Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The blog is closed [Updated] [Updated again September 25, 2014]

[Update again: My email address has changed. The new one has been updated to my profile.]

[Update: Okay, now my email address really is in my profile (View My Complete Profile). Thanks to DL Sly for letting me know it wasn't there before - and for figuring out how to let me know without the address being there.]

Perhaps permanently; I don’t know at this point. Comments are also closed but you can always email me; my address is in my profile over there ==> in the right margin.

I’ve enjoyed blogging for most of the time I’ve been doing it - almost six years now, wow! I’ve been looking back over some of my old blog posts and I think I’ve done some good work, some good writing, and I like knowing that. Now, however, blogging isn’t enjoyable for me and I’m not sure I’m doing particularly good work. Equally important, blogging keeps my focus on what’s wrong with, well, everything and keeps reminding me how little I can do about any of it. At this point, I’d rather focus on what’s right with everything and on what I can do something about.

On top of all that, I find that blogging - and especially the Internet reading I do when I’m blogging - gradually expands to fill the time available and then some. What can I say? I’m addicted to those little starbursts that go off in my brain when I click on a link and to those little starbursts that go off in my mind when something I read feeds one of my indignations.

I do like to write, which is part of why I’m leaving the door open to return to this blog someday. Or maybe down the road I’ll start an alternate blog - perhaps I’ll call it “IngleNook” - and write only about stuff like recipes and my grandparents and whether we lost one of our roses to the brutal winter.

I appreciate everyone who commented here over the years; your participation meant a lot to me. I’d also like to thank Cassandra over at Villainous Company for encouraging me early on: You made a world of difference to me, Cass. And I’d like to thank both Villainous Company and Grim’s Hall for taking me seriously as a blogger and for making me feel welcome as a commenter; I’ll be stopping by from time to time.

I wanted to close with a perfect quote or poem or epigraph or something and had fun running through some candidates. In the end, though, I always come back to this:

In the year 1652 when throughout England all things sacred were either profaned or neglected, this church was built by Sir Robert Shirley, Bart., Whose special praise it is to have done the best things in the worst times and to have hoped them in the most calamitous.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Speedy chili

I have a chili recipe. It started life in the recipe book that came with my aunt’s CrockPot, lo these many years (really decades) ago, but has been modified extensively through contact with outside influences: roommates, old boyfriends, that kind of thing. In its current incarnation it calls for: garlic, onion, ground meat; canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste; kidney beans; mushrooms; and eight different herbs, spices, and seasonings. Once upon a time I used Spice Islands Chili Con Carne seasoning along with a little salt and pepper and called it good. Unfortunately, Spice Islands stopped making their Chili Con Carne seasoning ages ago. When I called in desperation, the company was gracious enough to tell me the list of ingredients (although not, of course, the proportions) and I spent some time fiddling with herbs and spices until I achieved what I thought was a good approximation of their combination.

My chili is good. It’s thick and very spicy (hot, yes, but also multi-spiced) and it was perfect for the many years when I didn’t eat red meat (health reasons rather than ethical, moral, trendy, etc.) and so made chili with ground turkey. If you’ve ever eaten ground turkey you know it has absolutely no flavor whatsoever and needs all the help it can get from garlic, onions, various forms of tomatoes, and especially herbs and spices. However, it’s also kind of a pain to make and frankly the last few times I made it (now using ground beef) I wasn’t all that excited about eating it.

So a couple of weeks ago I was casting about in my mind for something to fix for dinner and after reviewing the contents of the freezer arrived at chili. Still I found myself oddly reluctant to start opening all those cans and dragging all those herbs and spices out of the refrigerator only to produce a dish about which I felt lukewarm at best.

I have the 1955 Edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cookbook (for the Hostess and Host of Tomorrow). I don’t know when I got it; I was one year old in 1955 and although my parents considered me the most precocious child in history I doubt even they thought I’d be cooking at such a tender age. I do know I’ve had the cookbook since at least the mid-60s so it’s been a while.

The cookbook languished in various out of the way places - inaccessible shelves in my mother’s house, a storage facility near me, in my basement - for decades. Then, several years ago, I developed a yen for egg salad sandwiches. I don’t know why. So far as I’m aware no cook in my family - mother, aunt, or grandmother - ever made an egg salad sandwich and I’d be surprised if I’d eaten more than 3 or 4 of them in my life. Still, there it was: I wanted an egg salad sandwich.

I turned to my various big fat cookbooks and I perused the Internet and what I discovered is that there are a lot of very strange egg salad recipes out there. They call for odd mustards and pickles (!) and strange seasonings. I didn’t want any of that; I just wanted a plain old egg salad. Searching my overflow cookbook shelves for a source I might have missed, I spied my Junior Cookbook. Surely, I thought, if any cookbook would have a simple egg salad, this is the one. Why, back when it was written, no one cooked with odd mustards or exotic herbs, at least no one who bought their cookbooks from Better Homes and Gardens.

So, with renewed hope, I opened the little cookbook and found exactly what I wanted: eggs, a little celery, a little green onion, mayonnaise, plain old yellow mustard, and salt. (The recipe called for the salad to be served in “coney buns” scooped out to look like little boats and to be decorated with wooden skewer masts with triangular construction paper sails but I skipped that part and went with rye.) The egg salad was delicious and my Junior Cookbook was promoted from the overflow shelf in the basement to a place of honor in the kitchen where I soon discovered it had an equally delicious deviled egg (or, as the cookbook calls them, “Stuffed eggs”) recipe.

I had no memories of cooking any of the recipes in the Junior Cookbook as a child or teenager but looking through it, I found two recipes that were well-spattered: BAR-B-Q-burgers and Speedy chili. I mentally bookmarked the burgers to try again someday (they call for Chicken Gumbo soup and that’s a whole other story) but ignored the Speedy chili. After all, I had a chili recipe, years in the making. I ignored it, that is, until that fateful day two weeks ago when I had decided on chili for dinner - and thawed the meat - but was unable to summon up any enthusiasm for all those cans and jars. What if, I wondered, I tried the Junior Cookbook’s chili instead?

I ran the idea by my husband and he was happy to agree, which perhaps means I’m not the only one who’d been feeling lukewarm about my old chili recipe. So I dragged out my little cookbook and set to work. Speedy chili was in fact speedy: it required two cans and two seasonings, one of which was salt. Speedy chili was remarkably good: it was possible to actually taste the various elements - meat, onion, bell pepper, beans - rather than just a general spicy flavor. Speedy chili was a big hit with the cook and at the table.

So for anyone who’s wondering what to serve for dinner tonight, I append the recipe. I have to admit I worried about copyright issues but this recipe can be found in various places on the Internet (here, for example) so it seems legal to spread it around.

Speedy chili

2 Tablespoons fat
1/2 cup chopped onion [I used a little more]
1/4 cup chopped green pepper [I used a little more]
1 pound ground beef
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
1 1-pound can (2 cups) kidney beans [I drained and rinsed before adding]
1 teaspoon salt
Chili powder

Melt fat in pan (the recipe recommends using a “big saucepan”). Cook onion, pepper, beef until meat is lightly browned.

