Saturday, April 02, 2011

Saturday Dog Blogging

This is Gracie. Picture by Nick Carraway.

The First Puzzle

Here's a fun puzzle for you. What will you deduce from the following information?

Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases, including everything from autos to health care:
91% of New Homes
66% PCs
92% Vacations
80% Healthcare
65% New Cars
89% Bank Accounts
93% Food
93% OTC Pharmaceuticals

The anti-feminists answer: Women eat 93% of all food, consume 92% of vacations and so on. I'm not kidding. I have been reading on Those Sites again (bad Echidne, bad!), and found to my great surprise that the above data is used as a counterargument for the gender gap in wages:

Who cares if women earn less? They consume most everything!

I don't think so, simply because men wouldn't survive on only 7% of all food, for instance. What these data tell us is that women are the designated shoppers in many families. This does NOT mean that women consume everything they buy. Just that they do most of the grocery shopping and so on. For the whole family.

After reading about those astonishingly big female eaters I spent eons trying to find the original research from which those numbers came, but without luck. The references I found went around in circles. This matters, because I really, really want to know who answered the questions and how those questions were formulated.

For instance, were the respondents asked whether they determined some purchases all by themselves or whether they participated in such purchases? My guess is the latter, simply because it is extremely unlikely that women alone purchased 91% of new houses.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Bill Maher the Funny Misogynist?

That Maher likes women the way he might salivate over a nice beef roast has been known for a long time. It's part of his shtick. We are expected to get over it and to enjoy his general funniness. You know how that goes.

Maher has now called Republican female politicians by some names of women's genitals:
“It’s that fearlessness — he acknowledged that some people would probably be uncomfortable with some of his remarks about religion, not to mention calling Sarah Palin the “c” word (“there’s just no other word for her”) — that makes Maher the most dangerous person in comedy,” Jones wrote. “He’s painfully well-informed, which means he takes no bullshit from anyone. President Barack Obama took it on the chin almost as much as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. How dare the President say he would not settle for America being No. 2 — America is already out of the top 10 in most international lifestyle and human rights categories (health care, education, social mobility, women in high political positions). ‘I’d be thrilled if we were No. 2,’ he ranted, noting it’s nice to be behind Bosnia in life expectancy (where the chief cause of death is wolfman attacks, he joked).”
On his Friday show, Maher called Palin and Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann “bimbos.” That came one week after he called Palin “a dumb twat.”
Shakespeare's Sister has much more to say about all this.

But note how the above quote suggests that Maher's name-calling is just part of his general toughness on everyone? He takes on Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and even the president! Which means, really, that what he says about Palin or Bachmann is no different.

Except that he doesn't call Limbaugh, Beck or Obama dumb pr**ks. I checked, as far as that could be done, and if he has ever used that term for men in politics it doesn't appear in Google searches. Neither has he used the n-word.

Making fun of people without making fun of their demographic group can be done. Even Maher has done it when it's not about women. But I offer Maher a deal: If he starts liberally using those other censored words in my previous paragraph I accept his argument that this is ado about nothing.

Echidne the Effete Elitist

I always admire the Republicans' ability to define the terms in our public conversations. How they do it! Take, for instance, the concept of the liberal elites who apparently govern this country from shore to shining shore, except that they barely manage to hang on to those shores. They are a mean-spirited bunch, looking down on the masses from their ivory towers, and the only kind of populism that works against them is a right-wing one. Like tea parties.

David Brooks likes to talk about us, the effete liberal elitists (yes, I want to belong!). We are incredibly powerful and sneaky. We are so powerful that we tend to lose elections all the time, but that's neither here or there. We are still the ones in power, though we do it without money or access to the mainstream media and with odd demands which really don't help us personally that much. But the Republicans know better! We don't demand social justice or fairness or shit like that because we would believe in those concepts. No. We demand those things because that way we get lots of money for our research projects and for our blogs and for all those television companies which have nothing but liberal propaganda on.

Which reminds me that you should send me some money. Right now I'm making a loss on this here effete elitist blog. And Soros never answers my e-mails, never.

