Saturday, August 28, 2010

Richard Rogers Lorenz Hart

A Ship Without A Sail

Ella Fitzgerald

Always have had a hard time with Richard Rogers later work, after he stopped working with Lorenz Hart. Even before I found out how badly he treated his best lyricist. But there's no denying the quality of some of the songs they produced together. A Ship Without A Sail is just heartbreaking, considering what Hart went through as a gay man back then. It's pretty obvious he was speaking for himself, you wonder how Rogers saw it.

No one sings it better than Ella Fitzgerald. I doubt anyone else could carry that orchestration, keeping it out of the shoals of gushiness.

And then there's

This Can't Be Love

Mel Torme

[Anthony McCarthy]

Meredeth Monk and Bjork In Discussion and Learning About Bunita Marcus [Anthony McCarthy]

The American Music Center has one of the most interesting web-radio stations I've found, playing a large range of music composed by Americans in the last century up to today. They have a small collection of archived pieces that I've also been listening to.

Here is an interesting interview-conversation between the multi-media artist-composer, Meredith Monk and Bjork, who I'd never really known anything about until listening to it. Meredith Monk has been a figure in the contemporary arts since the 60s. It's interesting to hear how much these two artists, from different generations have in common and how they interact. It's always a pleasure to hear young artists who have some sense of older artists.

I'd also recommend the short introduction to American Serialism. And The New Music Box is always worth looking at, even on those occasions when I don't agree with what some of their columnists say. This month has an interesting interview with the composer Bunita Marcus, who I didn't know about at all before reading it. Watch and listen to the video, it's extremely moving, hearing how she composes out of her experience of abuse. And here is a related article Hearing and Remembering Trauma in Bunita Marcus's The Rugmaker. If only I could find some of her music to listen to.

There is Cutting and Then There is Cutting [Anthony McCarthy]

First some news you can use. It is true, that while you are in the kitchen cutting up vegetables, as the thought goes through your head, “I should get the cutting board out to do that,” you should do it. You really won’t be saving any time when you consider the time spent at the clinic getting your hand sewn back together and the work hours that paying for it will take up. And that’s not counting the extra time that one-handed typing won't add to your life.

The finger that got cut the worst, the one requiring the most stitches, doesn’t appear to be infected and there are no signs of permanent damage, at this point. Though the doctor sharing the information that the four stitches he'd just put there cost three hundred dollars (!) probably did bad things to my blood pressure and my mood re politics.

I will not be writing any of those long pieces that seem to not be drawing readers in myriads for a while. I am taking some of the time off to review The Plain English Guide by Martin Cutts. Having tried to clean up the old style in the past, it’s like learning a new language. You go into the effort more as an act of faith than with a guarantee that you’ll express yourself any more clearly.

There was this interesting fact noted on page six:

In the US, President Carter signed executive order 12044 requiring regulations to be written in plain English, though this was repealed by is successor in 1981.

So, the Great Communicator, early in his first term set about making regulations, once again, incomprehensible to the large majority of the population who haven’t had legal training, the money to keep lawyers on staff or experience reading bureaucratese. It’s not hard to figure out why, considering that his was the most corrupt, larcenous, interest conflicted presidency, holding the record for indictments and convictions in our history. Though, I firmly believe that if Barack Obama and his Attorney General wanted to make the effort the Bush II regime might give them a run for the record.

If you’ve ever had to wade through several of them, legal documents are written in lawyer talk and are all but incomprehensible without constant reference to a dictionary and the work of puzzling over each and every complex-compound sentence. That serves lawyers who most people will need to do that work for them, and it serves crooks who work just under the cover of that obscurity with the advice of crooked lawyers. Both of which, I’m certain, were the motives of the Reagan folks in overturning President Carter’s attempt at removing the veil of incomprehensibility from The Peoples’ business.

Now, I have to confess, that there are several lawyers I know and like very much, especially my own lawyer who is quite plain spoken. But I don’t think the dominant role they’ve played in our government has been good. Jimmy Carter, who we are reminded this week is, in fact, the most exemplary ex-president in our history, wasn’t a lawyer and, undoubtedly, has some of those firm eleemosynary beliefs that we are still left searching for in his successors. He also wasn’t the product of the Axis of Ivy that seems to rule this country.

The widespread use of obscurity as a shield for cheating and stealing should be recognized in the law, though you’re unlikely to get that reform from judges and lawyers. They mumble on in a strange and unknown tongue, which appears at times to be incomprehensible to themselves, in the interest of elevating their priestly status and, as well, their profitability. I doubt you’re going to get it from the Senate Judiciary committee gasbags. They’re a good example of what happens when too many lawyers congregate and exercise power.

It should be illegal to use obscure language and its use in cheating people should be a means of negating contracts, explicit and implied. The very concept of an “implied contract” is the product of intentionally deceptive obscurity. An agreement that isn’t fully understood on the part of all of the people involved is an agreement only by pretense.

But, seeing a half dozen places to take this and, obviously, not having reformed, yet, I’d better stop right now before I give in to temptation.

