Monday, December 31, 2007

Obama: the Runoff Candidate?

Today Barack Obama pleaded to voters, "Make me your second choice, although you are wiser making me your first." He brought up an interesting subject. Caucuses run by slightly different rules, but it's a good thing to think about. Many people become frustrated with having to throw all their support behind one candidate who may not win.

This is why I like Obama as a politician. He's good at appealing to people who otherwise feel disillusioned with the political system. Instant runoff voting makes a lot of sense for America's democratic system, since we've become so limited with a two-party system. With instant runoff voting, people can feel good about the candidate they really like without feeling like they threw their vote away. Ultimately, this might help third party candidates break into state legislatures or even Congress (Bernie Sanders is quite the exception to make it to the Senate in an overwhelmingly two-party system).

Bhutto, an Imperfect Symbol

Addie Stan has a great memorial article on Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto up at TAP today. She says:
For the women of South Asia, it is a tragedy that extends beyond Bhutto's family and her country. However disappointing her lack of action on behalf of Pakistan's women, Bhutto was a potent symbol of their potential empowerment. Symbolism was what Bhutto did best, and symbols matter -- especially to the desperate.
It's true that in societies where public women just don't exist, even imperfect symbols can go a long way. After all, I often have a problem with the notion that feminists are expected to be more perfect because they are under scrutiny. It's also true that great female Muslim leaders are virtually unknown to the West. Here's hoping Bhutto will pave the way for more female leadership (hopefully of a less corrupt nature) in places like Pakistan.

DC Caucus

14U is holding an informal primary. Leading so far: Hillary Clinton.

Radical Home Schoolers

While I was on vacation in snowy Minnesota, I finally had time to tear through my latest issue of Bitch (luckily it's a quarterly so I feel less bad about not getting to it right away). Unfortunately, Bitch is still in the process of re-launching their website, so I can't link to the article, but they had a story in this issue called "Learning Curve" about radical homeschooling feminists. These women are disillusioned with the school system, finding it lacking in gender studies analysis or not sensitive to their children's special needs or interests, so they choose a path they call "unschooling," or breaking down education and tailoring it to individual student needs.

I have to admit, I was a little jealous of the zine making curriculum one hip mom designed for her kid, but the whole article was framed in a way that focused on how these women square being a feminist with quitting their job to stay at home with the kids to teach them, even if it is a radical kind of teaching. The article's author, Maya Schenwar, asks, "Does being a feminist mean you have to have a paid job? What does it mean to raise a feminist kid? Is there a feminist definition of success, and should there be?" These are all certainly relevant questions for feminists to answer for themselves, but I was surprised by the questions the article didn't ask. What's wrong with our current educational system, and how can we fix it? If these women have lost such faith in public education -- a pretty popular position these days -- then there must be something pretty wrong. By taking their students out of the educational system, it's a little like a frustrated voter saying he's going to protest government by not voting. Then, nothing will ever really change.

Granted working on altering education can be frustrating. Between all the regulations and federal, state, and local funding perpetually hanging in the balance, it can be a depressing thing to try to change. I tend to have faith in the ability to customize education. After all the school district is one place where thoughts of parents are taken very seriously. These women could start and after school zine making club, and open up the opportunity to explore alternative disciplines to all students, instead of catering only to their own children. They could go to PTA meetings to ask teachers to include some feminist, race, or gender studies texts in English or history classes so students get a more diverse experience in the classroom.

I don't pretend that these radical unschoolers alone can change the way we do education, but I guess I'd like to see the discussion framed in a perspective that includes all children. After all, the unschoolers are women that can afford to stay at home and take charge of their children's education -- and children's education is extremely important. There are many women that cannot afford such a luxury and I'm sure lots would like to see the school system changed for the better.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Soldier's Suicide

The AP has a story today about Pfc. Jason Scheuerman who committed suicide in his barracks. Scheuerman went to a psychologist twice to seek help, sharing his symptoms of depression and hallucinations. Still, Scheuerman was denied classification as having a mental health disorder. Scheuerman's father wants an investigation into the behavior of his son's unit's leaders and wants the psychologist to be brought forth for peer review. The AP reports that the Army is tight-lipped about Scheuerman's case.

This soldier came forward to get help, and was denied treatment. There's overall a general resistance to labeling soldiers with mental health disorders for obvious reasons, but soldiers shouldn't be denied treatment when they ask for it. Sadly, Scheuerman and his family had to pay the price.

Human Fat Makes the Fastest EcoBoat?

So it turns out there's a contest to make go around the world in a boat powered by biofuels. I stumbledupon this story about the ecoboat that might break the record (a Brit who made it around the world in 75 days) powered entirely by human fat. It's a pretty sweet looking boat, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

IQ Sanity

I was horrified when I recently saw a weird debate on the blogs that was pretty much boiled down to: Black people don't have as high IQ scores as white people. Does that mean they're just dumber? Thank goodness for Amanda Marcotte. Finally, she (and Malcom Gladwell through a recent book review) brought some sanity to this debate.

It’s quite timely now that the racists are trotting out their favorite theory that gets trotted out every few years, smacked down, and then trotted out again once they figure everyone has forgotten the last smackdown, the theory that the IQ gap between whites and blacks must reflect fundamental, immutable, genetic traits, ergo a racist caste system is organic and not the product of oppression.

Now, she's finally making the point I'd been hoping someone would make all along: No, black people aren't dumber. The tests and social standards are biased in a certain way.The fact that the IQ test has long been billed as "a measure of raw intelligence" just seemed silly to me. Gladwell does a great job of explaining why:

The psychologist Michael Cole and some colleagues once gave members of the Kpelle tribe, in Liberia, a version of the WISC similarities test: they took a basket of food, tools, containers, and clothing and asked the tribesmen to sort them into appropriate categories. To the frustration of the researchers, the Kpelle chose functional pairings. They put a potato and a knife together because a knife is used to cut a potato. “A wise man could only do such-and-such,” they explained. Finally, the researchers asked, “How would a fool do it?” The tribesmen immediately re-sorted the items into the “right” categories. It can be argued that taxonomical categories are a developmental improvement—that is, that the Kpelle would be more likely to advance, technologically and scientifically, if they started to see the world that way. But to label them less intelligent than Westerners, on the basis of their performance on that test, is merely to state that they have different cognitive preferences and habits.

I once got criticized for suggesting that maybe the SAT was biased toward white people because non-white groups were lagging behind. What this really shows me is that intelligence, as we tend to measure it, has a lot more to do with class and buying into a certain set of social standards and assumptions. Of course it's hard to think that maybe the way you view the world is really specific to how you were raised. Realizing that is the easy part. Breaking down biases in supposedly objective data is the hard part.

Cross-posted on

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An Inane Ad

Please, don't punish yourself by watching the whole video. Skip to 2:50 and you'll see how the terrible anti-tax cut right-wing noise machine is starting already -- and including a holiday theme.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Control A Woman

I guess we're supposed to feel better that they also have a "control a man" model. Thanks, Urban Outfitters.

Now Urban Outfitters Sells "Control a Woman"

Cross-posted at

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The History of Sex

The History Channel's "History of Sex" series appears to be misnamed. It should be "History of White Sex."

Friday, December 7, 2007

Girls and Dolls

One professor's musings on toys and gender roles as a mother gave me food for thought.
I believed that if I dressed her in overalls, cut her hair as short as a boy’s, and gave her trucks instead of Barbies, she’d end up a nuclear physicist. I got my comeuppance right away. Among her first words were, “What’s that?” We had just passed a desultory-looking store window in downtown L.A. She was in her stroller, firmly pointing her pudgy index finger at a sorry-looking Barbie, alone and dusty, sitting atop a tower of toilet paper.
What this means is that, much as parents wish they could have control over how their children grow up seeing themselves, it's impossible to shut out every influence on children except the ones you want. Ultimately, there's more at work than parenting. This means feminists have a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Condom Cartel

Apparently there's some price fixing on condoms going on in Europe. Six rubber firms, who make everything from "shoe soles to condoms" met regularly to discuss prices and market information, the BBC reports. These firms controled the entire condom market in Europe.

