Monday, September 29, 2008


Found a link to a study about The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years on Neuroanthropology.

I have no idea what to think of it. Apparently having strong social ties to people as they become obese means that you are statistically more likely to become obese.

A person's chances of becoming obese increased by 57% (95% confidence interval [CI], 6 to 123) if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval. Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40% (95% CI, 21 to 60). If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37% (95% CI, 7 to 73). These effects were not seen among neighbors in the immediate geographic location. Persons of the same sex had relatively greater influence on each other than those of the opposite sex.

Whoa, what?
To the extent that obesity is a product of voluntary choices or behaviors, the fact that people are embedded in social networks and are influenced by the evident appearance and behaviors of those around them suggests that weight gain in one person might influence weight gain in others. Having obese social contacts might change a person's tolerance for being obese or might influence his or her adoption of specific behaviors (e.g., smoking, eating, and exercising). In addition to such strictly social mechanisms, it is plausible that physiological imitation might occur; areas of the brain that correspond to actions such as eating food may be stimulated if these actions are observed in others.

I'm glad that statisticians are actually looking at the fact that social networks influence the choices of individuals (since I think asserting otherwise is pretty stupid), but this was something I hadn't expected.
We considered three explanations for the clustering of obese people. First, egos might choose to associate with like alters ("homophily"). Second, egos and alters might share attributes or jointly experience unobserved contemporaneous events that cause their weight to vary at the same time (confounding). Third, alters might exert social influence or peer effects on egos ("induction"). Distinguishing the interpersonal induction of obesity from homophily requires dynamic, longitudinal network information about the emergence of ties between people ("nodes") in a network and also about the attributes of nodes (i.e., repeated measures of the body-mass index).

The use of a time-lagged dependent variable (lagged to the previous examination) eliminated serial correlation in the errors (evaluated with a Lagrange multiplier test) and also substantially controlled for the ego's genetic endowment and any intrinsic, stable predisposition to obesity. The use of a lagged independent variable for an alter's weight status controlled for homophily. The key variable of interest was an alter's obesity at time t+1. A significant coefficient for this variable would suggest either that an alter's weight affected an ego's weight or that an ego and an alter experienced contemporaneous events affecting both their weights.

Do we have any statisticians in the house? I find this very interesting, but I'm not qualified to judge their methodology well.

If anybody is interested, there's a 28-minute video on social contagion of obesity. I'm just now watching it, so I can't tell you just yet whether it's incredibly offensive or what. It's got the scientists who did this study in it, so it's worth watching.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ohio Mosque Attacked

Here is an article about something that happened in Dayton, Ohio yesterday. I lived there with my boyfriend's family for a summer, so I was dismayed to find that this had occurred (and more so to find that it was not really being reported on except locally).

Saturday, September 27, 2008 DAYTON — Baboucarr Njie was preparing for his prayer session Friday night, Sept. 26, when he heard children in the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton coughing. Soon, Njie himself was overcome with fits of coughing and, like the rest of those in the building, headed for the doors.

"I would stay outside for a minute, then go back in, there were a lot of kids," Njie said. "My throat is still itchy, I need to get some milk."

Njie was one of several affected when a suspected chemical irritant was sprayed into the mosque at 26 Josie St., bringing Dayton police, fire and hazardous material personnel to the building at 9:48 p.m.

Someone "sprayed an irritant into the mosque," Dayton fire District Chief Vince Wiley said, noting that fire investigators believe it was a hand-held spray can.

According to fire dispatch communications, a child reported seeing two men with a white can spraying something into a window. That child was brought to the supervising firefighter at the scene.

Wiley would not discuss that report, but said the investigation has been turned over to police. Police were not commenting.

The 300 or so inside were celebrating the last 10 days of Ramadan with dinner and a prayer session, but the prayer session was interrupted so those suffering from tearing, coughing and shortness of breath could receive treatment.

It would probably mean a lot if the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton got some support right now, since the media is ignoring this terrorist attack on Americans by Americans. I don't want ISGD to get the idea that other Americans think it's okay to gas 300 people as long as they happen to be Muslim.

Their contact info is:
26 Josie Street,
Dayton, OH 45403
Tel: (937) 228-1503

It is a sick sick child who disobeys authority: APA

In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association added an interesting diagnosis to the DSM IV. Let's set aside their tendency to create diagnostic criteria for every imaginable human condition with fetishistic thoroughness. I'll assume you're aware that they do this, even if they're no longer classifying all homosexuals as victims of disease. I want to talk about a specific instance that has become a bit more high-profile recently.

The APA found a way to medicalize juvenile rebellion: Oppositional Defiant Disorder. No really. Never mind that Margaret Mead concluded that teen rebellion is largely a phenomenon of American culture. We won't worry about that. Here's what we'll worry about: the medicalization of deviance.

Now, this is nothing new. When a woman was unhappy in a life without any real agency, she was called a hysteric, her discontent being the result of her own sickness rather than oppressive conditions. They used to say that slaves who ran away from their masters must surely be mentally ill, for what slave in his or her right mind would do such an inconvenient and noncompliant thing?

It turns out that if your child has frequent temper tantrums, argues "excessively" with adults, and exhibits "active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules," he or she might be mentally ill. In the second grade classroom where I volunteered in high school, they called these kids "emotionally handicapped," and at least a couple were kept so tranquilized by medication that they slept through the day's lessons on a beanbag in the corner. The worst I observed in any of them (when sober) was one boy telling the other children what he'd read about extraterrestrials. Clearly this child is a threat to himself and everyone else around him. Someone call the APA.

Keep in mind that ODD isn't the same thing as conduct disorder. That's a separate disorder in which a child is actually acting out instead of simply making a nuisance of themselves verbally.

The official symptoms of ODD include "often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules" and "often argues with adults." While ODD-diagnosed young people are obnoxious with adults they don't respect, these kids can be a delight with adults they do respect; yet many of them are medicated with psychotropic drugs. (Levine at AlterNet)

Because of the history of medicalizing deviance (exemplified by the historical diagnoses of female hysteria and drapetomania), this makes me nervous. It turns dissatisfaction with one's lot--and according noncompliance to those who perpetuate it--into a sickness, thereby delegitimizing it. Aside from the fact that it's annoying as hell, why would doctors encourage the delegitimization of noncompliant behavior? Levine offers an interesting suggestion.

While there are several reasons for behavioral disruptiveness and emotional difficulties, rebellion against an oppressive environment is one common reason that is routinely not even considered by many mental health professionals. Why? It is my experience that many mental health professionals are unaware of how extremely obedient they are to authorities. Acceptance into medical school and graduate school and achieving a Ph.D. or M.D. means jumping through many meaningless hoops, all of which require much behavioral, attentional and emotional compliance to authorities -- even disrespected ones. When compliant M.D.s and Ph.D.s begin seeing noncompliant patients, many of these doctors become anxious, sometimes even ashamed of their own excessive compliance, and this anxiety and shame can be fuel for diseasing normal human reactions.

If you need any further evidence that psychiatrists expect children to be as compliant as they are, check this out.
The skill of compliance—defined as the capacity to defer or delay one’s own goals in response to the imposed goals or standards of an authority figure—can be considered one of many developmental expressions of a young child’s evolving capacities in the domains of adaptation, internalization, self-regulation, and affective modulation. (Source here.)

Granted, I understand that kids need to learn that what they want is not always necessarily the best first priority, but the way this is worded suggests to me that Levine may be onto something. The "skill of compliance," of subordinating your will to the will of another, is so important that if you can't do it right... they may have to drug you.

If you need a further indication that compliant children are more valuable than noncompliant ones, chew on this.
One of the most pervasive ad campaigns draws on the rhetoric of homeland security to label youth defiance “The War at Home,” urging a corrections mentality on the family: “The focus of treatment should be on compliance and coping skills, not on self-esteem or personality. ODD is not a self-esteem issue; it’s a problem solving issue.” (Source.)

Norm Diamond suggests that delegitimizing noncompliance this way actually hampers the ability of diagnosed children to develop proper critical thinking skills. Critical thinking requires a willingness to question, to argue. If a child is judged to be excessively noncompliant by the authority figures who have an interest in seeing them comply (parents, teachers, psychiatrists treating them), the child may be too tranquilized by medication to actually turn their noncompliance into a vital cognitive skill. As a result, they won't develop that skill. He goes further (but not much further) and suggests that excessive compliance is much more alarming, and created a parody diagnosis of "Compliance Aquiescant Disorder," characterized by blaming of oneself or other individuals for social problems, staying restrained when outrage is warranted, and failure to argue back.

