how eliot spitzer could help us all

Eliot Spitzer could help us all, right now, by not resigning. It would do a huge favor to the ordinary non-politician people who have to live in America to resist the stupidity of letting the personal sex lives of our politicians affect our government. He could show a little “leadership” to his peer politicians in this respect.

He’s fought corporate greed and malfeasance. Will he also fight the utter fucking triviality and hypocrisy that infests American politics?

… 2008/03/14: no, of course not.

2010/11/04: I was interested to read this review of the new documentary, ‘Client 9′, about the Eliot Spitzer takedown. The reviewer, O’Hehir, describes it as, “an act that in retrospect looks an awful lot like a political assassination.” Ya think?

birth of and intellectual property

Intellectual property pops up in the strangest places.

Browsing The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg, for instance, I found this discourse on “stealing” baby names:

Not long ago, I heard an expectant mother beside herself with outrage. She had just learned that another woman in her small town had “stolen” her baby name! No, she admitted, she had never met the woman. But for years now she had been planning to name a baby Keaton, a name she had personally invented, and now there was another little Keaton right across town. Someone must have told that other mother her own secret, special name. Thief!

Chances are this was not really a case of name larceny. That mom had just run into a startling fact of baby-name life: Our tastes, which feel so personal, are communal creations. Keaton? Well, it’s a surname ending in “n,” a style parents are flocking to for fresh ideas that sound like classic names. K in particular is a hot first letter. And don’t forget that almost every parent today grew up watching Alex Keaton on Family Ties. So just like that outraged mom, thousands of parents across the country have independently “invented” the name for their kids.

We live in a shared culture with communities and experiences that shape our likes and dislikes. That means overlapping tastes — and as a rule, the closer two people are, the greater the overlap. Many of us have had a long-cherished name “stolen” by friends who had long cherished it themselves. …

… [R]emember that communal taste is really a good thing. That shared perspective is exactly what gives names their style and nuance. It’s also the context that lets you define your own style, meaningfully. …

This is from The Baby Name Wizard, Laura Wattenberg, “Rules of Thumb for Choosing a Name” (2005), p.6 (babynamewizard.com), which is probably my favorite baby name book out there. In addition to the little “definitions” and heritage information about various names, it includes trend information, and a variety of essays (like the one above) that contextualize names and naming. The book was published in 2005, and has a hypnotic and fascinating associated website — the “name voyager” — which provides the most up-to-date trend information for names. Type in any name to see how names beginning with those letters or that name have been trending up or down in the US over the past 125 years.

The book is awesome, in part because the author analyzes the phonemes and meanings of individual names, the data on popularity of individual names, and does significant additional research into news and culture, to discern both causes and meta-trends. For instance, tracking how Aiden and Jaden and many other names have become popular, while Eunice and Beulah and many other formerly popular names have become less so, the author sees that Americans dislike the “yoo” sound in names, but, these days, love the “ehn” sound as an ending. Our common tastes manifest in individual names, but reflect a deeper common taste in phonemes, resonances, and meanings.

The same zeitgeist lies behind numerous simultaneous “inventions” of unique names, and “rediscoveries” of older names. My partner and I loved the name Emma, and thought surely this nice old-fashioned name that is an excellent homage to Emma Goldman would be distinctive. I’m sure that most people reading this know what we were surprised to learn: Not only did we love picking that name out of our collective past, so did practically every other person of our age group: It’s the number two name for our daughters ever since people of our generation started having children.

I quoted Wattenberg at length, because so much of what she was astutely observing about our tastes and creative processes is utterly applicable to everything I think and write about on a daily basis. We humans take our names, and our children’s names, fairly seriously, and spend a decent amount of time scouring for them. In fact, as Wattenberg points out, one of the current trends is to have a unique name — we all try to come up with unique names for our children, and we all do it by assembling the same sets of popular sounds and rhythms.

… Finally, as long as I’m on the topic, you may be amused by this disclaimer on our “hypno-birthing” preparation audiorecording:

Do not listen to this CD while in a moving vehicle.

update 2/26 6pm: Wattenberg had two fascinating posts on the evolution of naming patterns and national identity — L’Etat, c’est nous (Jan. 23) and Part 2: L’Estat, c’est nous (Feb. 13) — deep comment threads. For those of you who, like me, are not what you might call “anthroponymists”, this can be a fun diversion. I was struck most particularly by a short reference in the Feb. 13 column:

Starting in the 16th century most countries moved toward heritable surnames … Modern nation states required more from names, too. In Scandinavia, the patronymic naming system that had existed since the time of the Vikings (Niels Jensen’s son Peder is Peder Nielsen, his daughter Anna is Anna Nielsdatter) was eliminated to aid record-keeping. Taxing, educating and conscripting a mobile population required clear and traceable family names.