If this sounds to you as if it could apply to feminists, too, you are quite correct. But feminists are several grades more radioactive than liberals, and therefore much more in power than anyone has been able to understand! It must be the feminists who are trying to make miscarriage into a crime in some states and it must be the feminists who are demanding that women wanting abortions must first go to crisis pregnancy center for non-medical information.

Must be the feminists. (Did you know that universities get a payment for each female student they take in? That's the reason why better qualified men are not admitted. The things one mis-learns on the net!) Or the effete liberal elitists.

So this is the world in which we all desperately paddle our little boats. In that same world Barack Obama, the second-best Republican president ever, is called a communist or perhaps an Islamofascist. In that world the tea-party is not a new rising of the crusted center of the extreme right but a brand new movement, a breath of fresh air, one wishing to blow over the ossified institutions of the evil state.

And in that world the new Republican governors all practice disaster capitalism by trying to kill the unions and by trying to roll back women's reproductive choices as fast as it can be managed. If there IS a conspiracy somewhere it sure looks like it is on the other side of the aisle, not among the liberal elites.

Ezra Klein points out that the majority of our real elites vote Republican.

Just think of that! It puts the miracle of the Republican framing into a proper perspective. Of course it also suggests that all those lower-income people who voted for Republicans were had, unless they are happy with the idea of putting the women and the minorities back into their proper places. Because that is all they are going to get from their overlords.

Today's Action Alert

A petition asking Wal-Mart not to stock a new game. More on the reasons can be found here and here.

The Guttmacher Institute Teaches Rick Santorum

Worth spelling it out, I guess:
Santorum is quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying, “Well, a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion." Leaving aside questions about whether Social Security is indeed facing insolvency, and, if it is, whether the major problem is that there are too few people to support it, there are a number of serious problems with Santorum’s statement.
First of all, he got the facts wrong. One-third of pregnancies do not end in abortion, as Santorum claims. In 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, 22.4% of pregnancies (excluding those that result in miscarriages) ended in abortion.
More importantly, however, there are two main reasons why it is simply wrong to assume that every abortion reduces the U.S. population by one person: One, most women obtaining abortions are younger than 30 and are postponing childbearing. They typically want to wait to have children, or already have one child and don’t want another at that time. In either case, the abortion delays a birth, it does not eliminate it—and there is no impact on the overall population.


But where Santorum really misses his mark is his failure to grasp a very simple idea: Most Americans want two children, and they try to time childbearing and space their births so that they have those children when they feel best capable of taking care of them. Overwhelmingly, this is accomplished through contraceptive use. When faced with an unwanted or mistimed pregnancy, some women decide to obtain an abortion. But the key point is that whatever demographic challenges Social Security may be facing, they are not due to abortion, but rather to the fact that most Americans desire—and generally achieve—small families.
Despite the title of this post, Rick Santorum will not learn anything. It is because he doesn't care what most Americans desire and he certainly doesn't care about what women desire. He only listens to the god he has created.

He is not alone in that. The veritable flood of anti-choice proposals coming out in all the Republican-managed states makes me wonder if I somehow slipped into a parallel reality where the Republicans indeed campaigned on limiting reproductive choice. I remember reading all those exit polls where anything having to do with abortion was far, far down the list of the topics the government should address. But we get what the radical right wants, not what voters want.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Uterus, uterus, uterus, uterus, uterus, testicles, uterus:
Republican members of the Florida House of Representatives chastised a Democratic colleague today for uttering the word 'uterus' on the House floor during debate. Not that it should matter, but the context was a titillating discussion about deregulation. State Rep. Scott Randolph told the St. Petersburg Times that "I always say their philosophy is small government for the big guy and big government for the little guy. And so, if my wife's uterus was incorporated or my friend's bedroom was incorporated, maybe they would be talking about deregulating."
A spokeswoman for the House GOP said the (male) Republican Speaker was concerned about "language that would be considered inappropriate for children and other guests," particularly underage congressional pages.
Yeah, it is silly.

But once again, not really that silly. Note that the discussion was about deregulation. The Republicans want all markets deregulated and all uteri strictly regulated. That's the real reason why they didn't want that particular word mentioned in that particular context.

Though "scrotum" does have the makings of a good cussword. Try it.

He is Ba-a-ck! Santorum, That is.

