bought. It is virginal, perfect, almost too sacred to be eaten. The tomatoes glow like jewels, the herbs are still growing, the eggs are luminescent moonlets, asleep, curled around their secrets. The food whispers promises of safety and security, of many, many tomorrows. The food reassures you that it won't be your face in those terrible pictures of starvation victims. With everything stowed away you feel rich, content. You might even feel loved.

Then, finally, it is Lasagne Day. You wake up like a cat, purring, stretching into all the expectations: a lovely day, people sitting together, connected, and in the middle of it all the food, the most perfect lasagne, made by you. It is going to be a day to remember, a day to celebrate food and all the things food can achieve.

You are so excited that you want your husband gone from the house. He is going to take everyone else to a baseball game and then bring them back for dinner. You haven't told him about Lasagne Day; it would spoil everything if he knew. It would make you less wonderful and him more demanding. No, secrecy is the way to go, that way you have nothing left to lose. You did worry that he might choose to eat out without letting you know first, but the goddess of lasagne surely must be on your side and strong enough to stop this from happening. Please.

When he leaves, you take a bath in lavender water. This purifies you, renders you acceptable. You dress in white jeans and T-shirt, and make your way slowly to the kitchen. You place the notes about the recipe you have printed out on the counter in the empty kitchen and read them one more time. Then you sit on a stool and take several deep breaths. You are now ready.

The first task is to make the sauces. The tomato sauce. You take out all the ingredients for it, the copper pans, the steel knives and the cutting boards, put water to boil for peeling tomatoes, and hunt in the drawers for a sieve. This is needed for removing the tomato seeds. While the water heats up you slice the cheese with your new sharp knife. The cheese looks meek, already surrendered to being eaten. It is almost cruel to bring the hard sharp edge of the knife against its soft body. Mozzarella is bland, you have no appetite for it, which lets you feel compassion, a vaguely sisterly feeling. You wrap up the slices in plastic and store them in the refrigerator.

The water is now boiling. In go the tomatoes, you count to thirty, and pour the water out. The tomatoes burn your fingers, and you run cold water over them and the fingers. The peeling of tomatoes goes like a miracle: they slip out with a plop, leaving the red skin almost intact. The peeled tomatoes look naked, with veins and mucus glistening on the outside. You think of peeled eyeballs, of butchered animals. You never liked tomatoes. You mash them up.

This was a mistake. You should have strained the seeds out first, reserved the juice and the tomato chunks for the sauce. Your lasagne will have tomato seeds in it. Maybe it doesn't matter.

You chop up some onions and sprigs of parsley and thyme, brown the onions in olive oil and pour them into a saucepan with ready-made chicken stock. You add the parsley, thyme and one bay leaf. When the stock boils, you add the mashed tomatoes, pepper and salt, and lower the heat to simmer. You now know what 'simmering' means, and why you sometimes think that some divine chef has left you on permanent simmer.

You sit down for a quick rest. A wonderful aroma permeates the kitchen, the smell of home cooking. This makes you very proud, even cocky. You are now one of the elect few who know the alchemy of food. But the kitchen looks like a battleground, steel knives with blood on them, skins of innocent victims in the sink. We go to war for food, ultimately. We kill for food, ultimately, even if it is disguised as power or gods. If we have food and they don't, they die. If they have food and we don't, we die. Unless there is war. Or charity. But charity is like love, a much harder skill to learn; learned much, much later in our long history. It washes off so easily.

What about food and sex, you wonder as you prepare the stage for the cream sauce. They are not the same, food comes first, bodies come before the sex they have, and bodies need food. But they know each other. The melting of the first piece of really good chocolate on the tongue wakes up all the music in the body, just as the first hesitant circle of a lover's tongue on your bare skin does. We are defenseless, innocent victims of the laws of our bodies. We need, we want, we take. Food and sex are both short ladders to small fragile paradises.

Then come the reprimands, the self-inspections, guilt and worry. Will we get sick? Will we get fat? Will we get pregnant? You are not willing to think those kinds of thoughts, they anger and confuse you: it is as if something is wrong in these pictures, something is altered or even covered up, and the point of this is to deceive you in some sense. Something that you almost know about.