The fact that psychiatrists have medicalized ODD and not CAD says a lot about what they perceived to be "problem" behavior in children. That really takes away a lot of their credibility for me in diagnosing children with ODD. Another problem is that children with ODD are often going to present with comorbid mental illnesses like ADHD, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or language impairments. For example, if a kid has ADHD and ODD, you can treat the ADHD and it'll generally help both.

Imagine that. You treat the mental disability that actually has a biochemical component, and the disorder characterized by resentment, frustration, and anger gets better! Who'd have imagined it, right? I guess this was news to these guys. "Clearly, characterization and treatment of oppositional defiant disorder on the basis of comorbid presentations is an area worthy of significant research attention. The high prevalence of oppositional defiant disorder within other clinical populations also deserves additional attention." You mean people being treated for mental illness can become resentful and rebellious? No way.

It seems to me that if by treating an actual illness you can simultaneously make ODD go away that ODD may not really make too much sense as a unique diagnosis.

Really, the best thing about medicalizing deviance from the point of view of the population with authority (men in the case of hysteria, whites in the case of drapetomania, and adults in the case of ODD) is that it isn't your fault. You haven't done anything wrong, and there's nothing wrong with society. The only changes that need to be made are within the twisted and maladapted mind of the disenfranchised "noncompliant" person.

Medicalizing the noncompliance of children does the same thing. It takes a child who is reacting in an understandable way to their environment and labels their mistrust of authority figures a disease. Studies show that children with ODD are more likely to have difficult home lives. According to this study, children with dysfunctional home lives are more likely to be the ones presenting with ODD. As the study states in its abstract, "families of oppositional defiant disorder youth with or without conduct disorder were characterized by significantly poorer cohesion and significantly higher conflict." It doesn't give any causation here. You could just as easily argue that they create hostile home environments as you could argue that the home environment makes them that way.

I am swayed toward the first argument because of the way I've read ODD is evidently managed.

Parents can help their child with ODD in the following ways:
  • Always build on the positives, give the child praise and positive reinforcement when he shows flexibility or cooperation.

  • Take a time‑out or break if you are about to make the conflict with your child worse, not better. This is good modeling for your child. Support your child if he decides to take a time‑out to prevent overreacting.
  • Pick your battles. Since the child with ODD has trouble avoiding power struggles, prioritize the things you want your child to do. (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)

Look at these treatments. What doctors are telling parents is essentially, "It's not your fault your child has never learned to deal with conflict. They're just sick. Nonetheless, all the solutions we know to give you are changes you need to make in your behavior."

Here's my perspective on it. If a child comes from a home environment in which parents are, for example, handling conflicts in ways that make them worse instead of better, how are they supposed to know how to act when conflict occurs outside the home? The changes that parents are recommended to make suggest to me what kind of a home environment these kids are coming from.

Look in particular at the section about picking battles. It basically comes down to, "if you start a power struggle, the kid won't back down. So try not to turn everything into a dominance play." If I came from a home environment in which every suggestion was an enforcement of dominance, in which parents make conflicts worse instead of better by having emotional outbursts, I would probably develop a healthy distrust for the legitimacy of authority as well.

Oh, wait, that's right.

I did.

Here's the personal anecdote section. I realize that the plural of "anecdote" is not "data," but there's something to be said for an insider perspective.

In retrospect, I was not a terribly defiant child. I was just told that I was by a parent who turned every conflict into a battle for dominance that we both knew I must lose. I learned the art of invisibility early on. Creep through the house silently to avoid attention if you can't afford to be noticed just then. Always come when you're called; drop everything, no matter how important. If you make a mess in a public area of the house, clean it up like you were never there, because if you can be detected you have created an inconvenience for the adult who must put things to rights. There is no respectful way to point out when a parent just plain is not making sense.

And y'know what? I humiliated teachers I didn't respect by mercilessly tearing apart every inconsistency and perceived flaw in everything they did, and I did it in front of everyone. Every single person who treated me like an idiot child got the full brunt of my open disgust that they were in a position of authority. Things were different in science classes, or social studies. Here were teachers who knew important things, things I liked. In these classes I took detailed color-coded notes, relished every project, and in general was the most attentive student around. Sometimes I was a dreaded troublemaker, and sometimes I was teacher's pet.

If a teacher gave me the slightest notice as a bright little girl who wanted something interesting to do, I'd probably have gone to war to defend their honor. My ability to control myself was not magically improved in classes I enjoyed, which means that my self-control or "compliance skill" was not the problem. The problem was that I didn't obey people I didn't respect.

I would have been diagnosed with ODD. I spent so much time submitting to an authority I perceived to be unjust that I absolutely would not let any other one like it have sway over me.

Tell me why we want children to learn to submit to perceived injustice again? In what was once alleged to be the land of the free and home of the brave, we are drugging children who are too free and brave for the comfort of authority figures who are accustomed to commanding the respect of subordinate humans instead of earning it. Why are we taking their side?

I'll end with a question posed by Levine on AlterNet (and I'll ask you to forgive his excessive blaming of "Big Pharma," because otherwise his argument is sound).
In every generation there will be authoritarians. There will also be the "bohemian bourgeois" who may enjoy anti-authoritarian books, music, and movies but don't act on them. And there will be genuine anti-authoritarians, who are so pained by exploitive hierarchies that they take action. Only occasionally in American history do these genuine anti-authoritarians actually take effective direct action that inspires others to successfully revolt, but every once in a while a Tom Paine comes along. So authoritarians take no chances, and the state-corporate partnership criminalizes anti-authoritarianism, pathologizes it, markets drugs to "cure" it and financially intimidates those who might buck the system.

It would certainly be a dream of Big Pharma and those who favor an authoritarian society if every would-be Tom Paine -- or Crazy Horse, Tecumseh, Emma Goldman or Malcolm X -- were diagnosed as a youngster with mental illness and quieted with a lifelong regimen of chill pills. The question is: Has this dream become reality?

Friday, September 26, 2008

This is Your Nation on White Privilege

Absolutely incredible article on white privilege by Tim Wise.

Read this. You guys all know by now that the term "privilege" is not something I'm comfortable with, but limitations of jargon aside... this essay is fantastic.

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll “kick their fuckin' ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

Yeah, so. No surprise. Palin's benefiting from the privileged position her race gives her. She's allowed to claim all sorts of goofy-ass things that no minority could get away with. We knew this. But how in the world can people pretend it doesn't matter?
White privilege is being able to give a 36-minute speech in which you talk about lipstick and make fun of your opponent, while laying out no substantive policy positions on any issue at all, and still manage to be considered a legitimate candidate, while a black person who gives an hour speech the week before, in which he lays out specific policy proposals on several issues, is still criticized for being too vague about what he would do if elected.

White privilege is being able to go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and Harvard Business School (George W. Bush), and still be seen as an "average guy," while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then Harvard Law, makes you "uppity" and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks.

White privilege is being able to graduate near the bottom of your college class (McCain), or graduate with a C average from Yale (W.), and that's OK, and you're still cut out to be president, but if you're black and you graduate near the top of your class from Harvard Law, you can't be trusted to make good decisions in office.

Thanks to One Day for the Watchman for the link to this essay. Lots of people should go read it.

AAA Ethics Code Changes

I was sent an email by the American Anthropological Association about proposed revisions to their ethics guidelines. Check here for specific revisions they're looking at making. Anthropologists have worked with the military before, but it's becoming a more and more pressing concern. I can't give any better a run-down than this article, so I refer you there if you're curious. I'll probably refer back to this latter article a bunch of times because it's great.

I'm just putting down my opinion on the matter.

I was very interested at first to learn about the Human Terrain System. The idea is to have experts in culture on the ground to inform the military about the people they're dealing with. On the surface this sounds fantastic, and my first thought was, "Great. Maybe now our military can stop acting like total ignorant boobs everywhere they go. They'll have someone around who actually cares about understanding culture. What could go wrong?"

Well, I hadn't thought it through.

First off, anthropology started out as a component of colonialism. Imperialists brought experts on the local savages with them, so that they could better subjugate them. I assumed this kind of thing doesn't happen anymore until I realized one day into my Religions of the World 101 course that 2/3 of my classmates were there so that they could be better missionaries. That's right. They wanted to understand local religions better so they'd be more effective in supplanting local culture.

This is disrespectful. Imperialism kinda makes you a dick. I shouldn't have to point out that disrespect of one's informants (the people you're studying) is also unethical. They're helping you with your research, your career. If you can't actually give them something in return (other than the great gift of your superior culture), at least try not to hurt them.