This is actually pretty serious. Having affordable and availible condoms is a vital part of public health. Customers have been overcharged by up to 30 percent. Two of the firms charged with price fixing by the EU were U.S. firms DuPont and Dow Chemical, and what's more, this is the third time the rubber industry has been caught engaging in price fixing.

So much for the free market.

Cross-posted on

Huckabee Game

Some people think that Mike Huckabee looks like Wallace.

But he really looks like Kevin Spacey.

That is all.

The Times' Minnesota Obsession

Well, it's about that time. Every 4-6 months the New York Times takes it upon itself to publish an article written from the lens of "Look at Minnesotans! Aren't they weird?!?!" Of course, comedian turned Senatorial candidate Al Franken provides a perfect excuse for such an article. The wisdom imparted by the Times is:
“They should be allowing more dogs in places,” Mr. Franken deadpans to the voter, “dogs in grocery stores, dogs in hardware stores.”

Would-be senators do not usually meander into such lines of conversation. Nor do they make up silly songs incorporating the names on their list during “call time,” the endless hours spent calling prospective donors. Nor do they draw freehand sketches of the United States as a party trick at campaign meet-and-greets.
Sweet. Thanks, New York Times for telling us what candidates should and shouldn't do. What's more, they don't even bother to disclose the polling numbers of the race, only saying that Franken and Mike Ciresi, Franken's competitor for the nomination, are "competitive challengers" to Sen. Norm Coleman. When I bothered to look up the actual poll numbers, as reported by the Strib, Coleman is leading to Franken by 49-42. Coleman leads Ciresi by 46-43.

Regardless, the Times' article wasn't particularly helpful. Aren't they supposed to be a real newspaper?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Problem with Foreign Policy

So it turns out that we have no motivation to go to war with Iran (except that they're, you know, Muslim and anti-American), since they stopped their weapons program since 2003. What the report more or less shows is that Iran has been deescalating a war situation instead of baiting one.

Brian wonders why it took so long for the report to be released and why the intelligence community would defect from the administration. To me, the second point of wondering doesn't seem surprising. After all, the administration has more or less blamed the entire Iraq war on faulty intelligence, something I'm sure gets under the skin of many intelligence professional at the DoD and the CIA. The decision to go to war didn't rest with them, it rested with the president.

Furthermore, I think this really shows how hawkish our entire foreign policy community is on Iran. Even so-called liberal publications like the New Republic in the last year have published essays suggesting a hawkish policy on Iran.* What's more, a lot of people aren't considered serious thinkers in the foreign policy community unless they show evidence of at least minor hawkishness. This seems like a problem to me.

Cross-posted at

*Edited from original text.


Apparently I love to read and write about sea creatures. Via Brad I hear about what's known as a black devilfish (a.k.a. a humpback anglerfish), what's got to be the most extreme gender reversal I've heard of yet in nature.

The male devilfish bites a larger, more attractive mate and never lets go. He stays to become a symbiotic being with the female, depending on her for food and oxygen. Talk about taking on the role of breadwinner.

Bostonian Weekend

I spent the weekend in Boston (I already miss the hard "ar" in "Park Street"), which was really cold, but overall a great city. I'm amazed at how genuinely attractive the city is, and I ended up taking a lot of pictures of buildings. But if you're traveling to Boston (or the greater Boston area) in the near future and are looking for a not-too-expensive place to stay in a good location (about a block and a half from the T), we found this great little bed and breakfast in Cambridge called the Harding House.

The Harding House

It's also a short distance from former TAP web editor Sam Rosenfeld, who by all accounts, seems to be doing well at Harvard. (I found him, guys! He hasn't disappeared!) He even has some snazzy new hipster glasses.

The Cellar

Monday, December 3, 2007

Stem Cell Division

Today Science Progress (which is another division of my employer, the Center for American Progress) had a great piece by Kathryn Hinsch about why the stem cell debate is dangerous for science.
Stories have appeared in the media recently touting the wonders of adult stem cell research, and while adult stem cells are technically pluripotent [a cell that can generate more than one kind of cell when it reproduces], their germinating ability so far is type-limited. For example, an adult stem cell in the skin can produce several kinds of skin and hair cells, and an adult stem cell in the lateral ventricle of the brain can generate neurons for olfactory circuits, and some glial cells. But a skin cell cannot become a brain cell.
Furthermore the ban on stem cell testing can be really dangerous for clinical trials and the people who could benefit from the drugs:

Once they determine a positive, measurable effect, the drug leads are then tested on more sophisticated, animal cell-based models that represent some aspect of the target disease. With every round of elimination, the funnel’s opening grows smaller until those thousands of compounds have narrowed to, say, ten potential drugs. Those drugs are then tested on animals that, in most cases, have been inoculated with the target disease. After the initial testing and refinement process—which can take years—researchers are finally ready to administer the drugs to humans in clinical trials.

But there is one catch. These drugs have never been proven on human cells. And drugs that work on animal models of disease can fail in human trials. If researchers could jump ahead and use embryonic stem cells at the level of cell-based testing, Croft notes, “they would know, at a very early stage, that drug candidates worked on the specific types of human cells affected clinically. Research costs and time could, accordingly, drop.” In addition, cell-based drug testing requires millions of cells. Using embryonic stem cells, a lab could generate millions of exact copies, without relying on closely replicated mouse cells. The difference between exact and close is a chasm in the controlled world of the laboratory. Thus, cell type specificity, species specificity, and unlimited numbers are important reasons for pursuing hESC research.
So a simple discomfort with the use of one kind of human cell (which does not extend to some questionable genetic altering of animals to be used for testing) delays the development of lifesaving drugs and increases clinical trial risks. It's always frustrating when it seems obvious that the right is obsessed with stem cells and fetuses, but fail to step back and look at the suffering of adult humans.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Horserace Reportage

I think this falls under the strategy of "lowering expectations."

David Horowitz Picked On Feminists for a Reason

I was on the other end of the so-called "email debate" Jesse talked about in his post. To be upfront I thought what David Horowitz wrote in his Weekly Standard piece was total bunk, though and through. But then, so is much of what is written in the Weekly Standard.

Jesse says he (sort of) agrees with Horowitz that academic disciplines can have political biases and perpetuate echo chambers of falsehoods. I'm not sure I entirely disagree with that point. Although I'd have to say there's plenty of disagreement within the women's studies community. That is the point of academia -- to constantly revise to get to the truth. The one economics class I sat through when taught by a George Mason professor was loaded with debatable assumptions and lots of free-market biases. (Although I doubt Horowitz rejects economics in the same way he rejects women's studies.)

What I do think is that Horowitz picked on women's studies (or, as I prefer to call them, gender studies*) departments for a reason. As one of the newest disciplines and loaded with social stigma that just isn't true of other humanities or social science disciplines, he used biases rooted in sexism to make his larger point about academic freedom.

Leaving aside the obvious point that I am a woman arguing for gender studies against two white men, I have to disclose that I was not a women's studies major in college and never took a class through the gender studies department at my university, but I do identify strongly with some key feminist works that are usually required reading in the department. I can't speak to Jesse's experience in a comp lit class at his college, but my instinct is to say that sure, there are biological differences, but it's also true that people have massively overestimated biology's relation to gender over time. It used to be widely accepted in the scientific community, for instance, that women could not play sports because it would damage their uteri. Therefore, I think the point his teacher was (hopefully) trying to make is that assumptions about biological differences aren't necessarily a given and we should be really careful about throwing them around.