“Family names” being the presumptive father’s names, that is. L’Estat, c’est le patriarcat, apparently. But what really struck me was the influence that states and governments have had on this basic feature of identity, and the ways that identity has been created in part as a form of social control.

on the sexiness of testosterone and unquestioned assumptions

Last weekend I was listening to a program on “Testosterone” on “This American Life” (archive) and, predictably, my interest in the topic was equaled or surpassed by my exasperation and annoyance at its handling. “This American Life” is a one-hour show, that aims to do something rather cool: Shed some light on a topic by telling several different stories related to the topic. But at the end of this nuanced hour, all I wanted to do at the end of it is say, “Jesus, it’s more complicated than that.”

First of all, on some level, the mere existence of a show on this topic annoyed me. Testosterone is just so over-exposed. Testosterone is a sexy hormone, and by that, I don’t mean that it is a sex hormone or that it is responsible for the sex drive. I mean that people love talking about it, thinking about it, writing about it, and attributing all sorts of amazing qualities to it.

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framing & being out

PZ Myers has been fulminating about framing a lot lately, mostly in reaction to Chris Mooney & a few others’ ideas that we have to “frame” science and atheism better in order to win people to our cause. I don’t exactly disagree, because I’ve been tired of framing ever since the 2004 post-election dissections cited and interviewed poor George Lakoff ad nauseum.

Right now some people’s favorite targets are the “new atheists” (and I have to point out that atheist anger and bitterness is not new. Atheism has always been angry at theistic stupidity, unreason, and violence.), particularly Richard Dawkins. Before Dawkins it was Michael Moore. Feminists have frequently been in the hot seat, particularly with regard to abortion rights. Apparently, when some wonderfully strident person stakes out a position on any controversial issue, it is their lot to be attacked by their fellow travelers. (Heck, even the non-strident who have been PR-ing for decades get told how to “frame”: Matthew Nisbet just castigated Al freakin’ Gore mis-framing global climate change. Chris Clarke thinks Nisbet is nuts and I gotta agree.) I find these public lectures to people who are working their asses off to speak their minds to be tedious at best. If Nisbet thinks Gore has gotten the science wrong in some particular, I’d prefer him to write and publicize his own message; not waste ink on freakin’ advice about framing, because, frankly, I think Gore can pay for any such advice that he wants.

However, the latest rounds of commentary got me thinking about framing and being out. Of course, “framing” critiques can be seen as just more movement in-fighting. “Welcome to The Movement! Watch out for friendly fire.” Framing advocates don’t mean it in that way, of course. They’re honestly talking about framing as a way to get people to strategize and coordinate.

But even this kind intention is really an attempt to corral and control the message. There’s no question that this kind of strategic thinking is useful in tight, targeted, PR campaigns from a single organization with a relatively discrete, unified message to convey. Like the Republican Party for the last few years for instance.

But in a movement it doesn’t work, and First Amendment and information theories help tell us why. A social movement is a big, unwieldy, mass of many thoughts and voices, largely tending in the same direction as a crowd but with many ebbs and flows and individual eddies and various tendencies in this or that way. The sum total of the movement ends up being determined by a “wisdom of the crowd” kind of way.

“Framing” is an attempt to distill those mass voices into a single voice. It’s top-down, PR professional driven. It’s the opposite of bottom-up, grassroots, wisdom of the crowds. It’s the opposite of the information marketplace — that First Amendment theory that proposes that the best solution to bad information is not censorship, but more information. In a marketplace filled with good and bad information, all accessible, over time the good information floats to the top. Through the wisdom of crowds, so long as there is no censorship (a market failure in the information marketplace).

So when I hear folks advocating framing, I think: They’re spending a lot of time on tactics and advising the movement, which is their choice. But it would be better to just encourage more folks to speak their piece, no matter what they have to say. The more people who are out about being an atheist — whether they’re angry like Greta Christina, or accommodationist like Chris Mooney — the better. Don’t strategize. Just speak. Tell your story. As the Christians say, Witness.