I have enjoyed a break from his Taliban views but nothing lasts forever, alas. Rick Santorum wants to be the boss of us all (president) and so he is making statements like this:
Social Security's future insolvency problem is caused in part by abortion, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said Tuesday.

The presidential aspirant and devout social conservative told a New Hampshire radio station on Tuesday that the cash shortfalls facing the 76-year-old Social Security system could be lessened if not for the country's "abortion culture." He was responding to a caller who made similar comments.

"Well, a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion," he said. "We are depopulating this country, and we're seeing the birth rate is below replacement rate for the first time in history."
Then the writer I link to goes on to figure out pay rates and such for the aborted Americans.

But why stop there? Surely birth control is stopping many more Americans from being born than abortion! We should ban birth control. If every woman had, say, six children, and if each of those six children one day earned 60,000 dollars a year and...

This is stupid. But it is also part of the war against women by certain right-wing groups. They see women as fields for children to be grown in and want to have control over those fields, either because of race-wars or because of the power that comes with large populations or because of fiscal reasons. Or all of them.

At the same time, those very same groups are the ones who oppose parental leaves, daycare, public schools, affordable health care and all the other things which might make having children easier. It's all whip and no carrot for us women.

Exasperated and Frustrated

Those are the reasons for my block. I am exasperated and frustrated because difficult topics are treated as easy in the mainstream media and easy topics are treated as difficult. And my tiny whiny voice is not heard! (Stamps tiny foot angrily).

For an example of the first error, notice how the possible school cheating scandal is discussed. The discussion rarely addresses the great complications in trying to measure what it is that schools actually produce or the way in which the testing systems themselves have now become what students AND teachers study and manipulate. But to write about all that would take me a ten-part series of posts. And no, I'm not saying that we shouldn't test learning.

An example of the second error can be found in the whole idea that we should tax the rich less so that tax revenues wouldn't be so volatile. The article I link to below goes on and on about the serious problems the reliance on taxing the rich has caused the states, necessarily suggesting that states should start taxing the poor and the people in the middle more by adapting a flat tax system or by using sales taxes. Or anything else that would leave the rich more money after taxes, really.

It's one of those ignore-the-man-behind-the-curtain articles, from the title which says "The Top One Percent of Earners Fill The Coffers of States..." Only much later in the body of the article do we learn that the top one percent earns at least 20% of all income and that this share has been increasing from 13% twenty years ago. In short, income inequality is increasing, and that is the real problem.

But we are asked to look elsewhere! We are sold the idea that volatility of tax revenues is such a bad problem that states should consider getting much lower but stable tax revenues instead. That makes no sense, because IF volatility really is such a problem, states could adjust their budgets to that by setting money aside during boom times and by spending out of that fund during slumps. The article does refer to this possibility but only to mention that they haven't really worked out:
Rainy-day funds, which can help bail out governments during recessions, have also run into political opposition or proven too small to save state budgets.
Guess who the political opposition comes from? The people who loved the article I wrote about.

My apologies for writing this out but it's part of the plumbing work about the block.

Blocked Blogging

Is there a plumbing service for a blogger's block? Those words together sound like a clog in the arteries, too.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Oddest Story of the Day: The Price of Taxing the Rich

And there were many to pick from, including the bad manners of the Dane County Republican Party in Wisconsin and Sean Duffy's difficulties of getting by on only 174,000 dollars.

But this story I just read is the weirdest of all:
Nearly half of California's income taxes before the recession came from the top 1% of earners: households that took in more than $490,000 a year. High earners, it turns out, have especially volatile incomes—their earnings fell by more than twice as much as the rest of the population's during the recession. When they crashed, they took California's finances down with them.


This growing dependence on wealthy taxpayers is being driven by soaring salaries at the top of the income ladder and by the nation's progressive income taxes, which levy the highest rates on the highest taxable incomes. The top federal income-tax rate has fallen dramatically over the past century, from more than 90% during World War II to 35% today. But the top tax rate—which applies to joint filers reporting $379,000 in taxable income—is still twice as high as the rate for joint filers reporting income of $69,000 or less.