Hurting your informants sucks for many reasons. First is obviously that it makes you a dick. You're hurting people who helped you. The second is that it hurts your field. If you give anthropologists a reputation for being dicks in a discipline that depends heavily on establishing trust with informants, you are hurting your colleagues' chances of doing research as well. If your colleagues are doing research in dangerous areas, it becomes even more important that they have the trust and esteem of their informants, because their informants are also protecting them. So you're also potentially compromising the safety of your colleagues, just because you had to go and be a dick.

The upshot of having anthropologists involved with the military is that whatever credibility anthropologists bring is going to reflect well on the military. They'll look better with us than without us, because at least for a while they'll have people around to tell them how to do stuff right. The downside of this is that their ignorance and destructiveness combined with the imperialist mode of our foreign policy makes anthropologists look worse, which means the credibility we're lending troops probably won't last forever. They'll look better for a while, but they'll drag us down and then we won't be able to do our work without building our reputation all over again.

These are all ethical considerations anthropologists have to figure out for themselves, of course. The AAA Ethics Code doesn't have rules so much as what you'd call guidelines. Each individual scholar has to decide whether their work is ethical or unethical given these guidelines, and there's always room for debate. Debate is too much fun (and far too important) to ever get rid of.

Here's another problem with working for the military: Anthropologists need the freedom (and the power) to make decisions about their own work. When an anthropologist is doing fieldwork for any entity (whether a corporation or a government or a foundation, whatever), we give up some of our autonomy. We lose a little of our room to veto things that we view as unethical. However, if we're working for some academic body or other, odds are we're working with and for other scholars who have some idea of why anthropological ethics are important.

You cannot do this as well with the military. If you're working for them, you're working for them. End of line. It's a much more authoritarian structure in which people with power command people with less. If you're a civilian anthropologist, this means you. This is a problem in any situation where you have experts under the thumb of non-experts, and most of the time it's merely annoying or counterproductive. But in the military, anthropologists can get people hurt if we don't have the ability to enforce our own ethics on our own work. As the article I mentioned above states, "Some scholars have been deeply alarmed by reports that social science work has been used by the military to figure out how to degrade or humiliate prisoners from Muslim nations."

I've already explained why hurting your informants is bad. Now I've established that the military can force you to participate in the harm of your informants. This is bad. It's bad for your ethical obligation to your informants, it's bad for your credibility as a scholar (and the credibility of everyone in your discipline), and in the end it's even bad for the military, since once they've squandered all the credibility you once had, they lose you as a resource to bolster their own poor reputation.

"But Ashley," you say. "Not all anthropologists are working in Muslim nations. This isn't just about the Middle East." Quite right. Just because Iraq is the big troublesome example doesn't mean it's the only one that matters. Any country with a foreign military presence is likely to be experiencing a great deal of political pressure. Political pressure from the military power on the local powers creates social and cultural pressure, and this causes problems with informed consent. The more social and cultural pressure your informant is under to accomodate and even obey you as a member of an occupying force, the more careful you need to be in getting their consent lest you inadvertently use your position to coerce them into doing what you want. This makes you a dick, and being a dick is generally unethical.

This means that even an anthropologist who is working with the military to ensure greater access to vaccinations and other medical services needs to be wary of whether their ties to power are pressuring their informants to do things they wouldn't do otherwise. Coercion is bad, mmkay?

I think in light of all this that work with the military is generally going to entail compromising a scholar's ethics. There are individual cases where it won't, in which case the opportunity to educate military leaders and help inform their decisions is absolutely worth taking. If anthropology can be done ethically with the US military, it's probably our responsibility as scholars to do it. However, it's so frighteningly likely that military work will compromise a scholar's ethics that I think the AAA is right to warn their people against it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lawmakers Ignore Economists. Economists Unsurprised.

Economists protest Paulson's bailout proposal. You can check behind the link to see who they are and where they work.

Meanwhile, please sign CREDO Action Network's petition, or the one from here, which will go to Representatives Pelosi, Boehner, Hoyer, Frank, and Bachus, along with Senators Reid, McConnell, Dodd, and Shelby.

As economists, we want to express to Congress our great concern for the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulson to deal with the financial crisis. We are well aware of the difficulty of the current financial situation and we agree with the need for bold action to ensure that the financial system continues to function. We see three fatal pitfalls in the currently proposed plan:

1) Its fairness. The plan is a subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.

2) Its ambiguity. Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards.

3) Its long-term effects. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America's dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.

For these reasons we ask Congress not to rush, to hold appropriate hearings, and to carefully consider the right course of action, and to wisely determine the future of the financial industry and the U.S. economy for years to come.

Thanks to Dana Hunter over at En Tequila Es Verdad for the link to the Avaaz petition. Here it is again.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This will only hurt for a moment.

Here's the thing that I feel should be clearly stated anywhere the pro-choice position is being discussed.

We have a word for people who personally believe abortion is wrong and would never feel right about getting one, but who also don't feel comfortable denying that option to women. We don't call them pro-life. We call them pro-choice.

I'll wait for a moment while some of you pick up the pieces of your shattered identity.

We cool?

Let's take another angle. Does this sound like you?

You are personally not a fan of abortion, but you think that banning it is also not good, which means you aren't trying to deny women a choice. You just think one choice is right and would prefer they make that one.

If your answer is "yes, I agree with that," then you are pro-choice, despite a dislike (or even a deep loathing) for abortion.

This hasn't occurred to everyone, because many people are used to hearing "pro-choice" as code for "pro-abortion" or even "pro-infanticide." This isn't the dichotomy we're looking at, no matter how many anti-choice groups try their damndest to frame it that way. Pro-choice means just what it sounds like: we are in favor of letting women choose, and anti-choicers are against letting women choose.

It really is that simple. If a woman chooses not to get an abortion, no pro-choicer can disrespect her for it, because she took her choice and did what she felt was right with it. Pro-choicers love choice, not abortion. I am pro-choice, and that means if you choose to live your life without abortion because you think it is wrong, I'm totally down with that. You're an adult, and that means you should be treated like a morally-mature human being. That means I must respect your choice.

So guys. If you think abortion is wrong, there's still a good chance you're pro-choice. You're only anti-choice if you are so scared women will "choose wrong" that you feel the law should deny them an opportunity to make a choice at all. Most of you probably aren't really anti-choice. This revelation may hurt at first, but it's true.

"Pro-life" is code for anti-choice, and anti-choice is a much more accurate term for the position. "Pro-choice" is not code for "pro-abortion," whatever you may have been told. It means "everybody gets to choose between birth or abortion. Yes, that means you."

As I said to a friend of mine, "You have kids and I don't. This says something about our respective choices, but neither one of us wants to DENY the other that choice, just because we'd make different ones."

For those of you who are already pro-choice despite finding abortion distasteful, I know this is old stuff to you. But a lot of people have honestly never heard "pro-choice" used in a context where it didn't mean "pro-infanticide." And that's not what the term means. It means what it sounds like, and if we use it that way there are a lot more pro-choicers out there than I think even they realize.

I agree with those who are pushing to make this a debate about "pro-choice" versus "anti-choice," because I think you'd find very few pro-choicers who aren't also pro-life. They just want everybody to choose for themselves.

You, sir, win seven and 3/4 internets.

Quote of the day:

"The best thing I can say about this kind of thing is that sometimes if you can force someone to articulate what they believe in clear, logical terms, they become horrified by it and realize they don't want to believe it after all." -arctangent

"Just a little cut"

Louisiana Republican Backs Poor Sterilization

The idea is to pay poor women $1000 dollars to go in and get spayed. Now, you know me. I love the idea of lots of people getting spayed and neutered, because if we care enough for the pet population to adopt instead of letting them breed like crazy, I feel like this should apply to humans as well. If it didn't come with serious hormonal consequences, I'd have had the surgery long ago. But here's the problem: LaBruzzo thinks he can eliminate generational poverty by simply keeping them from eventually outnumbering rich people (and passing on their defective poor-people genes into our otherwise-wholesome American gene pool). Seriously. That's what he wants.

LaBruzzo acknowledges that some prefer tackling poverty through education reforms and family planning programs, but he says he's looked into this, and found these traditional approaches to be ineffective. It's led him to think the whole pay-for-poor-women's-sterilization tack might be a good idea.

Point the first: Why are we sterilizing the women? [insert detailed explanation of women as vessels of culture to be protected or destroyed accordingly] Vasectomies are cheaper and less invasive, so you can do more of them. When you want to use tax dollars for this, shouldn't efficiency factor in?

Point the second: We should sterilize rich people instead. That way the people who're in the best position to support children have to adopt all these kids that have no parents. Because really, it kinda sucks that the people most likely to insist that women give up unwanted babies for adoption are pretty likely to be having so many kids of their own that they don't actually take in any of these kids they wanted to be available for adoption.

