sphagnum moss, dark water, and politics
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Face Inwards, Aim . . .and Fire!
A little while back Amanda wrote a very interesting post arguing that by aggressively pushing creationism into public/scientific spaces, fundamentalists set up the conditions for a backlash:
See, I think the reason that creationism (and pseudo-scientific variations) survives much at all is they really take advantage of most people’s polite unwilllingness to get overly confrontational about religious faith . . . In exchange for this, most religions keep to themselves. In ecological terms, you’d say that faith and reason simply don’t compete for the same resources—in this case, the church and the classroom would really be different environments. But by using this assumption that it’s impolite to belittle someone else’s faith, the fundies have tried to shoehorn their myths into the science classroom. Now in order to fight them off, it’s become important for freethinkers to aggressively attack this social nicety about not aggressively questioning faith, because basically we have to tear apart the competition’s armor in order to prevent them from competing with us for what’s ours—the classroom, etc.I've seen this general idea before - in a Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer piece by Jennifer Michael Hecht that seems to have dropped off the face of the internet - but this goes rather further in suggesting a specific mechanism. And while Jennifer, if I'm remembering right, basically suggested we should all join liberal religious institutions, for the social and spiritual benefits, Amanda sees these attacks on religion's "defense mechanism" as ultimately hurting mainstream churches, as folks who belonged mostly because that's what one does get persuaded into atheism.
Whether or not creationism has survived solely because folks have been too polite and tolerant, I'm rather doubtful, but the wider argument seems very pertinent. Early this week the New York Times reported on the Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival conference, calling it A Free-for-All on Science and Religion, where:
Somewhere along the way, a forum this month at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., which might have been one more polite dialogue between science and religion, began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told.. Apparently there was much heated and contentious rhetoric, between Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Steven "long nightmare of religious belief" Weinberg saying things like
Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.and folks like Francisco Ayala, Lawrence M. Krauss, Melvin J. Konner , and Neil Tyson arguing not only that
"People need to find meaning and purpose in life . . . I don’t think we want to take that away from them (Ayala) . . . Science does not make it impossible to believe in God . . .We should recognize that fact and live with it and stop being so pompous about it.(Krauss)but that folks like Harris and Dawkins
are remarkably apt mirror images of the extremists on the other side . . .and that you generate more fear and hatred of science (Konner), [that Dawkins'] methods . . .how articulately barbed you can be, end up simply being ineffective, when you have much more power of influence. (Tyson)Meanwhile some pro-science blogs were having their own tempest in a teapot, set off by an apparently joking remark (joking status affirmed here). Next thing you know, folks were making little lists of who was on which side or team - whether they're Dawkins-following evangelical atheists on a reckless crusade to destroy religion, risking the real goal of defending evolution and science education . . . or Neville Chamberlain appeasement-types happily compromising science for classroom peace-in-our-time. (Because we need more of that kind of thinking, right?) Meanwhile, John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts and Mike Dunford of The Questionable Authority (among others) think all this is pretty absurd.
And I'd have to agree. It might be because I'm rereading A Politics of Virtue: Hinduism, sexuality, and countercolonial discourse in Fiji, by John D. Kelly, examining why, to quote the blurb:
In 1929 the Fiji Indian community, composed of ex-indentured laborers and their descendents, had united in an anticolonial boycott led by a Fiji Indian National Congress modeled by the Indian National Congress in India. But in the midst of this political crisis, the Fiji Indians began a debate among themselves about the sexual morality of women and gods. In this debate over virtue, the Fiji Congress dissolved and the community fractured into groups self-defined in religious terms: the Arya Samaj, The Fiji Muslim League, the Sanatan Dharm.And in my mind, this is about politics, and that's the ground where I think we should fight, whatever other battles or truces one might conduct. What's happened is that fundamentalists - or, to borrow a more specific term from Michelle Goldberg, Christian Nationalists - have been encroaching on public spaces (often ones they'd been evicted from, and rightfully so, decades or centuries earlier), causing a growing number of people - across the political spectrums, and much of the religious ones - to end up united in opposition.