"These revenues have a narcotic effect on legislatures," said Greg Torres, president of MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank. "They become numb to the trend and think the revenue picture is improving, but they don't realize the money is ephemeral."
Kicking the addiction has proven difficult, since it's so fraught with partisan politics. Republicans advocate lowering taxes on the wealthy to broaden state tax bases and reduce volatility. Democrats oppose the move, saying a less progressive tax system would only add to growing income inequality.


Historically, California's tax revenues tracked the broader state economy. Yet in the mid-1990s, Mr. Williams noticed that they had started to diverge. Employment was barely growing while income-tax revenue was soaring.
"It was like we suddenly had two different economies," Mr. Williams said. "There was the California economy and then there were personal income taxes."
In all his years of forecasting, he had rarely encountered such a puzzle. He did some economic sleuthing and discovered that most of the growth was coming from a small group of high earners. The average incomes of the top 20% of Californian earners (households making $95,000 in 1998) jumped by an inflation-adjusted 75% between 1980 and 1998, while incomes for the rest of the state grew by less than 3% over the same period. Capital-gains realizations—largely stock sales—quadrupled between 1994 and 1999, to nearly $80 billion.
Mr. Williams reported his findings in early 2000, in a report called "California's Changing Income Distribution," which was widely circulated in the state capital. He wrote that state tax collections would be "subject to more volatility than in the past."
Mr. Williams wasn't the only one noticing the state's dependence on the wealthy. Economists and governors had for years lamented the state's high tax rates on the rich, and in 2009 a bipartisan commission set up by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recommended an across-the-board reduction in income-tax rates and a broader sales tax to reduce the state's dependence on the wealthy.
And so on and so on. It's a shocking article, though you may have to read it a few times to get the message: States should tax the rich less because the income of the rich is too volatile and too hard to predict and because it goes up in boom times and down in slump times. If the poorer income classes bore a bigger share of taxes we would have less volatility!

The alternative conclusion is the obvious one: The rich are taxed because that's who has the money.

The American income distribution is very unequal, the engines of economy are now very dependent on the super-rich (as they were right before the 1929 Wall Street Crash) and we should focus on fixing that particular problem. But yeah, I guess the alternative is to Leave The Rich Alone and cut back on all forms of government spending, including the infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in Arizona. Or Wombs as The Sites of Sexism and Racism.

Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed into law:
a controversial bill that makes the state the first in the nation to outlaw abortions performed on the basis of the race or gender of the fetus.
The move comes as anti-abortion groups across the nation try to seize on gains made by political conservatives during the November elections, seeking enactment of new state laws to further restrict abortions.
Under the new Arizona statute, doctors and other medical professionals would face felony charges if they could be shown to have performed abortions for the purposes of helping parents select their offspring on the basis of gender or race.
Monica Potts notes that this seems to be a nonsense bill on its surface:
It's really clear that the law just limits abortion rights. Sex-selection in abortions would be a real problem -- if it actually were a problem. I've tried, and failed, to imagine a scenario in which a mother, pregnant with her child and the child of her chosen partner, would suddenly discriminate against the fetus based on race, so that seems an invented problem as well.
Mmm. Monica is correct that this bill is just one drop in the gigantic new flood of anti-choice legislation in all those Republican-dominated state governments. But there's a different reason for proposing it, and that is the old divide et impera strategy: It tries to set the liberal/progressive ideals of gender and racial equity AGAINST the liberal/progressive ideal of reproductive choice for women! (That reproductive choice is necessary (though not sufficient) for true gender equality is something the forced-birthers hope we don't notice.)

Thus, this bill suggests that the places where the fights for gender and race equality happen are the uteri of women:
Backers of the measure said the ban is needed to put an end to sex- and race-related discrimination that exists in Arizona and throughout the nation.
This is utterly ridiculous. But not so ridiculous when you note that in another anti-abortion campaign the message is all about race genocide.

First there was the billboard stating that the most dangerous place for an African-American child is in the womb. Next came the billboard asking whether black women might be aborting the next Obama:
Anti-abortion billboards featuring President Barack Obama and stating that a potential president is aborted every 21 minutes have a media stir in the last 24 hours.  But Black Women for Reproductive Justice, a member of the Trust Black Women Coalition, make it clear that these billboards do the black community on the whole a disservice.
Toni Bond Leonard, BWRJ President/CEO, says “The groups behind these heinous attacks upon Black women care nothing about Black children or the Black community. These are some of the same groups who fought against healthcare reform and oppose government safety net programs that would directly benefit Black women, our families and our communities.”

