Saturday, July 03, 2010

Massaging the message (by Suzie)

Next time I see my “licensed massage therapist,” I’m going to grab her and pull her hand down to my genitals. OK, maybe not. But I will ask my friend who is a licensed massage therapist – no quote marks needed because that’s an actual job title – what she thinks of the coverage of Al Gore and the therapist he hired.

After Echidne wrote about the allegations last week, I’ve followed the media coverage with much frustration. I don’t know if Molly Hagerty, a k a the red-haired masseuse, is telling the truth, but I do know the coverage will hurt many women.

Media Matters for America strikes at several issues – inadvertently. Joe Strupp wrote about “a massage therapist who contends Gore attempted sexual misconduct in 2006 in a Portland, Ore., hotel.” Actually, she contends that he sexually assaulted her, not that he “attempted” it. In Oregon, “sexual assault” covers “unwanted sexual contact.”

Others also use “attempted” or “alleged” inappropriately, and that serves to cast doubt on Hagerty. One headline reads: “Al Gore: Southern Gentleman or Alleged Attempted Rapist?” This is no more correct than a headline that asked: “Alleged Southern Gentleman or Attempted Rapist?”

A Salon summary: “A Portland paper did everything possible -- even posting Craigslist ads -- to verify the charges. And it couldn't” Everything possible? Really? Once again, the headline shows bias. The article talks about how Hagerty waffled on going to the police and wanted control over the story, excluding some details. Journalists hate this; they want to decide what to report and what not to report. Women’s eNews has more.

It reminds me of a friend abused by a very popular priest. She feared her professional reputation would be hurt if she went public, and that her parents would be devastated. She also found it difficult to keep thinking about what happened. A few years later, she made a complaint to a church court, who found the priest guilty and slapped him on the wrist while treating her like a nutty slut. Both newspapers in town know about this, but have chosen not to run a story unless she cooperates fully and gives up any control over what may be written. Sadly, she gave up.
Hagerty has a history of making accusations of unwanted sexual advances. In 1998, according to court records, she sought a restraining order against an ex-boyfriend who she said had assaulted her in a park two years earlier and had since spoken to her "in a menacing tone." The request was denied.
This comes from Politico, and the slant is that she makes up unfounded statements about sexual assault. Another possible idea: Authorities weren’t sensitive or didn’t listern or whatever in 1998. So, why should she trust them in 2006?

It is so common for a man to grope a woman that some people don’t think it merits a criminal complaint, or they think it won’t be taken seriously. From MomLogic, who defends Gore:
When some men get an erection, all the blood from their brains apparently drains out to puff up their appendages; thus, they make poor decisions when they are aroused.
Two separate comments on an Oregonian article:
Once again, another little worm that comes out of the wood work 4 years after the incident with dollar signs in their eyes. … Get over it lady! You got groped! You did not get raped or suffer bodily damage.

If every woman filed charges everytime a man touched her in a way she found icky the courts wouldn't have to try anything else. It wasn't rape. If it happened it was icky touching.
In a letter published in the Oregonian, Elton L. Stewart writes: “… his behavior may have been abhorrent, bad … [he continues with a long list of similar words], but I don't really see anything criminal about it.”

Strupp quotes only men in his Media Matters post, including one ethicist who says: “It is more gossip than anything that is relevant. It doesn't survive the media test of relevance and usefulness." This case is not the same as two celebrities having an affair. The story is relevant because harassment and assault restrict many women’s lives, everything from the jobs we choose to whether we open our windows at night to catch a breeze.

For many, there’s still a feeling that what happens in private should stay private. This has hurt many women who have been raped or abused in other ways in private.

Many respected media will not print allegations unless the complainant gives a report to police or files civil charges. Some years ago, a woman accused a prominent man of rape, he said the sex was consensual, but no charges were filed because it was her word against his. Reporters found out later but our bosses shut down any investigation and forbade a story, saying this was an unsubstantiated accusation in the past, and there was no reason to bring it up. Maybe the man threatened to sue, just as Gore has signaled by calling Hagerty’s claims “defamatory.”

The National Enquirer, which plays by its own rules, broke the Hagerty story. Then it became a story about a story, with much of the coverage in blogs and other opinion writing, gossip sites and political sites. When the Portland police reopened the case, the story jumped “from the fringe to the mainstream,” as Politico notes.

Before the case was reopened, Strupp quoted others who thought the story had gotten too much coverage, “claiming the facts do not indicate any concrete evidence of a crime.” That’s why so few cases of sexual assault get prosecuted. When they occur in private, what sort of concrete evidence would be needed? A videotape? An email from the offender confessing guilt? Four male witnesses?