Because the more atheists talk, the more conversations there are about vital issues, the more people engage in thinking and sifting and responding. And if any angry atheist provokes a moderate Christian-loving atheist to say their piece, great. And if that Christian-loving atheist provokes an angry agnostic to speak out, even better. And if that angry agnostic provokes a confused and questioning theist to start talking, we’ve won. Because this battle is only going to be won when everybody, everywhere, is talking and thinking about these issues, and hearing a multitude of voices, and making up their own minds. With lots of evidence and information in front of them.

a natural history of copying

David Conniff on “Happy Days” in Times Select (sigh) writes about the human tendency to imitate and synchronize:

Mirroring the people around us is also a way we communicate affiliation and affinity. Two people in a friendly conversation often match each other’s body language down to the crossing of their ankles or the waggling of their feet. When it happens unconsciously, it feels good for both partners, as a way of saying, “I’m with you.” Studies suggest that we like a conversational partner more if the other person has subtly mimicked us. Mirroring gestures and movements also seems to help people work better together. They find a shared rhythm and gradually coalesce into a team, so the parts of a project get handed on seamlessly, as if by magic. One person starts a sentence and the other person finishes it. One comes up with a new product idea, and the other nudges it in a new direction.

Monkey see, monkey do. My friend and colleague Howard Besser often talks about how humans learn by copying: children, apprentices, writers, lawyers.

No wonder copyright law is in such a spasm.

how to balance badly: another way that news articles can suck

Ah, a fine Sunday morning reading the paper, and trashing media bias and sloppy reporting at the NYT …

This annoying NYT article (11/12) on police witness “sanctuary” policies is a perfect example of how articles can be technically “balanced” but still really suck present an imbalanced picture.

The police witness sanctuary policies basically tell local police that, when talking with a witness (including the victim) to a crime, they shouldn’t ask about immigration status. And, yes, there is a humanitarian rationale for them that benefits immigrants in particular. But there is also a significant rationale that applies to everyone, not just immigrants: These policies protect anyone who might be the victim of a crime, not just immigrants, by encouraging everyone to come forward without fear of personal repercussions. Do you really want the one person who saw the hit-and-run, or the murder, or the burglary, or the purse-snatching, or the kidnapping … to not come forward because her immigration status is in trouble?

The article, unfortunately, never presents that very basic, fundamental argument in a clear way, and instead presents the pro-sanctuary policy arguments in only a very muddled fashion. At the same time it gives plenty of space to the well-articulated (albeit distasteful) positions of those folks willing to cut off their crimefighting noses to spite immigrants. Or something like that.

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the kindness of strangers

So, tonight I was in a NYC restaurant with a dear friend, when I got a call from an unknown number in Boston. The unknown number turned out to be a library science professor at Simmons College, whom I have never met, and he wanted to know if I’ve lost my wallet. I found this very peculiar, since although I live in Boston, I’ve been in New York for the past few days, and I’ve definitely been using my wallet — in fact, I used my wallet just a couple of hours ago to buy groceries.

“I don’t think so,” I replied, “unless you’re in New York.”

“Well, I’m not in New York, I’m in Boston, but I got a call from New York a couple of hours ago while I was teaching, from someone who says he found your wallet. Then I looked you up on the Internet & got your number. You have an interesting resumé.”

I’m really pretty amazed, but thinking back I realize that I last used my wallet about three hours ago, coming out of the grocery store and crossing the street to my friend’s apartment building — literally, probably only about a hundred feet. It turns out that in my wallet I had a scrap of paper with this professor’s contact information on it, from a chance meeting with one of his students at a cafe a couple of days ago. The student thought the professor and I should talk, and since I hadn’t had a chance to write him yet, his email was still on the scrap of paper in my wallet. I hastily explain this, not very clearly, and the professor, a bit bemused, gives me the New York number of the person who claims to have found my wallet, and I ring off, to call the New York number.

“Hello?”

“Umm … my name is Laura Quilter; are you the person who found my wallet?”

“Yeah, I did — where are you?”

“I’m at the Trattoria Dante at [somewhere nearby].”

“I’m right around the corner; I’ll be there in two minutes. I know what you look like from your driver’s license.” He paused. “Umm, I’m not a detective, so I had to go through your wallet; I hope you’re not pissed.”

“No, no, of course not — just amazed that you’ve taken all this trouble.”

Two minutes later, indeed, he was there. I said I was extremely impressed by New Yorkers; it turns out he was actually from San Diego (but is apparently a New Yorker now). He wouldn’t take any money; wouldn’t even let me buy him a drink. He had spent god knows how much time trying to find me. My wallet wasn’t exactly very helpful, I realized afterwards, looking through it with a stranger’s eyes. Zipcar membership, health insurance, Trader Joe’s gift certificate, bar membership cards, picture of my spouse from a photobooth, espresso club card … My driver’s license — which I blush to admit is still a California license, even though I’ve been in Boston for almost a year — turned out to be more confusing than helpful since he thought perhaps I still lived near Berkeley. But he saw a Boston Public Library card, and the phone number of the professor in Boston.