Divide et impera, as I said. But this is also yet another example of the anti-abortion strategy which tries to twist the arguments for abortion rights into its opposite. Banning abortions protects women, we are told, and you can still read the old misinformation about abortion and breast cancer on several sites. Even one Justice of the Supreme Court has wondered if having reproductive choice is really in the best interest of women.

And hence the banning of sex-selective abortions in the state of Arizona. How could a feminist support the (in this case quite theoretical) abortion of female fetuses just because they are female?

Look what is happening in China and in India where abortions are used for sex selection! It is girls they don't want! We are going to but a stop to that right here in Arizona.

Or that's how I imagine the argument goes. But banning sex-selective abortions isn't going to stop the reason for them: Many societies don't value girls or women. As long as that is true, daughters will be less desired than sons. Fix that problem and sex-selection in abortions will become rare. As I mentioned, this doesn't work in reverse. If anything, restricting women's reproductive choices will lower their relative standing in societies which value the traditionally male characteristics of work outside the home and independence.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Supremes, Wal-Mart and Class Action Suits

Picture of some of the plaintiffs in the Wal-Mart case. Betty Dukes, after whom the case is named, is the first person from the right.

I have written on this very topic before! What that earlier post says is pretty much the message of this one, too, except that today is the day the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the sex discrimination case concerning Wal-Mart.

The arguments are not about whether Wal-Mart is guilty of discriminating against women, especially in promotions into management, but about whether the case qualifies as a class action suit or not. A pro-business court (by about five to four) is unlikely to find for the plaintiff but a goddess can always hope to be wrong about that.

This is why the case is important:
The potential impact of the case stems not so much from the size of the Dukes class as from how the case will influence the very survival of certain types of class actions. At issue is whether it will become more difficult for plaintiffs who seek monetary relief for systemic misconduct to meet the class action criteria. This is important because for many employees and others, a class action is their only meaningful access to the courts. Moreover, class actions are important to the civil justice system because of the substantial time and cost savings they provide the courts and parties. The Dukes case has the potential to redefine the terms on which this critical procedural device is available.
Thus, the case is ultimately more about Firms' Rights than anything else. If the court sides with Wal-Mart, the costs of future discrimination suits will rise. If the court sides with Betty Dukes and the other plaintiffs, firms which discriminate against some worker group will lose. So.

Wal-Mart argues that the cases are too numerous and diverse to qualify as a class action suit, and also seems to argue that it's the fault of people in lower management, not the company head-quarters. You see, the headquarters gave those lower management people lots of latitude in determining pay and promotions!

Given those arguments about the cases being too diverse, it is interesting to look at some of the plaintiff summaries:

Here are summaries suggesting that men were promoted with less seniority than women:
Ms. Steele then spent the next three years trying to get re-promoted to store manager. She never got promoted past grocery co-manager and men received almost all of the more than 24 positions for which she applied. While Ms. Steele had over four years’ store manager experience, many of these men had no experience as a store manager.

Ms. Stevenson requested promotion to management positions in the hopes that she could move up and, ultimately, retire with the company. Her dreams were shattered, however, after she was repeatedly denied the staff she needed to perform her responsibilities as an overnight supervisor while she watched as male managers supported and promoted less experienced male employees.

Mrs. McLamb regularly expressed an interest in promotion to several store managers and district managers. At one point, she was required to commit, in writing, to working overnights for a full two years. Male assistant managers were only required to rotate through the overnight position on a six-month basis. Mrs. McLamb was also passed over for management positions in favor of less experienced and less qualified men.