Personally, I wish I had taken gender studies classes at my university. I think I'd be better off. In fact, it's arguable that everyone should take a gender studies class as part of a liberal arts education -- or even a regular high school education. After all, the way gender plays into culture is relevant to everyone. I reject the idea that gender studies is an inherently "political" discipline any more than other social sciences, but it is definitely perceived that way. That's why Horowitz chose it. He used a political perception about women's studies to make a political point about academia in general.

*I know this is controversial, but the reason I favor gender studies is mainly to be inclusive to transgender individuals.

Cross-posted at

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We Miss You, Daily Show

John Stewart is on hiatus while the writers of the "Daily Show" are on strike. In the meantime, you should watch this shtick from a "Daily Show" writer expressing his beef.

He makes some good points, but Irene Tsikitas (whom I got the video from) of National Journal laments the "Daily Show" hiatus as actually damaging to democracy. After all, if Jon Steward and Stephen Colbert won't point out how ridiculous our electoral process and media coverage is, who will? Apparently no one.

I actually stumbled across the National Journal post because I hadn't heard anything about the writer's strike in a while so I hit up Google news to tell me what was going on. Turns out, nothing. Still, the media executives have decided that writers are not worth paying for. It's a pretty common problem. Everyone thinks they can write, so they figure it's not worth paying for. If there's anything worth paying for, in my experience, it's quality satire.

We miss you "Daily Show." May your overlords come to their senses and pay you what you deserve.

Cross-posted on

Tuesday Bluefin Blogging

Okay, so admittedly I have a greater fondness for sea creatures than I do cats, so any excuse I can find to put pretty ocean pictures on my blog, I will. A guest post on Gristmill by Carl Safina has given me such an excuse. As he says, the condition of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna shows exactly what bad shape our oceans our in. Thanks in no small part to overfishing:
Last year, U.S. fishermen caught only 10 percent of their quota. By any measure, they're going out of business. Because they consistently refused to discuss cutting their quota for the sake of conservation and their own future, their greed is bankrupting them.
We've seen businesses of all kinds resist conservationist regulations. Now, the favoring of industry over conservation is starting to take it's toll, and the industries are still dying because greed puts them in dire straights. So perhaps we should actually start listening to alarmist environmentalists and regulate human toll on the earth for good of industry and the good of the planet.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Reagan-Colored Glasses

In today's sceney the-state-of-young-conservatism-today piece in the WaPo, there was no shortage of glowing praise for that eternal conservative flame: Ronald Reagan. Campus Progress recently examined the fixation groups like Young America's Foundation have with the old Gipper. What's aways incomprehensible to me is that when you compare the two conservative two-term presidents we've had, Bush and Reagan, Bush seems to be far to the right of Reagan. Bush exploded the deficit more, fought a real war in the name of democracy, actually legislated a chip on Roe v. Wade, and has done a better job of putting tow-the-line conservatives in high positions. So why is Bush so absent among the rosy speeches that young conservatives make?

Is it just that Bush is that unpopular, even among the youth? Possibly, but I think the real thing here is that we're witnessing is the fundamental problem with conservatism in practice. At the core of their ideology, conservatives believe that the best of life and politics was in the past. First, they tried to hark back to the 1950s and early '60s. Now, it's the '80s. I've no doubt Bush will be elevated to such a position, but his time has not yet come. He's too fresh. Soon enough, though, conservatives will begin to gloss over Bush's errors and hail him as the last man that truly fought for conservatism. Too bad he's not there yet; he could really use the ratings.

Cross-posted at

Friday, November 16, 2007


I thought Sharon Butler's piece on the mega-museum was good today:
The ergonomic appeal, original charm, and traditional character of an old museum may also suffer on account of too much "improvement" too fast. Mega-museums can simply overwhelm viewers. A dizzying array of temporary exhibitions compete for attention alongside already abundant permanent collections, and after scurrying willy-nilly among them, visitors leave feeling as though they haven't seen anything in depth. While the Museum of Modern Art in New York, vastly expanded in 2004, in some ways remains a fine example of modernist restraint, many patrons now complain of its coldness and daunting size.
Minneapolis just redeveloped, redesigned, and relaunched its two major museums: the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Walker Art Museum. Now these two museums include expansive gift shops, thousands of square feet of brand-name gallery space, and pricey restaurants and cafes. While I think they were met with enthusiasm for a flashy new museum, it seems that the excitement will fade quickly.

There's something to be said for going to a museum and feeling like you truly experienced the small space, rather than sprinting through something like the expansive MoMA.

Not To Brag, But ...

cash advance

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Role of the Reserve

Philip Carter has a report over at Progressive Policy Institute that talks about how overstretched our military reserves are. This means that if there were a major disaster or terrorist attack, we be in deep trouble:

Between December 2005 and November 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a major study of National Guard readiness in four states -- California, Florida, New Jersey, and West Virginia -- to gauge how current operations were affecting the Guard's readiness to execute its domestic mission. The GAO study assessed readiness holistically, looking at objective manpower and equipment statistics, as well as subjective measures of readiness like commanders' evaluations of their units. According to the GAO, 20 states and territories said they had an "inadequate capability" to execute 10 core domestic-security missions. The states' largest area of concern was their readiness to respond to a chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological or high-yield explosive device.

This is not only a good way to talk about the current war, since this is a practical argument to start withdrawing troops, but it's also a good way to think about foreign policy generally. Our military is built on volunteer forces and therefore isn't built to sustain a long occupation. Instead it's built as a force to complete brief missions abroad and have a reserve force at home that can mobilize quickly. With the state our forces are in now, it looks like we're opening ourselves up for the next attack. And that is truly dangerous.

Cross-posted on

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Meditation on the Election

I had a conversation with Ezra in which a third party asked me who I was supporting in the Democratic field. When I said I was genuinely undecided, Ezra jokingly told that person that I wasn't, and that I was supporting Hillary Clinton. This was news to me. Since Kevin Drumm can write a long and meditative post about the Democratic field, then I guess, so will I.

Perhaps based on things I've written in the past, these liberal bloggers think they've got me all figured out. And to be honest, when I wrote that post, I felt obligated to defend Clinton as a candidate because I identify with her in many ways. I'm an ambitious white woman seeking to make it in a field that is overwhelmingly dominated by men. That's a really tough thing to do. She also does a good job of going to bat for a set of issues that I care about: toning down the abortion debate so it's not pro-lifers and pro-choicers screaming at one another, but giving voice to the people somewhere in the middle that want abortion to be legal, even if they're uncomfortable with it; she introduced legislation that would make big steps in closing the pay gap; and she has a long history of advocating for women's opportunities. But to be perfectly honest, I still have major reservations about her foreign policy positions. I'm wonder if by nominating her, we'll return to a shrill and divided debate that the right brought up the first time around with the Clintons.

Obama appeals to me in a way that no candidate has in a long time. His hopeful attitudes about politics and bipartisanship make me want to believe in the system again. I find him a compelling candidate, and I have no doubt that if elected, he would do everything he could to start healing this country after too many years of bitter divides. It's also impossible for me to ignore that Obama may be a real role model for young black men in this country in the way Clinton is, in some ways, for me. I find Obama's ideas about foreign policy really appealing. He wants to overturn decades of injustice in Cuba based on a stale Cold War grudge. He wants to talk to leaders about things that matter. But is his freshness just a cover for a real lack of experience? I don't know, but the question still hinges in my mind, even if I really like him as a candidate.

Edwards has policies that I really agree with, and I think that he's pushed the dialog back in the direction of what government can and should do for the American people. He has a pragmatic approach to how to infuse out government with progressivism. He wants to do things like tie the minimum wage to the cost of living so it doesn't have to become a huge battle in Congress every time. He's working hard to bring back populism that has been absent from politics for too long. Do I think he has a shot in hell of winning the primary? Not really. Does that mean I should vote for him anyway? Maybe.