I get a kick out of media that complain about too much coverage while adding to it. Another example comes from True/Slant.

An instructor is quoted in the Media Matters post, saying the Gore story has a “she said-he said” element. That phrase has the connotation of a situation in which two people have different viewpoints, and no truth can be found. But some people take it further to mean that there is no truth. Thus, one person will claim Obama was born in Kenya, and another will say he was born in the U.S., as if each has his “own truth,” a term I’ve come to loathe.

If Hagerty has lied, it may make some men wonder if they can trust massage therapists, the majority of whom are women. But I don’t predict a huge decline in business. What hurts more are all the writers and readers who equate “massage therapist” with “prostitute.” That’s already a big problem for therapists, as the Daily Beast notes. Some people do not know, or choose to disregard, that sex workers in “massage parlors” differ from therapists who have passed extensive training to get a massage license or certificate.

Hagerty has a few rape myths working against her: One is the idea that any woman who goes to a hotel at night and charges a man to touch his naked body must be a prostitute. Myth No. 2: Sex workers can’t be assaulted.

If I won the lottery, I would love to have a long massage at night to help me sleep. I’m sure this is true of many people who have insomnia. But many therapists who are good and experienced don’t want to work outside their home or office, and they don’t want to work at night. That’s why a client has to pay more. Hagerty explains the business.

For many writers, Hagerty doesn’t matter. It’s all about the important man. Some critics think that, if Gore lied about this case, he has lied about global warming. Some supporters think these accusations are motivated entirely by politics.

I still wonder about the transfer of assets before the Gores announced they were divorcing. Meanwhile, Hagerty is getting trashed in liberal Portland. The Oregonian reported: “A minivan in the parking lot, identified by neighbors as owned by Hagerty, had been egged and smeared with viscous white substance.” Eeew.

I voted for Gore, as did Hagerty, and I might vote for him again if my other choice was George W. As you might expect, conservatives are already accusing feminists of not championing Hagerty. Jeannie DeAngelis writes: "On the left, 'liberal' coupled with the word 'male' connotes unquestioning support for the feminist agenda." To whom??? Certainly not to feminists.

For more, read the excellent piece from HelloLadies in the current Carnival Against Sexual Violence at Abyss2Hope. Marcella Chester also has written on this. But I want to close with Steve Duin of the Oregonian:
I think we all know this much is true: Fading politicians, like most guys, will sacrifice status and dignity for the cheapest no-tell sex. And there's rarely a happy ending for the women who call them on it.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

By Phila. Well worth reading, as an anti-serum to all the nasty stuff one inhales on the wide and wonderful interwebs.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

This is Mary's Pudge, who doesn't like firecrackers. This was taken last Fourth of July, a day of infamy for dogs.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Where The Republicans Are

I have failed to keep my beady eye on the opposition party, except to note that they have no intention of holding hands across the aisle unless it's for the purpose of arm wrestling.

Instead, they are busy filibustering the extension of unemployment benefits:

It would be too simplistic to say that Republicans oppose extending unemployment benefits. Instead, they oppose adding to the total size of the government's stimulus spending. The Republican counterproposal was to fund the unemployment benefits by taking unspent funds -- though funds that have been promised to various priorities -- from the stimulus. In return for chopping up the stimulus, Democrats could've secured Scott Brown and George Voinovich. They didn't take the deal.

At issue here is what you do in the midst of a recession. The theory behind any stimulus -- a theory that Republicans have hewed to in the past -- is that you expand the size of the federal deficit in order to add fresh dollars and demand to the economy. Taking the money for a bridge that was to be built next month in order to fund unemployment benefits for next week is like bailing water from one part of the boat into another part. Republicans, conversely, have coalesced around a form of deficit-driven economics that they didn't hold to in the Bush years but have reconsidered now.

I guess it's good to hew to your values, even if they are all about starving the lazy unemployed sloths. Mmm.

What else are the Republicans brewing for the victory they expect in November? You are not going to believe me but they have in mind the destruction of old-age pensions and the cancellation of the health care reform bill. You gotta hang yourself in your own bootstraps! That's the Murkan way, I guess:

A Republican-held Congress might look to raise the retirement age to 70, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested Monday.

Boehner, the top Republican lawmaker in the House, said raising the retirement age by five years, indexing benefits to the rate of inflation and means-testing benefits would make the massive entitlement program more solvent.

"We're all living a lot longer than anyone ever expected," Boehner said in a meeting with the editors of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "And I think that raising the retirement age — going out 20 years, so you're not affecting anyone close to retirement — and eventually getting the retirement age to 70 is a step that needs to be taken."