Young & old, mothers & daughters (by Suzie)

Echidne linked to a NYT column by Christine Stansell on Thursday. This passage angered me:
... in the first decade of the new [20th] century, though, an influx of bold young women, allergic to the old pieties about female purity and comfortable working with men, displaced their moralistic, teetotaling elders.
Just what we need: Another feminist pitting the sexy young against the old prudes, I thought. But I didn't finish my writing after I double-checked my discharge instructions, which said I shouldn't drive, return to work or make any critical decisions. That saved me from attacking a historian who has just published a fascinating book, “The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present.” Some may remember Stansell, a history professor at the University of Chicago, for her letter "Feminists for Clinton." Her husband, Sean Wilentz, also was a prominent Hillary Clinton supporter.

In her book, she writes about the French and American revolutions, "revolutions made by men who saw themselves as brothers overthrowing tyrannical fathers -- as the Americans and later the French labeled their kings." How did women fit into this political family? "Women would be acknowledged as mothers, not sisters, present at the edges of the political community in their families and safely under the governance of men."

Women used this role to ask for rights: As mothers, they needed to protect their home. In contrast to these practical women who worked within the system, Stansell describes radical, rebellious women she calls the daughters. She acknowledges that these descriptions are not tied to age, and she says feminism achieves the most when mothers and daughters work together. For example, she writes about Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in the early 1900s.
The new order was different. Those who forced the change were not always young in years (Blatch was forty-six when she returned to the United States and jumped into New York suffrage). But in their political psychology they occupied the position of the daughters.
In her book, I get the analogy of mothers and daughters, although I still have qualms about its use in her column, which, by nature of its format, has to condense so much complexity. It reminds me of how feminists have been shoe-horned into the second and third waves.

In her column, Stansell discusses the racism of white feminists, and in her book, she criticizes the condescension of white women who wanted to help their “inferiors.” But what's the explanation for white feminists who express more anger at the racism and classism of white women than they do about the bad behavior of other oppressed people? One possibility is that they hold white women to a higher standard. Is that not condescending to others?

Will there come a time when black male scholars write with equal disgust about forefathers who were condescending, and thus, sexist, in their desire to protect and help women? Who conducted business without women present? Who put more emphasis on their rights than women's rights?

I look forward to those books. In the meantime, I’m happy with Stansell’s, despite my quibbles.
This is a commentary on her column, not a review of the book, which I have not read thoroughly. Also, I hoped to sneak this post under the Friday header, but Echidne has foiled me by posting after midnight.

This Is Interesting

From Media Matters, a reminder of the right-wing religion as being all about men:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Cat Blogging

To accompany the Friday bird blogging below by Suzie.

The artistic arrangement is mine. The top three pictures are all of Ansa, the bottom is her litter-mate, Tauno.

Friday bird blogging (by Suzie)

A young alligator, 4-5 feet, has been spotted in the small lake/retention pond/swamp in my apartment complex. I want to sit down with the great blue heron (pictured here with white ibis) and say, "I'm sorry, my beautiful friend, but the alligator seems to have eaten the turtles and will eat you, given the chance." But I'm sure it knows that and just wishes I wouldn't get any closer with my camera.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Are President Obama's Goals?

I have spent hours, days, weeks trying to fathom them, but I don't get anywhere at all. Simply stated, I haven't got the slightest idea what his strongest values might be and what he wishes to accomplish, in some fundamental sense. Is he for the "lesser people" (in terms of our dear Alan Simpson)? Is he for feminist goals? Is he for the survival of this country's safety nets? What are his foreign policy goals?

Sure, I can read articles on all this, but the problem with them is that the explanations they offer contradict each other. It may just be my limited intellectual capabilities, my inability to play 11-dimensional chess with one hand tied behind my back, my refusal to see "pressing realities" as realities. But I simply cannot figure out what his basic values and goals might be, in the sense of then using them to predict what he might do next. I never know what he might do next.

Now Bill Clinton I could figure out, after a while. But this guy I cannot. I don't understand his worldview and I don't understand how he thinks of politics. I don't understand what drives him. Every time I think I do, he does something new, something which refutes my earlier thesis.

My most recent hypothesis, a poor one, is that he sees his role as an arbitrator in a salary debate or as a marital counselor: someone to offer compromise solutions.

Translated into politics, his task would then be to offer moving half-way on various issues: half-way towards banning abortion, half-way towards fundy religious stuff, half-way towards those jungle markets the right wants. Half-way everywhere, without being asked to make that step at all!

Hence his decision to attack Social Security by installing the commission (called the catfood commission by some), his decision to invite fervent opponents of Social Security to be part of it and to have real power in it, behind closed doors. That this was NOT an issue he campaigned on doesn't seem to matter at all. He wishes to pre-empt the political opposition by meeting them half-way in everything, unasked.

That makes no sense whatsoever, because his opposition is playing a whole other game (the tea-partiers are getting stronger, not weaker, for instance). But it fits the events, and none of my other theories do.

Happy Women's Equality Day From Me, Too!

I'm not quite sure how to relate to that post title. On the one hand I'm a little teary-eyed and proud of how far we have come, in some countries and for some groups of women at least, over the last two hundred years.