Then, the professor in Boston, who also had never heard of me, and had no idea why his name might be in my wallet, spent who knows what amount of time looking me up on the Internet, tracking me down, and talking with me. It turns out there were only a couple of degrees of separation between him and me — my friend that I’m staying with knows several of the professor’s colleagues. The unknown benefactor, however, remains unknown. But greatly appreciated.

monday schizophrenic cat painting

Fascinating. A pictorial history of an artist’s descent into schizophrenia. Louis Wain, 1860-1939, effects of late onset schizophrenia on cat drawings. Part of a larger piece on schizophrenia. [link from miscellaneous heathen] More info at wikipedia.

The early paintings during the onset of Mr. Wain’s schizophrenia reminded me of some of the migraine paintings we had at the Exploratorium — jaggedy and painful.

 

 

 

Rosa Parks – my favorite photo

Rosa Parks, Booked

Rosa ‘Lee’ Louise McCauley Parks, Feb. 4, 1913 – Oct. 24, 2005
photo grabbed from marian’s blog

Katrina (9/1-9/15, ongoing)

9/1: Between work-stuff and watching Katrina, I’ve been too busy & too sad to post much the last few days.

To sum it all up:, a letter from Switzerland (9/3) [via daily kos 9/4]:

Watching the events in New Orleans unfold from here in Europe, mostly via BBC World, we have the impression that the storm blew up a corner of the carpet beneath which America had long been sweeping some of its fundamental problems.

Among the fundamental problems revealed are:

(1) the enormous divide between rich and poor (which has expanded rapidly in the past two or three decades);

(2) the racial divide leaving blacks in the poorest class (nearly all the stranded, angry, unassisted poor we see on the TV screen are black),

(3) the failure to invest in infrastructure (not only the failure to protect the dikes and levies, but the failure to storm-proof the electric and telephone systems by burying cables, etc.);

And, perhaps most striking of all,

(4) the bizarre law-and-order mentality which orders the National Guard to shoot-to-kill looters (that is, to give priority to protecting property more than human lives).

Perhaps it is going too far to state that we are watching a collapse similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union fifteen years ago. Much as the total-collectivization and total-centralization of society in the USSR collapsed, eventually, of its own internal contradictions, we wonder whether or not America, too, with its ultra-individualistic, ultra-material ideology and its absence of much concern about the collective needs of society (health care, education, infrastructure, etc.) will collapse of its own internal contradictions.

Here’s the rest of the best & most useful of what I’ve seen on Katrina, below the fold:

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they speak for themselves

Dept. of Homeland Security [DHS Website via america blog 9/3]:

In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility on March 1st for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort. The new Department will also prioritize the important issue of citizen preparedness. Educating America’s families on how best to prepare their homes for a disaster and tips for citizens on how to respond in a crisis will be given special attention at DHS.

Dennis Hastert, W 8/31 [via salon.com 9/2]:

Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Wednesday that it “doesn’t make sense” to rebuild New Orleans. “It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed.”

“It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed,” the Illinois Republican said in an interview Wednesday with The Daily Herald of Arlington, Ill.

Hastert, in a transcript supplied by the newspaper, said there was no question that the people of New Orleans would rebuild their city, but noted that federal insurance and other federal aid was involved. “We ought to take a second look at it. But you know we build Los Angeles and San Francisco on top of earthquake fissures and they rebuild too. Stubbornness.”

CNN reporters [CNN 9/1]:

MCINTYRE: And as to your question about political, I talked to a lot of people at the Pentagon today who were very frustrated about the fact that the perception was being created that the military didn’t move fast enough. And they did it somewhat as political. They thought that part of the motivation was the critics of the administration to make the president look bad.

And they seemed to question the motives of some of our reporters who were out there and hearing these stories from the victims about why they had so much sympathy for the victims, and not as much sympathy for the challenges that the government met in meeting this challenge.

George W. Bush, Th 9/1 [Good Morning America via crooks & liars 9/1]:

I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the breach of the levees.

Mike Brown, Th 9/1 [CNN 9/1]:

Michael Brown also agreed with other public officials that the death toll in the city could reach into the thousands. “Unfortunately, that’s going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings,” Brown told CNN. “I don’t make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans,” he said. “And to find people still there is just heart-wrenching to me because, you know, the mayor did everything he could to get them out of there. So, we’ve got to figure out some way to convince people that whenever warnings go out it’s for their own good,” Brown said. “Now, I don’t want to second guess why they did that. My job now is to get relief to them.”

“What we had in New Orleans is a growing disaster: The hurricane hit, that was one disaster; then the levees broke, that was another disaster; then the floods came; that became a third disaster.”

Michael Chertoff, Th 9/1 [on NPR All Things Considered, transcript via Here's What's Left, 9/1, link via Kevin Drum, 9/1]:

“I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the Convention Center who don’t have food and water.”