The GOP leader said Social Security was the most important entitlement to reform, though he also pledged Republicans would bring legislation to the floor to repeal and replace the healthcare reforms passed earlier this year if the GOP wins back control of the House this fall.

I love the idea of 69-year old roofers and cleaners and carpenters! And I love the idea of a 65-year old trying to find a job in the kind of job market we have had lately! Ageism is no problem for Republicans; after all, firms should have the freedom to decide whom to hire!

Would that Brave New World still have unemployment benefits? Or would people be expected to soak and boil those bootstraps for dinner? Probably the latter. Of course all those older people in the labor market will leave fewer jobs for the younger folk, too.

Here's the real mystery: Why would anyone with fewer than a couple billion in the bank vote for them?
While working on this post I Googled Hoover-and-Great-Depression, and I found something very, very odd. Suddenly most of the links on the first page are to conservative sources, carefully picking and choosing what to cover about the Hoover administration.

This was not the case a year ago. Then you could find neutral takes, lefty takes and righty takes, all on the first page. Someone has been very busy re-writing Hoover's role to show us that any kind of intervention is the worst thing in the whole world and that Hoover really was an interventionist. Much better to let the requisite number of people starve to death quickly and efficiently so that good times can come back again.

The Prime Minister of Iceland

Congratulations on her marriage to her long-time girlfriend!

This USAToday piece discusses the question of same-sex marriage and the acceptability of homosexuality in different countries, though it omits a few places where things are really bad for gays and lesbians:

In Europe, the situation varies.

Several top-level politicians are openly gay, including Sweden's Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, considered a possible contender for the 2012 presidential elections.

But a gay head of government would be impossible in strong Catholic nations.


Ugandans were shocked to hear of Sigurdardottir's marriage to her partner with whom she had been in a registered relationship since 2002. The partnership was converted into a marriage on Sunday, when a new law legalizing same-sex marriage went into force. The Icelandic leader has two adult children from a previous marriage.

"Their society is finished, they have no morals," said Uganda's ruling-party spokeswoman, Mary Karooro Okurutu, described the marriage as "disgusting."

The East African nation frowns on homosexuality and is considering proposed legislation that would impose the death penalty for some gays. The bill has sparked protests in London, New York and Washington.

Fascinating how the conservative mind always sees the end of civilization in any change to the patriarchal marriage patterns. That is the essence of the resistance to same-sex marriage, reproductive choice for women, divorce and so on.

And yet something like the frequency of rape or the number of murders are not cause for concern in that sense. Though they may be deplored, the conservatives don't fear the end of civilization when more than one man in four rape or when murder rates are sky-high. What that tells about the society is the fascinating part for me.

This is one of those questions where it pays to ask who is harmed by various policies. It's hard for me to see how I'm harmed by the legality of same-sex marriage (and I have read the arguments), but increased rates of societal violence do place me and people I care about at higher risk. Somehow the former ends the society, the latter not.

We Care About The Hot One

This post is about the alleged Russian spies, in particular one of them, the sultry-eyed, pouty-lipped one. This is how the media discusses our (yes, our) infatuation with her:

But mostly we care about the hot one.

Ever since photos of Anna Chapman began circulating online late Tuesday, the Internet at large has been foaming, frothing, fanatic for details about the reported 28-year-old secret agent/Maxim model look-alike who specialized in sultry-eyed, pouty-lipped, come-hither stares. Da, da, da!

News sites immediately uploaded photo galleries. Someone said "Bond Girl" and we all immediately began casting her biopic in our minds. Scarlett Johansson -- no wait, Jessica Biel!


The three-minute video, entirely in Russian, is now going viral on YouTube, with plenty of salivating fans. "That's one hot Russian spy," Assaultman45 offers in the comments section. "Her punishment should be a date with me."

That was the Washington Post! And here comes the Los Angeles Times:

One day you're a 28-year-old red-haired beauty from Russia trying to make it as a "businesswoman" in New York City. The next, your name and sexy Facebook profile photo are splashed all over the world, your every status update — "Pain is only weakness leaving the body," for instance — the subject of international fascination. You are a femme fatale.

And all you did was allegedly participate in a Russian spy ring.

Every good Cold-War-style spy scandal needs a Natasha, and Anna Chapman, who appeared in court Monday in designer jeans and a white T-shirt, has emerged as the tale's sexy antagonist.

I keep asking myself why that bossy goddess who takes my body over once in a while is so firmly intent on writing about this topic. It's a silly topic, a topic of no special importance, a topic which will get me into trouble as a prudish and humorless feminazi.