On the other hand I'm thinking of the fact that there are still people alive in the U.S. who were born before women had the right to vote, of the fact that so many in Afghanistan don't think girls should go to school at all, of the horrible rapes in Congo, of the many, many countries where gender inequality is still taken pretty much for granted, divinely decreed or biologically determined. It doesn't look to me to be changing quickly, either. Women's issues are horrible political correctness gone awry.

On the third hand, I'm rolling on the floor, laughing aloud with the silliness of that title. Because it IS a silly one. Yes, I know all about the propaganda value of Special Days For Important Events and so on.

On the fourth hand, This opinion piece about how the vote was won reminds us of the struggle that went on.

Women were not "given" the vote! The struggle was hard and long and the two armies were not some simple division of women against men, say. There were some women firmly opposed to the vote and some men firmly for it, the former probably because change is always frightening: It looks chaotic beforehand and may wipe out the advantages people have gained by learning to adapt to some existing system, however unfair. History is always messy, and we have a tendency to try to simplify it into something clear-cut and ultimately noble, to see it as an indomitable advance of justice and freedom for all. In reality, events were messy, people were flawed and the outcome was not as predictable as it seems in the rear view mirror.

The fight for women's suffrage was a real fight: protracted, exhausting and not without great costs.

Let us not forget that or the lesson it offers us today.

Happy Women's Equality Day! (by Suzie)

This marks the day, 90 years ago, when the 19th Amendment became law. Women gained the legal right to vote although many did not, either because of local obstructions; violence in and outside the home; and cultural beliefs about women and politics. Of the women who voted, most voted the same way their husbands or fathers did. A gender gap didn't arise until 1980.

Rep. Bella Abzug got Congress to designate Aug. 26 as “Women’s Equality Day” in 1971. The National Women's History Project has more background, including the original resolution. It leads off:
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States; and WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex ...
If only we really were united.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Approve Of This Blog

(The "I" being the person in this picture:)

Picture from my files (left-click to enlarge), and a new type of advertising. Also note the outfit.

The Cow With 310 Million Teats

How does the poor thing walk? Lie down? Does she reach from here to Honolulu?

According to Alan Simpson, the Republican co-chair of the deficit commission, that's what Social Security is. A cow with 310 million tits, he said*, to be accurate, each teat firmly inside the mouth of a sucking elderly person. Is that what he meant? That's too many tits.

Simpson's statement sounds a lot like that old wingnut term for welfare as a pig with a large litter of piglets. In short, nothing new at all. The conservatives have used female animal symbols for the government many times before, except during times of war when the government turns into the bald-but-ballsy eagle, I guess.

None of that is my reason for writing this post, though I agree with Krugman that Simpson is no friend of the common good, defined in liberal terms, and with Baker who points out how insulting Simpson's views truly are. What I really want to address is the question whether Simpson's comment was sexist or not.

This is necessary, because of takes like this one:

Social Security Group Calls on Simpson to Resign After 'Sexist' Remark

Note the wavy fingers there. It comes as no surprise, then, that the comments attached to this post at the Atlantic (the new bastion of the lone cowboy guyz) are largely raving and ranting about the awful (awful!) political correctness dominating the media these days, and about the general nastiness of liberal whiners.

But is Simpson's original comment sexist? Here is the original e-mail he sent to OWL (Older Women's League) executive director Ashley Carson. He ends with telling Carson to get honest work. Running OWL doesn't count as such? Then there's this, from Simpson:

Simpson emailed Carson on Monday of this week, writing that he had spent “many years in public life” working to stabilize Social Security “while people like you babble into the vapors about ‘disgusting attempts at ageism and sexism’ and all the rest of that crap.”

I find the e-mail insulting, rude, contemptuous and clearly one written by an anti-feminist. The whole tone of it is one of belittling the recipient whose work is not regarded as honest and whose ability to read graphs is doubted. Is that sexist enough for you?

The comment itself, about that wonder cow with 310 million tits, doesn't sound sexist to me unless something I don't get is hidden in the actual numbers? Is it the term "tits" that people view as sexist? I spend too much time in the bottom waters of the Internet to interpret tits that way. Men have them, too, and sometimes even moobs.

I'm sure my brilliant commenters will straighten me out here.

Alan Simpson has apologized for his comment, by the way, pointing out that he has a foot, rather than a tit, in his own mouth.
*He was most likely referring to H.L. Mencken who called the New Deal a milch cow with 25 million teats.

Diversity, The New York Times Book Review and Excellence

Geralyn Horton in comments linked to an NPR interview with Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, a past editor of The New York Times book review. The topic was this:

According to a recent study by a liberal media watchdog group, the Times has, quote, "an exceedingly narrow view of who's books deserve review and who is fit to discuss them," unquote. The group is Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, or FAIR. And they examined every politically-themed book critiqued by The Times review between January of 2009 and February of this year. The report said that 95 percent of the U.S. authors reviewed were white and 87 percent were male. The book reviewers were even less diverse.

Hmm. Do you know what? We have already hit the first obstacle, and I'm not even discussing the actual interview (where Mr. Lehmann-Haupt is to defend the Times, natch). And that obstacle is this: What percentage of U.S. authors writing political books are white? What percentage are female?