Claudia Renati began working at a Sam's Club in Roseville, California in 1993 as a marketing membership team leader. Early on, Ms. Renati became responsible for running the marketing programs in the region after the regional sales manager left. After two years of performing the tasks of both positions without the additional pay or the correct job title, she asked the director of operations to promote her into the position. He refused because she had not gone through the Management Training Program. Over the next couple of years, the position of marketing manager was filled by several male next-door neighbors of the director of operations. None had gone through management training and none had experience in marketing. Ms. Renati was responsible for training these less qualified and less experienced men who were hired to be her supervisors. Over the next several years, Ms. Renati trained approximately 20 male managers, many of whom never went through the Management Training Program nor were required to relocate. Ms. Renati continued to be passed over for promotions for positions that were consistently filled by males with no prior management experience and less seniority. At one point, the director of operations told Ms. Renati that before she could become a manager, she would be required to stack 50-pound bags of dog food as a floor team leader. When Ms. Renati indicated that she could not repeatedly lift 50 pounds, he told her he could not help her advance. Ms. Renati is aware of several male employees who never had to become floor team leader, nor were required to stack 50-pound bags of dog food in order to enter the Management Training Program.

And so on. The point, of course, is to note how very similar these reports are, focusing on promotion rules which differ by gender. Not all the summaries are about promotions, true. But all of them are about different rules for men and women when it comes to determining occupational success in either pay or promotions. Even that old hoary argument about men being the proper wage-earners cropped up repeatedly as an excuse for paying women less or for not promoting them.

All these are the statements of only the plaintiffs, naturally. The case itself has not yet been tried. But I don't see the cases as that diverse. Numerous? Probably. That might be a pretty good reason to try them en masse.
For more on women and class action suits, check out this study.

Trigger Warning: "The devil is in full control." (by res ipsa loquitur)

The NYT is up with a follow-up to its shameful story about the gang rape of an eleven-year-old Texas child. (If you're blocked by the paywall, search for "New York Times" plus the headline ("3-Month Nightmare Emerges in Rape Inquiry") and go in via a search engine.)

You'll recall that the NYT's public editor declared that writer James C. McKinley's original story "lacked balance" (as though there are two, equally valid points of view regarding rape). So the first thing to note about the follow-up is the byline: McKinley has been given adult supervision in the form of a co-writer, Erica Goode.

The "boys" who elicited such sympathy from the community and whose plight so obviously touched the NYT have morphed into "an eclectic group of young men". Some phrases associated with these young men -- and the men in whose homes the attacks are said to have occurred -- include "on probation for burglary", "registered sex offender", "murder charges," "manslaughter", "robbing a grocery store," and "out on bond while awaiting trial on rape and robbery charges".

We also learn (finally and crucially):

In Texas, a child under 17 cannot give legal consent and as in most states, ignorance off a child's age is not a legal defense.

Wow! Would educating your readers by including that bit of information on the first go-round have been so very difficult?

You don't need to worry, a whiff of suspicion still clings to this eleven-year-old who, we learn, was tall for her age and who wanted to be a fashion model. And we get some excuses explanation for the initial NYT story:

The Cleveland police and the local district attorney have released little information about the alleged rapes and the evidence, and their silence has allowed rumor and speculation to flourish.

That sentence should probably have ended with the phrase "in the community and in the NYT newsroom", but I'm being picky.

There's more to digest and dissect here, but it's 3 AM and I've got to try to get some sleep before work, so I'll leave the rest to you in comments and additional posts.

Monday, March 28, 2011

When the Berlin Wall Fell. Echidne Thinks About International Politics.

My first emotion was intense fear. My next emotion was guilt because I should have been as joyous as others were. But the fear came from wondering how the balance of the world would be changed with the end of communism. The fall of the Soviet Union made one of the cups of the scale lighter and the scale tipped towards what now looks like unbridled and mafia-like capitalism.

The United States quickly acquired a new international enemy to take the place of communism: radical Islam. But that enemy doesn't serve the restraining purposes the Soviet Union did. If anything, many of the ideas in radical Islam are simply stronger versions of those American social conservatives already hold, and the fact that the most recent imaginary monster in the minds of American religious conservatives, for example, is a religious one, makes the religious right join with the corporate interests in fighting the new cold war.

This is very bad news for women. Where the old Soviet Union created pressure for Americans to educate their own girls and women in science (because the commies were doing it), what social pressure do the ideas of radical Islam place on the United States religious or anti-feminist right? Indeed, the reverse applies. American anti-feminists can now tell women that if they don't like the current society, just imagine how they would fare under the Taliban!