The fight here is, I think, for secularism - for secular science, secular government, and a secular-friendly public square. Secularism's turned into a Scary Word for a lot of people, and I want to write about that sometime soon, but the simplest way I can think to describe it is this picture: a ring of rainbow-colored lights that overlap in the middle to produce a space of purest white. That middle bit's secularism. People of all beliefs can come together to learn and do science; there is no such thing as Jewish or Christian or atheist or Islamic or etc. science. (Science doesn't say there is no God: it simply goes along as if that issue is irrelevant, happily and productively assuming that, for the purpose at hand, it's working with natural phenomena and natural causes. Just like driving, or cooking, or construction, or warfare, or business, where God won't fix your distribution problems, or raise your souffle, or etc. I think history and daily life alike suggests this - methodological naturalism, to get all fancy - is a pretty good idea). And people of all beliefs can come together here [the U.S.] as citizens running (however distantly, and at cross-purposes) a democratic nation - not a Christian Nation, but a nation of Christians, and agnostics, and Jews, and Zoroastrians, and atheists, and Muslims, and Wiccans, and whatever. (Seems like a good way to run a free country.)
And I should note that there isn't a real equivalence in these culture wars: Dawkins and friends don't push for atheistic teacher-led 'prayers' in public school classrooms, or science teachers telling high school students that God doesn't exist, or etc. Anyway, though, let me just say - of course, whatever folks might do after the lab coat comes off is their business. But to paraphrase a famous line: It's religion and philosophy's job to tell us whether heaven exists (and how to get there if so); it's science's job to give some small child a telescope to peer through, and tell them look, look at all the beautiful stars!
I'm on that side.
See also Nick Matzke on how Neil deGrasse Tyson is the new Carl Sagan.
posted by Dan S. on 10:17 AM | | link
Diana of the Hunt.
In U.S., women go wild for hunting.
FREEPORT, Maine (Reuters) - It's deer season in Maine and although the hunting department of outdoor retail specialist L.L. Bean is packed, this is no old-boy's club.I can't help but be a bit conflicted about this development, but, well . . . and it's part of a larger "rise in the number of women involved in all-outdoor recreation -- from camping to kayaking." Given that many ecologists, biologists, amateur naturalists, etc., seem to trace their choice of careers, their passion, back to childhood experiences, I wonder what effect this might have?
Interesting, that there seems to have been an increase in the number of women hunting "in the the past three or four years" (following growth in the '80s and a plateau in the '90s). The obvious suggestion would be something about the war, but I dunno.
posted by Dan S. on 9:58 AM | | link
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 5
Violence in Iraq increasingly targeting women.
posted by Dan S. on 5:05 PM | | link
Iraqis - Human Beings or Inanimate Objects?
Inquiring minds want to know!
A letter in today's Philadelphia Inquirer reads:
Much as I might want it, there may not exist any better answer than to continue to keep a lid on it as it sputters along for another six to 10 years.Tiny, eh?
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The United Nations said Wednesday that 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, the highest monthly toll since the March 2003 U.S. invasion and another sign of the severity of Iraq's sectarian bloodbath.Yes, yes, we all know what he meant. And yes, leaving might very well make matters worse. Not the point.
posted by Dan S. on 4:55 PM | | link
Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4
Well you can laugh at this sentimental story
posted by Dan S. on 9:23 AM | | link
Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 3:
To the Editor [of the Philadelphia Inquirer]:
In a recent column, neocon Charles Krauthammer paraphrases Ben Franklin and claims, "We have given the Iraqis a republic and they do not appear able to keep it." This statement seeks to shift the responsibility for our failures onto the Iraqi people: it is both dishonest and reprehensible.
No, the Iraqis are not helpless puppets. There are indeed political failures, merchants of violence with the basest of motives, and people of goodwill and great courage too often rewarded by slaughter. But we did not give the Iraqis a republic. We gave them chaos, and demanded of them leadership we now seem unable to muster,
I wish with all my heart that the people of Iraq had had the space to build their republic of dreams, to use the title of a recent essay by Omar Fathi. I hope that one day they can awake from the nightmare that traps them - and us - today. It is easy to muse on what could have been, if we had 'done the war right." Too easy, I think. The war we have happened because politicians, the media, and too many citizens abandoned their responsibilities. Whether out of fear, rage, greed, opportunism, a lazy and unfounded optimism, or those famous best intentions, we traded the most solemn obligations of democracy for a handful of flimsy fantasies. Without the lies, the insinuations, and the rationalizations, without the manufactured threats and empty promises, we might have had a better war. More likely we would have never had a war.