The answers to these questions matter a lot, but we don't get them because of that diversity angle. If the actual authorship percentages reflect population percentages of gender and race, then what the Times is doing affects women considerably more, because there are many more women. It particularly affects women of color who are counted as absent twice there.

No. I don't like the diversity angle. It has become something about representing all groups by adding a pinch of that and a spoonful of this, and it allows the hidden assumption that those "other" groups don't really deserve to be represented without the diversity angle. Their books are not good enough. Here's Mr. Lehmann-Haupt:

But that's always the aim is to find the most interesting books. They get, what, 50,000 books a year. They go through them. They are always conscious of the fact they were newspapers, so they respond to what seems politically important, what seems to be of interest to their readers. And that's how those choices are made. They're never made are we representing, you know, (unintelligible).

There you have it. Diversity is something different from trying to find the most interesting books, the best reviewers. The latter two just happen to be pale-male (nothingwrongwiththatofcourse).

But what if the problem here is one of fairness, of possibly fantastic books not getting covered because the author or the reviewer doesn't belong to the correct brotherhood, doesn't have certain numbers in his or her cell phone, doesn't discuss the only issues which that powerful brotherhood regards as important and possibly excellent? What if?

Now I fully understand that someone like Mr. Lehmann-Haupt isn't going to come out crawling on his knees towards Avignon and muttering mea culpa. Of course not. That's not his task in this interview, either, and interviews like this will always raise those protective hackles in the interviewed. What will the answer be if someone accuses you of overlooking possibly fantastic books when it was your job not to overlook them?

It's obvious: To explain that you have not overlooked them. But then the only possible conclusion is that the only really interesting political books are written by white men.

I am not arguing here that there aren't all sorts of valid reasons for some of the relative scarcity of, say, female authors and reviewers. Men still write more political books than women, for example, and women are less aggressive in selling their work. But to suggest that excellence and relevance and what might be of interest are all neutral concepts, independent of who does the judging is silly.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Today's Teh Funny

The Daily Show on how the Fox News is funding the sinister mosque project in NYC. Well sorta funding.

Snapshots From My Finnish Vacation

These will focus on matters relevant and trivial for us feminazis and really are snapshots, first impressions and even fuzzy:

1. I took an express bus from one city to the airport near Helsinki. The trip involved a change to another bus for all who were headed for the airport at a stop near the capital. This meant most passengers on the bus.

When we got to the change stop, we were told that our suitcases would be moved for us and that we could just go and sit in the next bus, waiting, until they were all loaded. The driver of the second (city) bus threw all the fifty-or-so suitcases from the entrails of the first bus into the entrails of the second one, while I watched from my seat, far above. She was a middle-aged woman and had no trouble at all with the task.

2. Why is it that there are so many more pregnant women in Finland? I rarely see pregnant people here. Is this a false impression of greater Finnish birth rates? Something to do with how much time people spend in public spaces as opposed to their homes or cars? And if not, how does it relate to that U.S. wingnut meme about selfish-Yurpian-women-refusing-to-breed? Or to the better parental leave policies and the general greater acceptance of the fact that communities need reproduction and that women shouldn't be punished for doing that job?

3. Fashions are different. Short dresses are worn over pants or leggings. Or skirts are worn the same way. Or layered shirts of various lengths. I stand out in my scales. The heat wave has turned people out in rather scant clothing (with the usual religious exceptions, all female), but shorts are really rare. It could be that shorts are not worth the price because heat waves have not been common. (And no, this isn't a real heatwave I boast to all those who complain about the heat to me.)

4. In a store I see a wedding congratulations card which shows a picture of a cartoon bride-and-groom, she with a big smile, he all sad. The text says: Game Over. What is funny about it is the reference to electronic games. The time for play is now over.

What is also supposed to be funny is that she won and he lost, and that it's women who chase men so that they can get that big wedding and it's men who run away so that they can have a lot of f***ing experiences and no limitations otherwise. Even if it's men who really seem to thrive in marriages, psychologically and emotionally.

And naturally this is utterly trivial and I didn't pay any attention to it at all. Neither did I pay attention to the nice young man who jumped into a van with the logo "Scandinavian Hunks: Finally A Fun Night For You" and drove off, with screeching wheels.

On False Rape Accusations And The Media

The case of Julian Assange, the Wikileaker, is in the media right now. Assange had been accused of rape by two women in Sweden, but he is no longer a suspect. The New York Times writes:

But one of Mr. Assange's close friends in Sweden, who said he had discussed the case in detail with Mr. Assange and one of the women, said he was "absolutely sure" that what was involved were personal animosities and grievances that flowed out of brief relationships Mr. Assange had with the women.

The man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issues, said that the volatile mix that led to the two women's seeking criminal charges against Mr. Assange involved his celebrity in Sweden and the ill feelings that erupted when the two women discovered they had been competing for his attentions.

"This wasn't anything to do with the Pentagon," he said. "It was just a personal matter between three people that got out of hand."


Something odd has happened in the U.S. media and rape during the last few years. Which famous rape or sexual molestation cases can you easily remember as being covered? The Duke lacrosse player case? The Roman Polanski extradition case? The Al Gore and masseur case? And now this.

Let me drag my friendly alien (perhaps familiar to you from my feminism-series) from outer space for a short visit. It has a giga-brain and can absorb all media writings on the topics of rape and sexual molestation in one second, and it has done that now.