Add tomato sauce; cook on low heat 5 minutes. Add kidney beans, salt. Heat.

Stir in 1 teaspoon chili powder; taste. Add a little more if you like.

Ladle chili into soup bowls and eat with with big spoons.
Pass a basket of saltines. Another good “go-with” is dill pickles. [Have to admit I didn’t try the pickles.]
This recipe will make about 6 servings. [Maybe but it’s awfully good.]


Monday, May 12, 2014

To hell in a handbasket

I’m pretty much convinced that the country is going to hell in a handbasket. I’m self-aware enough and have enough of a sense of humor to realize this may be a result of getting older. I turned sixty in January and when someone at my birthday party asked me whether being sixty felt different than being fifty-nine, I said yes. I’m now old enough to officially be a curmudgeon; I can talk about young whippersnappers without feeling like I have to do so ironically; and I’m old enough to pine for the good old days when everything was much, much better. But even after taking a mental discount for the nearly universal tendency to look back through rose-colored glasses, I’m still pretty much convinced the country is going to hell in a handbasket.

I’m also self-aware enough and have enough of a sense of humor to realize my conviction may be because the political party I like less is in power in Washington, DC - totally in power in the executive branch, half in power in the legislative branch. Yet throughout the Bush Administration’s tenure, I was pretty much Leftist and, although I was unhappy about some of what President Bush was doing (or what I thought he was doing), I never felt the whole country was going to hell in a handbasket. I always figured it would self-correct. So even if I give some weight to the sour grapes argument, I’m still pretty much convinced the country is going to hell in a handbasket.

Why you ask? Well, many of my blog posts in the category “The Great Divide” are about the reasons behind my conviction but a recent reading brought the issue into sharp focus for me. The piece was by Megan McArdle, entitled “Should We Force People to Save for Retirement?” After running through the practical, economic, and political pros and cons, McArdle writes:

You’ll notice that we haven’t even touched on the morality of the state telling someone how they have to spend this money. I think there are good arguments that this is wrong, and we shouldn’t do it. But those arguments are long and thorny and will never be considered valid by half the population.

And that’s the handbasket in which the country is going to hell.

Once upon a time we all pretty much took care of ourselves with our own money. Then the government began taxing money from all of us to give to all of us (in greater or lesser amounts) in the form of programs that many taxpayers liked but many objected to. We’ve lived with that and, indeed, one can argue that as soon as a government starts collecting taxes to perform any function, some of those taxed will be happy and some unhappy about the uses to which their money is being spent. The fact that more and more money was being spent on more and more programs that more and more taxpayers didn’t like was a simply an escalation of an existing condition and, although there was more and more unhappiness (e.g., the Tea Party), the basic idea of taking money in taxes and spreading it around was built into our reality.

Now, however, we’re not just taking money from people to support programs some of them don’t like; we’re telling people they must spend their own money on certain things - and we’re telling them what those certain things must look like. People must buy health insurance and it must be this kind of health insurance; that’s ObamaCare and it’s a done deal. In the proposal McArdle is writing about we would be telling people that they must save for retirement - and they must save this much and invest it in this way. We’re far beyond taxes and well into “plenary police powers”.

If we look at this in terms of ice cream (it’s summer weather here today): Once upon a time, if you wanted vanilla ice cream and I wanted chocolate ice cream, we would each buy what we wanted with our own money. Then we began to tax ourselves and buy you vanilla ice cream with some of the money and me chocolate ice cream with some of the money. Now, with ObamaCare and similar proposed schemes, all of us have to buy ice cream whether we want ice cream or not - and we all have to buy a double-scoop cone every day and it all has to be vanilla.

And that’s the problem. Not that half the country likes vanilla and half likes chocolate. Not even that the half that likes vanilla wants the other half to buy their vanilla ice cream for them. The problem is that the half that likes vanilla isn’t content with eating vanilla itself, isn’t even content with having the other half buy their vanilla for them. Instead, the half that likes vanilla wants to force everyone to buy and eat vanilla ice cream. The half that likes chocolate was willing to go along with buying vanilla for the first half but they believe that being forced to buy and eat vanilla themselves is wrong in a fundamental way. It is simply unacceptable.

There is no common ground here. One group is insisting everyone must buy what it thinks is best; the other group is insisting that no one has the right to tell them what to buy. So long as the first group just wanted money (taxes) to pay for its preferences, the second group could ante up - they might not like it but, in a way, it was tribute in exchange for being largely left alone. Now, however, the first group doesn’t just want money; it wants obedience. The second group will not obey - and the first group has absolutely no understanding of why that is.

We are at an impasse and the only way out of it that doesn’t involve hell and handbaskets requires that the demands for obedience cease. Unfortunately, I think that scenario doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in, well, you know.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

I got a truly lovely YouTube video of an Icelandic hymn from my husband who found it at John Scalzi’s website. Based on information in the comments at Scalzi’s site, the poem is from the 13th Century but the music was written in the 1970s.

At least a couple of the commenters at YouTube gave translations and one also gave some background information:

Hear creator of the heavens
what the poet begs.
Come softly to me
your mercy.
I trust in you,
you have created me.
I am your servant
you are my lord.

God, I trust in you
to heal me.
For the least, my king,
we need you the most.
Take, my God,
so powerful and inquisitive,
the sorrow out of our hearts.

My king, watch over me,
we need you the most.
For every moment
to hold ground.
Set the son of a maiden,
a beautiful matter.
All the help from you
in my heart.

This is written in a very violent time in the Sturlunga-age in Iceland. A few families were having disagreements over power and the man who wrote this poem was a member of one of those families. He was in the Ásbirninga family and his name was Kolbeinn Tumason. It is said that he wrote this just prior to "Víðinesbardagi", a battle in 1208. He said this poem over and over, so often that the people around him memorized it.

I smiled at “He said this poem over and over, so often that the people around him memorized it.” Since the commenter’s name seems to be Scandinavian, I assume he want to be sure non-Scandinavians understand bards and oral traditions. It’s rather sweet of him, I think.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


According to NRO:

Islamist militant group Boko Haram said they abducted more than 200 girls last month in northeast Nigeria, and they “will sell them in the market, by Allah.” [snip]

Protesters in Nigeria are angered over government inaction. Nigeria’s first lady Patience Jonathan allegedly ordered police to arrest two protest leaders, and publicly doubted that any girls were kidnapped.