The tomato sauce is now ready. It can sit and wait for the time being. The cream sauce needs to be prepared next. This is what you fear. Only impeccable people can make a cream sauce, and you are so loaded down with guilt and shame that it is an act of desperate courage just to try.

You are suddenly hungry, so hungry that you can barely stand. All your blood seems to have gone down into your calves which are now enormous. The rest of you is immaterial. You jam some bread into your mouth, chew and swallow too fast, nearly suffocating as a result. You eat the rest of the bread more slowly and try to relax your body.

A clean copper saucepan is necessary for the cream sauce. You start with a lump of yellow butter melting in the pan. When it is melted you add the flour, stirring, stirring. The idea is to cook the flour without burning it. You stir and the flour burns. The milk you are heating on another ring of the range boils over. You burn your finger fighting with the milk pan. Maybe it doesn't matter.

The flour is now quite brown. You add the scalded milk, slowly, slowly, while violently beating all the time. Never leave the cream sauce unattended. Never leave a child or a dog in a parked car. Never wear a size fourteen. You beat and beat, the sauce stares back at you from all the glum eyes the burnt flour has made. Your arms are falling off. You beat, and the sauce refuses to thicken. Only women and cream sauces refuse to thicken.

The sauce stays thin with lumps of dirty-looking flour. You cry a little, then pour out the sauce and go to medicate your burnt finger. You take a large glass of wine into the study and close the door.

What was the point? You set yourself up for failure, you with your Jesus-complexes. You feel responsible for everything, don't you? Ask any fairy tale. For not being a perfect woman, even though perfect women, by definition, don't exist. For not being a good enough human being, you know, one that stops wars everywhere and saves all the little children from starvation. You are crazy, of course, a grandiose fool. But so are we all.

You are becoming a little tipsy, and suddenly all this starts to look very funny. Grandmothers worshipping wood stoves, grandmothers getting flat feet from standing in the kitchen all their lives, food talking to them, food talking to their granddaughters who answer back with anorexia and bulemia and refusals to learn to cook. You must admit it is funny. Sad, but also funny.

You laugh and cry, thinking about all those long, messy, sticky chains of food, dragging all of us down, holding us firmly in one place. Food eating away our insides.

You pour yourself another glass of wine, notice your tomato-speckled T-shirt and laugh. You look like a butcher, not an acolyte of a heavenly Chateaubriand. You put your feet up, laugh, and toast to the gods of grapes. You congratulate yourself for not having wasted the cream that was supposed to go in the cream sauce.

When your husband and in-laws arrive you serve them spaghetti and tomato sauce. There is whipped cream with fruit for dessert. They love it. They never notice how drunk you are.

Question for the weekend (by Suzie)

What does home mean to you?

I feel at home in my apartment with my Chihuahua, Ginger. In a different way, Texas will always be home because I was born and raised there.

My sister from Texas is visiting this week, and that multiplies the homey comfort. She's watching Farscape while I write.

I'd write more but, you know, it's Christmas. Ginger and I hope you enjoy your winter holidays. In this photo, we are both wearing our parkas because the temperature has dipped into the 50s.

Merry Christmas

If you celebrate it. Merry whatever you celebrate otherwise. The bird picture is by 1WattHermit. Thank you for making my life more interesting, dear readers.

A white Christmas in Texas (by Suzie)

This is my grand-nephew in Denton, Texas, which was experiencing near-blizzard conditions when I wrote this on Christmas Eve.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Here are more photos from the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, including another mother-and-child statue, more orchids and a look straight up what I think is a strangler fig.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ferruccio Busoni

Nuit De Noel

Alexander Bildau Piano

Revisiting Misogyny

Not that I especially want to and not that it wouldn't be one of the main topics of this blog. But it might be worthwhile to put a few posts together on this topic, from my older ones. (Did I really write better three years ago? So sad.) I once wrote a book review on this topic but Blogger archives don't go that far. Instead of that piece, I found these two which might be of interest to you:

First, this post goes off on all types of tangents on the bitter fruits of misogyny. Second, this post talks a little about the attractions of fundamentalism of all types for women in a misogynistic culture. It's as if those strict tenets might somehow offer you a safe cage rather than the alternative of flying around above the arrows. Of course those safe cages are not safe.
Posted earlier.