All she will tell me is to do a gender reversal to find out the reason. A sultry male spy would not be written up in such a manner because heterosexual women do not have that kind of generality in people's minds. Even if he would make us sweat and faint and breathe very very rapidly and develop misty bedroom eyes none of that would be subsumed under the general umbrella of him being hot to everyone in the whole world and nobody would expect heterosexual men to faithfully join in the admiration of the man. His sexiness would be described as something only affecting women.

But a female spy with sultry eyes is obviously sexy to everyone on this planet.

So the post is a very meta one. An opportunity to glimpse at the underpinnings of our popular culture. It's not a criticism of the way the media covers the hotness of an alleged spy. The media is covering it in the exact way the society thinks.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nag Nag Nag

Have I already written about nagging? Probably, but it bears repeating (get the joke?)

Nagging is a very gendered term, even if the web dictionaries mostly give it neutral definitions, such as

1. To annoy by constant scolding, complaining, or urging.
2. To torment persistently, as with anxiety or pain.

These are correct, as far as they go. But "nagging" is not a term we use when a man constantly scolds, complains or urges (Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck nag, by the way), unless we wish to point out that he is engaging in a stereotypically female behavior and should shut up.

Nope, it is women who are described as "nagging," and especially wives or girlfriends. The term is intimately linked to what goes on in heterosexual intimate relationships. Using the first definition given above, nagging therefore means a situation where the man is annoyed by the constant scolding, complaining and urging of his wife or girlfriend. Sometimes he is so annoyed that he blows her brains out.

Nagging is like "gossiping" or "bitching": Something negative which only women are assumed to do. But if you carefully define such verbs as to their real contents you will find that men engage in them, too. For example, gossiping about the sexual peccadilloes of politicians is politics because men participate in it!

Still, men might nag less than women, on average, and here is why: Though it is probably true that there are people who nag just for the joy of nagging or because they wish to torture someone, nagging is really the rusty weapon of the relatively-less-powerful.

To see why I inserted "relatively" into that definition, think of a workplace. Bosses don't nag to their subordinates, because they don't have to nag. Subordinates don't nag to their bosses, because if they do they get canned. (Instead, they "bitch" about the boss to each other which suggests that these pejorative verbs about female complaining are perhaps about the complaining of the less powerful in general.)

Nagging is not practical in a rigidly hierarchical setting. But heterosexual relationships may not be that hierarchical. Even the more hierarchical ones have openings for negotiation (who takes out the garbage, who does the dishes, who picks up the dry-cleaning) or at least for manipulation, something into which nagging can be slipped.

Put in different terms, "nagging" might be found somewhere along a straight line ranging from pathological behavior by the nagger to pathological behavior by the "naggee." Yet we tend to focus on the former end of the dimension when discussing the phenomenon.

To create an example closer to the latter end, think of a situation where one partner makes a completely reasonable request which the other partner refuses to hear or to respond to. Assume that this refusal makes life much harder for the one who made the original request. Assume, furthermore, that she/he cannot easily leave the relationship. What is the next step in these negotiations? It is not difficult to imagine that it might be renewing the request, in various ways. Which would be called nagging.

Sure, this might be a rotten strategy. But then what is the alternative?

Pope Ratzi And The Boyz

I was changing the ropes in my eighty-year old two-sash window the other night. The old ropes were rotten, and without them the window would not open or if it did would not stay open. But from the outside you couldn't see the rotten ropes. The window looked quite functional.

The Catholic Church under Pope Ratzi and Hiz Boyz is similar. The Church doesn't look dysfunctional but it is. And the dysfunctional bit is under that fancy miter hat. It needs changing, desperately.

Here is why: A few days ago the Pope expressed his anger at the Belgian police:

In a sign of sharply rising tensions between the Vatican and Belgium, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday criticized as "surprising and deplorable" a raid on church property last week by Belgian police officers investigating sexual abuse by clerics.

In an exceedingly rare personal message and rebuke of a sovereign country, the pontiff also stressed the church's "autonomy" to conduct its own investigations and criticized the "deplorable methods" of the Belgian police, who detained bishops, confiscated files and even drilled into the tombs of at least one cardinal in the Cathedral of Mechelen, north of Brussels, in a search for documents.

"On several occasions I have personally reiterated that such serious issues should be attended to by both civil and canon law, with respect for their reciprocal specificity and autonomy," Benedict said in a statement circulated by the Vatican on Sunday.

Pay attention to his tone, to how he demands reciprocal specificity and autonomy, how he is angry at the way his boyz are being treated.

Then here's Ratzi more recently:

The pope handed one of the most powerful jobs in the Vatican to a cardinal who said recently that abortion was wrong, even in cases of rape.