I have to say, I loved Rebecca Traister's recent ode to Kucinich.

And the underlying fear to all this meditation is which candidate will stand up to the bitter, harsh, and relentless machine that the right has implemented in this country. I don't know which candidate will do that best, because, as we saw with Kerry, it's the little things that can really change the debate of the election, and those little things are as of yet unknown.

So the sort version of this is that I still genuinely don't know who I will go to the ballot box and vote for* come time.**

* Not that it matters, as a resident of the District of Columbia, I have very little to say about who the Democratic nominee will be. It will be totally decided by the time my primary comes around.

** This text was edited from the original.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Young People Are the New Isolationists

My friend Mark over at UN Dispatch alerted me to a new poll conducted by the UN Foundation which shows that overall people have more faith in international co-operation than military action. What's really interesting, though, is that young people (which the UN defines as the 15-24 age range) view themselves as islolationists more than older generations do. They tend to resist interference in other countries' internal problems. I'm all for resisting military invasions, but what I think is danerous about this, though, is that it suggests a general disengagement with what's going on in the world. There are plenty of places (see: Pakistan and possibly Sudan -- although there are some strong arguments to be made for military intervention there) where some strong diplomacy could swing things in a favorable direction. Since the US has so much power when it comes to trade (although to a lessening degree lately) it makes sense to monitor what's going on in other countries.

I'm interested to know, what do other young people think about isolationism?

Cross-posted at

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veterans Day

I have a piece up at the Prospect today taking a look at the state of care for veterans today:
On December 22, 2005, Joshua Omvig, a 22-year-old reservist from Davenport, Iowa, committed suicide with a gun in his pickup truck, after returning from a tour of duty Iraq a year earlier. He suffered post traumatic stress disorder, a common problem with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Omvig's parents, Randy and Ellen, began lobbying for comprehensive PTSD care for all veterans; they even used his memorial webpage to lobby for mental health care. Omvig became a symbol in committee hearings for veterans suffering from PTSD. The Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act was signed into law last week. On this Veterans Day, nearly two years after Omvig ended his own life, and more than six years after the invasion of Afghanistan, it seems appropriate to step back and survey the state of veteran benefits.

The exact number of Iraq or Afghanistan veterans experiencing PTSD is unknown. In 2004, the Associated Press estimated as many as one in eight returning soldiers might experience symptoms related to combat stress. The percentage of soldiers who encounter combat stressors like being ambushed or receiving rocket fire is estimated to be about 90 percent of those serving in Iraq, according to the National Center for PTSD, which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Of the 1.5 million troops that have returned from Iraq, the VA estimates that at least 283 soldiers have committed suicide after exiting the military; 147 have killed themselves while stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Suicide rates for soldiers once they have returned are double the rates during deployment.
Read the whole thing.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Don't Rush Into a Mortgage

This morning I heard a surprising statistic. About one-quarter of people under the age of 25 are homeowners, according to an interview I heard on NPR this morning with author Shira Boss. The author of Green With Envy: A Whole New Way to Look at Financial (Un)Happiness argues that the burden taken on by homeownership can often outweigh the benefits. She talked of how homeowners constantly pour money into improvements: from small things like painting to larger improvements like re-roofing. The cost of these improvements can outweigh how much one makes on the sale of the house, espeically in such a poor real estate market today.

I'd sort of always been taught that investing in real estate was a "sure bet," and have lately been proven that that isn't the case. What's more, buying a house can lock you into jobs or locations that you may not want to be in for a long period of time. Many of us should be used to the idea that, especially in the beginning of our careers, we're often not in jobs for more than a year. What's more, when a mortgage comes into play, you can never take a pay cut. If you get laid off, you're in severe dire straights.

I for one am a renter. Although my family has encouraged me to look into ownership, I'm reluctant to lock myself into that investment. Who knows if I'll be in the DC area for a long time?

Cross-posted at

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ron Paul = Guy Fawkes?

Ron Paul managed to raise more than $4 million yesterday through his Guy Fawkes website. Really, Guy Fawkes? Ron Paul is associating himself with a historical figure who spearheaded a plot to blow up the houses of Parliament -- by very definition, a terrorist. True, England was persecuting Catholics and Fawkes role was to fight back against a religiously intolerant government, but he was still a terrorist by definition. It seems a strange stance for an antiwar candidate.

Election Day

Today is election day. It's not a midterm or presidential election year, so turnout is assured to be low. What stands is local and state elections (including the balance of Virginia's state legislature). Sadly, this is the first year I won't be able to vote since I turned 18. I only registered last Friday, and the District of Columbia requires a 30-day advance on registration. It makes me miss my home state of Minnesota, where day-of voter registration was legal.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Racism in Crime

I agree with Matt that American Gangster was good but not great, but the question of glamorizing criminals is an interesting one. I initially had the same gut reaction to the movie, and found the 30-second cameo of a few nameless heroin addicts lacking after most of the movie was devoted to the high style of the gangsters. The women cutting and bagging the product seemed to be having fun, when the reality is that the work conditions in reality weren't so great.

But let's take a step back here. The movie depicted the cops as corrupt. Even though what Frank Lucas did was certainly bad, it's not as if the cops that were supposed to be keeping order were any better. They were racist and corrupt. Lewis emerged at at time when black men couldn't make it to the top of the legitimate world, so making it to the top of the criminal world was something. It's easy to discount people because they're criminals, but you also have to look at the opportunities in the legitimate world. If there's nothing offered there, of course the criminal option seems better.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Stand Down, Citizens

Via Chris Hayes, Bruce Schneier talks about how making citizens part of the counterterrorism effort is ... well, counterproductive. The "If you see something, say something" ad campaigns that are in airports, subway stations, and high-security buildings are sort of ineffective:

The problem is that ordinary citizens don't know what a real terrorist threat looks like. They can't tell the difference between a bomb and a tape dispenser, electronic name badge, CD player, bat detector, or a trash sculpture; or the difference between terrorist plotters and imams, musicians, or architects. All they know is that something makes them uneasy, usually based on fear, media hype, or just something being different.

Even worse: after someone reports a "terrorist threat," the whole system is biased towards escalation and CYA instead of a more realistic threat assessment.

Watch how it happens. Someone sees something, so he says something. The person he says it to -- a policeman, a security guard, a flight attendant -- now faces a choice: ignore or escalate. Even though he may believe that it's a false alarm, it's not in his best interests to dismiss the threat. If he's wrong, it'll cost him his career. But if he escalates, he'll be praised for "doing his job" and the cost will be borne by others. So he escalates. And the person he escalates to also escalates, in a series of CYA decisions. And before we're done, innocent people have been arrested, airports have been evacuated, and hundreds of police hours have been wasted.

What's more, ordinary citizens could point out someone they suspect of being a terrorist just because they have a different color of skin or are wearing religious garments. Those characteristics don't automatically make people terrorists. Leave the counterterrorism efforts to professionals. Observant people who really suspect something will report things anyway, and there's no need to make people paranoid.

Cross-posted at

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Be Afraid of Big Organics, Be Very Afraid.

In addition to Big Pharma, we have to watch out for Big Organics. I shit you not. This is prompted by the Wild Oats/Whole Foods merger that's on the table. As Tom Philpott says on Grist,

In defending the merger from a challenge by the Federal Trade Commission, Whole Foods claimed it faces plenty of competition from conventional grocers such as Kroger and Safeway, as well as superstores such as Wal-Mart -- all of which are scrambling to grab a piece of the growing organic pie.