The Ideal Women

This French video is interesting in terms of the history of what has been viewed as beautiful in European women across the ages. Note that large breasts really are not one of those things, whatever evo-psychos say, but more of a cultural thing.

Posted earlier.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Some Beauty

Eva Cassidy's voice in Time After Time.

Posted earlier.

The People Don’t Know The Truth So It Can’t Make Them Free by Anthony McCarthy

The health care bill’s attractive features are too few and those too weak to be able to be happy about its almost certain passage. The horrible parts are strong and really awful. We are beyond the point of killing the generally worse Senate bill, it will pass tomorrow. What comes out of reconciliation might be less awful, that’s about the best that can be said about it. Women, especially, have every right to be enraged that two right-wing, rural legislators were able to destroy decades of hard work and progress, we all have every reason to despise Stupak and Nelson as well as the other legislators in both bodies who promoted their attempts at poison pills. We have even more reason to despise the Republicans in both bodies, a mere handful of Republicans could have made the Blue Dogs into a non-issue. The lie of Republican moderation should die with the votes of Snowe and Collins, both of whom are better than Foxx and Bachmann only in that they are more discreet when they talk. The Republican Party is the force that destroys any chance that the corporations will not win in the end. That is a fact that the best Democrats, Senator Sanders or any proposed third party of the future would have to face. They are, to a person, opposed to the common good when it could hinder the profits of the elite.

Whatever is signed into law will represent the new field in which we fight on. This is what always happens. The highly imperfect, frequently inadequate and always mixed results of our corrupt federal system are what we live with.

Tomorrow will get here and we will have to plan for it. That is what we need to do instead of looking back. In listening to the endless discussions on the radio and TV about the progress of health care legislation this year, it came to me that not a single guest or anchor or host was without insurance. All those smooth, dispassionate voices were coming out of the fully covered. Those comfortable people are also disproportionately represented in blog discussions, though there are also a lot of us who know the issue first hand through our own experience. Just as the inadequate number of women in the House and Senate and on courts result in the experiences of women being ignored and discounted, the even greater absence of the currently poor in positions of power means that even their most desperate needs are eclipsed. The poor and the desperate need practical relief, not theory, they need it now and not in some imaginary future. Looking back in anger and pursuing impractical and losing fantasies are a luxury for those who are comfortable.

America’s political system is the major hurdle to progress. It was begun and has developed with corrupt, anti-democratic features embedded in it that those can’t be overcome by even the most popular and beneficial proposals. A real public option has been favored by a higher percentage of people than any president has ever won an election with. Olympia Snowe at one point said it would never have her vote because it would be too popular and would destroy the for profit system. I am certain she was right about that. It is why Lieberman and his fellow corporate tools had to kill it. Once The People found out that they’d been lied to and cheated for decades they would have opted to destroy the pirates that have been robbing and killing us all along.

The killing of the public option was just one more proof that the Senate is always going to keep us from government insuring the common good, its finest moments are so far between that they don’t make up for the malignant role it plays in our country. The 60 vote requirement, clearly in conflict with the Constitution, doesn’t seem to apply much to the majority of corporate representatives who sit in the Senate, it only applies to the minority who sometimes manage to represent The People. We must agitate to force the Senate to give it up if they can’t make it work on our behalf.

The Supreme Court is the worst offender, however, the manger in which the anti-Christ of the corporate person was born and which has nurtured it. The rulings that have created that monster and which has fed and given it real rights that can overcome even the majority of The People are the greatest evil that has a stranglehold over us. We have to do everything we can to expose the too little known abomination for what it is, make its destruction an issue in elections and Supreme Court nominations. Its manifestation in Buckley vs. Veleo is among the clearest hits that The Peoples’ right to self government has ever taken, the coming ruling on election finance will almost certainly make it worse.

The media which has become the opposite of what is required for democracy and which is almost uniformly a machine to misinform and lie to The People has to be split up and forced to fulfill its ONLY important function. You can’t be free if you don’t know the truth. You can’t be free if an effective majority of voters are spoon fed lies. Just turning the lie machine off so you can stew in a deceptively peaceful silence is a concept that refuses to face this most obvious truth.

The absurdity of libertarianism, that somehow an ignorant mass who are free to follow their transient desires, that the certain infringements of the rights of others by those free spirits can somehow be worked out by law suits, and the rest of that fantasy is a danger to democracy. People on the left who harbor that notion are deluded to the point of superstition. There is no reason in 2009 for anyone to not realize that.