The reshuffle also saw a senior prelate moved from the institution that helps frame the Catholic church's "pro-life" doctrines after he appeared to question the announcement by another archbishop that the mother of a child rape victim had removed herself from the church by arranging for her daughter to terminate her pregnancy.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella was transferred to head a new department charged with stemming the advance of secularisation, particularly in Europe.

It is the appointment of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, however, that is likely to arouse most controversy. As prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Ouellet, until now the archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada, will be responsible for drawing up shortlists from which the pope decides who is to get a bishop's mitre.

The prefecture is often regarded as the third most important job in the Vatican administration since its incumbent can prevent even the most gifted priest from rising to a position of leadership in the church. Ouellet has in the past been touted as a successor to Benedict.

This year, Ouellet provoked what the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation termed a "firestorm of criticism" when he told an anti-abortion conference in Quebec City that terminating a pregnancy was a "moral crime" even in rape cases. He said he understood that a sexually assaulted woman should be helped and her attacker held accountable. "But there is already a victim," he said. "Must there be another one?"

Note how some victims (priests and embryos) matter so much more than other victims (everybody else), how autonomy is not something a raped woman or child can ever expect to have and how very serious the consequences of Pope Ratzi's woman-hatred can be for the whole church. We could have decades of woman-hating bishops just because of him.

This is a church which explicitly bars women from all real power. I find it utterly astonishing that we regard such an organization a valid participant in the discussions about rape, child abuse and the question of women's reproductive rights.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Twilight Zone...

Listen to the interview with Sharron Angle here. Digby's comments on it are worth reading.

Mine might not be because they are unprintable.

Quiet, At Last (May Trigger)

An item in the Bangor Daily News has the following headline:

Police affidavit: Brooks man shot wife over nagging

The first paragraph reads:

The Brooks man accused of shooting his wife to death Friday told a friend he did it because she had been nagging him over a truck muffler, according to a police affidavit released Monday at Waldo County District Court.

Michael Littlefield then laid down on the floor next to Deborah Littlefield's body, while he contemplated shooting himself.

Dear me. If she hadn't nagged so much she'd still be alive! Let that be a lesson to you all naggers out there.

It's subtler than that, but not by much. There's the focus on the thoughts of the murderer, an attempt to explain, perhaps even to justify the crime. I'm trying to apply this approach to other crimes: A man raped and killed a child because she or he excited him sexually? A thief broke into a house because he or she wanted a new Ipad?

This approach is sometimes taken in other killings, but hardly ever in the initial coverage. The motives for a killing are usually hashed out later as the story develops. But the exception to this rule is in cases of the kind discussed here: domestic murders, most committed by men who kill their partner and often also the children. Then the coverage begins with attempts to explain why he did it.

This is problematic, because it turns into victim-blaming.

Austerity: For You But Not For Me

This European opinion piece on the need for austerity politics has the usual stuff:

That's fine as far as it goes. But how should full employment be defined? Should we be aiming for a return to conditions as they were before the crisis unfolded in 2007 and 2008? Or should we accept that the boom which preceded the bust was, itself, undesirable and that no policymaker with a reasonable grip on reality should be hoping to see its return?

If so, we need to adjust our expectations of what can be achieved by Keynesian policies. The economic world isn't composed of simple binary choices along the lines of full employment versus unemployment or recovery versus recession. If we're coming out of recession, but we don't want a return to the conditions that preceded the recession, we have to accept that, pre-recession, we were probably living beyond our means.

To that extent, Keynesian policies have limitations. They have certainly helped to prevent a Great Depression Mark II. But they cannot take us back to where we were before the crisis because, at some point, we need to get a grip on the excessive debts which led to the crisis in the first place.


Keynesian policies may prevent the worst from happening, but they cannot take us back to a world of leverage where creditors are forever dipping into their pockets to provide money for the profligate to spend on all sorts of madcap ventures. Eventually, debtor nations need to adjust their spending habits. The US, the UK and others have been living beyond their means for many years and will probably have to accept that the level of output and its growth rate are now permanently lower than they appeared to be before the crisis began.

The case for austerity rests on accepting this new reality. Austerity is hardly pleasant, but it might just prevent a repeat of the problems which, two years ago, culminated in the worst Western recession since the 1930s. That, in itself, would be some achievement.

What the author discusses are various economic theories, and that is fine. But do try to find the Man Behind The Curtain because he is there. Notice how "we were living beyond our means" where the "we" is left undefined but intended to cover everybody. Notice also "a world of leverage where creditors are forever dipping into their pockets to provide money for the profligate to spend on all sorts of madcap ventures." Finally, notice how "austerity" is introduced as the proper response to the profligate spending on madcap ventures and to, yes, full employment!