I, and so many others, had the common sense to see where we were headed, and tried to stop it. I wish I had the wisdom to see how we could get out of it now. But I think I can guess where people like Krauthammer are going. Except for trite and empty phrases, they will never take any responsibility for what happened, for the disaster they so eagerly cheerleaded. Instead, they will blame others abroad, and their fellow citizens at home. The "liberal media" and the "terrorist sympathizers," they will tell us, betrayed our troops, stabbed them in the back. It's a refrain we've heard before, here after Yalta and Vietnam, and elsewhere with horrible consequences.
We know better.
posted by Dan S. on 9:12 AM | | link
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Couldn't Call It Unexpected, No. 2:
Mind the Gap! (The Children of Color Left Behind Act).
In other unfortunate and entirely unsurprising news, Schools Slow in Closing Gap Between Races
When President Bush signed his sweeping [No Child Left Behind] education law a year into his presidency, it set 2014 as the deadline by which schools were to close the test-score gaps between minority and white students that have persisted since standardized testing began..
Again, sadly, no surprise. To be very brief and oversimplistic, NCLB is a bizarrely punitive law, mixed in with some extra funding that doesn't even manage to cover the new requirements (many of which are frequently considered a giveaway to test-prep and testing companies, along with the manufacturers of ideologically friendly prepackaged curricula). The implicit assumption appears to have been that teachers and schools were just being lazy and not trying hard enough, so all one had to do was "hold them accountable," and threaten them - like workers slacking off and spending the day on blogging or fantasy football - and the gap would magically improve! Uh, no.
Perhaps it's a bit of a stretch, but I can't help but see parallels to our Iraq policy. There's the same whiff of magical thinking, the promise of nice but wildly unlikely results, the obstinate refusal to engage with complicated, multifacteted reality, the insistent belief that all one needs are adequate supplies of Will and Force to fix any problem.
In reality, while this is a complex issue, there's one glaringly obvious aspect: the presence of persisting social and economic inequality in society and in our schools. The refusal to come to terms with this (or even really ever admit it) ensures that NCLB will fail. Which, some have argued, has been the point all along. (I think it's enough to note that it's designed as if the goal was to be a failure, since there are various reasons why this might be so).
In related news
New York State’s highest court ended a landmark legal fight over education financing [Nov. 20th] , ruling that at least $1.93 billion more must be spent each year on New York City’s public schools — far less than the $4.7 billion that a lower court called the minimum needed to give city children the chance for a sound basic education."Thirteen years of litigation, and the New York Court of Appeals endorses the low-end figure (although it will be slightly revised due to inflation) from a Pataki-appointed commission report back in '04. Well, almost $2 billion is certainly something, at least . . .
At one point in 2002 - and this really sums it all up for me - the Appellate Division overturned the previous ruling and said, in a majority decision authored by the misnamed Justice Alfred D. Lerner, no, there wasn't really a (state constitutional) problem. After all (due to some tortured reinterpretations of a "sound basic education"), the state was only really required to ensure that children without other resources had be offered a eighth-to-ninth grade education, and New York was managing that, so what's the fuss? (And they meant offered - the fact that nearly a third of students weren't receiving any sort of diploma, even one testifying to an eighth grade or so level of mastery, was judged to be irrelevant). Of course, as the Court of Appeals pointed out the following year
First, as to employment, the Appellate Division concluded that the trial court "went too far" in construing the ability to "function productively" as the ability to obtain "competitive employment" or, indeed, as anything more than "the ability to get a job, and support oneself, and thereby not be a charge on the public fisc" (295 A.D.2d at 8). More is required. While a sound basic education need only prepare students to compete for jobs that enable them to support themselves, the record establishes that for this purpose a high school level education is now all but indispensable . . .That's the kind of thinking we face. The Times article mentions that the new decision "will also almost certainly embolden opponents of increased spending for the city schools." Whether they not they mean to (or even realize it), such people are also opponents of New York City's children.
posted by Dan S. on 7:57 AM | | link
Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 1:
Attack of the Frankengrass! (GM Grass Gone Wild)
From NPR, Super Grass Spreads Beyond Its Oregon Test Plot
A new genetically modified strain of grass has proved to be resistant to a reliable weed killer. Now the plant has spread beyond its test plot in central Oregon, and scientists and environmentalists are concerned about the possibility of "superweeds."The audio's refusing to work for me right now . . . ah, here we go, a NY Times article from this summer. Basically? Scotts Miracle-Gro and Monsanto decided to create and test a Roundup Ready version of the creeping bentgrass - that is, to genetically engineer creeping bentgrass to be resistant to Monsanto's popular Roundup herbicide, as has been already done with various crops you are eating and wearing. The idea is that it could be planted on golf courses - of course - so that Roundup could be applied to wipe out competing plants: synergy gone biological. Which, to be fair, if we have to have golf course monocultures, would be better than some of the alternatives.