So yeah. Give all the rich men vasectomies. Give the ones who go along with it another tax cut to console them for the ones Obama is going to allow to expire. If wealthy folk want to sterilize one group for economic reasons, I wonder if they've ever considered putting their own organs on the metaphorical chopping block.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Feminism for Non-Feminists: Here's What We're Saying


Remember how the Department of Health and Human Services was arguing that a doctor's desires should trump their patient's medical needs?

The public comment period on that is not quite over. It ends in a couple of days. If you have not yet sent in a comment, you should. You can review the issue here, and the action info is as follows:

Send an email to, with the subject line "provider conscience regulation." They are publishing these comments right now, because it is in a 30-day public comment period.

I had a conversation with a pro-choice friend of mine about this, and for those of you who aren't accustomed to seeing this from a civil rights point of view, the following might be helpful. A lot of you on my friends list are already likely pro-choice, but here's the case I'd like to make to those of you who are not.

DHHS wishes to reclassify many forms of birth control as abortion. How do they do this? By defining "life" at fertilization and not implantation. Now, these are both completely arbitrary points to pick, but I'll tell you the implications of each one.

If we rule that life begins at implantation, we can sell forms of birth control such as oral contraceptives, transdermal contraceptives (the patch), IUDs (which is actually hormonal as well), and various other non-barrier methods. This is because part of what they do is prevent a fertilized egg from sticking to the inside of the woman's uterus. Keep the fertilized egg from implanting and it flushes out with her next period just like any other egg.

If we rule that life begins at fertilization, every non-barrier method I can think of short of full sterilization becomes abortion. This is a problem because it removes control of a woman's reproduction from her own hands (a pill that she takes, a patch that she wears, an IUD that she has inserted) and gives it mostly to men (a condom that he wears). This means that women are less capable of engaging in responsible sexual activity.


"Well, they should have thought about that before they started having sex," you might say. It's a common enough argument. If women don't want to get pregnant, they should engage in risky behavior like sex. Most people will agree that a woman who is raped or molested at a young age is not "to blame" for her sexual activity, and as a result an abortion is okay in these cases.

But here's what this really says. A woman who doesn't choose to have sex deserves the choice of whether to keep an unwanted child. A woman who does choose to have sex does not deserve the choice of whether to keep an unwanted child. What makes this misogynist is that it takes a moral imperative ("good women don't sleep around") and uses it as a framework to give "bad" women fewer rights than "good" ones. This classification obviously operates based on the idea that women can and should be judged according to moral standards they do not share; if they shared the position that consenting women don't deserve reproductive freedom, they wouldn't be asking for abortions.

But these women have their own moral standards. A woman who chooses to have sex does not give up her conscience (despite what many particularly vicious misogynists may assert). What DHHS is saying is that if a woman seeks an abortion after having consensual sex, it doesn't matter if she thinks it's right. She isn't qualified to make that decision, and her doctor has every right to veto it by denying her access to the abortion she wants.

I don't think I'm being overdramatic when I say this: if a woman isn't qualified to make a moral choice about "appropriate" sexual conduct because she might "choose wrong," why are they allowed to make moral choices anywhere else? Why are women voting? Shouldn't every woman's vote be subject to a veto by someone who's afraid she'll "vote wrong?"


The next argument I hear a lot is that women don't have to raise these children. They can choose to give it up for adoption and move on with their lives without having to kill a fetus. This argument is based on the assumption that "no cost pregnancies" are not only possible, but universal.

This is flawed. Pregnancy is a very costly experience. I don't care how many times you've seen the movie Juno; women cannot expect that their every medical and emotional need will be catered to by wealthy supportive patrons. Here's what really happens.

Carrying a bearing a child disrupts a woman's education if she still needs to finish it.

There are also incredible medical expenses involved with proper pre-natal care.

There's also the fact that if your job doesn't allow maternity leave (and unlike many European countries, America doesn't require employers to provide this), any time spent in the hospital could cost you your job. This is not just your means of supporting yourself. It's probably also your means of paying for the aforementioned expensive prenatal care.

Make no mistake. This is what an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy looks like. There are problems with someone else having the power to subject women to these circumstances, particularly since most women will be facing those circumstances alone. In a perfect world, those wouldn't be problems. But if you make laws as though we are living in a perfect world, you're not the one who'll suffer. Women will suffer. I should hope that matters enough to you to affect your decision.

Making law as though women who don't want children have it in their power to prevent conception 100% is making law in a land of fantasy (particularly with DHHS trying to restrict women's access to hormonal birth control). It's a nice fantasy. I'd like it a lot, too, if I could prevent pregnancy 100%. But if you make policy as though we are living in that perfect world when we are not, it won't be you who suffers. It will be women, and the children born to these now-disadvantaged and disenfranchised mothers. Pretending the world is better than it is will not make everything better. It will hurt people, and crowing that those nasty sluts had it coming does not erase that fact.

The only reason I can see for picturing the world this way and making law this way is to make you (and the "American Taliban" in general) feel like you've shown everyone how moral you are. If that's the needs those laws are serving, it becomes very very important to me how many people those laws will hurt.

And y'know what? When you're willing to hurt that many people just to codify your morals, I will never believe you are moral. You just want to be seen that way, by others and yourself. As a moral person, I call bullshit on that. As a woman, I call double bullshit on people who're willing to ruin my life and the lives of women like me just to feel special, like their morals are the only ones important enough to be made law.

Yes, women like me. Here's where we get to the personal anecdote section.


I have been in a relationship with the first person I ever had intercourse with for four years now (as of Sunday). We use two forms of protection every time we have sex. Our relationship is stable, and so is our economic footing (sorta). A pregnancy would halt Brian's education and my job search. A pregnancy would rack up medical bills neither of us can pay for (and neither can our families). A pregnancy would destroy us.

We're careful. We're responsible.

We are doing everything we can to prevent me from conceiving.

If I become pregnant, there are people who would deny me an abortion because I chose to have sex, and I deserve the worst case scenario when/if it comes around. I deserve to lose my job and not further my education. Brian deserves to have his education halted. We both deserve staggering debt from medical bills, debt we may never get out of. Above all we deserve the strain on an otherwise-healthy relationship.

And why?

Because I chose to have sex, and irresponsible people deserve to have their lives ruined. If I'd been raped, my rights would remain intact. But if one standard of morality gets codified into law, and that standard of morality judges me a bad woman who should have to bear an enforced pregnancy... what can I do?

You want to talk about prevention? I'm trying to prevent a worldview that treats adult women like minors (children, guys) or livestock who are unqualified to make "the big choices," like when they'll breed. I'm trying to prevent a worldview that could ruin my life from getting a toehold in my government.


What do you want for American women? Does it have anything to do with their wellbeing? Or hadn't you really thought about it? There's more to morality than "protect babies." Sometimes you have to concede an obligation to the human beings around you who're trying to live out their lives. The real question is whether a potential human is more important to you than a living one, just because the living one happens to be a woman.

If you're comfortable with that, truly comfortable with it, leave a comment. I need to know who you are so that I can seriously reconsider your respect for me as a human being.

Links! I have them!

Various stuff I'm reading.

A Conservative for Obama: My party has slipped its moorings. It’s time for a true pragmatist to lead the country.

But today it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to political programs when they clearly don’t work. The Bush tax cuts—a solution for which there was no real problem and which he refused to end even when the nation went to war—led to huge deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt. Facing this, John McCain pumps his “conservative” credentials by proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once fought for limited government has presided over the greatest growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.

“Every great cause,” Eric Hoffer wrote, “begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” As a cause, conservatism may be dead. But as a stance, as a way of making judgments in a complex and difficult world, I believe it is very much alive in the instincts and predispositions of a liberal named Barack Obama.

Even Fox News Says McCain is Lying
KELLY: No, no! Let's stay on point, I'm not giving him any credit. I'm saying what the independent analysts say. They say that claim is false. And if that's false, why would John McCain do that, Tucker? Why wouldn't he just level with the voters and say, look, he's going to raise taxes on the wealthy or whatever you consider somebody to be making over $250,000, it's going to have a trickle down effect. That may not be good for the middle class. But why say he's going to raise taxes on the middle class when he's not?

Debates May Not Be Decisive After All
Once you get out of the convention period, voter preferences tend to have become a lot more stubborn, and even terrific or terrible debate performances don't tend to alter them all that much.

McCain and the Fannie and Freddie Lobbyists
Companies as huge as Fannie and Freddie are inevitably going to have former employees involved in both parties and inevitably going to give money to both parties. No one in politics is ever going to be entirely unconnected to them. But for McCain to point to these few superficial ties to the mortgage crisis in the Obama campaign in light of his own campaign's far deeper connections to the very people McCain now blames for the crisis is staggering chutzpah.