Time for me to ask that question: Dear alien, based on your study, are most rape accusations on earth false?

What do you think it answered?

None of this is good news for anyone who has actually been raped. Public opinion cannot but be affected by this continuous bombardment of false accusations, or accusations not proven right.

Yet I do see reporting of absolutely proven and horrendous rapes in the media, too. Their coverage lasts a day or two and then sinks back into oblivion only to resurface for another day or two during the trial. They get nothing like the coverage of cases where the accused is a Famous Male Celebrity.

And that is probably the explanation to the utterly bizarre media bias where possibly false accusations of rape and sexual molestation get many times the coverage of real rape accusations.

This bias is a dangerous one. It will make seeking help and justice harder for those who have been raped.

Freedom From Religion

That one we don't have. First, the NYC "mosque" controversy is eating the air and energy everywhere in the media, despite being the most irritating and boring and school-yardish of all debates I have watched recently. Second, I see news like this:

On May 13, 2010, about eighty soldiers, stationed at Fort Eustis while attending a training course, were punished for opting out of attending one of these Christian concerts. The headliner at this concert was a Christian rock band called BarlowGirl, a band that describes itself as taking "an aggressive, almost warrior-like stance when it comes to spreading the gospel and serving God."


In the article, Maj. Gen. Chambers was quoted as saying, "The idea is not to be a proponent for any one religion. It's to have a mix of different performers with different religious backgrounds." But there has been no "mix of different performers with different religious backgrounds" at these concerts. Every one of them has had evangelical Christian performers, who typically not only perform their music but give their Christian testimony and read from the Bible in between songs.

Another problem with these concerts, besides the issues like soldiers being punished for choosing not to attend them, is that they are run by the commanders, and not the chaplains' offices. It is absolutely permissible for a chaplain's office to put on a Christian concert. It is not permissible for the command to put on a Christian concert, or any other religious event. Having a religious concert series that is actually called and promoted as a Commanding General's Concert Series is completely over the top.

Now, if your country decrees freedom of religion, then you give that freedom to all religions and don't stuff any one of them down the throats of your military or try to stop the erection of competing houses of worship which otherwise fulfill the local zoning, health and other such requirements. That's a no-brainer.

But I think those of us who note that freedom of religion bit also often think of religion as something private, something which a person can have in his or her private life without making much difference in the public sphere or in the way the country is ultimately run. Something like having certain family dishes which you eat at home or a second language which you use with the old uncles and aunties in the family. You don't use any of that in deciding whom to hire for your company or whom to vote for in politics.

That is not the attitude the extremists of any religion take, nosir. If you are a true believer of that sort you cannot ultimately believe in the freedom of all religions. Because your god is the true god and you must Spread The Word. Everyone will have to be converted, ultimately. And everyone will have to follow your rules of conduct in life.

Feminists are well aware of these dangers of religion, simply because the majority of formal religions do not assign women equal rights with men, do not let women preach or perform any of the tasks which presumably connect the worshipers with the gods and do not allow women much role in the interpretation and re-imagining of the meaning of religious texts.

I cannot forget that when I read about the religious freedom debates.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Broken Dolls

Image via this post.

Dead women seem to be fashionable this year, as they have been many times in the past. Women who are dropped on the floor like broken dolls, with empty eyes and limbs tossed helter-skelter. Other images of women as broken dolls or as corpses abound.

The less extreme fashion pictures often borrow similar imagery. The models lie on the floor, staring up with empty eyes and swollen lips. Their legs and arms never look comfortable, but like those of a broken doll or of someone who just got driven over by a car. If the models are upright, they often totter about as if ready to fall over any minute, revealing those same empty eyes and swollen lips. Nothing can be written on those faces, nothing. They just are.

The images are passive, often extremely passive. They are not inviting, because the models are not pictured as capable of any action except that of lying there like something tossed away. Beautiful, empty, broken. But so beautiful: The woman who has beauty and the best clothes in the world but nothing else. Not even life?

I have been told that such images are edgy, artistic, breaking boundaries. But why this particular kind of edginess, this breaking of the fragile boundaries which protect women's active lives? What is new or edgy about the visual violence against women, after all? Surely artists could do better if they wish to be edgy.

And so could we as the intended consumers of those ads. We! It is women who are expected to get their credit cards out to buy the clothes on those dead or dormant models, after all.

Letters From The Anthill

Have a look at this list of statutory minimum employment leaves by country. Don't forget to scroll all the way down to United States.

Now, I'd call that minimum requirement of zero days (and even the U.S. average of actual leave taken) cruel, especially during times like this when a job is hard to get and difficult to hold onto. Who would ask for leave, however necessary it might be for health reasons, for reasons of relaxation and refueling and for reasons of spending time with one's children, work on one's relationships (or one's house or that great American novel) and so on?

And let's not forget that the forty-hour week is really just a pleasant pretense, these days, in many industries and especially in white-collar jobs with any income attached to them. Sure, you can argue that those "choosing" such jobs are picking the money over the time. But then they cannot really convert that money into time for themselves before retirement. If even then.