Self government isn’t diverting or fun or stylish. It’s serious work, it always will be, that’s the nature of it. It is the nature of life that many of the most important features of the common good are downright tedious and boring. That used to be something that those achieving adulthood understood and took for granted. It took mass entertainment to create the loony lotus land that we inhabit. That’s what we have to fight against, ultimately. The People don’t know the truth and so the truth can’t make them free. The radio and TV, movies, video, I doubt when those have no higher purpose than to maximize profit that they are anything but killers of democracy. They destroy serious thought, they destroy the willingness to give up frivolous desires in order to give the necessities of life to those who need them. And that is when they don’t produce violence, paranoia, genocide and murder.

It comes down to The People as informed moral agents able to govern themselves or the conscious, planned, scientifically informed reduction of us into masses, manipulated, duped, controlled resources for the elite. I’m not optimistic, not after seeing what even the horrors of the Bush II regime has led to. If that slap in our face hasn’t woken up the left to give up its old slogans and fantasies, maybe it won’t get better.

But giving up is a luxury for those who are comfortable and the otiose who wallow in delusion. The work being harder is only more proof that it is necessary to try.

Reviewing the Gender Gap in Earnings

Because there will be a test later on. Well, no, but I get exasperated when people employ false arguments to explain the reasons why women earn less than men. I wrote a series of posts on this topic a few years ago, and though some of the data may be a little old now all the basic principles and the major findings apply. Here are the posts:

Part 1. The theories on why women earn less than men, on average.

Part 2. Empirical evidence, what it tells us and what it does not tell us.

Part 3. How to talk to wingnuts on this topic if you must (channeling Ann Coulter)
Posted earlier.

Season's Greetings

I'm going to be on the road for about four days. I have scheduled several posts, some re-runs and some new ones, and my co-bloggers may (if they so wish) post something, too. Drive with care and eat lots of chocolate or something else equally wonderful.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bubble-Gum Anti-Feminism

I sit here twirling my hair and chewing gum and come across this story:

Do successful women have trouble dating?

By Amanda May
Is it true that guys avoid powerful gals because their egos can't handle it? Relationship experts and real men weigh in.

Roundtable participants

* Diane Mapes, author, How to Date in a Post-Dating World
* Steve Nakamoto, author, Men Are Like Fish: What Every Woman Needs to Know about Catching a Man
* Andy, 30, entrepreneur
* Craig, 33, recruiter
* Alex, 25, lawyer

Q: There's been a lot of talk lately that successful, career-oriented women have trouble creating lasting relationships because men feel intimidated. Do you think that is true?

Steve Nakamoto: The traditional male role is to be the provider and protector. If a guy loses that, he may feel like he's losing his pride. Many men feel like their identity is wrapped up in what they do and how much they earn. It's an external validation of their success, and a woman who is more successful than they are may threaten how they view themselves.

Craig: Many men do get intimidated by a woman who earns more or is more successful. They're told that they're supposed to be the breadwinners. I think it's going to take awhile for society to get used to the fact that with more women working, traditional gender roles don't necessarily apply.

Andy: Of course it depends on the man, but to feel financially superfluous is emasculating. No one wants to be reminded that he's a failure, and I can definitely see that putting additional pressure on a relationship.

Pardon me while I finish pulling out all my head hair. The story goes on in the same vein, with the general idea that women are at fault here for being too emasculating, that it is women who must change somehow and that all this is Just. The. Way. Things. Are.

Nobody suggests that men should change. Only women. And the reason has to do with the definition of masculinity which, once again, is defined by what women are allowed to do. It's sooooo boringly depressing. (chews gum)

(Swallows gum.) Nobody draws any wider conclusions, either, though that's probably because the article is the equivalent of chewing gum. But it might just be worth pointing out that if all men felt this way the gender gap in wages could never disappear, ambitious women who want male partners would be permanently discouraged from actually succeeding and any married woman would take a humongous risk of ending up pretty poor after divorce, say.

Gah. Note that the story doesn't use any actual data on the question it tries to answer. And count the number of comments from the one woman interviewed in the story.

Not Under The Bus

It's always worth fighting for benefits as the post below shows. Women tend not to do that as a group. It's time we did. Here's one site which can get us there on health care.