Mike Brown, Th 9/1, head of FEMA, interviewed by Paula Zahn [CNN; see also NYT 9/3]:

PZ: How can it be that hundreds and hundreds of thousands of victims have not received any food and water more than 100 hours after Katrina hit

MB: I will tell you this though, every person in that convention center, we just learned about that today. And so I had directed that we have all available resources to get to that convention center to make certain that they have the food and water, the medical care they need…

PZ: Sir, you’re not telling me, you’re not telling me you just learned that the folks at the convention center didn’t have food and water until today did you? You had no idea they were completely cut off?

MB: Paula, the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today.

Mike Brown, Th 9/1, head of FEMA, interviewed by Ted Koppel [via americablog 9/2]:

MB: We just learned of the convention center — we being the federal government — today.

TKl: I’ve heard you say during the course of a number of interviews that you found out about the convention center today. Don’t you guys watch television? Don’t you guys listen to the radio? Our reporters have been reporting on it for more than just today.

MB: We learned about (the convention center) FACTUALLY today that that’s what existed.

Col. Terry Ebbert, director of Homeland Security for New Orleans [NYT 9/1]:

Col. Terry Ebbert, director of homeland security for New Orleans, concurred and he was particularly pungent in his criticism. Asserting that the whole recovery operation had been “carried on the backs of the little guys for four goddamn days,” he said “the rest of the goddamn nation can’t get us any resources for security.”

“We are like little birds with our mouths open and you don’t have to be very smart to know where to drop the worm,” Colonel Ebbert said. “It’s criminal within the confines of the United States that within one hour of the hurricane they weren’t force-feeding us. It’s like FEMA has never been to a hurricane.”

Trent Lott, F 9/2, interview with Anderson Cooper [CNN]:

Cooper: So you’re pleased with the Federal government’s response?

Lott: I AM pleased with the federal government’s response…this is not a time for complaining…I am really shocked at the comments that are coming.

George W. Bush, F 9/2, Mobile, Alabama [transcript via looka! 9/2]:

The good news is — and it’s hard for some to see it now — that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott’s house — he’s lost his entire house — there’s going to be a fantastic house. And I’m looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)

Laura Bush [via salon.com 9/2]:

Bush was asked about the fact that most of them are poor and black. That’s just the way it is, she said. “This is what happens when there’s a natural disaster of this scope,” Bush said. “The poorer people are usually in the neighborhoods that are the lowest or the most exposed or the most vulnerable. Their housing is the most vulnerable to natural disaster. And that is just always what happens.”

Tom DeLay [via salon.com 9/3]:

In an interview with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Lester Holt, the African-American MSNBC anchor, asked, “People are now beginning to voice what we’ve all been seeing with our own eyes — the majority of people left in New Orleans are black, they are poor, they are the underbelly of society. When you look at this, what does this say about where we are as a country and where our government is in terms of how it views the people of this country?”

DeLay would have none of it. His boilerplate response: “What it tells me is we’re doing a wonderful job and we are an incredibly compassionate people.” The aid being contributed by the people in Texas and other parts of the South showed how wonderful the American people really are, DeLay explained.

Rick Warren [Fox, via salon.com 9/3]:

Rick Warren, the author of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” told Cavuto. “I would say play it down and pray it up,” Warren said. “In other words, you know when you lose everything it forces you to redefine your life. If your view of who you are is based on all the things you’ve accumulated — your car, your pool, your house, your boat — and all of a sudden you wake up one day and those belongings are absolutely blown away, you have to redefine what your life is. If your definition of family is tied to the neighborhood you live in or the security gates you live behind or your made-over home, and suddenly that’s gone, then you’re going to have to rethink what your family is … In the next few days millions of these Gulf State residents and millions of us who are watching it unfold are going to have to struggle with these questions. What is life really all about?”

Mike Brown, Sa 9/3, head of FEMA [Wash Post 9/3]:

Brown, a frequent target of New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s wrath, said Saturday that “the mayor can order an evacuation and try to evacuate the city, but if the mayor does not have the resources to get the poor, elderly, the disabled, those who cannot, out, or if he does not even have police capacity to enforce the mandatory evacuation, to make people leave, then you end up with the kind of situation we have right now in New Orleans.”

“Senior White House Official”, Sa 9/3 [Wash Post, 9/3]:

As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco declared a state of emergency on Friday, Aug. 26.

Mike Chertoff, Homeland Security chief 9/4 [Meet the Press 9/4, transcript; quote via thinkprogress 9/4]:

Well, I think if you look at what actually happened, I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers and I saw headlines, “New Orleans Dodged the Bullet.” Because if you recall, the storm moved to the east and then continued on and appeared to pass with considerable damage but nothing worse. It was on Tuesday that the levee — may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday — that the levee started to break. And it was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city. I think that second catastrophe really caught everybody by surprise.