But I very much doubt that the author of this piece is going to now live an austere life. Most likely not a singly yacht needs to be sold nor a caviar dinner canceled. Austerity is intended for the Little People, because it always means cutting back on government spending and unraveling the safety nets on which the less affluent rely in all daily market acrobatics.

And who benefits from that? The rich, because they will then not have to pay higher taxes! They don't need safety nets and they don't want to pay higher taxes. Indeed, austerity for us means a comfy lifestyle for them.

Neither are we going to focus on the true profligate who caused the problems! Those tend to belong to the rich and will not suffer from the cutbacks in public spending. Indeed, austerity will be mostly enforced on those who probably never were big spenders at all and who didn't cause the problems to begin with. Little People. This applies whether a particular Little Person bought too much house or saved carefully and never splurged on anything.

This class aspect or fairness aspect of economic policies is almost always buried underground and its grave made pretty. But you must dig it up, because these policies are not just dry economic theories which we can safely skip.

For instance, the author of this opinion piece tells us that inflation is worse than unemployment and that we must curb inflation, even if that means higher rates of unemployment. What he is really saying is that the wealthy suffer more from inflation (which reduces the value of money) than from unemployment (which doesn't affect the rich).

Inflation has other negative consequences, of course, such as the problems it causes for people living on fixed incomes, and writing about the question how to control it is perfectly fine. But never take your off the Man Behind The Curtain when reading these stories. He has his hand in your pocket.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On Barbeques

Someone noted in Eschaton comments that it's almost always the men who do all grilling outside, not women. In this country, that is.

Isn't that fascinating? Grilling in the backyard is like doing physics! Girls can't do it or are not interested in it or there's a biological difference caused by some prehistoric humans deciding that Man Is The Tender Of The Hearth. Except, of course, that for centuries humans have cooked over the open flame and most of that cooking has been done by women. So the explanation has to be found elsewhere.

And I believe that it is cultural. Cooking at home became acceptably masculine only when it was not done in the kitchen, when it had an aspect of the campfire attached to it. The reason why I find this fascinating is the strength of something which really must be based on culture.

A Naive Post on Gun Rights And The SCOTUS

I'm going to go all naive in this post, because I want to. The topic is this:

The Second Amendment's guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The ruling came almost exactly two years after the court first ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns in District of Columbia v. Heller, another 5-to-4 decision.

But the Heller case addressed only federal laws; it left open the question of whether Second Amendment rights protect gun owners from overreaching by state and local governments.

The ruling is an enormous symbolic victory for supporters of gun rights, but its short-term practical impact is unclear. As in the Heller decision, the justices left for another day the question of just what kinds of gun control laws can be reconciled with Second Amendment protection.

The majority said only that the right to keep handguns for self-protection at home is constitutionally protected. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, reiterated the caveats in the Heller decision, saying the court did not mean to cast doubt on laws prohibiting possession of guns by felons or the mentally ill, those forbidding carrying guns in sensitive places like schools and government buildings or those regulating the commercial sale of firearms.

This is another of those 5-4 decisions which show how the wingnuts are going to rule the country through the judicial branch for decades to come. A reminder for all of us that the court matters. A lot.

I promised to be naive, and I will. My first thought on reading this is that desperate unemployed people can't get jobs or help from the local government but their right to be armed is honored! That makes for a really happy society in which to live.

My second thought was the one I always have when reading about the Second Amendment, which is to try to stretch my poor brain to make the leap from "well-regulated militia" to Bob-can-have-a-rifle-in-his-pants.

My third thought was about the equilibrium in the gun-carrying markets: It seems to me that the more common guns as threats become (check out Anthony's post below), the more necessary it becomes for everyone to carry.

And I don't want to live in such a world. Too many people have road-rage. If you have a gun in the car, your momentary rage can turn into a killing one, and lives are ruined. Too many people get into shouting matches in bars. If even one of the participants has a gun, things will turn bloody. Too many people have fights with their partners at home. Too many people get drunk before such fights. And so on.

My fourth thought was about those NRA slogans: "Guns Don't Kill. People Do," and "An Armed Society Is A Polite Society." They are both rubbish, of course.

It's true that guns don't get up in the closet, walk out and start killing people at the local shopping mall. But it's every bit as true that a guy going over there to kill people with his bare hands or even a knife doesn't manage to kill very many people before he is stopped. The same guy with a gun can do much more damage. And no, having everyone armed in the mall is not the answer to the mass shootings. It would cause even more dead people, unless you assume that all the shoppers are trained sharp-shooters with minds as cool and calm as yogurt under stress.