McCain Loses His Head
Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.


Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

Can Binge Drinking Save Social Security?
A 2004 study by Frank Sloan and Jan Ostermann at Duke University found that heavy drinkers contribute slightly more to Social Security, through their higher average lifetime earnings, than nondrinkers do. What’s more, since alcohol abusers tend to die sooner than moderate or nondrinkers, they draw less money, over time, from the Social Security trust fund.

Their conclusion: the elimination of heavy drinking (three or more drinks a day) from each successive group of American 25-year-olds would cost the Social Security trust fund $3 billion over the cohort’s lifetime.

From CREDO Action Network

Yes, the stock market is falling to pieces. Many of you on my LJ probably already knew that, and if you didn't, well you do now. And yes, we need to do this whole government buyout thing. But we need to do it right.

Congress is on the brink of making a one-sided deal to give George W. Bush a blank check to bail out his pals - offering nearly (or perhaps more than) a trillion taxpayer dollars to Wall Street to cover its bad debts. That works out to somewhere between $2000 and $5000 from every American family. So what do the taxpayers get in return?

Nothing. No new regulation or oversight to help avoid this kind of crisis in the future. No public interest givebacks to help people whose homes are in the hands of the banks. Perhaps most shockingly of all, the taxpayers get absolutely no share in the profits if and when these finance giants bounce back, even though we are now assuming a great deal of the risk.

This is worse than a bad deal - this isn't a deal at all. This is a blank check to some of the richest companies in the world.

I just signed a petition calling on key members of Congress to impose a few sensible conditions to this bailout in order to protect the American people -- I hope you will too.

Please have a look and take action.

Here's what their petition says,

We strongly urge you not to issue a blank check to the Wall Street giants who have steered our country into financial dire straits. We must address this crisis quickly and prudently. Do not give these companies a dime of taxpayer money unless they agree to the following conditions:

--1. If the taxpayers are shouldering the risk, the taxpayers should reap any eventual benefits. We accomplish this by giving the government an equity stake in every company we bail out proportionate to the amount we give them.
--2. If we're paying (more than) our fair share, the CEOs and executives should have to, too. All of the fat cats who got us into this mess should relinquish their stock options and salaries until they start showing us, their investors, that they can once again be profitable. Future salaries should be linked to profitability.
--3. No more campaign contributions from Wall Street executives and PACs. Taxpayer dollars should be used to get our nation out of a crisis. They cannot be used to fund giant, powerful lobby operations that will be used to strong arm Congress into making bad policy.
--4. Better regulations start right now. Wall Street can't expect to take thousands of dollars out of your paycheck without agreeing to increased transparency and more stringent oversight - the kind that might have helped avoid this mess to begin with.
--5. Bankruptcy judges get broader leeway to help homeowners. Why should we lose our homes so the CEOs can keep theirs?

A blank check without these conditions would be nothing more than a reward for bad business practices. If the bailout does not include these conditions, you must oppose it.

Please go ahead and sign the petition. I know a lot of you don't think the internet petitions are worth a damn (because you've told me as much), but that's an excuse and we both know it. You stand to lose a lot more if you give up a good opportunity to say something, particularly when your alternative is to scan past this entry and do nothing. You don't know until you try, but if you don't try you're really no use. So if you don't sign this petition, I'll respect that if you do something else to help. Right now I haven't seen other ways to get involved, but if you find them I'll gladly post them up here and get the word out.

Maybe you could call or email Chris Dodd, who is proposing a responsible version of the bailout, to express support for his diligence. As Paul Krugman said, "Treasury should now be required to explain why this isn't a much, much better way to do this rescue." Dodd has the right idea from the looks of it, and having this petition behind him can't hurt.

Here's the link again.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Two Minutes' Hate

The GOP plays the victim card

If conservatives hate victimhood so much, why then does the Republican Party encourage its base to feel so aggrieved, especially at the hands of those snotty "elites"?


When Americans go on the attack against elites, historically we think of economic populism, the kind of class warfare pushed by the left wing. This is about money, inequality and an agenda to redistribute wealth. Liberal activists rail against robber barons and corporate fat cats. Conservative populism leverages social rather than economic cleavages. The agenda is mobilizing resentful masses that get a vicarious go at thumbing their noses at anyone they feel looks down on them. The enemies list is made up of professors, public intellectuals and entertainers, not captains of industry. And without any real redress in mind, conservative populism is all about emotion and personal grievance, not righting any particular social or economic wrong. You'd think the rise of conservative media, eight years of a conservative administration and a conservative-leaning Supreme Court would have undermined the GOP's victim strategy -- they are in power, which is one way to define "elite."

The real question we need to ask here is not why they like playing the victim. That's obvious. What I want to know is what exactly their problem is with excellence. I think part of the reason that conservatives can become more convinced of their own rightness when faced with a refutation of their views is that if an "expert" says it, it must be wrong. Refutations and actual facts can make misinformation worse because "facts" are often given with the names of people who have degrees, expertise, or something like that which makes them better than you. Something that makes them untrustworthy, in other words.

And I hate that. I hate it, even though it reminds me why social scientists exist. For example, I have my own little ethnocentric blind spot. It's hard for me to imagine not having the perspective of an anthropologist, because it comes so easily to me. Then I'm faced with someone like this who honestly believes, "Anyone who cannot see, refuses to see, or who actively obliterates, the distinction between civilization and barbarism in their work is either not doing their job properly or is part of the problem, and in either case has absolutely zero claim to being an intellectual. Though that doesn't stop them from trying." This from a self-described "unemployed pizza delivery driver" who thinks that any anthropologist who doesn't treat certain cultures as though they're barbarians is part of "the problem" because Ayn Rand says so.

Thank you for reminding me why the world needs people with anthropology degrees.

I realize this guy posted all this shit a while ago, but it still absolutely floors me. If I gave this guy a detailed explanation for why social scientists don't use the term "barbarism" anymore, I'm sure that me taking the trouble to explain the evolution of my discipline would actually make things worse. He would probably be more convinced than ever that anthropologists are wrong, and I would trace it to his distrust of educated people and everything we stand for.

How in the hell can you educate people, when offering them evidence actually harms your case? What in the hell do you say to someone who stops listening once they learn your qualifications?

My boyfriend's away message right now is, "To argue with a man who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead." ~Thomas Paine

Just because they're dead doesn't mean they can't ruin my life. They still have power, money, and the ability to vote just like I do. Maybe if I ignore them they'll just go away? Talking to them sure as hell isn't helping...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Okay. I didn't want to post any more about Sarah Palin, but this was worth a giggle.

Here's the current word around the campfire, according to this article.

Sarah Palin had a yahoo email account to avoid government transparency laws (because while she can be ordered to share the contents of her official email, any official business she does with another email is still "off the record"), which is some dodgy shit. So when "Anonymous" found out about it, someone hacked the account and posted all the content to the public web. The account was deleted after this, but if Palin deleted it all, she broke the law by destroying evidence of her first pseudo-crime.

It's shocking the number of times I've said this, but... go 4chan. You made my day again with your wacky vigilante hijinks.

(h/t rm)

Showing our faces in public!

Bob Parks says of Pagan Obama supporters, "I am so glad Republicans aren’t this messed up. I wouldn’t be able to show my face in public."

You're an ass. You're also ignoring your own nutters.

But mainly, Bob? You're an ass.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stuff that matters!

Run-down of stuff I'm reading today!

Unemployment is hitting women particularly hard. (h/t WashingtonMonthly)

Obama smacks McCain on the economy.

Remember that voter disenfranchisement mess in Michigan I was talking about before? The one where McCain's campaign was allegedly working with the Michigan GOP to keep people whose homes are in foreclosure from voting? Obama's campaign is filing a suit. (h/t WashingtonMonthly)

One of McCain's former biggest fans is sick of all the lying. (h/t WashingtonMonthly)

Military suicide is likely to reach the highest it's been since the Vietnam War. (h/t Gidster)

Even Karl Rove thinks McCain's gone "too far" into the realm of dishonesty and general wackiness. Ouch, dude. That's like Cruella De Vil calling you "a bit too callous." (h/t

The Economic Policy Institute has decided that Obama's health plan will outperform McCain's in both coverage and efficiency.

And the Washington post has a handy graph of who'll gain what from McCain and Obama's tax proposals. Seriously! You can look at the chart and it says, "You are here." McCain would help me out with twenty bucks. That's about a week's worth of coffee at Starbuck's. Obama's plan would get me $567 more dollars a year, which combined with a health care plan that will actually work (see the last question on this run-down of the candidates' answers to ScienceDebate '08) will go a long way toward actually improving my quality of life.