This one speaks for itself so long as you know that as of Monday morning Mayor Nevin was already talking on NBC’s “Today Show” about the levees overtopping; and as long as you imagine that flooding following a hurricane is a “second catastrophe”.

Rick Santorum, S 9/4 [Interview with WTAE-TV CH 4 in Pittsburgh, via whiskey bar, 9/6]:

I mean, you have people who don’t heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving.

Barbara Bush, M 9/5 [American Public Media's "Marketplace", via Editor & Publisher, 9/5]:

“What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this–this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them.”

US Rep. Richard Baker [quoted at Booman Tribune 9/9]:

“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”

US Rep. (House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay F 9/9 [quoted at Dome Blog 9/9]:

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s visit to Reliant Park this morning offered him a glimpse of what it’s like to be living in shelter.

While on the tour with top administration officials from Washington, including U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao and U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, DeLay stopped to chat with three young boys resting on cots.

The congressman likened their stay to being at camp and asked, “Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?”

They nodded yes, but looked perplexed.

Bi Lies

The NYT profiled a new study that claims that bi-identified men really are either attracted exclusively either to men or women. And another new study is reported in The Scotsman about sex differences in the experience of and tolerance for pain.

As a rule I don’t think very highly of research on sex differences; research on sexual orientation is even worse, perhaps rivaled in its awfulness only by research on “race” differences. The methodological problems in any study I look at usually dwarf the value of any results. This one, I have no doubt, has similar problems. I predict that in a hundred years all the “gay science” of the 90s & early 2000s will prove to be as fraught with of-the-times misconceptions and ideas as the science of Havelock Ellis and Freud.

… I was going to babble on about the questions & criticisms I had about the results of this research (at least as reported by the NYT) but — well, I really have other things to do. In the meantime tho I get to be amused by snarky comments that point out hilariously obvious problems with research like this. For instance, Avedon Carol, who commented on the bi-lies study by noting that “every dyke I know says gay male porn is the hot stuff.” Yeah.

Related posts: Bi Lies, Reprised (7/27)

happy (belated) stonewall day & revolution season

The Stonewall Riots began June 27, 1969, at 130 am (or maybe it’s June 28; I can never remember, quite, in part because it’s always confusing to me whether you count 130 am as “the night of” the night before or “the night of” the next morning, if you know what I mean).

At any rate those fabulous drag queens, butch dykes, and other unnamed queers kicked off the public face of the mass movement for sexual liberation. Hoorah! Keep your state out of my bedroom!

Summer is a time for revolution. Consider:

  • May Day, May 1: Not just a pagan welcome to warm weather anymore. Since the Haymarket Riot, May Day has come to stand for the international struggle for the rights of all working people. As the tagline goes, Enjoy your weekend? Thank the Labor Movement.
  • El Cinco de Mayo, May 5: Celebrating the events of May 5, 1862, when 4,000 Mexican soldiers defeated an occupying army twice their size.
  • Juneteenth, Emancipation Day, June 19: Celebrating the emancipation of African-Americans in the United States. This presidential proclamation came after years of struggle, agitation by abolitionists, revolts by enslaved people, and of course the bloodiest war in US history.
  • The Fourth of July, Independence Day (US), July 4: Celebrating revolution against George, an incompetent and possibly mentally disabled ruler who inherited his position from his similarly named grandfather. After putting it like that, I’m starting to feel a bit more in the firecracker-and-barbecue spirit.
  • Pride, June 27 – July 2: Celebrating the Stonewall Riots, which sparked a gay revolution against sexual oppression!
  • Bastille Day, July 14: Celebrating the French Revolution and the overthrow of an infamous prison historically used against debtors and political dissidends.
name changes & blog comment-discussion threads

A couple of blogs [Matthew Yglesias, Volokh Conspiracy 1 and 2] have been running long comment-thread arguments about US women changing their names on marriage. Most comments fall into one of a few categories:

  1. Rationalizing / defensive about the decision w/in their marriage for the woman to change her last name to the man’s: “It wasn’t a big deal for her to change her name … She liked his name better … She didn’t really care about her name ” [Seen mostly on Volokh 1 and Yglesias]

    Wow. That so many literate folk could completely ignore the effect of socialization and sexist traditions is rather astonishing, but there you have it, the same old lines: “I got breast enlargements because they make me happier.” Almost none of these people up-front said, “It’s a silly and sexist tradition but I think there’s an independent value in following traditions anyway,” “I did it without much examination because it seemed like the thing to do, and you’re right, that was a result of sexist social pressure (but I don’t care / I regret it),” or any other response that would have indicated consciousness of themselves as individuals within a larger social framework. No, these were all free individuals, no social pressures here, move it along. Can there be individual situations and individual reasons for going with the convention? Sure, of course. But for so many people to claim the convention had nothing to do with their decision, and yet their decisions all followed the convention, is classic lack of political self-awareness.