Which reminds me of that "well-regulated militia" statement. The "well-regulated" part. Shouldn't that mean something like requiring extensive training in gun use, gun storage and how to stay calm in stressful situations when carrying a gun? A test which you have to take every few years to show that you are a careful shooter?

The "armed society is a polite society" argument is equally wrong. It is based on an assumption that if everyone was armed no quarrel could ever escalate because we'd all be thinking of the gun the other person is visibly carrying. Such calmness and forethought! Just what happened with the mortgage crisis! And of course the mythical Wild West was a very polite place.

Finally, this decision is another example of the states' rights argument being most malleable. States have rights which conservatives like. They don't have rights which conservatives dislike. So it goes.

My State: Humid

Why do we call people with the names of sexual organs when we are angry with them? Sexual organs are nice! Sexual organs are, in fact, our gateway to this world, and sexual organs may be the only gateway to paradise we shall ever experience.

Instead of honoring nasty people by calling them c***s (trying to avoid the censors here), why not call them humids? Because humidity is truly awful. Awful.

I have to keep wiping the keyboard, you know, and my divine nose has a drop at its end.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Holly Cole Trio

Neon Blue

Questions I’d Like Kagan To Answer But Which She Wouldn’t Answer And They’ll Not Be Asked [Anthony McCarthy]

Of course, the first one is whether or not she would defer to the line of rulings granting corporations civil rights as “persons”. That is the first and worst way in which the oligarchic wing of the judiciary is attacking The People and our inherent rights. It’s getting worse and, as I will never stop yelling at the top of my lungs, it is destroying the capacity for legitimate, self-government.

I don’t think any nominee for the lowest court in the country who doesn’t hold that all government, including their office, is only legitimate to the extent that it exists by the just consent of an informed electorate is fit to hold the office. It should be an absolute requirement of all holders of public office to affirm that The People are the source of all authority, based on their informed judgment. Our Supreme Court is now packed with men who are doing their best to destroy that legitimate foundation of government.

Today’s Boston Globe Magazine has a rather whiny column by Farah Stockman (Harvard 1996) about the “Harvard Stigma”, on the occasion of the Senate hearings on Elena Kagan’s nomination. It points out that Harvard Law grads have been very generously represented on Supreme court, naming David Souter, Anthony Kennedy and Anthony Scalia as all being products of Harvard. And those are only some of the Republican appointees to the many Harvard seats on the court. I’m sure there are many members of gender and ethnic identities that would like to suffer that kind of stigma. Given their percentage of the population, Harvard grads are among the least stigmatized members of the species. Barack Obama, a product of Harvard Law wouldn’t have been the first Harvard Man to be making Supreme Court appointments, though he’s the first person of color to be in that position. I have no qualms about saying that if he hadn’t gone to Harvard Law, or one of the handful of other elite law schools, that he wouldn’t be president today. The various Senators representing the -- well, thankfully, you can’t exactly call it a fraternity these days – are far, far from the first to confirm nominees.

Of course there is a lot of slamming of Harvard by the far right, though George W. Bush’s association with it wasn’t any kind of a problem for them, no more than Scalia’s or Kennedy’s. The far right lies and distorts, it’s what they do about everything. If Elena Kagan had come from the far from elite law school of the University of Southern Maine, that’s the hook they’d be using against her. I have no hesitation to say that even if she’d proven to be a brilliant legal mind with the most inspiring judicial temperament and practical wisdom and a passion for fairness, she’d never have been nominated if she had come from that school. I think that Stockman might know more about that if he didn’t have Harvard blinders on.

I think that many, maybe almost all, graduates of elite institutions tend to have a real lack of appreciation for the intellectual lives most of us live. I think the longer they spend at those institutions, the more institutional loyalty they develop, the more they associate with other products of their and other elite universities, the less they learn of or remember about the wider culture. I think that is how we can get Supreme Court justices who consistently rule in favor of the elite against the needs of the many. That is how they can make the most ludicrous rulings based on legal theories that real life shows are both unjust and intolerable. The evidence I’ve seen leads me to think that Harvard Law School is an institution that produces willing tools for the perpetuation of privilege. As far as I’m concerned, if any of them want to escape that association, they should put some of their intelligence to that task. Some have, there are some people who have an association with Harvard who didn’t eat the lotus. I hope Kagan, who will be confirmed, is one of them.