It is pretty clear that the old Soviet Union wasn't a feminist paradise. What I have learned about today's Russia suggests that old sex roles were officially put in the freezer for the duration of the Soviet Union, then defrosted and presented as eternal truths again. Russian women are routinely discriminated against in hiring, firing and promotions and domestic abuse rarely gets taken seriously.

This doesn't matter for my current argument, because it was the reaction of the west to the Soviet Union that changed the dialogue about the place of women. We have lost that countervailing power.

Likewise in the case of the markets. The mess in the housing and financial markets owes much to the lax or nonexistent government regulation and that, in turn, became the fashion right around the time the Berlin Wall fell. Because capitalism won! There was no longer much reason to fear a socialized system doing better, and nothing stopped powerful critics from trying to demolish many government activities in the west. They were successful as we know from the results.

The current class war against the working and middle classes links to this, too, and in pretty obvious ways. The United States and China both as unbridled capitalists! The global markets assigning jobs to those who accept a bowl of rice a day as their salary! What external pressures are there to stop workers from having their wages and pensions cut? The other cup in the scales remains empty.

The Problem With American Exceptionalism

The concept of American exceptionalism keeps cropping up. It's like those little weeds sprouting out of the dark earth in late March. Makes one wonder who scattered this year's seeds.

In any case, I did some reading on the concept and found this:
Mitt Romney:
Well, first, I support military action in Libya. I support our troops there and the mission that they’ve been given. But let me also note that thus far, the President has been unable to construct a foreign policy, any foreign policy. I think it’s fair to ask, you know, what is it that explains the absence of any discernable foreign policy from the president of the United States? And I believe that it flows from his fundamental disbelief in American exceptionalism. In the President’s world, all nations have common interests, the lines between good an evil are blurred, America’s history merits apology. And without a compass to guide him in our increasingly turbulent world, he’s tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced.
(The anti-feminist) Counterpunch has a long article on the origins and meaning of the term:
Attributed to Tocqueville in Democracy in America published back in 1835, the concept serves as the justification and fortification for American conservative politics. On one hand the concept is so broad as to practically lose meaning. It has ranged from geographical attributes to resource abundance to immigration numbers to economic systems. In The Myth of American Exceptionalism Godfrey Hodgson writes:
Observing the sheer density of the claims made for the uniqueness of the American experience and the exceptional qualities of American society, however, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that they are motivated at least in part by a wish to believe in them
On one level it’s not difficult to render the idea of American Exceptionalism to the realm of mythology. After all despite America being established in the so called New World its philosophical foundation came from the philosophy of Europe’s Enlightenment and religion. Even the great western frontier expansion was powered by European investment, European markets, and not to mention European immigration. Plus if immigration and diversity are so much a part of the exceptionalism imagery would that not limit the idea of American as one exceptional, unified culture, or would its multiculturalism paradoxically be a big part of its exceptional nature? 
Sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset in American Exceptionalism: a Double-Edged Sword broke its meaning down to five terms: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire.

Whatever the specific meaning of the term is, just imagine how it will be received abroad by all those unexceptional people. Or think of the most arrogant self-satisfied asshat you know and then think of that asshat crashing your party and telling you that your food stinks, your interior decoration is abominable and your wine is of the wrong vintage.

The other problem with believing too hard in American exceptionalism comes from the resulting inability to learn anything from other countries. If this country is so exceptional nothing happening elsewhere is applicable. And that means having to reinvent the wheel over and over again.

Today's Great Picture

Feminazi and proud.

From here.

The text in the sign reads:

Because wanting to be treated like a HUMAN BEING is JUST LIKE invading Poland.

Lance Corporal Kylie Watson

Lance Corporal is a British medic who was awarded the Military Cross for bravery:
Lance Corporal Kylie Watson, 23, tried to resuscitate one casualty as bullets smashed into the dust around her in a totally exposed position for 20 minutes.

She was also forced to use her SA80A2 rifle in anger firing 15 rounds to help defend her patrol during an ambush.

The LCpl also ran 100 metres under fire to save the life of another ANA soldier who had been shot through the pelvis.

His Afghan comrades were unhappy about a woman treating the wounded man and tried to stop her.