Cosmetic Surgery And Tanning Salons

Remember the proposed five percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery to cover some of the costs of health care reform? It has disappeared. Instead, there will be an extra ten percent tax on tanning salons. The initial plan to tax cosmetic surgery smelled to me like a "sin tax": a tax levied on something that is regarded as morally reprehensible or dangerous. Alcohol and tobacco taxes are common examples of sin taxes.

Why did this plan change? Because cosmetic surgery is an income source for many physicians and a tax on it would have reduced demand and hence the physicians' revenues. The American Medical Association doesn't want to see its members suffer. It is, after all, a trade union though seldom viewed as one:

The American Medical Association announced its coveted endorsement yesterday after a series of changes. Among them: eliminating a 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery procedures, replacing it with a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services; eliminating payment cuts to specialty and other physicians that were to be used to pay for bonuses to primary-care physicians and general surgeons in underserved areas; and dropping a proposed $300 fee on physicians who participate in Medicare that was to be used to fight fraud in the program.

All this changes who ultimately will pay for the reform, by the way. Whoever has enough power will push the payments onto someone else.

What's even more fascinating is the feminist debate that ensued when the cosmetic surgery tax was first proposed.

It's largely women who have elective cosmetic surgery and one might argue that the pressure to have it rises with age, because of age discrimination in the labor market. Now add to that the idea that women should be paying extra for health care for all (while not getting medically required abortions covered themselves). That's just plain wrong. This is the approach the president of NOW took recently.

But one can equally well argue that women who have elective cosmetic surgery raise the bar for all women, making such surgery a requirement for keeping or getting a job in later life, and that getting elective surgery means succumbing to the pressures of popular culture and its biased molds into which all women are squashed.

For an example of how this works, just think of how the image of ideal breasts has begun to resemble a pair of barely tethered helium balloons because of breast enhancement surgery. The more women have such surgery the more likely it is that the artificially enhanced breasts are viewed as the proper ones, and any woman not having surgery as the weird one. Note that I'm not blaming the women who have such surgery. The roots of this phenomenon are in pornography and its spillover effect into celebrity culture and from there into popular culture.

The change of plans made this debate an academic one. On the other hand, it's probably true that tanning salons have more female than male customers, too?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Today's Good News

From Think Progress, about the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010:

Within the Appropriations Act is Sen. Al Franken's (D-MN) amendment prohibiting defense contractors from restricting their employees' abilities to take workplace discrimination, battery, and sexual assault cases to court. The measure was inspired by Jamie Leigh Jones, who was gang-raped by her co-workers while working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. Many Republicans opposed the legislation — saying it was an unnecessary attack on their allies in the defense contracting business — and faced intense political blowback over their positions

I wrote several posts on Jamie Leigh Jones, and I'm so glad to see that her work on this topic has borne fruit. Because of her decision to fight her lack of access to courts other people in the same situation will have that access.

Deep Thoughts on Combatting Global Warming

These thoughts are deep only in the sense that I'm digging deep into the layers of the onion that has created the problem, going to almost the very middle, right outside the heart which is about fear and mineminemine! The next layer just beyond that, the one that causes all the problems we see now, has to do with the way most countries elect their political leaders. It also applies to any dictators who force themselves into power.

Those people are there to compete, to fight other people for a bigger piece of the cake. They are NOT there to grow the cake and they are NOT there because they are so eminently suited for cooperating with others on the global level.

I believe that it is essentially impossible for something like the Copenhagen talks to bring real results because every person there was trying to see how others could be forced to do something and not that person's constituency and the central question was always "what is in it for me?" Politicians are not rewarded for saving the earth. They are rewarded for saving their own country's employment or military powers and so on. And that is the fault of the system we use to bring people into power and the incentives we give them. Just cast your mind back to the recent presidential elections in this country: We all cheered when our guy seemed to be kicking butt. Butt-kicking global warming does not work.

Imagine someone like Ben Nelson making laws about global warming. He'd want special climate protection just for Nebraska! That's pretty much what he got as payment for letting the one-legged HCR limp on. But a person who thinks like that will NEVER combat global warming, never.

Then look at the way the U.S. lobbyist system works. Mother Nature does not have a lobbyist and neither do the citizens of this earth in general.