  2. Rationalizing and silly. “We did it for the children; think of the children!” (Variants: Well, we couldn’t hyphenate; what would happen when our children wanted to marry some other hyphenated children?)[Seen mostly on Volokh 1]

    Think of the children? What? Numerous people asserted that children were better off if their parents had the same name as each other; or if the children had the same name as the parents. Where is this coming from? I’ll tell you: This kind of statement is just the most obvious recitation of a belief described as a reason. Not once did anyone even pretend to cite to some sociological data showing, I don’t know, family unity, family happiness, divorce rates, child identification with parents, or any other piece of admittedly subjective and silly data to support these arguments.

    I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt when I say that they can’t really think that children are better off objectively, because after all many of them seemed aware that there are numerous different naming traditions in different cultures and times. So they must just think that children are better off because other children in this culture have that experience. The same reasoning of course explains why some folks continue to have unnecessary genital surgery on male infants and why people used to stay locked together in unhappy marriages: “Little Johnny will be so unhappy if he’s the only one with divorced parents / uncircumsed penis / different name than his parent!” It’s a reason, but I have trouble respecting it.

    (As for hyphenating: What a silly argument. It almost pains me to have to point out that (1) Your patrilineally single-named children may marry some hyphenated-name child and have to deal with the issue anyway, and (2) Let them figure it out when they grow up. If they have a hyphenated name, they have more names & syllables to play with as they devise their own family name and figure out how to name their children.)

  3. Dismissive: “Does this matter any more? … Feminism has moved on … Name changes are irrelevant …” (plus sarcastic variants of this) [Seen on both Volokh blog entries and Yglesias]

    These people are socio-politically naive. Are non-legally-mandatory name changes for adult women on marriage the biggest issue that human rights people ought to be dealing with? No, it ranks well below female genital mutilation, reproductive rights, equal employment rights, etc. But the existence of a gender-based tradition that came from, co-exists with, and supports sexism is different from a hypothetical gender-based tradition that has nothing to do with sexism.

  4. Here’s our great compromise: She uses both our names! (mostly on Yglesias)

    I’m not sure whether the “She kept her name as her middle name” and “She kept her name as her first last name, i.e., Paula Jones Smith” fall into category 1 or 2. In the modern US-Anglo tradition, without hyphenation, only “Smith” is treated as the family name / surname. So this is some sort of compromise which tries to fit into both traditions. B for effort, I guess. Was she the only one or did he do it too? Do they really use both names? Might be interesting to know how that works out for people.

  5. Self-congratulatory: “She kept her name … We’re a great liberal couple.” (mostly on Yglesias)

    Right. And yet so many of these people, both in these blog comments and among folks I know, give their children the man’s last name. Apparently without much consideration.

    IMO, an adult woman choosing to take her adult male spouse’s last name in accordance with an admittedly sexist tradition is, you know, whatever. I wouldn’t do it, and I don’t like the outcome on a society-wide basis when some large percentage of women do it — but whatever. They’re grown women, with their own names, and they can change them if they want to.

    Frankly, I get much more annoyed by the continued patrilineal naming of children.

What didn’t I see? Nobody, not one person on any of the comment trails (when I saw them, although admittedly I scanned quickly because it was just such an annoying set of threads), brought up same-sex couples. Very few people brought up blended families. And non-marital families were brought up only, so far as I could see, in the context of sarcastic “Well why don’t you get rid of all the traditions and just not get married, Mr. Modern Feminist” type comments. And non-Anglo/US naming traditions were brought up only to demonstrate the point that other cultures have different naming traditions. Only one comment seemed to notice that there are non-Anglo naming traditions present here in the US today! All of these are groups of people dealing with the name issue and what it means to other folks right here in the US, and how to deal with a dominant naming tradition.