Planned Parenthood makes campaign issues out of sex education and sexual assault, almost like they matter or something! (h/t Curvature)

And, last but not least, the American Family Association is flipping out that the EU might declare official opposition to laws that make homosexuality a crime.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It's true, we can find patriarchy anywhere...

I feel it is important to note that a goddess tradition is not inherently feminist. If the tradition in question elevates (brace yourself for awful jargon) patriarchal heteronormative gender roles, what have you really achieved?

For example, Hinduism has a lot of really strongly goddess-centered worship. It's still one of the most strictly patriarchal religions you'll find. Mentioning goddess figures like Kali as emblems that "empower" women is naive, and I seldom hear it from people who know how Kali is viewed in her native pantheon.

Gods do have a core of power in them that is inherently feminine. Their "shakti." Now, when there was a buffalo demon that the gods couldn't get rid of, and it was causing all kinds of issues. Mahisha's most obnoxious power was to generate more demons by bleeding. Every injury dropped his blood on the ground, and every drop of blood became a new demon. A real pain, that one. The gods, in order to deal with this, all pitched in from their shakti. Each contributed a piece of a new goddess so that she would be perfect. Her hair, her face, her breasts, her arms, her weapons, etc. each came from another god. Her name was Durga.

Durga went out to meet Mahisha on the field of battle. At first he proposed marriage to this beautiful goddess, but after a torrent of particularly vile curses from her he decided that fighting was also fine. During the battle, according to some tellings, Durga became so angry that her shakti sprang forward from her. Now, keep in mind that she was already made from the nastiest and most powerful shakti energy of the other gods. What came out of her was Kali.

A giant, long-limbed, black-skinned woman with dead babies for earrings, arms for a skirt, and a necklace of skulls burst forth and began tearing through the ranks of demons. She found a particularly gruesome way of preventing Mahisha from creating new soldiers. Whenever one of her enemies bled, she stretched out her long red tongue and drank the blood up before it could hit the earth and create more demons.

Well, the other gods all thought this was grand until the battle was over and they realized they couldn't stop her. They thought they'd distilled the destructive power of their shakti, and as it turns out it still wasn't pure womanly wrath just yet. What they created they could still control; you can tell Durga "enough is enough," but Kali has no such inclination to heed her divine masters.

It took Shiva, the destroyer, lying down at her feet to get her to stop. The realization that she was killing her husband finally triggered this raging shakti's better nature, and she calmed back down. Parvati, the aspect of the goddess who acts as Shiva's "good wife," (as opposed to Kali who tends to encourage him and instigate the destroyer) will still occasionally transform into Kali when she gets a little too angry and out of control.

What this tells us is that Hindu religion acknowledges female power. What this doesn't say is that female power is a good thing. It says that when you don't keep women on a short enough leash, the great power they hold inside them is a danger to the whole world itself. This is why you see Indian women with long braided hair. It is symbolic of keeping all that hot fiery power under control. Women in Hinduism have great potential within them, but there is a difference between strength and power. If a woman bends all her power toward enduring hardship and sustaining her family, she is good. If a woman drives her power outward upon the world, she is Kali. She is to be feared, and she must be stopped.

Indian feminists have been "reclaiming" Kali in a similar manner to western feminists reclaiming the figure Lilith from the Jewish Rabbinic tradition. The idea is to take a goddess who's supposed to illustrate why independent women are scary, and put a gloss of "but it's actually okay, really" over the whole thing. I think this is questionable, and I don't approve of it. However, lots of Indian women clearly do feel this is an empowering and positive thing, so take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. It seems like a bad idea to me, but they've proven me wrong, so what the hell do I know.

I'm mentioning this to explain my reservations about western goddess feminism. The idea that all western women need is a goddess to replace the Hebrew God is, to me, an overly-simplistic way of looking at patriarchy. "Men have placed a god in charge of everything. If we replace it with a woman, everyone will acknowledge feminine power!" We've already seen that merely elevating a woman to godhood does not necessarily mean women will be empowered by the image, since Hinduism uses goddesses all the time to teach women their proper place.

So back to my reservations about Wiccan goddess worship. Does the goddess present a heteronormative gender role? Does the goddess present a new kind of femininity that is empowering to her followers?

Let me tell you how I see the goddess. The mother of us all--including the god, creator and nourisher and wise matron: maiden, mother, crone. She's a virgin until she chooses her lover, at which point they have lots of sex, she bears his child while he's off being dead in the underworld, and then through her he is born again. Cycle moves on. She is emotion, wisdom, maternity, the moon. Meanwhile, the god is the sun. He inseminates the earth, which bears forth all sorts of good fertile stuff, and then he goes out and goes hunting and shit while the goddess nurtures the earth.

Basically? She's a woman, in all the ways women have been taught to be women by men. She doesn't show up this way in all Wiccan practice, but looking at the myths of my own religion from the point of view of a religion scholar, I wonder how many other Wiccans think about this. When they talk about their great celestial mother, how conscious are they that they're boiling a woman down to one function: childrearing?

It's possible that I noticed this because I, like everyone else in my family for a few generations, have mother issues. I've had enough of being someone's child; I don't want another mother up in the moon with superpowers, thank you very much. So in rejecting this way of relating to the goddess, I am keenly aware of how seldom I see anything else. Because the maternal metaphor rings hollow for me, I notice the absence of other expressions of love for the divine feminine.

It was when I was considering this emotional block of mine that I noticed a sort of philosophical one as well. As a woman who is doing everything she can to avoid becoming a mother right now, I can't identify with a goddess who is so easy to reduce to that one social function. Not only can I not identify with her... I shouldn't have to. Why, in this day and age, should the first and most common option be a mother goddess?

I realize Dianic Wicca is the exception, but I don't feel like joining a tradition that thinks it can restore the cosmic balance by instituting a matriarchy as unfair and judgmental as any patriarchy. I couldn't embrace a tradition that believed excluding men would somehow rectify their exclusion of women.

So here's what I have to choose from, it seems. I can attach myself to a tradition that sees the goddess primarily as our mom (and who really thinks about their mother as being anything but their mother? As if she didn't have a life before her kids were born or after they left...), or a tradition that sees the goddess as the be-all end-all of worship and no use for men at all?

This is why my devotional practices, in private, are more centered on the god. This goddess everyone else loves so much... I don't know her. And I don't think she'd know me very well, either.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Commemorating the dead... Or are we?

Here's what I believe. This is a religious belief, but one that a reading of The Funeral Casino by Alan Klima has suggested to me. When you invoke the dead, you owe them. When you use the dead for your own benefit, you must pay them back. This is a pseudo-religious, semi-philosophical entry of untrammeled rambling, so I ask you to bear with me while I ramble about stuff I'm sure I'm explaining poorly.

The examples used in The Funeral Casino: Meditation, Massacre, and Exchange with the Dead in Thailand are Thai revolutions. It's frighteningly common in Thailand for protesters (even unarmed students still in uniform) to simply be gunned down by existing government military. Of course this causes an uproar, and a new government arises by climbing up on top of the bodies of those dead students. Unfortunately, these governments don't actually make any of the changes the students cared about (and in fact they paint the students as rabblerousers or simply forget them as soon as possible), they become the kind of government the students were trying to change, and pretty soon you've got another bloody mess on your hands.

The Thai Buddhist angle on this (at least according to Klima) is that you cannot invoke the dead without owing them something. You had best be strictly and carefully commemorating them, or else you'll be profiting from their deaths and suffering. This isn't a bad thing in itself, but at that point you've gotten something and you need to give something, or you're going to get screwed badly. It may come from a seemingly unrelated situation, but Klima's assertion is that from the Thai perspective death imagery holds power. 

"Across the field of Sanam Luang is another construction from the days of the regicide: the lag muang, the city pillar, built as the magical pole around which a sorcerous power to protect the city would circulate. ... I have been told rumors that before they laid the foundation for the city pillar in stone, they dug trenches in the ground, brought young, pregnant slaves to the site, and there slashed their throats with swords and cast the corpses with their dying fetuses into the earth. It was believed, or so I am told, that the collective force of their murdered spirits would empower the pillar" (Klima 2002: 80). 

Of course this is a metaphor. I don't have to tell you that, but I wanted to stave off a flood of comments about how necromancy is bullshit and if this is the best argument Klima can offer that the dead have power you aren't buying it. The reason I mention this is that I want you to start looking for these pillars in American policy. Start looking for protective structures of pristine white stone that gain their power and sanctity from the corpses of the brutally slain. 

Start wondering where these pillars get their power, and start wondering why anyone would try to harness it. You can't control power like that. Once you let it out, death imagery runs wild. Worse still, if you invoke the dead without paying them back... bad things will happen to you. The problem with successfully paying them back is that there's no way to tell just what will settle the debt.