I can hear some of you mutter that all this is human nature, and it is. But if this is all there is to human nature we, my friend, are going to be fried fish. Or someone will be. Because nothing won't be done about global warming until a large number of people dies suddenly, dramatically and clearly in a way linked to climate change. Then we get a lot of yelling and blaming and some last-minute attempts which probably will not work.

Luckily, I don't believe that human nature is quite that short-sighted. Cooperation exists everywhere in our societies, for example. But we do need to change the incentives and the structure which brings people to power, at least in certain parts of the system. We need to select stateswomen and statesmen, not politicians. There are ways to do that if it is taken seriously.

More On Commenting

I'm not too happy with Echo right now. It doesn't have a master page for following all comments and most of the frills it offers I do NOT want. I want simplicity, and I want the person's comment to be the major focus rather than all the other stuff. I also want to keep the conversation here, not have it spread into the "social space" whatever fuck that is.

Pardon the language. But after spending time searching for a commenting system I find that they are all marketed with the very features that I detest. What's so undesirable about a simple column of intelligent comments, with names/handles and links to homepages provided discreetly? That's what we had. If I talk to people here I don't want to find my comments in all sorts of other places. That could be my Northern blood, of course.

I don't have time to attend to this now, so I'm stuck with Echo for a week at least. If you have any good ideas please let me know.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Short Meditation In Front Of The Local Cable News Show by Anthony McCarthy

How did that "Perfect Brownie Pan" guy decide to use that obnoxious voice? I wonder how the director coached him.

I wonder how many people figured out, after they'd used them a few times, that those $20 Shamwows were rags. Was that rumor your brother told you about their pitch man true?

Has it ever occurred to anyone that having Billy Mays pitching stuff from the grave is really weird?

How do people stand having this stuff on all day?

Not Under the Bus (by Liz)

Poor Erika Smith, the aide to Congressman Bart Stupak, who sent an email to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Right to Life, the Family Research Council and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office in attempt to derail the Nelson abortion compromise. Yesterday, Politico obtained Smith's email, which read, "Guys - when will we see your letters of opposition to the managers amendment?? We need them ASAP!”

Later in the day Stupak claimed he had nothing to do with the email exchange. From his website, "Earlier today an unauthorized email from a member of my staff was sent to interested parties. I was unaware of this email and it was sent without my knowledge or approval."

Now that Smith has been thrown under the bus by her boss, perhaps she should check out "Not Under The Bus," a project by the Women's Media Center. Not Under the Bus is "a platform for a unified media message that supports and defends women’s rights in the national health care reform debate." It is also "a call to action to keep women safe and treat them with respect and dignity."

What do you say Ms. Smith? Are you ready for that?

An Unavoidable and Unpleasant Topic by Anthony McCarthy

It’s always true that people in a minority, or women in the majority, are always made answerable for others in their group. That’s an burden that anyone in those groups carries. You will notice that just about everyone opposing real health care are nominally “christian” and white, and straight, and male ..... But they won’t be the face on it when the chips fall.

In the enraged blog chatter this past week it was an unfortunate but predictable thing, the identification of Lieberman and Emanuel as Jews came up. That’s predictable because Lieberman has turned his alleged religious values into a political pose and Emanuel’s family and personal history makes his devotion to Israel an issue with him. For a lot of people, and not necessarily all of them gentiles, that places both of these politicians into a category and no more is needed to place that package where it will be shifted around in a simulacrum of thinking. For some this produces hateful attack, for a few, it produces support, invincible even by wretched behavior.

Responding to the people who wanted to make the treason of Lieberman and Emanuel a Jewish issue, I realized that I don’t know a single Jewish person who doesn’t despise Joe Lieberman and only a few who are not known to me as ardent single-payer supporters. Several have also expressed disapproval of Rahm Emanuel, one I recall has said that you can’t trust him because he’s just as crooked as he is smart. Anyone who looks at the members of the House and, to a lesser extent, the Senate might consider those who have been among the champions of national health care far longer than most blog babblers have been alive. Any believable polling I’ve seen places people identifying themselves as Jewish as among the most reliable of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Indeed, right-wing Jews are some of those who slam most American Jews most severely. Some of those who I’ve read rely on a stereotype and rhetoric not far removed from the traditional discourse of Know Nothings and Klansmen. About the only thing missing is the most febrile, paranoid, and racist language.