I’d like to think that no one - particularly no woman - would behave as Mrs. Jonathan is reported to have behaved but perhaps she’s a graduate of Brandeis. That would certainly explain her behavior if it is as reported.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Bandar-log

"They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten.”
Baloo warning Mowgli about the Bandar-log in “Kaa’s Hunting” from The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling

Yesterday afternoon I saw a very short teaser ad for one of the network news programs. I’m 99 and 44/100ths percent sure it was CBS. The teaser went something like this:

[Pictures of Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano on the screen]

Voiceover: Frank talk from the woman in the Sterling scandal

[Picture of Afghans moving rubble by hand on the screen]

A deadly earthquake hits Afghanistan

In what sane world is anything about the Donald Sterling matter considered as newsworthy as - based on placement, more newsworthy than - the death of hundreds of people in an earthquake?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Not so much

Someone at The Wall Street Journal is writing about “The Coming Two-Tier Health System” being created under ObamaCare. Why is ObamaCare going to give us a two-tier system? Because:

- fewer doctors are willing to take Medicaid and Medicare patients;
- the “bloating coverage requirements” imposed by ObamaCare are increasing the cost of private insurance;
- reducing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements increases costs for those with private insurance (or, I assume, no insurance at all);
- the government can decide at any time to enforce the ObamaCare requirement that it eliminate “affordable private drug-coverage options inside Medicare”;
- there are fewer, not more, health insurers available to those who buy insurance through the exchanges;
- narrow provider networks (and, yes, these are a result of ObamaCare not just business as usual) mean fewer middle-class Americans can get truly outstanding health care;
- really good doctors are looking at concierge practices that don’t accept any health insurance, meaning these doctors will be out of reach for those who can’t afford to both buy mandatory health insurance and pay their doctors themselves.

What’s the result of all this? The WSJ article puts it thusly:

The health-care law was generated by an administration promoting government as the solution to inequality, yet the greatest irony of ObamaCare is what will undoubtedly follow as a long-term, unintended consequence of the law: a decidedly unequal, two-tiered health system. One will be for the poor and middle class, and a separate system will be for those with the money or power to circumvent ObamaCare.

I have no argument with the writer’s list of reasons why ObamaCare will give us a two-tier health system. I also have no argument with the writer’s summary of what that system will look like: one for the poor and middle class, another for the rich and powerful. What I do dispute is the writer’s use of the phrase “unintended consequence” (and, thus, his use of the word “irony”). This two-tiered health system was very much intended.

Back in 2009, I wrote:

What is driving [some people’s] support for universal health care is not the desire to insure that everyone has some health care but rather their determination to insure that everyone has the same health care. This would explain why the House health care bill (HR3200) is apparently so sweeping. [snip]

... the House Democrats have not opted for any simple plan that would simply give everyone some health insurance. Instead they’ve opted for a Rube Goldberg machine that seems bent on giving everyone the same insurance. That leads me to believe that everyone having the same thing is far more important than everyone having something.[snip]

What this means, of course, is that the rich will continue to get superb healthcare, the poor will get somewhat better healthcare, and those in between will get not only worse healthcare than the rich but worse healthcare than they’re currently getting.

In other words, we’ve gone from our old three-tiered health care system - poor, middle-class, rich, with a relatively small gap between middle-class and rich - to a two-tiered one - rich and everyone else, with a yawning chasm between the two. And we haven’t done it by raising the poor to the level of the middle class; we’ve done it by raising the poor a little (maybe) and lowering the middle-class a lot (definitely). The system is more equal and that’s what was intended. Income inequality is far from the only inequality the Left opposes.

As for the rich and powerful, of course it was never intended that they would be part of the equalizing. That’s partly because it’s not possible to prevent them from getting superb healthcare. It’s also partly because the drivers of ObamaCare - people like Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid - are both rich and powerful. There’s no way they’re going to be “[queueing] for ... underproduced [healthcare products and] services which in turn will also be denied far more regularly than is the case with insurance.”

Right now, it is mostly those who buy their own insurance via the private market who are subject to this leveling. According to recent predictions, however, at some point everyone who is not rich and powerful will be subject to it:

According to a report by S&P Capital IQ released Thursday, S&P 500 companies will likely move their employees from employer-provided health insurance plans to the healthcare exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, saving employers nearly $700 billion through the year 2025. If current healthcare inflation stays constant, those savings could be greater than $800 billion, researchers found.

Should that come to pass, I can see myself 20 years or so from now, surrounded by a group of teenagers listening with disbelief to my tales of a mythical past when I, a reasonably well-off but hardly rich or powerful woman, had insurance that covered the incredibly expensive, experimental cancer treatments that saved her life. I’m sure they’ll think I’m off my meds to even imagine such a thing was ever possible - and seriously in need of those meds to claim I experienced it in my lifetime.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Gosnell movie

[Some of the links may contain graphic and disturbing images and descriptions.]

Someone wants to make a movie about Kermit Gosnell and has turned to crowd-funding to finance the film. You can read the fund-raising pitch here; the campaign closes on May 12, 2014. You can read some of the backstory on the movie and see a couple of PSAs supporting it at HotAir.

I don’t know anything about the people making the movie; I don’t know anything about the movie itself; I know it will be very easy to make a very bad movie about Gosnell and his crimes. Nonetheless I have contributed to the fund-raising campaign for this movie at Indiegogo. I would like to see the Gosnell story told to a wider audience and perhaps this movie will accomplish that.

However, the aspects that will apparently be the focus of the movie - Gosnell as serial killer, the "media cover-up" - are the least interesting parts of the story. Serial killers are a dime a dozen and concerns about the media coverage are inside baseball. What I would like to understand are the other characters in this story: the women who came for abortions so late in their pregnancies and to such a horrible place; Gosnell's employees who killed alongside him; the colleagues who turned a blind eye to Gosnell's murders; the regulators who failed so miserably. I believe that telling these stories as they should be told will require a book. And, to me, the template for a book about the Gosnell story is The Perfect Storm.

The Perfect Storm is dispassionate but not cold; the facts are carefully researched; the characters are revealed through their own words and actions and by the descriptions of people around them; the communities - beliefs, norms, possibilities, limitations, culture - that shaped the characters’ decisions and actions are shown straightforwardly, without romanticizing or condescending; the technical information necessary to understand what happened is presented clearly and in sufficient detail; when the author must speculate on actions and outcomes, he makes it clear he is doing so; the author does not have a discernible ax to grind; and the book is a can’t-put-it-down read. I hope that somewhere out there is an author or journalist, perhaps one whose interest will be caught by the Gosnell movie, who can do for the rest of the Gosnell story what Sebastian Junger did for the Andrea Gail, the men who died on her, and the others whose lives were battered by the 1991 storm.



A Really Long Post About Abortion and Reasoning By Historical Analogy That is Going to Make Virtually All of My Readers Very Angry At Me - Megan McArdle on, largely, the personhood argument.

Protect and Defend by Richard North Patterson - A novel about a late-term abortion.

Abortion refusal death - This gives a brief description of the death of Savita Halappanavar, a pregnant Indian woman who died in Ireland from an infection due to an incomplete miscarriage that should have resulted in an abortion to save her life. Just as I believe legalized abortion supporters must confront Gosnell, I also believe those who would legally restrict abortion must confront Mrs. Halappanavar. (There is an interesting discussion about Mrs. Halappanavar’s death in the comments to a post at Grim’s Hall.)

Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story and 14 Theories for Why Kermit Gosnell’s Case Didn’t Get More Media Attention - Both by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. I was unaware of either of these until I did some poking around to write this blog post. The first is a good summary of the case; the second is an interesting survey of possible explanations for the media’s disinterest. I did a Bing search for:

friedersdorf gosnell site:

and he seems to have written a great deal on the topic. I have not read everything the search returned but what I have read is well worth the time and effort.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Unknown unknowns

I have from time to time read - or attempted to read - writings by modern atheists. My most notable attempt - and failure - involved reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I didn’t get very far into before giving up. I simply could not figure out what he was writing about; it certainly didn’t seem to be God or theology or religion as I understood it. I could only assume that Dawkins’ entire exposure to religion consisted of regular attendance at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Still, from to time, I worried that perhaps I was missing something, that there was some brilliant intellectual understanding on the part of Dawkins and his fellow atheists that I simply could not comprehend. I was therefore relieved and delighted to run across a piece by David Bentley Hart at First Things. Writing in response to an “[ostensible] survey of recently published books on (vaguely speaking) theism and atheism,” authored by Adam Gopnik and published in the New Yorker, Hart believes that:

Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible. Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do. The logical and imaginative grammars of belief, which still informed the thinking of earlier generations of atheists and skeptics, are no longer there. In their place, there is now—where questions of the divine, the supernatural, or the religious are concerned—only a kind of habitual intellectual listlessness.

“[T]hey are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do.” To me, that sums up modern atheists perfectly.

Hart concludes:

Principled unbelief was once a philosophical passion and moral adventure, with which it was worthwhile to contend. Now, perhaps, it is only so much bad intellectual journalism, which is to say, gossip, fashion, theatrics, trifling prejudice.

Do read the whole thing. It is delightfully acidic and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.

(Via The Gormogons)

Enfant Perdu

But war and justice have far different laws,
And worthless acts are often done quite well;
The rascal’s shots were better than his cause,
And I was hit - and hit again, and fell
[from Enfant Perdu by Heinrich Heine, Lord Houghton’s translation]

I yield to no one in my insistence that women (and girls) need to learn to ask for what they want rather than expecting the government (or anyone or anything else) to give it to them or protect them or make everything okay. Therefore, I initially found myself nodding in agreement with a recent piece in The Federalist. It recounts the story of a young woman, Antonia Ayres-Brown, who was unhappy being asked if she wanted the “girl toy” or the “boy toy” in a McDonald’s Happy Meal and channeled her unhappiness into a filing with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. As the author, Amy Otto, puts it:

This could have all been solved by her parents simply encouraging her to ask for the toy she wants.  If girls are continually taught that they as individuals have no power to negotiate a situation as simple as “I’d like that toy” without the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights getting involved, I submit that these women are proving the case that they should not be put in positions of leadership or power.

Ms. Otto then spends a fair amount of time explaining why McDonald’s handles toy distribution the way it does: the company is attempting to give its customers what they want and most girl customers want girl toys while most boy customers want boy toys. This is just smart business on McDonald’s part.

Ms. Otto concludes with:

Girls would be better served learning about the beneficial reciprocity of capitalism and the innate power of just asking for what they want in the first place. McDonald’s will be happy to accommodate them.

As it turns out, Ms. Otto has left out some significant information. First, Ms. Ayres-Brown originally became concerned about the boy/girl toy practice in 2008 when she was eleven years old. She wrote a letter to McDonald’s asking them to cease and desist. The corporation’s response, from a customer satisfaction representative, was to assure her that:

McDonald’s doesn’t train their employees to ask whether Happy Meal customers want boys’ or girls’ toys, and my experiences were not the norm.

So much for Ms. Otto’s contention that asking “boy toy or girl toy” is simply an example of McDonald’s smart business practices.

Finding this response unsatisfying, Ms. Ayres-Brown visited “more than a dozen local McDonald’s locations” to collect data on this practice. After finding that “McDonald’s employees described the toys in gendered terms more than 79 percent of the time”, she brought her complaint to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. It was dismissed as “absurd”.

Then, this past summer, she decided to revisit the issue. (She doesn’t say why she decided to do so after six years. I’d love to know what the catalyst was. Anyhow.) In this new round of investigation she was specifically testing the claim of one of the McDonald’s stores that she had:

“conveniently stop[ped the] experiment short to concoct this case.” The store claimed that if I had just asked for a boy’s toy they would have been happy to oblige.

Ms. Ayres-Brown constructed what I thought was a nice little experiment. She sent young boys and girls into McDonald’s stores 30 times to order Happy Meals. They were given the gender-appropriate (my words, not hers) toy 92.9% of the time. So far, so good (again my words, not hers - she finds this unacceptable). When the children immediately returned to the counter to ask for the other toy, 42.8% of the requests were refused.

Ms. Ayres-Brown then wrote another letter to McDonald’s and this time received a response from McDonald’s “chief diversity officer”:

“It is McDonald’s intention and goal that each customer who desires a Happy Meal toy be provided the toy of his or her choice, without any classification of the toy as a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toy and without any reference to the customer’s gender. We have recently reexamined our internal guidelines, communications and practices and are making improvements to better ensure that our toys are distributed consistent with our policy.”

Although this is really the same response she received back in 2008, Ms. Ayres-Brown is claiming this as a win.

Is this a tempest in a teapot? I think so. Is there anything intrinsically wrong with noticing that there are girls and boys and that almost everyone identifies as, and can be identified as, one or the other? I don’t think so. Even if this isn’t a tempest in a teapot and even if there is something intrinsically wrong with noticing gender, is a government agency the right forum for resolving this? I don’t think so. As Ms. Otto put it:

That’s the handy thing about capitalism: If parents feel like their children are having a negative experience at McDonald’s; parents will not take their children there.

However, while Ms. Otto does make these points, the frame for her criticism was that here was a young woman who was being “taught that [she had] no power as [an individual] to negotiate a situation as simple as ‘I’d like that toy’” and that such a young woman is “proving the case that [such] women should not be put in positions of leadership or power.” My take is quite different.

Ms. Ayres-Brown demonstrated that individuals do not have the power to successfully negotiate a desirable outcome to the situation of being asked if they want the “girl toy” or the “boy toy”. She also demonstrated that individuals have a difficult time obtaining the toy they want; that is, almost half the time individuals do not have the power to successfully negotiate the situation of “I want that toy”. She made her concerns known to the corporation’s management and, yes, filed an action with a government agency. In other words, she encountered a situation she found intolerable and took repeated action to change it to suit herself. I’m not sure how her actions differ from those of, for example, people who were foreclosed on illegally, attempted to resolve the issue by communicating with the company doing the foreclosing, and then sought relief from the government.

True, I find the latter’s concerns important and valid while I find Ms. Ayres-Brown’s concerns trivial and, well, dumb. But surely one of the tenets of conservatism should be that people have the right to do whatever dumb things they want, up to and including availing themselves of government agencies and programs that we the people, in our infinite wisdom, have established to help them do those very dumb things about which they care so passionately.

I have no problem criticizing Ms. Ayres-Browns’ views on gender issues. I believe firmly that telling McDonald’s she would no longer patronize them would have been a far better approach than turning to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. But I don’t think Ms. Ayres-Brown in any way embodies a young woman being taught that she has no power as an individual or being discouraged from asking for what she wants.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Apples and oranges

There’s a brouhaha about the Census Bureau changing the questions, asked annually, about whether a respondent has health insurance. Since the change is occurring just as ObamaCare is implemented and since preliminary tests of the new questions show that fewer people end up counted as uninsured, many on the Right are making two claims:

1) The fact that the new questions show fewer people are without health insurance will be an advantage for ObamaCare supporters.