But then there was a little problem (realistically, a few little problems) at the central Oregon test site:
APHIS alleged that, on two occasions, Scotts failed to notify APHIS about the accidental release of Roundup Ready Creeping Bentgrass (RRCB), which resulted from unanticipated wind events at a field test site in Jefferson County, OR and carried dried RRCB seed heads beyond the field test location. Scotts provided a mitigation plan and committed to additional control measures outlined in a Compliance Agreement with BRS. In addition to paying a civil penalty, Scotts was required to implement training and procedures to prevent future violations. BRS is currently conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate whether a petition by Scotts and Monsanto Company to deregulate RRCB poses any plant pest risks. This is the first time BRS has conducted an EIS in response to a petition for deregulation.Unanticipated wind events. Ya gotta love it. Anyway, while an EPA study two years ago had found bentgrass pollen miles away from the site, the more recent study revealed a small number of genetically engineered plants growing in the wild - some from seed, some hybridized - up to over two miles away from test site zone. It's the first time (that we know of) this sort of thing has happened in the US.
Now, wild Roundup Ready creeping bentgrass is far from the worst thing that could happen - there's some concern about pesticide-resistant superweeds creeping over public lands, and it could conceivably damage the grass seed industry - centered in the nearby Willamette Valley - if other countries ban their products due to proven or suspected contamination. It's just that this is so ridiculously predictable, especially given the nature of the grass - able to spread by itself (unlike, say, corn), with light windblown pollen, and many wild relatives growing nearby . . . and remember, the idea's to have it on golf courses all over the country. Note also that marks another first: " the Agriculture Department is doing a full environmental impact assessment before making a decision. It will be its first involving a genetically engineered crop." I certainly don't think genetically engineered crops are inherently evil, but corporate-influenced lack of oversight, that's another matter.
posted by Dan S. on 7:03 AM | | link
Monday, November 20, 2006
Lots More Kathryn From The Corner
So, I'm still trying to figure out Kathryn Jean Lopez's argument, apropos of the appointment of anti-contraception anti-abortion oxytocin-obsessed Eric Keroack to oversee the $280 million reproductive health Office of Population Affairs (new motto: 1.8 unwanted pregnancies prevented a year = 1.8 million missed opportunities for forced childbearing. Yeah, it's a little clunky, but I'm sure they're working on it). To recap:
Lopez asks:Does Anyone Really Disagree with This?Well, without context it does sound pretty crazy, and I'm not familiar enough with anti-contraception, anti-women's reproductive autonomy, pro-natalist ideology - fringe US Catholic, fringe Protestant, or fringe-fringe We Need More White Babies!! versions - to come up with it myself, so I went looking around the Corner for more.
Fellow Cornerite John Podheretz thought that calling contraception demeaning to grown-up woman was pretty crazy, so Kathryn replied
But the fact is one does not have to be an opponent of contraception to think that we have a contraceptive mentality in our culture that is in fact demeaning. Where we give kids condoms instead of teaching them why waiting would be of some value — for a lot more reasons than not getting pregnant.Well, I'm still a little fuzzy what a "contraceptive mentality" is, not being tuned into the theocon dogwhistles - is it connected to the "culture of death"? Of course, comprehensive sex ed. both teaches adolescents about condoms and why waiting, for a while at least, might be a good idea. One happy side effect is that if they don't wait, those kids, not being fed abstinence-only fibs, are actually informed about ways to reduce the risks of pregnancy and STDs. Y'know, one interesting tune I have been picking up in anti-contraception discourse is that maybe teen pregnancy isn't so bad - compared to contraception.