To me, this isn't a problem specific to the grocery industry or even Big Organics. This is more of a problem with how our economy is set up. We reward stores that resemble the corporate structure, even if they're advocating something that theoretically liberal. Consumers look for chain stores because that's what's familiar. We really don't give much credit or support to independent retailers. Instead, it's not enough to be a good corner store. If you have a good business model, you aren't supposed to inspire other store owners in other cities, you're supposed to form a franchise and open up your own stores in other cities. We're far too dependent on the brand name.


Via SFChonicle:
A study released Tuesday by a group of Bay Area organizations serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families found that same-sex couples raising children in California are more likely to be people of color and that their median household income is 17 percent lower than the income of married couples with children.

Health Care and Immigration

You know how conservatives like to blame uninsured illegal immigrants for the rising costs of health care? Well, the Economic Policy Institute released this graph that shows change in the share of the uninsured with and without post-2000 immigration increases.* Don't you love it when you can point to a graph to prove your point?

EPIhealthcare immigration

*This post originally said this was a change in overall health care spending.

Cross posted at

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cleavage At Work

Karen Salmansohn seems to be the resident cleavage expert, even appearing on the Today Show to talk about Cleavage At Work. She calls it an "evolutionary step" for women to be able to dress "femininely" while at work. Then, she releases the following pearl of wisdom:

Personally, I've never believed a woman has to make a choice:

1. feminine

2. successful

Pick only one of the above.

I've always been a believer that a woman should be her full feminine self at the office. I'm into what I call "feminine-ism" - which unlike some of the hardcore "feminism" I knew growing up- "feminine- ism is about being feminine and powerful both - in one tasty spoonful.

Hm. Notice which ranks higher on her list? It's unclear what her message is, because she says that women who are good will get promoted no matter what they look like (I'm not sure that's true) but then says, "if you're a business woman reading this blog -- remember -- cleavage IS power - and you must be aware of using your cleavage power responsibly!" Her advice subtly implies that women should dress sexy to succeed.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Presto! Gender Gap Reversed!

I'm highly skeptical about this post (via Ezra) that claims women seem to be reversing the gender gap worldwide. Good news! All those feminists can pack up their bags and go home! Inequality doesn't exist anymore!

While it's certainly good news that women are making leaps in closing the education gap, I tend to think that this doesn't actually translate to equality in wages or status. The same goes for the labor participation factor. Sure, women around the world are working more, but they're working for extremely low wages. The claim that, "More couples will have a more educated wife whose income earning capacity will exceed that of their husbands" is rosy and optimistic. I'm no economist, but I think this will actually be a much slower transformation than Hausmann seems to predict.

Political Alamony

This morning I saw this story about Argentina's first lady becoming Argentina's first female president. It reminded me of Rik Hertzberg's column last week (that I read on the train but couldn't blog about and therefore forgot about until now) that talked about political dynasties, but what interested me was what he said about women taking over in the wake of their husbands:

In most cases, the tie has been broken by death. In South Asia, which seems to lead the world in female national leaders, violent death is invariably a factor. In Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a total of four female heads of state have come to power in the wake of male relatives’ assassination; in India, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter, was herself assassinated, as was her son and successor, Rajiv. (Her daughter-in-law, Sonia, now heads the ruling Congress Party.) Burma’s imprisoned opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is the daughter of the assassinated independence leader Aung San. And the father of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s two-time and perhaps future Prime Minister, was a Prime Minister whose life ended at the gallows; her return to Karachi last week was marked by a suicide-bomber attack that claimed more than a hundred lives.

In the United States, the widow-of and daughter-of pattern has been gentler. Of the two hundred and forty-four women who have served in the House and the Senate, forty-six succeeded their husbands and twelve their fathers. The wife-of, as distinct from widow-of, method of conferring power has been a relatively minor theme, found mostly in the nether parts of the country—one thinks of Governors Ma Ferguson, of Texas, and, especially, Lurleen Wallace, of Alabama, through whom George ruled when term limits forced him out of the state house.

He notes that Hillary Clinton is different because she was pretty successful all on her own. The thing is, though, that women who are successful all on their own don't seem to make it as far as the women who are successful, but then take over for their dead or retired husbands. Would Clinton be running for office if she weren't a Clinton, but just Hillary Rodam? It's hard to say, but my guess is probably not. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where women can be hugely successful on their own, but to really make it in political office, they have to tailgate on the roles of their men.

It's true that this makes sense on one level. Marriages are partnerships, and it makes sense that when one of the partners can no longer carry on a political agenda, then the other might take up the cause. But I'm waiting for the day when men ride in on the coattails of their wives. As of yet, I haven't really seen it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Re: Che

Indeed. The piece I wrote about Che Guevara wasn't favorable. It also wasn't targeted at people like Kirchick that have already written Guevara off as a bad guy -- it was targeted at the idealistic lefty college student wearing the Che T-shirt.

But the bigger point here is this: Kirchick has written Che Guevara off as "evil." This is a pretty dangerous thing when you're talking about leaders, whether current or historical. The world, much as people like to think, isn't made up of "good guys" and "evil" leaders. It's a good way of dehumanizing opposition. I recall the word "evil" applied many times to Saddam Hussein before (and after) the invasion of Iraq. I was trying to look at Guevara as a human being, and a very imperfect one at that. Forgive me for trying to have a nuanced view of this infamous historical figure.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sick of the Global War on Terror

I agree with Ezra that I'm a bit tired of the discussion on the "Global War on Terror" as well, since, as Ezra said, it's "overwhelmed by Iraq." What's more, the way the discussion has been framed, since the term was dubbed by the Bush administration, suggests that we're all in this together. This couldn't be further from the truth. Instead, it's this fierce "us against them" ideology purported by the Bush/Cheney administration. And as Lynne Cheney demonstrated last week on the Daily Show, that doesn't include terrorist attacks on our allies.

Five Minutes with Greenpeace

I have an interview with John Passacantando up over at Campus Progress. He's really good at articulating the conflicts in the environmental movement. He also has some thoughts on the new Shellenberger and Nordhaus book:

I haven’t read the book. But as far as the discussion that it has provoked, it was useful in that it was critical of the mainstream environmental movement. Criticism can always be useful.

I watched Shellenberger and Nordhaus present their thesis at a conference in Middlebury, Vermont. They leveled their criticism at national environmental groups and then at local groups. They pretty much said, “A pox on all your homes,” and, “We don’t really have the answer.” [They believe that] all these [progressive] issues need to be rolled into one—sort of a rainbow coalition of gay rights and anti-war and anti-global warming and jobs.

But that’s not how things work. Historically, people pick an issue and they win on that. They don’t link it to another issue and another and another and another to make it more powerful—that makes it weaker. And so I thought their premise was incorrect. It was rather sloppy.

Read the whole thing here.

The Women's Vote

Today Women's eNews has the same kind of story I complained about yesterday in the Globe. It makes more sense in Women's eNews. Today, though, it occurred to me. For once, what women think is really valuable, and candidates are vying for my vote. It's kinda nice for a change.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

XX Reviewed

Slate's new blog "The XX Factor: Women blog about politics, etc ..." got its first reviews. Most women are sort of disappointed. It's true, though. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of blogs (probably this one included) out there about women's issues. But women need to stop segmenting themselves off and start joining in the game. I recognize the need for a "safe space," but those spaces already exist on the internet with smaller, fringier publications and blogs. A large online magazine like Slate can easily say to themselves, "Hey, we want to have a blog about politics, but this time, let's make sure it's not filled with wonky white dudes. Let's make sure it's gender-balanced and include some people of color." That would make a lot more sense to me.

Musings on Clinton

I hate to rehash this old argument, but I couldn't help but roll my eyes when I saw this story in the Globe today. I wish that we lived in a world where, if a woman were running for president, the only thing relevant about that is that you have to refer to her as "madam" or "madam" instead of "sir." But we don't live in that world. Instead, we live in a world where there are endless articles about how Clinton is a woman, Clinton is a feminist, and the oh-so-popular CNN tagline "Is Clinton feminine enough?"