2) The change and the timing of the change are deliberate; that is, the Administration set out to design questions that would show fewer uninsured and timed the implementation of the new questions to coincide with the implementation of ObamaCare.

I disagree with the first claim and think the second claim is over-simplified. I also think that the quality and comparability of data really don’t matter much.

First, I do agree that when the new questions show that fewer people are without health insurance, ObamaCare supporters will claim ObamaCare has succeeded in reducing the number of uninsured. However, ObamaCare opponents will be able to claim that the drop is solely a result of the new questions. I think ObamaCare supporters will get the worst of these dueling claims. The New York Times quotes officials and official documents as saying:

... it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument. [snip]

... “it is likely that the Census Bureau will decide that there is a break in series for the health insurance estimates,” ... This “break in trend” will complicate efforts to trace the impact of the Affordable Care Act, it said. [snip]

... the data for 2013 and 2014 would not be directly comparable with the long series of data for prior years.

Given these “official” disclaimers, it will be difficult for ObamaCare supporters to rebut opponents’ claims that any reduction in the number of uninsured is an artifact of the new questions. In fact, one could argue that the change in questions is at least as much of an advantage for ObamaCare opponents as it is for ObamaCare supporters.

Second, I don’t think the revision of the questions was a totally political move. The Times claims that the Census Bureau has been “trying to make [the insurance questions] more accurate” “for more than a decade”. Therefore, this is not something the current Administration cooked up five years ago when it took office. However, the Times also states:

The Department of Health and Human Services and the White House Council of Economic Advisers requested several of the new questions, and the White House Office of Management and Budget approved the new questionnaire.

I don’t think HHS and the CEA set out to write questions that would show more people with health insurance. But I do believe that if the preliminary tests had shown the questions showed fewer people with health insurance, the White House would not have approved the new questionnaire or at least would have insisted that the Census Bureau wait a few years to implement the new questions.

That said, there is one thing that makes me more likely to accept the argument that the changes to the questions and the timing were designed solely to serve the Administration’s purposes: the Census Bureau seems unwilling to make any effort to provide data that would “be directly comparable with the long series of data for prior years.” Even if the Census Bureau is bound and determined to start using the new questions, honestly believing the results will more accurately reflect reality, it would be pretty simple to, for example, do what Greg Mankiw suggests:

Why not, for a few years, give half the sample the old questionnaire and half the new one?  This procedure would provide a basis for eventually splicing together the old and new time series.

That the Census Bureau is apparently not even considering this - or any approach like this - does give weight to the “White House conspiracy” storyline.

Finally, while policy analysts are (rightfully) horrified at losing comparable data, I don’t think the lack of continuity matters a bit so far as political arguments about policy are concerned. Let’s imagine that the questions didn’t change and we are now comparing the uninsured picture of 2014 with the strictly comparable uninsured picture of 2013. We would find one of three scenarios:

1) There are fewer people without health insurance. ObamaCare supporters will claim this is proof the law is succeeding. ObamaCare opponents will claim that this is a result of an improving economy so more people have employer insurance or could afford to buy their own anyhow; that this is a result of people going on Medicaid who could have gone on Medicaid even without ObamaCare; that even if ObamaCare is reducing the number of uninsured the effect is so small that neither the monetary cost nor the coercion cost is worth it; and/or that any number of other approaches could have resulted in a greater decrease at less cost.

2) There are more people without health insurance. ObamaCare opponents will claim this is proof the law is, at best, ineffective and, at worst, is actually detrimental. ObamaCare supporters will claim that the problem is a weakening economy; Republican scare tactics; technical problems with the website; people not being aware of the individual mandate; the insurance companies charging too much; that the law didn’t go far enough; and/or that the full effect will only be felt as people learn more about the law and come to rely on it. They will probably talk about a slow embrace of Medicare.

3) There are the same number of people without health insurance. The arguments over this scenario will look a lot like those for Scenario Two although ObamaCare opponents will probably drag out the the arguments about costs not being worth it and about any number of other approaches being better.

And you know what? Reasonable people will be able to reasonably accept any of these arguments. The truth is that this type of economic and social engineering is so incredibly complex that there is no simple causal connection between what the government does over here and what the result is over there; we cannot hold all other variables constant. Therefore, we can always come up with apparently valid reasons why a law this complex seems not to have worked but really did, and with equally apparently valid reasons why a law this complex seems to have worked but really didn’t.

Perhaps this is part of the reason our current politics are fiercely ideological and bitterly partisan. We are so far past the point at which the effects of policies can be accurately measured and intelligently evaluated that all we have to go on is what we believe about how the world works and, perhaps more important, what we believe about how it should work.



Judd Gregg was right (Via Neoneocon) - Wall Street Journal piece about Gregg withdrawing his name from consideration as Secretary of Commerce “due in part to his concern with the Obama administration's decision to have the next Census director report to senior White House staffers as well as the commerce secretary.” I had forgotten all about this dust-up and, yes, it does give more weight to the “White House conspiracy” storyline. (I have to say, though, that I find it hard to believe that the same Administration that couldn’t get up and running even minimally had enough intelligence, foresight, and competence to grab the Census Bureau five years ago in order to try to make ObamaCare look good now.)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The view from the other side

When I wrote about Brandeis and Ayaan Hirsi Ali recently, I ran across some bits and pieces I think are worth noting although they didn’t fit neatly into my post.

A little data dropout

It’s instructive to note the difference between how the New York Times reports Ms. Hirsi Ali’s background and how the Brandies student newspaper does so. The New York Times:

Even some of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s critics say they understand her hostility to Islam, given her experiences, though they think she goes too far. A native of Somalia, she has written and spoken extensively of her experience as a Muslim girl in East Africa, including undergoing genital cutting, a practice she has vigorously opposed, and her family’s attempts to force her to marry a man against her wishes.

She moved to the Netherlands as a young woman, and she was later elected to the Dutch Parliament. She wrote the screenplay for “Submission,” a 2004 film critical of the treatment of Muslim women. Shortly after its release, the director, Theo van Gogh, was murdered on an Amsterdam street by a radical Islamist, who pinned to the victim’s body a threat to kill Ms. Hirsi Ali as well.

Brandeis student newspaper*:

Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born women’s rights activist who has campaigned against female genital mutilation [snip] She formerly lived in the Netherlands and was a member of Dutch Parliament until it was discovered that she had provided false information on an asylum application to gain entry into the country. In response to this, Hirsi Ali claimed that she lied on her asylum application because she was fleeing a forced marriage. She had also previously disclosed inaccurate information through several sources before the controversy, including through her book The Son Factory.

After resigning from her position due to the ensuing scandal, she moved to the United States to join the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute—an organization dedicated to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise according to its website—where she is now a visiting fellow.

So the New York Times omits the fact that Ms. Hirsi Ali lied on her Dutch asylum application. The Brandeis student newspaper finds the room to devote two and a half sentences to the asylum application issue** and a paragraph/sentence to her ties to AEI; but omits the facts that Ms. Hirsi Ali underwent genital cutting; that she wrote the screenplay for a movie opposing the subjugation of women; that the director of that movie was murdered by “a radical Islamist”; and that the murderer threatened to kill Ms. Hirsi Ali.