Klima asserts, "the moral onus and the horror of the public cadaver--its unpredictable power and its danger--is a free-floating danger once it is unleashed, irretrievably, into the public realm, providing the often unrecognized force of animation to the phantasmagoric dreams of capital culture" (Klima 2002:67). (As an aside, every time Klima uses the word "phantasmagoria" or a variant in this book, take a drink.)

This is a gross oversimplification of a book that was such a pain in the ass to read, even I don't want to read it again, and I'm pretty sure it completely changed my worldview.

It changed my worldview because now I look at the use of the September 11th attack and think, "The Bush administration got what it deserved by rotting out from the inside, and Klima basically predicted it." By invoking the victims of the attacks seven years ago, by attempting to command the power of all those images of all those corpses and videos of the moments of death, the government incurred a debt just like the Thai government did in the mid-seventies, and then again in the early nineties. They invoked corpses so that they can get use out of them and then try to forget them as quickly as possible.

How long has it been since there was a real commemoration by our government of the victims of September 11th that was not crystallizing them into means to an end? That wasn't reducing them from individual humans to a sort of vague ache in the back of our hearts that makes us run weeping to whatever cause is dangled before us?

Pulling the dead out when you need them and forgetting them when you don't? Morally reprehensible by most standards, and certainly disrespectful to the victims. However, in Klima's description of Thai Buddhism, it's also deeply imprudent from a practical standpoint. If you benefit in any way from the death of another, you owe that person for their suffering. If you don't pay that debt, an avalanche of seemingly-unrelated disasters start collapsing onto you. At least in Thailand.

Perhaps karma works differently in America, but every time I look at George W's approval ratings circling the drain, every time I see another study about rampant corruption ruining the government, every time I see the new account of our national debt, every time I see where the USD now is in relation to other currency, every time another high official is arrested, subpoenaed, fired, or "voluntarily resigns," I can't help but think of Klima's argument. I can't help but think that they don't just deserve what they're getting.

They caused it.

And that's why I'm not making a big deal out of September 11th. It has become a tool of politicians to remind us of all-too-recent fear and pain. It has become a tool to lather us up against brown people and Muslim people and foreign people in general, anybody who doesn't love America enough--even if they're Americans. It's no longer a tragedy; it's a tool. It has become a means to an end, and I don't want to involve myself in it. Strictly speaking it's probably not particularly wise of me to even be blogging about it, since in a way I'm indirectly getting blog traffic out of the whole mess.

The reason I feel it's important to say something is that I worry about people who drag out the dead again and again. If you aren't going to honor them as individuals, if you're only going to honor them as "victims," don't honor them at all. It's hard not to frame them in the context of our ill-conceived "War on Terror," but I think that the willingness of our government to do so was the beginning of a long series of crimes in these victims' names, and the beginning of a grave and profound debt that can only be erased from our government be removing those who caused it.

Let's set aside for the moment that the only practical way to stop the careening disaster that is our government is to replace as many of the cuplrits as we can. I'm talking about a religious and philosophical imperative. George W. Bush and the people holding his leash have incurred a masssive debt by unleashing the power of the images of our dead, and until we remove them from power--power they hold because of their willingness to exploit the corpses of September 11th--Klima would suggest that we will all pay.

Now, it's a fine line whether I just used the dead myself. I'm trying to keep a careful balance here between mentioning them and using them, between criticizing Bush for using them and merely using them myself for a different purpose. But I think that we cannot pay the dead for their deaths, and adding more debt by invoking their faces, bodies, voices, and blood every time the government thinks we aren't scared enough yet is only making the debt worse.

And we need to stop.

The tough question is, "Well, Ashley, what do you think we should do, huh? You don't want us to remember them this way or that way, mention them in this context or that. What should we do, if you're so damned smart in the ways of cosmic consequence?"

This is an important question to ask, and it'd be easier to answer if they had actually deliberately laid their lives on the line and died for anything, other than as victims of malice at the hands of those consumed with despair and hatred. It'd be a clue to what they wanted by their deaths, and how the debt can be paid.

I think the closest thing we can discern is that the mistakes that caused their deaths ought not be repeated. I'm not talking about shoddy airport security, or the folly of trusting dark-skinned foreigners. I'm talking about generating and sustaining hate. Europe and the United States' imperialist foreign policy generated hate out of ignorance (and for our own benefit), so terrorists sustained it out of bitterness (and for their own benefit). 

That's what has to stop. Working to curb the kind of greed and ignorance and bitterness and violence that causes innocent people to die will go further to pay the debt than more greed (for oil), more ignorance (hatred of Muslims) and more bitterness (caused by the United States' disrespect for the new Iraqi government).

Our government is only digging the hole deeper, because they are not paying attention to that debt. They only want the dead to be remembered when it gives them power, not when it lends power to anyone else. It's why the Republican National Convention aired so much footage from September 11th and its aftermath, even though they would never allow anyone else to use the dead in such a way. They want to unleash the power of death imagery, but they think they can control it. 

That has never worked. And it isn't working. They're only making things worse, and until we take from them the power that allows them a perceived monopoly on the use of our dead, they will continue to make things worse. 

The Thai governments tried this, too. They used the deaths to get into power and to make a lot of changes, and a lot of people benefited from this. You could say that everybody benefited, but no one paid except the dead and the loved ones they left behind. They were denied compensation, aid, and attention, as their end of the loss was a messy and unpleasant loose end for a government that wanted only to move forward: to benefit and forget.

For a few days in May 1992, the Black May dead were objects of intense value, traded over the surface of the earth and right on the killing ground. The evocative power of their images displaced the military and ushered in a democratic government, and they gave to the public sphere a powerful argument for the need of media freedoms, not to mention generating in their death great profits all around. But after only three years, the dead are of little interest or value, and those who profited the most from the death can now say of those who lost the most that they are avaricious and improper in their desire to benefit from the deaths. "Don't uses corpses for your own gain." (Klima 2002:232).

This should also remind you of America's response to Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters in recent memory (like the flooding in the midwest). Many politicians wailed appropriately loudly, but few did anything tangible to assist. Most made the problem worse by using it as a photo op to illustrate the evils of everyone else in the government, diverting local resources from dealing with the problem. Politicians build their power on the dead and then forget the dead as quickly as possible, which is why when you hear about Katrina you hear about refugees and property damage, not necessarily about the dead people. Many profited from the dead and forgot them as soon as they possibly could. Now Katrina survivors (and possibly the survivors of midwestern floods) are commonly viewed by respectable citizens in the cities where they took refuge as greedy opportunists using the corpses of their dead for their own gain. 

Have these politicians paid a price? When their debt to Katrina victims (their immediate willingness to display the tragedy and its corpses to tout their own virtues versus their opponents) comes due, what happens next? Unless I hear about some politicians coming out and saying, "I would like to thank the victims of these disasters for their suffering and their deaths because their timely corpses lent the energy and power for X or Y endeavor that I wanted to accomplish," I'm going to seriously doubt they'll ever pay up. 

No one should use the dead. It isn't just sleazy and disrespectful. It'll cost you, particularly if you don't give a nod back and acknowledge what you've gotten as a (direct or indirect) result of their sacrifice. If you're going to build a pillar on the corpses of the slain, don't whitewash it for eyes or minds and forget the corpses as soon as it's expedient, as soon as you've gotten what you wanted.

If you must mention the dead, don't gain from them. Don't take: give. Give respect, give honor, and give love. Don't expect a reward for it, because any power that comes to you from them cannot be controlled by anyone, and comes with a terrible price.

Home foreclosing? Michigan doesn't want you voting.

Voter Suppression in Michigan?
They "will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” according to party chairman James Carabelli.

State election rules allow parties to assign “election challengers” to polls to monitor the election. In addition to observing the poll workers, these volunteers can challenge the eligibility of any voter provided they “have a good reason to believe” that the person is not eligible to vote. One allowable reason is that the person is not a “true resident of the city or township.”

The Michigan Republicans’ planned use of foreclosure lists is apparently an attempt to challenge ineligible voters as not being “true residents.”
The hell, people. If it weren't bad enough that lots and lots of people are losing their homes because of the mismanagement of our economy, now the same party responsible for tanking things so badly wants their victims to stay away from the polls as well.
One expert questioned the legality of the tactic.

“You can’t challenge people without a factual basis for doing so,” said J. Gerald Hebert, a former voting rights litigator for the U.S. Justice Department who now runs the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington D.C.-based public-interest law firm. “I don’t think a foreclosure notice is sufficient basis for a challenge, because people often remain in their homes after foreclosure begins and sometimes are able to negotiate and refinance.”
The article takes a while to come right out and call this vote suppression, but eventually they do.
“At a minimum what you are seeing is a fairly comprehensive effort by the Republican Party, a systematic broad-based effort to put up obstacles for people to vote,” he said. “Nobody is contending that these people are not legally registered to vote.