In my reading of the greatest Jewish scriptures, the prophets, I don’t find anything that you could intuit from the behavior of Lieberman or Emanuel. I re-read Isaiah several times over the summer and am at a loss to think what he’d make of them.

One of the more troubling things I read this week trying to comprehend the duplicity and swinish behavior of Lieberman theorized that he was doing what he did to extort support for the worst of Israeli policy from the Obama administration. That part of the present Israeli government policy that is, so awful that even the timidity of our government is overcome. It’s plausible that he might do that. I can’t imagine Lieberman doing what he has for his constituents in Connecticut who he seems to hate regardless of their ethnicity. But I think his real motives have little to do with anything other than his pathological self-regard and his wife’s source of income. I doubt Joe Lieberman believes in anything except himself and the bizarre self-image that he has constructed. If his wife figures into that other than as an accessory and source of income, I really don’t care to speculate. He is a sociopath who uses the pose of morality and religion as part of his con job. In that he is exactly the same the worst of the phony “christian” moralists of his party, the Republicans or the odious Tony Blair, the newly minted Catholic. Religion for these people has nothing to do with the teachings of an ancient prophet, they certainly don’t have anything to do with the most important part of the Jewish tradition - which Jesus was certainly a part of - JUSTICE.

I think Lieberman would sell anyone out to get his face on TV. And I really do believe that.

The explanation for what makes Rahm Emanuel tick isn’t as clear. He’s less of a known personality, less addicted to getting his face on TV. Here the always valuable Neal Gabler* does some of what I chose not to do yesrday, trying to find an psychological explanation that could apply to the Chief of Staff as well as the President. He makes a good case for the major weakness of Barack Obama being his determination to remain aloof and detached. Cool and macho, in my language. I think that could explain a good part of his attraction to Rahm Emanuel who seems to have ice in his heart. There’s a difference between being cool and collected and being cynical. I won’t go into the personal distinction but only into its political manifestation.

Back when the Carter Presidency was going down under concerted Republican attack, I used to think that having a more savvy president less guided by principle might be a good idea. The reasoning was that even if such leaders were lacking in morals at least their desire to preserve themselves and their small circle of loved ones would prevent nuclear catastrophe. Consider that it was the psychopaths in the Pre-Perestroika Reagan wing of the Republicans who were going to be the clear successors to Jimmy Carter.

I don’t think that anymore. At bottom, what is destroying democracy is the same thing that is destroying the biosphere, selfishness, self-regard, greed, .... in other words the failure is more a failure of morality than of knowledge and reason. As seen in the Republican right, even those who are undeniably intelligent and certainly can grasp that we are destroying the very basis of life, are unwilling or unable to overcome the disease of greed and the extensions of ego that obtaining power provide.

The decisive question for the coming year is whether or not Barack Obama has a moral core, one which he isn’t willing to dispose of in dickering with the Republican-Blue Dogs in order to be able to claim victories that are not victories for his dwindling supporters who are motivated by the tradition of JUSTICE and knowledge. Neal Gabbler has raised the question. We will know the answer to that by this time next year. Let’s hope it’s apparent in time to salvage the possibility of Democratic government, on which democracy and the basis of life certainly depend.

* Neal Gabler has become one of the best columnists writing today.

Nelson vs. Stupak

Bart Stupak doesn't think Ben Nelson's achievements go far enough:

Current law prohibits federal funding from being used for abortion, but Nelson and several Republicans wanted to take the language further. Nelson's office today said the new provisions would ensure that no public funds go toward abortion services, mandate that every state provide an insurance plan that does not cover abortion and gives each state the right to pass a law barring insurance coverage for abortion within state borders.

"I know this is hard for some of my colleagues to accept and I appreciate their right to disagree," Nelson told reporters today. "But I would not have voted for this bill without these provisions."

The move upset some anti-abortion lawmakers such as Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who this week told ABC News he will not vote for the final health care bill if it did not include his abortion language, which is in the House health care bill.

Since current law already prohibits the federal use of funds for abortion, except in the cases of rape, incest and the pregnant woman's life being endangered, what expansions do these gentlemen want?
Cross-posted on Eschaton.