I think the Times made the better decision here although I would probably have included a brief reference to the asylum application dustup. On the other hand, the information omitted by the university newspaper is the entire context for her support for women’s rights and for her opposition to Islam. Omitting it seems a little, I don’t know, non-contextualized.

Turf wars and gatekeepers

In a faculty petition urging that Ms. Hirsi Ali be dis-invited to receive an honorary degree, we find the following sentence:

We further urge you to reinstitute the past practice of a faculty committee that vets potential honorary degree recipients.

In an interview with the Brandeis University newspaper:

Prof. Mary Baine Campbell (ENG) said [snip] that she was concerned about the awarding of the degree because of a lack of consultation with the faculty during the selection process. In an email to the Justice, she wrote that she was “astonished to find out that this choice, to honor Ms. Hirsi Ali for her contributions to ‘women’s rights,’ had been made without consulting the WGS Core Faculty.” s=She noted that the core faculty in the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies program had not been contacted either.

This sounds to me like the faculty (at least some of the faculty) have their noses out of joint and are happy to use the Hirsi Ali bandwagon as a way to leverage more power. Tiresome and discouraging but remarkably human.

I find the idea of a gatekeeper more disturbing. The use of quotations marks around “women’s rights” and the apparent belief that only the Women and Gender Studies “Core Faculty” can determine whether someone is really contributing to “women’s rights” is anathema to someone like me, whose ideas of feminism go back to the 1970s. Part of feminism then was the refusal to allow gatekeepers to tell women what was and was not valid about their own experience and about their perceptions of that experience.

It’s interesting to contrast this attitude with that of David Silverman, a Brandeis graduate and president of the American Atheists. In an open letter to the president of Brandeis University, Mr. Silverman recalls his pride in Brandeis’ activism during his student days and goes on to decry:

Brandeis [caving] to religious intolerance masquerading as political correctness and [uninviting] a valuable voice in the discussion of religion in public life, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

In detailing what Brandeis has done by disinviting Ms. Hirsi Ali, Mr. Silverman says:

Ms. Hirsi Ali’s experiences, however, are different.

Her background allows her to speak with clarity about one of the most challenging questions of our time: whether a robust commitment to equality, diversity, dialogue, and social justice is possible when we look the other way when confronted with the realities of Islamic extremism.

What you have done to Ms. Hirsi Ali is rob her of such an opportunity. You have robbed her of the opportunity to speak to Brandeis students about her lived experiences as a child in Somalia and Kenya. You have ended the “dialogue about these important issues” before it has even begun.

Apparently, Mr. Silverman is stuck in the same time warp I am, remembering fondly the idea that a woman’s “lived experience” is worth listening to, regardless of what the self-appointed gatekeepers say. Perhaps we are both pre-post-modern.

A little comic relief

In the same faculty petition I mentioned above, I read this:

Please know that, like Ms. Hirsi Ali, we fully recognize the harm of forced marriages; of female genital cutting, which can cause, among other public health problems, increased maternal and infant mortality; and of honor killings. These phenomena are not, however, exclusive to Islam.

The selection of Ms. Hirsi Ali further suggests to the public that violence toward girls and women is particular to Islam or the Two-Thirds World, thereby obscuring such violence in our midst among non-Muslims, including on our own campus.

Who knew that Brandeis was a hot-bed of forced marriages, female genital cutting, and honor killings? That the campus was plagued with the kidnapping of schoolgirls and the murder of film directors? And I had no idea that women were not allowed to drive, vote, or own property on the Brandeis campus. Perhaps someone should look into that.

Oh, and “Two-Thirds World”? A real phrase, not invented by the faculty specifically for this petition. It’s apparently not even an invention of the Left. I wonder if the faculty at Brandeis is aware they’re using a term reportedly used “mostly by evangelical Christians”.



* I snipped the description of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s “critical view of Islam. The Times covered that separately and I consider it part of the controversy rather than part of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s background. I believe including the controversy itself as part of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s resume is an example of either poisoning the well or assuming the conclusion. Or something like that.

** Just to clarify the following sentence (a Herculean task):

She had also previously disclosed inaccurate information through several sources before the controversy, including through her book The Son Factory.

I read this to mean that Ms. Hirsi Ali had made false statements not only on her asylum application but also “through several sources”. However, if Wikipedia is to be believed, Ms. Hirsi Ali in those “several sources” gave the true versions of the information she had lied about on her asylum application. I tend to believe Wikipedia since it lists the “several sources” (which can therefore be checked) and since it mentions these sources to explain why the accurate information was “considered by many to be public knowledge”.

The most charitable explanation for the misleading wording in the sentence is that Brandeis is not teaching its students to write. The less charitable explanations are left as an exercise for the reader.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Just another obscure non-contextualized allegation

Here is an excerpt from the Brandeis University student newspaper’s April 8 article about the outcry over the decision to grant Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree:

Prof. Mary Baine Campbell (ENG) [snip] wrote that she was “astonished to find out that this choice, to honor Ms. Hirsi Ali for her contributions to ‘women’s rights,’ had been made without consulting the [Women and Gender Studies] Core Faculty.”
Here is the final paragraph in that article:

[Prof. Mitra Shavarini (Women and Gender Studies)] further stated that Hirsi Ali’s approach to discourse “collapses thought in obscure, non-contextualized allegations that have no intellectual merit”—something Shavarini believes is radically opposed to the University’s values of “intellectual exchange and the challenging of one’s ideas.” 

Here is a line from the New York Times’ April 9 coverage of Brandeis’ decision to cancel its plans to give Ms. Hirsi Ali an honorary degree:

Even some of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s critics say they understand her hostility to Islam, given her experiences, though they think she goes too far.

Here is the motto for the AHA Foundation, founded by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in 2007:

Women everywhere, of all cultures, merit access to education and basic human rights.

Here are the opening paragraphs from a BBC report that went up this afternoon:

Around 100 girls are thought to have been abducted in an attack on a school in north-east Nigeria, officials say.

Gunmen reportedly arrived at the school in Chibok, Borno state, late last night, and ordered the hostel's teenage residents on to lorries.

The attackers are believed to be from the Islamist group, Boko Haram, whose militants frequently target schools.

The AP helpfully informs us that:

Islamic extremists have been abducting girls to use as cooks and sex slaves.

Sahara Reporters adds:

The mass abduction lasted between 9PM -3 AM as sect members made several trips picking and choosing their victims out of the 250 students enrolled in the school.

(Via The Feed at National Review Online)

Fewer please

Having discovered shortly before Opening Day that would allow us to watch one free baseball game per day via Roku, my husband and I have watched far too much baseball over the last couple of weeks. As we’ve done so, I’ve noticed that most baseball announcers seem unfamiliar with the word “fewer”. Thus we hear that “Team A has less hits than any other in the majors” and that “Pitcher B has less saves than he did at this time last year”.

Every time the word “less” was used in such contexts, I would say, very quietly, “fewer”. Finally my husband informed me that he was afraid I was fighting a losing battle. I conceded that I was but vowed to fight on even against such overwhelming odds. This resulted in (a) my husband nicknaming me “Donna Quixote” and (b) my looking up the rules for using “fewer” and “less”.