As to other questions I’d like her to answer, this week’s abomination suspending the deep water drilling moritorium by "judge" Martin Feldman would make the issue of the definition of judicial conflict of interest most topical. As that Harvard Man Tony Scalia has shown to an absolute certainty, justices can rule on issues in which they have the most flagrant conflicts of interest and there is no legal mechanism to prevent that or to remove judges guilty of that form of corruption. With the rulings favoring deep water drilling, despite the clear disaster it is, by a judge who benefits from it financially, THAT IS A SITUATION THAT DISCREDITS THE ENTIRE JUDICIAL SYSTEM. There is no reason for anyone to respect the law when they see that crooked judges can get away with it in the full light of day.

Note: I also see in today’s paper that the real estate billionaire Walter Shorenstein died. Among his many philanthropies is the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. I’ve written on that institution and the kind of journalism it honors and promotes. I’ll link to that as an exhibit that the problems at Harvard aren’t just found in the law school.

Why anyone would endow anything else at the obscenely overly endowed university turns from being a matter of philanthropy into one of pyramid building. Seeing what Harvard has done with the Kennedy School itself, no one should expect anything that will upset the oligarchs to come from anything they get their hands on.

Camille Pagliaized, Ayn Randized....

If you have never heard of Camille Paglia, count yourself among the lucky. The late, great Molly Ivins wrote the definitive take on Camille:

There is one area in which I think Paglia and I would agree that
politically correct feminism has produced a noticeable inequity.
Nowadays, when a woman behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable fashion, we say, ``Poor dear, it's probably PMS.'' Whereas, if a man behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable fashion, we say, ``What an asshole.'' Let me leap to correct this unfairness by saying of Paglia, Sheesh, what an asshole.

Twenty years later, and we still have Paglia but no Ivins. Which suggests that there is no god. It also suggests that someone, somewhere, in those backrooms of power wants to stick one in our feminist eyes, bad. I'm beginning to think that it's not only the poor we shall always have among us but the woman-haters. Now try to get that printed in the NYT!

But Paglia gets printed there, on a topic which begins:

WILL women soon have a Viagra of their own? Although a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recently rejected an application to market the drug flibanserin in the United States for women with low libido, it endorsed the potential benefits and urged further research. Several pharmaceutical companies are reported to be well along in the search for such a drug.

The implication is that a new pill, despite its unforeseen side effects, is necessary to cure the sexual malaise that appears to have sunk over the country. But to what extent do these complaints about sexual apathy reflect a medical reality, and how much do they actually emanate from the anxious, overachieving, white upper middle class?

This is compost. Utter compost. There is no evidence whatsoever that there is some new sexual malaise that 'appears to have sunk over the country,' and Paglia gives us exactly zero evidence on such a giant change happening over time or in the recent past. Neither is there any evidence that the 'overachieving white upper middle class' is somehow behind the demands for female viagra.

What's behind it is the medical industry which created Viagra for men (and with unforeseen side effects!) and now tries to get another equally large market out of women. This has nothing to do with the level of libidos somehow having dropped. But of course it allows Paglia to go and dig around in that old compost of hers for some less digested bits of bullshit:

Androgynous female heros have a dampening effect on the libidos of someone! Who? Heterosexual women? I doubt it. But the story was supposed to be about women's libidos, right? Suddenly it's about heterosexual men not desiring women who have low voices and artificial boobs.

She doesn't mention porn at all. I bet you a zillion grillion units of your choice that many more men have watched porn than those androgynous female heros, and if there is anything that has changed in the last two decades it is easy and hidden access to porn. But in Paglia's world men watch Alien and no porn whatsoever.

But what does any of that have to do with female Viagra? Nothing, as far as I can tell. The whole piece sounds so much like my limbering-up exercises when I start writing; the kind of word salad one gets when clearing the brain as one would clear the throat:

Start with lack of female libido which must exist for the story to grow wings but then quickly move to talking about male libido (which already has Viagra!) and how it must be hurt by the way men are neutered (clipclip) and pussy-whipped into something nobody in their right mind would want to fuck. Instead, give me the old Italian countryside, with haystacks and a violent rape of a peasant woman who really does like it after the bruises fade. Because sex is violence and violence is sex and all women like to be at the receiving end of that violence.

Except, of course, Camille Paglia.

Hmm. Perhaps I should post my limbering exercises, too?

Fascinating how easily an anti-feminist piece gets posted in these days. If I hadn't been recently told that men are ending and that feminazis are in power everywhere I'd feel a little surprised. But of course Paglia is just a counterpoint to all those thousands and thousands of feminist articles we read every day in the NYT. Maureen Dowd, among the many, many female columnists must be balanced, right?

OK. That was my very own compost. The truth is that we still live in backlash times. It's as if the powers-that-be hear invisible feminist voices inside their heads, all the time, and must, yes, must counterbalance them by offering column space to Paglia.