As a feminist, I recognize Clinton's accomplishments, but I also recognize her failings and hawkishness when it comes to foreign policy. But with endless stories about her gender, and her appeals to women based on her gender, it's really hard for gender to not be a factor in the election. The Globe story pointed out things I've found to all be anecdotally true. For example, "But analysts also see a political calculation: She is less popular among older, married women who are more likely to prefer a more traditional role for women. Clinton's focus on women this week was a bid to consolidate her support among female voters, who account for much of her lead in many polls." I heard a friend recently refer to a Midwestern relative that fits this description exactly. Come to think of it, my mom might, too. It's frustrating, though, to see women be so judgmental of other women. Men's personal lives (see Rudy Giuliani) have little to do with their professional electability.

Calculated by the Clinton campaign or not, I wished I lived in a world where I didn't have to read such stories and could judge candidates on their policy proposals and experience, rather than on their gender or personas. It seems, though, that I will have to endure this for as long as Clinton is running for president, and perhaps if another woman runs for president, too.

Health Care Advocates

Something like this demonstrates the extreme disparities we have in our health care system today. There is now a profession where you can charge $150 an hour, $3,000 a year, or $30,000 for a lifetime membership to someone who can consult with you on your medical services. That's all well and good, but there are people out there struggling to buy and receive medical care out there, so why are we creating new professions for the affluent to navigate this care? Shouldn't this be a model we use for the low-income people, who have to fill out endless Medicaid forms and don't even know where to go to the doctor when they're sick? It kind of shows how fucked up things are.

Code Pink Clashes with Camo

The SF Chronicle reports from a scene in Berkeley where Code Pink protesters faced off with a Marine Corps recruiting station. This is representative of a tension within the anti-Iraq War movement. Although the recruiters are probably extremely supportive of Bush's policy in Iraq, there are many military personnel who don't feel the same way.

To me, especially because the military is entirely composed of people who choose to be there, this is really significant. By tapping into that pro-military antiwar sentiment, it sort of gives a legitimacy to the movement that it hasn't previously had. In a lot of ways, I feel like the antiwar movement has matured since the 1960s. Those who favor withdrawl draw up well-thought-out plans on how it can be done and carefully weigh the consequences. The movement has acknowledged that the military serves an important role, in a way that the hippie antiwar movement of the 1960s isn't represented (at least as far as I can tell).

But Code Pink positions themselves as radical. They use inflammatory tactics like calling Donald Rumsfeld a "war criminal" (and I acknowledge that these accusations aren't groundless). They try to, as the story from Berkeley shows, shut down a military recruiting station. I've written before about my complicated feelings about Code Pink. Sometimes I find their methods irritating, and I wish they would offer up real alternatives rather than simply calling people war criminals.

Not everyone that serves in the military kills people, but some of them do. Identifying that the military serves a complicated function in our country could go a long way in legitimizing the Code Pink antiwar protesters.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Women Are Sexist, Too

The Boston Globe reports that about a third of women surveyed judge candidates on their marriages. This is always baffling to me. Why the marriage judgment? How does that have anything to do with their, um, job? As always, Stephanie Coontz swoops in with insight:

Stephanie Coontz, a marriage historian and Ladies' Home Journal contributing editor, said ratings for the twice-divorced Giuliani appeared to be a sign "people are willing to give male politicians, at least, a second, or even third, chance at happiness."

Clinton's relatively low score is a sign that women are more harshly judged than men for not having a happy marriage, Coontz said.

She said Hillary Clinton is blamed for "not packing up and leaving her husband" after he had an extramarital affair with a White House intern.

Happy Death Day, Che.

I have a piece up at Campus Progress about why Che Guevara isn't such a great icon.

At best, Guevara’s politics advocated for a mindless devotion of the working man (with an emphasis on “man”) to socialism, but left out other causes many progressives have worked long and hard for: equality for gender and sexual orientation. In fact, gays were persecuted following the Cuban revolution. (Poet and novelist Reynaldo Arenas, who included descriptions of his openly gay lifestyle in his writings, was killed as the result of the government’s prosecution of gays.)

Guevara was raised with a Catholic outlook on life, in which the “good” girls saved themselves for marriage. Wealthy Argentine boys tended to sexually exploit the family mucama, or servant girl, and Guevara was no exception. [Jon Lee] Anderson tells of a cousin who once “watched in astonishment from his place at the dining table through the open doors leading to the kitchen as Ernesto had quick sex with the muchama on the kitchen table, directly behind their aunt’s unsuspecting back.”
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Here's My Question

Do you think Stephen Colbert will appear on the Daily Show and the Colbert Report to promote his new book?

Banning the Archbishop

St. Thomas University, a Catholic university based in St. Paul, Minn., has banned Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu from speaking on a campus event organized by PeaceJam, as reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The group has since found another university that will host the event.

Officials said St. Thomas is being more careful about appearances since Ann Coulter came to their campus in 2005. That's right. They're responding to a controversial speaking event that featured Ann Coulter by banning Desmond Tutu. Sounds like their either overcompensating or they're practicing good old bias against the left at a conservative Catholic university.

The Strib reported that university officials said "that local Jewish leaders they consulted felt that Tutu had made remarks offensive to the Jewish people in a 2002 speech about Israeli policy toward the Palestinians." I saw Archbishop Tutu when he spoke on the University of Minnesota campus in 2003. He then compared the situation of Palestinians to apartheid in South Africa. Perhaps not such an inaccurate comparison, since Palestinians are more or less held hostage within a state where they have no legal status.

Arguments about Israel aside, it seems silly to go around banning peaceful figures because they're too controversial. The whole point of events like bringing controversial speakers in is to foster discussion and open up students minds to encountering something outside a narrow tunnel vision. I have to say I'm with the protesters who hold up a large banner that said, "Let Tutu speak!"

Cross-posted on

Dear Abby, I need an ally ...

Abigail Van Buren, officially known as Jeanne Phillips, came out in support of gay marriage. Besides, not doing so would just be rude.

SF: Get Those Homeless Off the Streets

The San Francisco Chronicle had a column that I probably wouldn't have clicked on, except I did so accidentally. Apparently SF residents are getting fed up with seeing "some guy ... standing on the corner throwing up on himself." Wow, well, that's disgusting, but I can't help but think that the SF residents cited in this article are less concerned with solving the homeless problem than with having to deal with looking at it. Maybe instead of complaining about it they should give some money to their local homeless shelters--or better yet, lobby their local government to make sure there are enough resources devoted to the homeless.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Picking at Apple Picking

Via Ezra. Apparently Daniel Gross writes of the "economically inefficient" apple orchards. Since I went apple picking this weekend, I feel obligated to defend the practice. It seems to me that Gross is viewing these apple orchards in entirely the wrong way. It's as if orchards only serve one function: to produce apples. But think about it this way: the hobby orchards where people drive out and pick apples themselves is a form of entertainment--just like movies, camping, or any number of ways people spend their free time. As Ezra said, the day was nice, and I managed to get out of the city for a little while.

Biking is safe(er).

This makes me feel good about buying a bike helmet yesterday.

Moderate Bias on Campus

Both Inside Higher Ed (free) and the Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req.) highlight a study (PDF) by assistant professors at Harvard and George Mason universities. This study is slightly more valid than what's been thrown around in conservative circles by people like David Horowtiz in recent years. What the study shows is that while the numbers of self-identified conservative professors are low--under 10 percent--the number of moderate professors is growing and the number of liberal professors is declining.

So what does this all mean? Inside Higher Ed cited Larry Summers' analysis (yes, that one), "pointed to a problematic liberal domination at elite research universities."

What's confusing to me is why this is "problematic." No one surveys investment bankers, although they mostly all are likely to come out somewhere in the libertarian camp. No one surveys social workers for "liberal bias." To me, how a person identifies politically has very little to do with his or her job. But in the last couple of decades, both professors and journalists have come under fire for having political beliefs.