Could this be the reason for the fierce consumerism I sometimes lament here? If you are never going to have any real time for living, expensive toys are a good substitute?

Connect the rest of the dots in this story, by remembering the lack of proper maternity leave here, and you might start to see why this scarcity of proper and socially sanctioned time-off not only hurts all workers but also almost sanctions the traditional gendered division of labor:

The Designated Worker Ant is expected to be busy working, almost all the time. The other necessary tasks must either fit into the dwindling number of hours left over after work or they must be picked up by someone else: kids, laundry, those broken and tangled emotional connection threads. The latter work is unpaid but necessary, and the rigid labor market expectations may say that they honor those obligations from the Full-Time Worker Ants but that's just talk. In reality they'd prefer the workers to be robots which can be turned on and never turned off and all "negotiating" (to be discussed later) starts from that position.

The usual outcome is that women, the traditional providers of all those unpaid services, will be more affected by the myth of the Designated Worker Ant. It is women who are more likely to work two shifts: one at paid work and one at home, it is women who are usually in charge of finding and monitoring paid child-care arrangements, it is women who are more likely than men to not become the Designated Sole Worker Ant in ant families which pick this solution but to either work fewer hours for money or not at all, and therefore it is women who fall off the ant career paths more often than men.

But being the Designated Worker Ant is not all good for anyone. People are not ants and workworkwork with a few expensive toys thrown in is not a good prescription for a happy life. Not even for men, though the culture has managed to cast that fate as a form of winning for men though not for women. What it is one wins remains a mystery, however, given the losses of close family relationships, mind-expanding hobbies and time to work on that great American novel or that old family chair with the broken leg.

Why am I writing on this topic again? Probably because I just came back from a very long vacation (not all of it spent vacationing, though), and realized how life-saving it has been, how very necessary, how crucial for making me love writing again. Without the vacation I wouldn't have realized how dry I had squeezed my Inner Lemon, how tired I was, how hard I had worked. Even goddesses who love their work get tired!

So what about the rest of us ants in this anthill? Surely the same opportunity should be available for all of us? We are not robots. Maybe that should be tattooed on every forehead in this country, right next to "we demand better working conditions"?

Yes, something that extreme might be necessary, because the opposite messages keep playing in the media all the time: We Must Work Harder To Win The Globalization Wars! The Chinese Charge Less! The Indians Will Take Your Job You Lazy Ant! Europe Cannot Survive Its Long Vacations And Its Great Laziness!

And even the hesitant little stories questioning these rigid work rules frame the plot with questions such as "Why Do Americans Want To Work So Hard?" As if they were given any choices about it! But note that reading several such stories even I started believing that it's just something about the water here that makes Americans eager not to have vacations. Just the way it is.

But of course the real answer is much simpler: No country got nice vacations by gently asking for them politely, in private negotiations between one worker and one firm. The firm would just laugh at an applicant stating that he or she wanted four weeks off every year, because another sucker could easily be found who wouldn't make that demand. And if I'm applying for a job as a janitor at IBM or the local university I cannot make any kinds of demands at all.

No, all those great vacation rules were achieved through political action and trade unions, and collective action is the only way to get the counterveiling power which makes the corporations agree to more humane working conditions in general. Globalization has increased the power of the corporations to fight such actions, true. But without a renewed collective effort both here at home and internationally those conditions will never improve. Indeed, they will probably get worse.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Carla Bley

Olhos De Gato

Gary Burton Quartet

[Anthony McCarthy]

What's the Real Right Way to Think About Pearl Buck [Anthony McCarthy]

By the time I was in college it was de riguer to think of Pearl S. Buck as a cultural imperialist and a hack writer, evidence that winning the Nobel for lit. was a sign of mediocrity -- In fact, the last time I remember hearing her mentioned in the media was exactly that point made by the late, alleged, Boston Radio intellectual, David Brudnoy.

I'd read The Good Earth in high school and a number of short pieces. Until I read Lu Xun, years later, those were about the only literature written by someone with an intimate knowledge of China available to someone growing up in rural Maine. And unlike Lu Xun, her observations didn't have to pass through the second hand of a translator to get to an English speaker.

Perhaps due to my own superficiality, her work didn't interest me enough, then, so that I read more of it. And by the time that the dictates of the real, right way to thinking about her work caught up to me. Other things might have seemed more important at the time.

Reading this column in the paper yesterday, it might be a good idea to look at her work again.

Strangled baby girls strewn across fields and eaten by packs of dogs. Pots of human excrement breeding disease. Grotesquely deformed girls’ feet bound to ensure male dominance. Women crying in the night for their lost babies. A white-skinned family in a region of China the size of Texas. A devout Presbyterian inspired by God at the expense of his wife and children to save those millions of souls. A mother, heartbroken by the loss of child after child to disease, who still found the strength to save her remaining children’s lives by inviting for a formal tea starving farmers set upon killing her family.

That is how Tom Matlack, Buck's great-nephew begins to set the scene of her early life. Unlike many of the, mostly male, writers on foreign lands, which they generally observed as adults, Buck grew up in the world she wrote about. She spoke the language. But her writing about that world she knew intimately is given a low status that than truly superficial observations of other writers about "exotic" lands is. You don't grow up in a place and see it as exotic. By contrast, her near contemporary, Hemingway, is like a travel reporter.