The Lance Corporal from Ballymena, who stands 5'1" tall, said: "I told them straight (through an interpreter), 'If I don't treat him, he dies. There is no argument, he is getting treated.
I came across this story while looking for something else. Bravery is one of those characteristics which some view as male rather than as human. That makes published examples of female bravery important. That this example is in a traditionally male field doesn't hurt.

News of these kinds of awards are like honey for the woman-hating bears, though. The comments to the story (by last night) did include a few by one person who felt that men do what Lance Corporal Watson did quite routinely and don't get awards for it, that women have wrecked the British military and so on. But only one. Which was nice.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sleepless Night Thoughts [Anthony McCarthy]

I've mentioned here before that, contrary to the stereotype of the Irish, neither my parents nor my grandparents drank. Of my great aunts and uncles I know of, only one of them drank and he was a hopeless alcoholic, infamous in his town as a loud, belligerent drunk but who was known to those who knew him as a gentle, kind man when he was sober. I say he was a hopeless alcoholic because that's his story, he died from the effects of alcoholism in the 1930s, he couldn't control it. I wouldn't be surprised if it was not from the witness of his sad life that my grandparents and parents avoided alcohol except on ceremonial occasions when they might take a sip out of convention. The minimal involvement with temperance in our family tradition takes the form of a single in-law, whose arguments on prohibition were rather definitively shattered by the failed national experience in the 1920s.

In my generation and next one, drinking became more common, none of us ever saw Uncle Jimmy, we only heard the stories. Some of us drink, some of us don't. Among my nieces and nephews, it's more common than in my generation. I used to drink, and I enjoyed it, but I haven't had it in many years because I liked it too much and it had a deleterious effect on my music.

One of my brothers who drinks is an alcoholic who has been in and out of short term rehabilitation, the three day dry out, and has been seeing a psychiatrist for years and has been getting steadily worse. Long term committal isn't available to him and he would reject it if it was.

This month he appears to be determined to drink himself to death, if he doesn't die in a car crash before then. He is in imminent danger of losing his house and his job, and with his job will go his ability to see a psychiatrist or pay for the in-hospital dry outs. It's a painful reflection of my family's previous experience with the mental health industry, which I have written about here before, which I will not go into again.

In our desperation to help him quit drinking about the only thing we've got left is encouraging him to try Alcoholics Anonymous. If he loses his job, as he could as soon as tomorrow, it will be the only health care possibility that will be open to him. Unlike the ineffective psychiatrist and hospitalizations, it's open to people without money.

Unfortunately, he knows all the current rote lines about AA.

There is the line that it is “woo” because it is “statistically ineffective”. Though as is obvious from those who have quit through it, for them it has been effective. The statistical ineffectiveness of “science based” psychiatry, for him, is proved.

Then there's the line that it's replacing one addiction, going to meetings, for another. Though AA meetings are not known to increase your chances of dying, being injured, losing your job, destroying or causing enormous suffering to your family, etc. As I mentioned, his drinking could lead to all of those as soon as this week.

And, of course, there is the line that AA is “religious”, one of the more popular things said these days in the effort to make it taboo. Though we can point to people who have quit drinking through AA who are not religious, two of whom we know.

Most absurd of all is the line that it's no guarantee to work, that people who stop through it, resume drinking. That is true of every methods of stopping, including the “science based” ones. Including sobriety, itself. You might as well say that all of us are in danger of stepping into a death trap of addiction.

That any or all of these lines are something to be eagerly grasped onto by an alcoholic, just more excuses to not try to stop drinking and an encouragement for them to keep drinking themselves to death, is no surprise to anyone who has witnessed someone doing just that. The last thing an alcoholic needs is to be presented with an excuse to not try dressed up as scientific rationality. They might as well be encouraging a suicide to jump from a building.

So, here I am, on Sunday morning at 3 AM, sitting at the computer, after one more web search for something new to try, thinking about the reason no one in my family is getting much sleep these days. We've seen it before, then it was due to the fatal mental illness of a niece. Tonight it is one of my brothers' alcoholism. Wondering if he's dead in his house or on the street, wondering if he's going to end up killing someone else in a car crash. Or if he's going to lose his job tomorrow, which will just accelerate the death spiral. Wondering what this is doing to our very old, far from well, mother, his son, the rest of us. This has taken up a lot of our thinking. It's put an end to my patience with a number of things.