It's confusing to me, though. After all, the people who read newspapers are mainly grownups, and all the people taking classes at major universities and colleges are at least 18--legal adults. What this suggests is a kind of infantalization of grownups: They can't think for themselves, so we have to make sure there's no bias whatsoever in college classes or newspapers.

Cross-posted on

Saturday, October 6, 2007

My Roommate Observes

  • The reason Ugly Betty will fall back in love with Henry is because he can't get a job in Tuscon and therefore doesn't have health insurance for his pregnant ex-girlfriend.
  • Controversy over Ann Coulter's "women shouldn't vote" comment just proves how bankrupt the conservative movement really is. Republicans truly are the party of the white man.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Screwed out of GI Benefits

Jesse Singal has a link to a great piece today on how the Minnesota National Guard ended up serving deployments of 22 months, and just one day short of being able to collect a significantly greater amount of money toward GI Bill education benefits. I wrote about this a while back, but now we're actually seeing the effects of what many feared about education benefits take place. It's really infuriating, especially considering the National Guard is often billed as a way to serve your country and pay for college. It's a serious problem that's just beginning to get play, but I'm sure we'll hear more and more about it.

Friday Minnesota Senate Horserace Blogging

Al Franken has been out-fundraising Norm Coleman this quarter. What the debate is quickly shaping up around, though is the source of those funds. Coleman is boasting about 16,000 "Minnesota donors," and the Strib article quotes this line from Coleman, "It's difficult to compete with the checkbooks of the Hollywood elite."

Franken right now is positioning himself as the anti-Coleman -- people are sick of the war, so they should be sick of Coleman, too. While that's all useful, he should also be positioning himself as a true progressive, one in the vein of Paul Wellstone. That name still carries a lot of weight with Minnesotans, so carrying on the tradition begun by him would be a good thing.


I've been out this week doing journalism trainings for kids at Ithaca College (Buzzsaw Haircut) and Cornell (The Cornell Progressive) for Campus Progress.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Monday, October 1, 2007


Jessica Clark has an interesting article up on TAP's website today about working in "meatspace" -- a phenomenon where freelancers meet in a slightly more traditional office setting with people that they don't work with.
For $25 a day (or $175 a month for a 3 day/week commitment), you can drop into the space, use the wireless, meet with clients in the small glassed-in conference room, and, often, find folks to grab a drink with afterward. The feel is part dorm lounge, part ad agency and part cybercafe, and it's a hit.
I have a number of friends who are either full-time freelancers or have flexible enough jobs that they don't have to go into the office regularly. This always drove me nuts, since I'm the type of person that needs structure to help me get things done. In college when I set my own office hours as an editor, I rarely made it to them. I'm not disciplined enough on my own to work well with that kind of flexibility. Furthermore, the contracting trend tends to lose office collegiality and social interaction that comes with having a physical work location. But having a place to go like this seems to be a good solution for people who want social interaction and to get out of the house. What innovation.

Wal-Mart and Birth Control

Liberals love to hate Wal-Mart, but as Kaiser's daily women's health policy report says, Wal-Mart is now adding some discounted generic drugs to its "rollback" prices, including $9 generic versions of the popular Ortho Cyclen and Ortho Tri-Cyclen forms of birth control.

This seems to me a matter of necessity. Wal-Mart appeals to the religious conservatives for its bill as the American Dream, but customers to the store are overwhelmingly in the low-income bracket. If the company is willing to offer much-needed birth control to those who often have the most difficult time getting it, it's hard for me to not see this as a good thing. I will, however, wait for individual pharmacists to start refusing the drugs to women thanks to some pretty sexist legislation.

Happy October

Today is the first day of October, which may be my favorite month because it has my favorite holiday: Halloween. I guess it's time to start planning my costume!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Clinton on Gender

A woman from the Pasadena Weekly asked a question about how women fit into the grand scheme of his global initiatives. She quoted "when you give a man an education, you teach an individual, but if you give a woman an education, you teach a family." Clinton rambled on and on about overfishing, CO2 levels increasing in the atmosphere, describing the evolution of the first human all to say that teaching women is the key to reducing global population and poverty. "The question she asked is a powerful one," he said. It musth have been so powerful that he couldn't, um, answer.

Cross-posted on

Nitpicking on Rhetoric

I realize that the whole discussion around global warming (and other economic issues) has adopted a rather grating phrase: "grow the economy." But do they have to say it so often?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fashion Design: For Women. By Women?

Jezebel has an interesting post based on a Women's Wear Daily (trend) piece about the role of female designers in fashion. It seems that male designers have been dominating high fashion for years, but recently female designers are gaining ground. Granted, I know nothing about fashion -- I'll be the first to admit that I don't change my wardrobe with the seasons and fashion week makes me want to go take a nap -- but it seems logical that women would design clothes that they're going to wear. At the very least it seems more comfortable.

Seasonale Patent

The oral contraceptive called Seasonale, which allows women to have a menstrual cycle only once every three months, has gotten its patent renewed. What this probably means is that a generic version (and therefore less expensive version) of the drug won't be available for several years.


Jamie Kirchick had a post last week about Katie Couric sliding her way to an anchor position because she's popular with women viewers and was only sent to Iraq to garner cred as a reporter. He said, "Couric's ascension does not represent some great achievement for women in journalism." So imagine my surprise when Acela's in-train magazine, Arrive, plastered Couric on the cover along with thumbnails of other female TV reporters. The rather weird cover article, written by USA Weekend writer Dennis McCafferty was mainly pegged to an incident in 2006 when Jennifer Griffen, FOX News anchor, successfully negotiated the release of two members of her news team held hostage in the Gaza strip. The article made some generalizations about how women bring "emotional heft" to news.

There are a few of things at work here. Firstly, Couric doesn't have the reporting cred that other news anchors who have sat in that seat before her do, but then, women find it much harder to earn the cred. Although women have been prevalent in the world of reporting for at least the last 20 years, they've often been pigeonholed into covering "human interest" stuff. Couric is a widely recognized name because she was in a role that she was hired to fulfill for years, a host on a morning TV talk show. There are plenty of women who do more serious work than Couric, but they also get far less recognition.

Secondly, the whole process of hiring female TV news anchors seems to be one of the most sexist practices in journalism today. You are hired to look a certain way. When I was in journalism, those in visual journalism had to be very concerned about what to do with their hair on camera. There's an assumption, as exemplified in the Arrive article, that women inherently bring a certain softness to news. This is, of course, an extremely rigid reading of gender stereotypes.

Thirdly, TV anchors usually come from a reporting background, but the job itself doesn't require that much reporting. This is, at least, the claim that Dan Rather is making in his lawsuit against CBS/Viacom. They are primarily responsible for presenting the news, and only rarely report it.

Fourthly, women are less engaged in hard news, and there's a great deal of speculation about why this is. Perhaps it's because they choose to be, perhaps because they're too busy, or perhaps because the way news is currently presented doesn't really appeal to them.

While I was never a huge Katie Couric fan and I almost never watch CBS evening news, I feel a slight obligation to open this up to discussion. There are a number of factors at work, and I think it's worth thinking about a little bit more than rolling your eyes at the "achievements" of Katie Couric.

The Press Cave

At least the food is good.

Private Investment

What's been surprising to me is the emphasis on private investment here today. Brad Pitt and Steve Bing are offering up to $10 million in matching funds to donors who donate to rebuilding the lower ninth ward in New Orleans. This morning, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, clearly took the opportunity to be in the room with Goldman-Sachs people and took the opportunity to sell investment in Afghanistan. Obviously the World Bank president and the CEO of Wal-Mart have an interest in emphasizing the investment factor. As long as the free market is the answer, they're in a very comfortable position.