The rest of the column notes that Buck's development was anything but conventional. Her earliest life developed at the intersection of the life of the Chinese peasants, her father's extreme Presbyterian-missionary self, and her mother - who must have been in the throes of almost unbelievable conflicts between those two entities, herself. And as she grew up, those must have both shaped and conflicted with her own childhood and adolescent issues.

It was a life that, in comparison, despite the legendary tales of their great, mostly male, adventures, makes her more reputable peers seem unqualified to write about their subjects. Maybe the success of those writers wasn't due to the depth of their knowledge and perceptions, or even just that most of them were male, but in the fact that they could mirror the conventional thoughts of Western reviewers, critics, professors of literature and a population acculturated to that conventional way of thinking. That Buck had her greatest success with the general public instead of the cultivated tradition must mean something.

How truly different and harrowing Buck's childhood must have been. Consider how you would remember having these experiences.

As a young girl Pearl was left to wander the hillside, a blue-eyed alien in a foreign land, which was all she knew. Where other children might have made mud pies, Pearl collected the dead bones of unwanted female babies and gave them a proper burial. She had a special stick she used to fend off the dogs. She was drawn to funerals of the wealthier farmers who could afford them. Overhearing her Chinese neighbors talk about how the missionaries ground up babies’ eyes to treat disease, as just a little girl squatting in the weeds she spoke the truth.

“Everything you say is lies,’’ she told them in their own tongue, causing women to scream with fear at having seen the foreign devil. In a way, the body of Pearl’s work was an attempt to make the world see a deeper truth of the bones buried just beneath the surface.

You've got to wonder why Buck isn't given more respect, especially for her work in woman's rights and civil rights, as well as on behalf of abandoned children. Looks more worth while than boozing it up with the literary lights and other famous people.

Science Is Undermined By"Science" [Anthony McCarthy]

The worst thing about the Marc Hauser scandal I wrote about almost two weeks ago, is summed up in this blog comment,

Regarding Hauser's woes, these are now our woes too. Creationists and proponents of Intelligent Design, opponents of Climate Change, and so on, will be delighted by this news. "You don't need to pay attention to science 'cause those guys just make the data fit their theories anyway." A very sad day.

Just as a personal observation, the boost any kind of scientific scandal might give to Climate Change denial is not only sad, it is extremely dangerous for us all. Climate science deals with an extremely complex entity, the world’s atmosphere and with complexity comes the enhanced danger of mistakes and the inescapable necessity of preceding on partial information. We can’t avoid the necessity to act on the best evidence that climate scientists produce. That necessity is due to the extremely complex and enormous effect that human activity has on the environment and the potential for catastrophic change which could lead to the deaths of many millions of people, the extinction of species, the destruction of entire biological systems and, not impossibly, the eventual extinction of our own species. That very real possibility makes it essential to go with the most cautious case that science can produce. The numbers of people, the potency of our technology, the rapacious use of the environment makes waiting for better information far more dangerous than any economic disruption caused by acting will have. Climate science is, quite literally, of vital importance to the survival of us all.

Compared to that probable disaster, the protection of the largely retrospective science of evolution is small potatoes. The damage to biology as a scientific discipline and cultural entity is very little compared to mass extinction. With us will go all of our science, including the truly wonderful science of evolution.

I think the most basic question that should arise from the Hauser scandal is whether or not the price of allowing psychology to enjoy the status of a science, is worth it to “science” in general and to the world which is dependent on that science.

Yes, “science” in quotes. “Science” like “religion” is a word that we use as if it really referred to something when it is obvious that there is no “it” there. Both are the manifestation of human thought, both are human inventions. Of the two, science should have a far more certain meaning. That meaning is based in its fundamental purpose, to produce an enhanced level of reliability concerning the nature of the physical universe. That is the reason it was invented, that was the purpose of constructing its methods and procedures. Yet most of us are quite used to talking about something called “science” in a way that not only ignores these intrinsic realities but which gives it the status of a force of nature.

The Hauser scandal reveals a very troubling thing about psychology, it is very possible to fund and publish research which goes on to have a large influence within psychology without ascertaining the actual existence of phenomena which are the basis of the “science” produced. As noted in the story I cited here more than a week ago, there was no evidence that the “behavior” reported by Hauser existed.

Gordon G. Gallup Jr., a professor of psychology at State University of New York at Albany, questioned the results and requested videotapes that Hauser had made of the experiment.

“When I played the videotapes, there was not a thread of compelling evidence - scientific or otherwise - that any of the tamarins had learned to correctly decipher mirrored information about themselves,”

Even more disturbing was that co-authors of papers took the word of their collaborators without looking at the source of the reported data:

Gary Marcus, a psychology professor at New York University and one of the co-authors of the paper, said he drafted the introduction and conclusions of the paper, based on data that Hauser collected and analyzed.

“Professor Hauser alerted me that he was concerned about the nature of the data, and suggested that there were problems with the videotape record of the study, Marcus wrote in an e-mail. “I never actually saw the raw data, just his summaries, so I can’t speak to the exact nature of what went wrong.”