I found the Wikipedia article on this subject most distressing. It begins reasonably enough by saying:

According to prescriptive grammar, "fewer" should be used (instead of "less") with nouns for countable objects and concepts (discretely quantifiable nouns or count nouns). According to this rule, "less" should only be used with a grammatically singular noun (including mass nouns).

However, the article immediately goes on to discount this view by referring to “descriptive grammarians”, “common usage of today and the past”, and “a personal preference expressed by a grammarian in 1770.” The real dagger to my heart though is this:

An extreme application of the prescriptivist rule can be seen in the examples "there is less flour in this canister" and "there are fewer cups (grains, pounds, bags, etc.) of flour in this canister", which are based on the reasoning that flour is uncountable whereas the unit used to measure the flour (cup etc.) is countable. Nevertheless, even most prescriptivists accept the most common usage "there are less cups of flour in this canister" and prescribe the rule addition that "less" should be used with units of measurement (other examples: "less than 10 pounds/dollars"). Prescriptivists would however consider only "fewer cups of coffee" to be correct in a sentence such as "there are fewer cups of coffee on the table now", where the cups are countable separate objects, although most people now and in the past use "less" even in such cases.

Really? If so, then apparently I am an “extreme” prescriptivist rather than merely one of “most prescriptivists” because I consider “less cups” just plain wrong whether I’m talking about cups of flour or cups of coffee.

The article did catch me out on another example in the above paragraph - “less than 10 pounds/dollars” - as well as on this:

In addition, "less" is recommended in front of counting nouns that denote distance, amount, or time. For example, "we go on holiday in fewer than four weeks" and "he can run the 100m in fewer than ten seconds" are not advised.

I would say “I have less than ten dollars”, “I go on vacation in less than four weeks”, and “I can run the 100 meter in less than 2 hours”. I can argue that in these instances the apparent count nouns (dollars, weeks, hours) are stand-ins for (I think) mass nouns (money and time) and thus I could rewrite these sentences as:

I have less money than ten dollars.
I go on vacation is less time than four weeks.
I can run the 100 meter dash in less time than two hours.

I would never say them quite that way, of course, but I would say:

How much money do I have? Less than ten dollars.
How long [a time] before I go on vacation? Less than four weeks.
What is my time for the 100 meter dash? Less than two hours.

As I say, I can argue this and I think there’s some validity to that argument but I may just be reverse engineering what sounds right to me so it fits with my extreme prescriptivism. After all, if someone asked, “How many weeks until you go on vacation?” I’m not entirely sure I’d say “Fewer than four” rather than “Less than four” - at least not every time.

All that said, however, saves and run are very definitely countable, as are most other measurements in baseball; it’s hard to derive statistics from non-countable actions, events, and occurences. Baseball can have fewer of lots of things: hits, runs, errors, saves, innings pitched, stolen bases, singles, doubles, triples, home runs, runs scored, runs scored against, at bats, bases on balls, grand slams, strike outs (looking and swinging), foul balls, runners in scoring position, caught stealing (or perhaps “caughts stealing” or “caught stealings”), balks, blown saves, earned runs, double plays, double plays induced, double plays hit into, day games, night games, away games, home games, free agents, intentional bases on balls, inherited runners, losses, wins, games ahead, games behind, tickets sold, and fans in attendance. Less, not so much.


Standard disclaimer for a post dealing with grammar: Somewhere in this post there is almost certainly at least one egregious grammar error. Also, I know I use commas oddly especially in relation to quotation marks. Consider it part of my ineffable charm.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A list of one's own

Dear Miss Manners:
Those of us working for women’s rights have been advised to take a “ladylike” approach. We tried emulating the behavior of our opposition, but this hardly seemed ladylike. Could you provide a precise definition of “ladylike”?
Gentle Reader:
A lady is, above all, someone who is passionately concerned that others be treated with dignity, fairness, and justice. It has always been considered ladylike, for instance, to fight for these things on behalf of children, animals, and one’s husband. The difficulty you are encountering on the subject is that many people do no consider it ladylike to fight that battle on one’s own behalf. Therefore, if a woman truly wishes to be ladylike, she will fight for dignity, fairness, and justice, not for herself, but for all other women.

From Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin, copyright 1982

At The Federalist, David Marcus is writing about the aftermath of concerns in the world of American theater over “the lack of work by women playwrights at major American theaters”:

Asked to explain the reason for this well established low representation of plays by women, one artist director explained that there just aren’t enough talented women playwrights in the pipeline, and that it will take at least a decade to fix the problem. 

According to Marcus, this was generally viewed as “an inane explanation and one that is insulting to thousands of women playwrights who face real, institutional barriers to having their work produced.” As a result of this exchange, “several theater artists” started “compiling lists of accomplished women playwrights.” So far, so good.

However, the resulting lists (now collapsed into a document called “We Exist”) are not, after all, lists of women playwrights. Instead they have become a list of “Female and/or Trans* Playwrights”. Marcus is taken aback by the asterisk after “Trans” but assumes that the term “Trans*” refers to people who were born anatomically male, identify as transgender or transsexual, and have either undergone hormone treatment and surgery to become female or are living as women. This, he says, is problematic for two reasons:

The inclusion of trans* writers suggests that a theater company can fulfill its commitment to gender parity without actually producing any plays written by people born as women.  And in a more fundamental way it reduces the meaning of the word woman to whatever a man thinks it means since at any point a man can decide he is a woman and expect to be considered one.

Why is this a problem for the theaters?

The stories we tell help to frame and create the society we live in.  Hearing women’s stories is valuable for the entire culture, especially at a time when the role of women is changing at an unprecedented pace.  When the stories of a group of people numbering more than half our population are excluded, our understanding of gender, and of each other suffers.  This is true (though on a much, much smaller scale) of the stories of trans* artists as well. But the experiences and identities of the trans* community cannot be conflated with the experiences and identity of women in general.  Pretending these experiences are one and the same may be inclusive and progressive, but it is also dishonest and disempowering.

Apparently, however, Marcus has misunderstood the meaning of the term “trans*”. It does not refer simply to those born anatomically male who have become, or are living as, women. Rather the asterisk at the end is far more sweeping than that. According to It’s Pronounced Metrosexual:

A few people have asked why I write “trans*” (with the asterisk) instead of just “trans” when referring to trans* folks on my site.  [snip]

Trans* is an umbrella term that refers to all of the identities within the gender identity spectrum.  There’s a ton of diversity there, but we often group them all together (e.g., when we say “trans* issues).  Trans (without the asterisk) is best applied to trans men and trans women, while the asterisk makes special note in an effort to include all non-cisgender gender identities, including transgender, transsexual, transvestite, genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary, genderfuck, genderless, agender, non-gendered, third gender, two-spirit, bigender, and trans man and trans woman.

In other words, it appears that the term “trans*” refers to everyone except cis-men (those who were born anatomically male, have remained anatomically male, present as male/masculine, and identify as male); and cis-women (those who were born anatomically female, have remained anatomically female, present as female/feminine, and identify as female).