Philanthropy is often seen as the out to regulation for large corporations. They're investing in undesirable places or causes, so they use that as an excuse for not getting regulation imposed on them. The role of investment is certainly powerful, but I don't think we should allow it to be an excuse for not putting regulation on corporations.

Madame Head of State

It seems that there's something to the fact that a head of state is given a huge amount of respect. But, as I noticed today (and earlier this week at the UN) side comments suggest that it's impossible for people to separate gender from title when that head of state happens to be female. At the Clinton Global Initiative today, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was invited to represent her country and talk about green investment in the Philippines. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in an attempt to flatter her, said that she was his only "pin-up" in his office. I have a great amount of respect for Tutu, but this is absurd. But why compare an extremely accomplished woman and the leader of the Philippines to a woman who poses nude for money? Is it because of the "s" in front of the "he"? Women can't ever seem to escape being thought of as sexual objects, even when they are in a role that is totally unrelated to sex.

UPDATE: Apparently I'm wrong. He was referring to the Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi

So Strange

Interestingly enough, The New Yorker blogs don't allow comments. That's old school.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Well, this just proves that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is kinda hot. (In addition to homophobic and misogynistic.)

Education and Terrorism

I thought Bush's speech at the UN this morning was largely uninteresting, since it was clearly a sideshow to distract from the main events. He didn't mention any major issues or even the subject of climate change -- something everyone else talked about all day yesterday. One thing about his speech struck me as a little odd:

Better education unleashes the talent and potential of its citizens, and adds to the prosperity of all of us. Better education promotes better health and greater independence. Better education increases the strength of democracy, and weakens the appeal of violent ideologies. So the United States is joining with nations around the world to help them provide a better education for their people.

This is only odd to me because it's been pretty well documented that the most effective terrorists are the highly educated ones. Education isn't a cure-all, but Bush's speech seems to be suggesting that.

To Catch a Killer

In a follow up to the Delaware State University shooting last week, an 18-year-old student was arrested in his dorm room early yesterday morning in his dorm room and charged with "attempted murder, assault and reckless endangerment, as well as a gun charge."

What we still don't know, after several incidents of teenagers and young adults turning guns on each other since Columbine in 1999 is what exactly makes young men (it has been young men in every instance) do this. There's a conflicted sense both of seeking something to blame. Many people are quick to turn to various cultural influences: music, movies, and violent video games, but it dosen't change the fact that these young men are exposed to all the same things as other young people who lead totally normal lives -- uninterrupted by such violence.

What is left is a much more complicated view of phchology and psychosis. By finding a simple source, it's easier than dealing with people on an individual level. I ceartianly don't know what the answer is, but I think it's something to think about. How do you reach those that feel violence is the only answer?

Cross-posted on

The $100 Laptop

What I don't quite understand is all this hype about the $100 laptop. It seems to be that people think this is the best of when philanthropy meets capitalism. While it's kind of neat that they can make a piece of technology that's typically really expensive really cheap, it kind of misses the point. It's like that Toys for Tots program. Sure, it makes a lot of kids feel good to get some toys at Christmastime, but it doesn't signify any particular life change. What they're producing here is toys. (It even looks like a toy.) The internet is a remarkable thing, but all the things that are really great about it are either convenience or require special skills to unlock. So I don't quite understand what the all the fuss of these $100 laptops is all about.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Top 100 Effects of Global Warming

CAP (my employer) released a list of "top 100" things that global warming will do. They range from the disappearance of Christmas trees and baseball bats to some more ridiculous things like dry wines and ski vacations. It's a good way to reach to the middle class people, but I think the greatest sense of urgency is the low-income kids that suffer from asthma because they live near pollution sites.

Bolivian President

Bolivian President Juan Evo Morales Ayma declared that "capitalism is the enemy of humanity" calling earth a "mother" and not "merchandise." He's not even wearing a suit and tie -- it more closely resembles one of those Norwegian sweaters. Go radical Latin heads of state.

Liveblogging UN

I'm up in New York blogging on the UN meeting on climate change. Check it out over at Campus Progress.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Giving Up Taxes?

Matt points to Heritage's proposal to end federal taxes in DC as an alternative to not getting the vote. I think this is a good way to force people to give DC residents a vote in Congress, but not actually a good policy. A lot of federal dollars are used to maintain the city (especially the tourist destinations near the mall). It's not hard to convince me that people in DC need representation in Congress. I live here. Many people have lived here for generations. It's hard to justify withholding a right to vote just because the founding fathers didn't foresee this becoming an actual city.

Jena 6

If you, like me, are looking for some clarity on the Jena 6 rally, Courney Martin has a great piece up at The American Prospect today that explains it:

Indeed, the Jena 6 case, like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is a violent reminder that our country is actually many nations. Despite all of the progress that has been made, racism is still a part of too many American kids' ideological diets. A noose, even in 2007, struck these good ol' Southern boys as an apt symbol for the fear of "the other" that had been bred in them from birth. And their elders -- the school administrators, city officials, and parents -- called their inexcusable hatred by cutesy names: pranks, child's play, boys will be boys. It is a wake-up call to us all: The work of ending racism is far from over.

I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Cross-posted on

Military Recruitment on Campus

Yale University restricted military recruitment in 2005, claiming a First Amendment right to exclude them based on the military's anti-gay recruitment policies. This week, an appeals court sided with the Department of Defense. They cited a law known as the Solomon amendment, upheld by the Supreme Court, which allows federal funds to be withheld from schools that refuse military recruitment on campus.

By refusing military recruitment on campus, it's a back-door way of protesting the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. It's a stance that Yale University, with such a large endowment, can perhaps afford to make, but publicly funded universities and colleges cannot even consider this method of protest. They are too dependant on federal and state dollars.

Curiously enough, a side effect of refusing to allow military recruitment on campus is that it may increase the economic divide among those who choose to serve in the military and those who don't. Overwhelmingly those that serve are poor. I'd be interested to know what others think about this.

Cross-posted on

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reviewing In the Valley of Elah

My review of In the Valley of Elah is up on The American Prospect's site today:

What’s peaking though the fairly transparent plot is the costs of sending soldiers to war -- encouraging them to torture and kill terrorists (or suspected terrorists) -- and returning them home unable to continue with normal lives. A side plot of the film has a woman ahead of Deerfield at the police station there to report her husband's (another recently returned Iraq vet) violent drowning of the family's Doberman Pincher in the bathtub in front of their son. Later in the film he is arrested for drowning his wife, who Theron's character had sent home without helping.

The movie clearly depicts post traumatic stress disorder. But what makes In the Valley of Elah portrayal valuable is that it depicts the strain of PTSD on families and communities as well.

Official estimates of how many Iraq war veterans might be affected by PTSD vary, mainly because it’s something that affects patients in a matter of degrees, many of which are not necessarily violent. It’s a cost of war that’s little talked about estimated to cost billions of dollars. Many psychologists, including the American Psychological Association's Education Directorate, advocate a public education campaign that would not only teach soldiers and their families what the symptoms of PTSD are (often sleeplessness, flashbacks, problems with aggression, and relationship stress) but also instruct the public that PTSD can be a normal reaction to abnormal levels of stress or violence, especially when encountered for long periods of time. Some soldiers are serving tours as long as 15 months.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday Coral Blogging

Image courtesy of National Geographic

National Geographic published photos and bios based on the 2007 Red List of Threatened Species list, which was released this week. So the coral may not be as adorable as the long-nosed Baiji dolphin that scientists thought was extinct but was spotted off the coast of China, but it's a good reminder that nature is pretty beautiful on it's own. The Threatened Species list includes more than 40,000 different species. Protecting wildlife requires international cooperation. I donated to the World Wildlife Fund, and they sent me a stuffed Blue-Footed Booby. Aw.
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