Basic to this problem is the fact that behavior is in the eye of the beholder, to start with. A “behavior” is an ephemeral manifestation, two people looking at the same event are likely to see very different things. As this example proves, that difference can exist even among those who, one hopes, have learned to observe more acutely than those who haven’t been so trained. But there is a puzzle in that training that I don’t think can be overcome. With psychological training comes the development of predispositions that preclude a clean observation. If you expect to see something, you’re more likely to believe you’ve seen it. Yet that obvious and well known propensity to see what you expect or want to see apparently doesn't mandate that research based entirely on the observation of interested researchers is checked by co-authors of papers reporting its alleged results.

Without a very narrow definition of a “behavior”, one which precludes misidentification or the million transient, unconsidered ways in which we can talk ourselves into judging our perception to match our desires, the success of that observation will probably always be open to wildly self-serving observer bias. I will point out again that the kind of behavior studied by Rhine and Pratt, card guessing, was an extremely narrowly focused event that could be recorded with almost total certainty. Though, as some psychologist scoffers have observed, even when the test was rigorously controlled to prevent any reasonable possibility cheating or information leakage, that observation still relied on the reporting of the subject being honest and accurate. Whether or not the report of the subject about what they perceived in any single guess was really what they perceived or if it was influenced by thinking. That is an extremely subtle though somewhat valid point about the nature of perception and the articulation of a person having that perception. Even in the study of the simplest phenomena, it is an aspect of the subject of the study that cannot be controlled for.

Yet quite conventional psychology, fully and uncontroversially funded, conducted, reviewed, published, taught and built upon, psychological research which becomes the common recieved wisdom of our educated class and even journalists and so becomes politically potent, is quite fully open to that quibble and even the entire range of problems that have been cleaned out of published Psi research, most often at the insistence of psychologists. Imagine how a scientific study in Psi which was entirely dependent on the unreviewed observation of a researchers would be met by those same psychologist “skeptics”.

The existence of mental illness makes the study of behavior a pressing human problem. It’s been my experience that, that problem is the one most often mentioned to me when discussing the status of psychology as a science. It is extremely desirable to be able to approach mental illness with at least the level of security with which physical illness can be. We would like to have the reliability of science in either of those endeavors. People who are not mentally ill but are made unhappy by their lives and the world in which they live would also like to have reliable relief. But psychology has not produced that reliability. As one endorsed, “scientifically validated” model and methodology after another is superseded by others which deny those models and methods, the only reasonable conclusion to reach is that psychology is not reliable. The successes of people who are under psychological treatment are haphazard at the very best. I doubt that it’s much more successful in convincing people that they are well and who then function more effectively in life than the study of Stoic philosophy or Buddhism. I doubt that it’s more effective than many systems of religious belief. None of those methods work with everyone either. Psychological counseling is certainly more expensive than most of it and it is granted a far higher status than philosophy or religion, today.

Psychiatry, which includes the more rigorously produced of applied medical science, is more complicated and I won’t talk about it except to note that the introduction of commerce in drug prescription is a disgusting scandal in itself.

Given its subject matter, its reliance on non-scientific methods of studying that subject matter, its professional acceptance of papers and research which don’t even begin in the stringent exigencies invented to increase the chance of reliable results the very purpose for which science was invented, I think that psychology and the study of behavior belongs in a category closer to philosophy and folk lore than it does with science. When you mix in the faith tradition of which evolutionary psychology is the current manifestation, mixing assertions about contemporary animal behavior with ideologically motivited mythology about the unobservable past of those species, the many extinct predecessor species from which we arose and the ones which were extinct long before our immediate ancestor species did, it’s entirely surpassed even the loosest of observational possibilities and fully entered the realm of wishful thinking.

I know that this will make a lot of people who practice and follow the behavioral “sciences” unhappy because with that change will be the perceived demotion of their profession’s status into the disdained realm of the humanities. Daniel Dennett, a philosopher who yeans after the status and glamor granted to the sciences, is a good person to study in that regard. But no amount of wishful thinking, of citation of the exigencies of the products which psychology and its cousins promise, can shove aside the basic problems that arise when an area of study apes but cannot fulfill the genuine methods which were invented to study tangible, physical entities.

Science is the most important and potent way in which we can ascertain facts about the physical world we depend on. It is the product of rigorous control, its holdings absolutely depend on the reliability of its methods, from beginning of identification and isolation of some thing to the end right through to the further review, replication and replacement of ideas which were the best available evidence in the past. Science is also a matter of acceptance and agreement. To allow the word “science” to be associated with stuff that doesn’t follow its methods will, and I believe already does, lead people to reject its reliable holdings.

It’s a question that is in the hands of people in those professions. I have heard people in the physical sciences say a lot of what I’ve said here, only in private. Their work might depend on them saying it in public and with sufficient force to make the behavioral sciences shape up or stop using the brand name. Allowing social scientists to formally oversee the work of physical scientists as a part of its administrative and funding mechanism, is a recipe for total disaster. Unlike the potential damage to Evolutionary Science which is of optional effect in the lives of the vast majority of people, the potential damage to the most vitally important areas of genuine science such as Climate Science will have an impact on the entire population and so we all have a stake in the protection of science.