Given this, the “We Exist” list is open to everyone except cis-men. Both Marcus’ points are still valid and his second point - that “the experiences and identity of the ‘trans*’ community cannot be conflated with the experiences and identity of women in general - is perhaps even more valid. However, this is not, as Marcus’ piece frets, about a “new definition of women”. That would be problematic for the reasons Marcus describes but it would at least be about women fighting for women, albeit not just women as traditionally defined. Rather this is the same old story: A group of women start out fighting for themselves and end up fighting for everyone else.

This is the pre-Civil War suffragettes diverting their attention to abolition - and waiting 55 years for the right to vote. This is Ms. magazine “switch[ing] its focus from supporting women’s rights to supporting Third World peoples who had been oppressed by the Western European patriarchy.” This is another iteration of what I noticed in the 1990’s:

Much of feminist discussion now seemed to revolve around including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered concerns as an intrinsic part of feminism.

This is feminism becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, required to support the Party’s agenda first and women second, third, or last. Or, no, not required - that’s the puzzle and the heartbreak. No one forced feminism to subjugate its mission to that of the Democratic Party; no one forced feminists to become obsessed with LGBT issues or forced Ms. magazine to turn its focus from women to Third World peoples; no one forced the early suffragettes to spend time, energy, and resources on abolition. And, so far as I know, no one forced the people who set out to put together lists of women playwrights to expand - and dilute - that list to include everyone who isn’t a man with a capital “M”.

Women do this to themselves. Apparently whatever other aspects of “ladylike” behavior have been lost along the way, far too many modern women are convinced it is wrong for them to fight to be treated with “dignity, fairness, and justice”. Even worse, they believe it is wrong for women to fight for other women to be so treated. Oh, they can perhaps mention themselves in the fight but really so many other people are suffering that it would be mean and selfish of women to think of themselves. The only proper course is to, once again, subjugate women’s concerns to those of every other person and group who has suffered, appears to suffer, and/or claims to suffer from some type of discrimination, disrespect, or insufficient attention. The goddess forbid women should stand up for themselves first and trust all those other people and groups to stand up for themselves.

I can only conclude that far too many women consider themselves somehow unworthy of being fought for. This is sexism of a very peculiar but oddly familiar kind: it is internalized sexism. Sounds like feminism desperately needs another round of consciousness raising.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

House of Congressmen

[Spoiler Alert: I don’t tell you anything that actually happened in the first season of the US version of House of Cards but I do give you a general sense of how things went.]

I watched the first season of House of Cards but almost certainly won’t watch the second season. I love revenge movies, TV shows, books, and I enjoyed House of Cards through most of the season. By the last few episodes, however, it had violated my rules for revenge dramas:

Rule 1: The action taken in revenge must be proportionate to the original harm. So if someone steals your car, you don’t burn down their house. Unless, of course, having your car stolen means you couldn’t get your dying child to the hospital on time and the child’s death leads to your spouse’s suicide and your spouse’s suicide leads to your other child becoming a drug addict. In that case, load up on kerosene and matches and go to it.

Rule 2: There must not be a lot of collateral damage; furthermore, any collateral damage that does occur must be as mild as possible and must be unavoidable, that is, there cannot be another way to accomplish the revenge. In other words, you can burn down the someone’s house in the above example but you can’t do it while his or her family is inside. Or while the children’s beloved pet is inside.

House of Cards breaks both these rules plus the “these are just icky people” factor hadn’t gotten pretty bad by the end. (Which I suppose is a Rule 3: The person seeking revenge must be likable enough so I don’t think he deserved whatever horrible thing happened to him originally.) What drove me crazy while I was watching it, though, was the use of “Congressman” as a title for the main character.

Francis Underwood is a member of the United States House of Representatives. In the show, however, he is not addressed as “Representative Underwood” but as “Congressman Underwood”. I know this is a general trend: members of the Senate are usually referred to as “Senator” and members of the House of Representatives are increasingly often referred to as “Congressman”. I read something a year or two ago - perhaps longer - that decried this as evidence that Senators didn’t want to think of themselves as on the same level as their House colleagues and that Representatives didn’t want to think of themselves as mere “representers” but as powerful, independent agents. True or not, I don’t know.

What I do know is that John McCain is a “Congressman” just like Paul Ryan is a “Congressman”. So are Jeff Sessions, Mike Rogers, Adam Schiff, and, well, hmm... Nancy Pelosi is not a Congressman; neither is Kelly Ayotte. They are Congresswomen. And this is what I find particularly annoying about the use of “Congressman” instead of “Representative”.

We’ve spent the last forty or fifty years arguing over whether and how to rid the English language of words that assume the norm is male (or male is the norm, depending on how you look at it). We’ve created such hideousness as “chairperson”; we’ve tried to convince ourselves that using “they”, “them”, and “their” when referring to one single person is not a marker for ignorance and lack of education; we flirted with (although never embraced) “s/he”. And now we are tossing a nice, gender neutral word like “Representative” overboard in order to use a gender-laden (and less accurate) word like “Congressman”.

I don’t like pretentious but what I really hate is dumb.



Gender-Neutral Language Tips - A how-to guide with a light and grammatical touch. I particularly enjoyed this comment in the author’s section on the use of “s/he”:

(In recent years, I have noticed this tendency being mocked by people who use “s/h/it”instead of “she/he/it”.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

While I'm away

I changed the sub-title; the old one seems far too smug. The new one is a piece of a quote from a four-year old post of mine called "The best things".

And... disappearing again (sorry for the whiplash)

I’m stepping away from the Internet for the next six weeks. I hope everyone survives the rest of Winter and that Spring is well on its way by the time I check back in.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Home again

We drove home last week, coming up from Lower Alabama where it was supposed to be warm (hah!) to New Jersey, where it was not supposed to be exactly warm but was supposed to be warmer than it has been. Despite the miserable weather that swept through much of the Southeast during January, we didn’t see any significant snow cover until we drove into Pennsylvania. Who knew snowstorms - or perhaps warm spells - recognized State lines?

In Pennsylvania the snow cover was solid: roadsides, yards, and fields all white. Instead of the lovely drifts and curves of a simple snowstorm, though, the ground was a solid, level, shiny sheet of white: a thick layer of ice over an even thicker layer of snow. Beautiful but oddly frightening, like driving through a cross between Antarctica and a glacier. 

Once we turned east toward New Jersey we started seeing some trees still sheathed in ice. Since it was a gorgeous, cloudless day, they sparkled in the sun like crystal sculptures. Once over the Delaware River and into the home stretch, we saw whole groves of ice trees - breathtakingly beautiful. And where the mountains had been cut through for the road, rock walls were covered in icefalls. In one pass, the water had run over the graffiti that tags the rock and taken some of the paint with it so the icefalls had streaks of pink and blue and orange and green. Winter can make almost anything a work of art.

When we got home, we discovered that our neighbors had not only shoveled the sidewalk in front of our house, they had also shoveled our walkway up to the front door and enough of the driveway so we could get the gate open and pull the car off the street. I gifted them with home-made vegetable soup as a wholly inadequate thank-you and plan to go on so gifting them through the winter. The debt to them is so deep I may have to continue through the summer; I hope they like gazpacho.