“When you are comprehensively challenging people to vote,” Hebert went on, “your goals are two-fold: One is you are trying to knock people out from casting ballots; the other is to create a slowdown that will discourage others,” who see a long line and realize they can’t afford to stay and wait.

This is yet another reason to doublecheck your voter registration. You can register to vote online now, and if you're already registered, you really need to use this site's tool to doublecheck that your registration is still valid. This isn't just for people in Michigan. Vote suppression is a big problem. VA hospitals aren't allowed to have voter registration drives. Stricter ID laws don't actually really help with voter fraud (since it's not really common for people to try and vote a billion times under different names--it's hard enough to get people to vote once), but they do keep people who don't have the money to keep around certain forms of ID from voting (for example, naturalized citizen papers for legal migrants, or passports for the rest of us).

It's one thing to make sure that everybody voting brings a valid ID so that you can check to make sure they should be there. It's quite another to have coordinated, concerted efforts to keep as many people as possible from voting. I question any party that needs to do that to win. Hell, I question any party that wants to do this to win, since it says a lot about how much they really care about representing their constituents.

And before someone says, "This isn't McCain's fault! These are just locals being assholes, and you can't pin that on the actual official campaign," I want you to check this part out as well.
The party is creating a spreadsheet of election challenger volunteers and expects to coordinate a training with the regional McCain campaign, Graves said in an interview with Michigan Messenger.

When asked for further details on how Republicans are compiling challenge lists, he said, “I would rather not tell you all the things we are doing.”
Go check your registration. Michigan's not the only state with a history of this nonsense. It's not uncommon, which means you guys need to be careful you don't get screwed over. We call this an ownership election! If your vote is invalidated because you're not the kind of person they want in the polls, you're on your own. You need to stay up on this to make sure that you can vote in a party that *gasp* wants you to vote.

Damn, Gloria.

Gloria Steinem. You and I, we've had our differences. We have, really. There've been times when the phrase "calm the fuck down this isn't about vaginas" crossed my mind, and times when it came right out my mouth before I could stop it.

But you definitely nailed it this time. Thanks to kaiserbrown for linking this. I went ahead and linked to sources so that no one can claim Steinem's talking out her ass.

Selecting Sarah Palin, who was touted all summer by Rush Limbaugh, is no way to attract most women, including die-hard Clinton supporters. Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Clinton. Her down-home, divisive and deceptive speech did nothing to cosmeticize a Republican convention that has more than twice as many male delegates as female, a presidential candidate who is owned and operated by the right wing and a platform that opposes pretty much everything Clinton's candidacy stood for -- and that Barack Obama's still does."

Palin's value to those patriarchs is clear: She opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality. She believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women's wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves "abstinence-only" programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions; she tried to use taxpayers' millions for a state program to shoot wolves from the air but didn't spend enough money to fix a state school system with the lowest high-school graduation rate in the nation; she runs with a candidate who opposes the Fair Pay Act but supports $500 million in subsidies for a natural gas pipeline across Alaska; she supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, though even McCain has opted for the lesser evil of offshore drilling. She is Phyllis Schlafly, only younger.

So far, the major new McCain supporter that Palin has attracted is James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Of course, for Dobson, "women are merely waiting for their husbands to assume leadership," so he may be voting for Palin's husband.
Damn, Gloria. 

Even-Handed Campaigns and Coverage

Lying about like they're not going to call you on it is... an interesting strategy, guys!

A McCain-Palin ad has calling Obama's attacks on Palin "absolutely false" and "misleading." That's what we said, but it wasn't about Obama.

We don't object to people reprinting our articles. In fact, our copyright policy encourages it. But we've also asked that "the editorial integrity of the article be preserved" and told those who use our items that "you should not edit the original in such a way as to alter the message."

With its latest ad, released Sept. 10, the McCain-Palin campaign has altered our message in a fashion we consider less than honest. The ad strives to convey the message that said "completely false" attacks on Gov. Sarah Palin had come from Sen. Barack Obama. We said no such thing. We have yet to dispute any claim from the Obama campaign about Palin.

I'm getting really tired of these assertions that both sides are running dirty campaigns, both candidates are dirty greedy lying criminals, and there's just no point in reading anything about politics, or heaven forbid voting, because it's all lies anyway.

House did say everybody lies. He also said, "I lied when I said that."

Look. Saying "there've been smears on both sides, politics is just like that" is untrue. I'll stop short of saying anyone who claims it is a liar, because perhaps it's cynicism or simple ignorance talking. It's much more fair to say there are stupid rumors about both tickets' candidates, but that only one campaign is actively encouraging these nonsensical smears.

For example, there've been wild accusations online that Palin is a witch because of the names of her kids (because two of them happen to match the names of two TV witches whose shows aired after the kids were born). Not only did Obama state that people need to leave her family out of this, his campaign didn't bring those attacks to the fore with a supporting ad from the campaign.

Contrast this with McCain, who saw crazy conspiracy theories online about Obama being the anti-Christ (google "Obama Nicolae Carpathia" and you'll see what I mean), and instead of denouncing or ignoring them McCain's campaign aired that dog-whistle ad calling Obama "The One." There is a big difference in the level and type of attacks on the Dems and Repubs sides here, so treating this election like it's everybody smearing equally is inaccurate and deceptive.

Wild and stupid rumors are spreading on both ends of the political spectrum, but only one candidate is encouraging them: McCain. Grouping Obama's campaign in with McCain's is either a startling display of ignorance about what these campaigns are really doing, or it's a deliberately deceptive attempt to drag Obama down to McCain's level in the minds of people who aren't paying enough attention to know the difference.

Steve Benen has a good essay over at Political Animal called "Thinking like a Republican."
The Washington Post's E. J. Dionne Jr. had a column four years ago this month that's always stuck with me. He noted, in the midst of the last presidential campaign, that Republicans are not above lying, but Democrats just can't bring themselves to do the same thing. "A very intelligent political reporter I know said the other night that Republicans simply run better campaigns than Democrats," Dionne wrote at the time. "If I were given a free pass to stretch the truth to the breaking point, I could run a pretty good campaign, too."

I thought about the column when I was chatting this morning with a friend who works in Democratic campaign politics. We commiserated over the fact that Obama has become efficient in responding to the constant barrage of deceptive attacks from the McCain campaign, but doesn't launch deceptive attacks of his own against the McCain campaign.

My friend asked me what Atwater/Rove/Schmidt would do if they worked for Obama. What kind of attacks would they make against McCain? It got me thinking.

You should go check out the rest. The comments don't really answer Benen's challenge for the most part, but some of them do. It's just for fun of course, since there's no way that Republican tactics would work for Democrats this election cycle, but it's interesting to see what the campaign would look like if both sides really were running smear campaigns. And yes, it's very different.

Most people spend the comments bringing up things that are true, which totally spoils the fun of playing Karl Rove for an evening.

John McCain says he has a plan to catch Osama bin laden -- but he isn't telling President Bush. That leaves all Americans vulnerable to a terrorist attack from Enemy #1.

Why won't John McCain help us get bin Laden, so America can be free of that terrorist threat? -MarkH

The hell! That's just pointing out that he's got a foolproof plan to protect our country and hasn't shared it with anyone with the power to put it into practice. We're not here to point things out. We're here to make them up! Gawd!

McCain denounced his country during time of war. At the time, he said that he did so under torture.

Nowadays, he agrees with Bush that the things done to him were NOT torture, just ways to get the truth in an interrogation.

So, McCain denounced his country without ever being tortured. -John

See what I mean? It's clever, but it's totally off-topic, by dint of it being merely unflattering. All that's doing is pointing out McCain being inconsistent and fucking himself over. Pointing out hypocrisy is not what we're here to do, people! We're here to lie our asses off and see if we can think of anything to match Benen's earmark slam. Come on, guys! What's all this reflexive honesty bullshit?!

Yes, I realize that we can completely destroy McCain's credibility on nearly all domestic and foreign issues using actual verifiable truths, and so does Steve Benen. The point here is not to encourage people to talk about McCain cutting off support for Israel, but to make people realize that the reason we're not hearing the same trash from Obama that we hear from McCain is not that McCain has no weaknesses to exploit. It's not that Obama can't. It's that he doesn't.

One guy posted an interesting little quote in a comment, and I'll leave you with it.

"If the Republicans stop telling lies about us, we will stop telling the truth about them."
--Adlai Stevenson