So little light, and not even much interesting heat. This just confirms my suspicion that blog comments are really not interesting ways to have a discussion. There’s no threading; there’s no individual responses to individual comments. Blog comments do seem interesting when someone adds information. Volokh’s original post was a query, and many of the responses came was answers; the whole entry + responses therefore acted as an informal survey, which was interesting use of comments. But the discussion value was poor, poor, poor. Yglesias’ blog discussion was no better. Pfah. Maybe it will improve as the technology improves.

must…quote…court case

The plaintiff and the defendant were in a long-term committed relationship. Early in the morning of September 24, 1994, they were engaged in consensual sexual intercourse. The plaintiff was lying on his back while the defendant was on top of him. The defendant’s body was secured in this position by the interlocking of her legs and the plaintiff’s legs. At some point, the defendant unilaterally decided to unlock her legs and place her feet on either side of the plaintiff’s abdomen for the purpose of increasing her stimulation. When the defendant changed her position, she did not think about the possibility of injury to the plaintiff.

(italics added by me)

blog trail: via MA Lawyers Weekly via Wampum

and feminists whine about social conditioning

So, the NYT reports today about a new service that baby stuff suppliers are offering: Expectant parents, who want to be “surprised” by the sex of their child, but still want the nursery perfectly decorated, can have their decorators & baby store registry folks check with their OBs directly. This way, their friends & family can buy things in pink or blue, but the parents can still have that moment of surprise when they learn whether it is a he or a she.

Hey, it’s never too early to start treating girls & boys differently.

peculiar dress habits of old white men

Old white men meeting to discuss US intelligence “failures” on Iraq weapons — notice the uniformity of dark suits? Ah, but look at the rainbow of ties! Peeking out beneath the boring suits are a springtime explosion of color, patterns — perhaps even delirious textures. These men crave to express their individuality but are bound by convention, and, perhaps, a fear of their own exuberant natures. But they can’t resist the call of fashion forever — look, some of them have begun to don modest little brooches, hoping the small size will render them unnoticed but unable to resist the lure of jewelry. We can’t see their socks or boxers — indeed I’m happy not to — but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some silk or fun colors there. What these boys need is liberation — a gay liberation!

Now look at these old white men meeting to discuss, well, gay liberation. Again, virtually all in somber hues. But their inner fashionista peeks out through their shiny gold brocade, frankly gaudy jewelry, and funny hats — one even in pink! Personally, I think these boys would do better to look to their own selves instead of plucking motes out of the eyes of their local glbt community. Some of these boys are definitely wearing dresses, which is covered by Deut. 22:5, “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.” I hope they’re watching out for those blended fabrics, too — those’ll get you in trouble.[1] [Bible, Revised Standard, from the University of Virginia Library, Electronic Text Center])

photo credits: bottom, European Pressphoto Agency, published in NYT 3/31, Laurie Goodstein and Greg Myre, “Clerics Fighting a Gay Festival for Jerusalem”

top, Brendan Smialowsky/Agence France-Press — Getty Images, published in NYT 3/31, David Stout, “Report Calls U.S. Intelligence ‘Dead Wrong’ on Iraq Weapons”


1. I’ve been reminded that some folks do observe the traditional injunctions against various mixed fabrics. Them, I’ll cut some slack (no pun intended) for being consistent, although, of course, still reserving the right to critique their behavior (and fashion sense) as I please on other grounds. But I truly don’t ever want to hear another self-proclaimed Biblical literalist / conservative quoting anti-man-lying-with-another-man scripture unless they cut out the blended fabrics, drop dollars in favor of shekels, and go back and figure out what it would mean to actually consistently follow Deut., Leviticus, etc. — LQ 4/28

women in rock

good point:

it’s 2002, for pity’s sake – don’t you think that “Women have brains” is slightly stale news?

xrrf [no rock and roll fun]

fun

someone keeps stealing my letters…: Just Letters

i tried to get people to dance with their letters, first by demonstrating (wiggling a letter around flirtatiously) and then by spelling out lets dance … nobody else seemed to pick up on it. or maybe they just weren’t interested?

longest lasting words that i placed on the board: “bush sux”

[cited at jay is... game blog]

ancient women warriors

reuters on ancient iranian women warriors’ tombs [sat 12/4] [via brutal women which i found via whumpdotcom]

TEHRAN (Reuters) – These days Iranian women are not even allowed to watch men compete on the football field, but 2,000 years ago they could have been carving the boys to pieces on the battlefield.

DNA tests on the 2,000-year-old bones of a sword-wielding Iranian warrior have revealed the broad-framed skeleton belonged to woman, an archaeologist working in the northwestern city of Tabriz said on Saturday.

“Despite earlier comments that the warrior was a man because of the metal sword, DNA tests showed the skeleton inside the tomb belonged to a female warrior,” Alireza Hojabri-Nobari told the Hambastegi newspaper.

He added that the tomb, which had all the trappings of a warrior’s final resting place, was one of 109 and that DNA tests were being carried out on the other skeletons.

Hambastegi said other ancient tombs believed to belong to women warriors have been unearthed close to the Caspian Sea.