Anyway, I'm skipping over an old piece of hers that she tenatively links to, How Birth Control Changed America For the Worst - maybe more later, but if you read it, I'd advise How the Pro-choice Movement Saved America to cleanse your palate. Almost mirror images - shorter Lopez: If they think they can avoid the consequences, people will run around having sex! And why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free - or have it refrigerated for whenever you need it!!). Next up, she provides a quick emphasis:
A contraceptive mentality is demeaning to women and men. It's dehumanizing something that's essentially all about life. Dehumanizing human sexuality is depressingly perverse and at the root of a whole lot of heartache.Ah. And I suppose in a way I agree. Sex is essentially all about life. Sometimes it's about the wonder and worry of making new life. Sometimes it's just about celebrating life, with the one you love - or the one you're with, but to be honest I rather prefer the former. And sometimes it's about both. And like a lot of life, from cars to cellphones, one should try to be decent, caring, and respectful to others. Dehumanizing human sexuality - for real - is at the root of a lot of heartache. Pity that for Lopez it seems just about making new life, and the only dehumanization worth really worrying about isn't, say, blessedly defeated laws that would have forced rape victims to bear their rapists' children, but any sort of sex that doesn't involve both a wedding ring and a new human-to-be.
Next Kathryn finds another old article she wrote about a Protestant couple talking just good sense:
The Torodes take the Word literally when it comes to the meaning of marriage: Remember, for instance, this: "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it" (Genesis 1:27-28). And this: "He answered and said, 'Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate'" (Matthew 19: 4-6).Now, I tend to think that on a certain level everyone has the right to my - wait, no, I mean their! - opinion. At the same time, such attitudes are trying to shape - in abstinence-only ed funding, in family planning misappointees - our wider society, which presumably makes them fair game for public mockery. And while my academic training makes me want to understand this, it's really hard not to start giggling, because in some ways this isn't worthy of even vestigial respect: it's theology at the level of a poorly written Christian romance novel.
Like the [previous] pope [wrote] extensively, the Torodes believe that contraception is not consistent with a "culture of life." [Ah-hah! - DS] But they believe that most pro-lifers haven't even thought through it. Both the Bible and Catholic thinkers, the Torodes contend, have much to teach couples about married life and, well, life — whether they're Catholic or not.Now, mindless disregarding-of-others hedonism, as an all around approach to life, maybe not so good. And they're right to note that our culture stresses it (if they ever figure out why (no, not the "gay agenda"), there are a couple of issues the left and the theo-right might be able to talk about). But what we have here is a whole 'nother matter entirely. As tristero wrote this spring (that most titilating of seasons - and in early May, too!) about The War On Fucking:Evangelicals are known for engaging the culture. Contemporary Christian music, for example, often mimics the sound of "secular" music while adding Christian lyrics, as though the music conveys no message of its own. Problems arise when we begin engaging the culture and end up marrying it. [It's the gay marriage slippery slope! First you get man-on-dog, then you get men marrying box turtles, then you have evangelicals marrying their native culture! -DS]
Oh, about the title of this post. I originally was going to call it "The war on sex," but changed my mind because that simply isn't accurate. It is fucking the rightwing opposes. The ecstatic, transgressive, transcendent, life-affirming, overwhelmingly selfish and also ego-obliterating ecstasy that is sex.As Amanda points out,
Selling the idea that you personally don’t deserve pleasure, you peon, is done by the church’s tacit acceptance of Natural Family Planning. NFP gives lie to the idea that the church is completely anti-contraception. NFP, after all, is a form of contraception. Proponents of NFP say they like that it’s “natural”, which implies all other forms of contraception involve hormones or changing your body in some way, which isn’t true at all of barrier methods. Where NFP is different than other forms of contraception, and why it’s the only acceptable method for the anti-choicers is that it’s the only one that demands that you sacrifice spontaneity and pleasure, because you can only have sex at appointed times. NFP is acceptable to anti-choicers because it’s anti-love and demands that lovers refrain from sexual pleasure and bonding, at least some of the time. It drives home the message that your body isn’t yours to share and enjoy as you see fit.And we should notice that, as Kathryn tells us,
The [Torodes'] book is about much more than the contraception question though. Bethany makes a beautiful argument in favor of stay-at-home motherhood, and other choices the Torodes believe are keys to successful matrimony.Now, this is a complicated subject, and it's entirely possible that the 21-year-old Bethany Torode, who already had given her husband one young son, has been deeply fulfilled - or at least reasonably ok - with this life choice. Hard not to notice, though, that this ideology works out - the way our society is structured - so as to help keep women at home, out of the working world, the professions, etc.
If this all sounds a little too religious, though, Kathryn gives us secular proof
"that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness" is obvious. Evidence will be at many a bar, in many a pint of Ben & Jerry's, etc. this evening.Because nothing like that ever happened before the Pill. And these ladies really better watch out, because eating pints of ice cream just has to produce, as Keroack tells us,
an elevated level of endorphins which in turn lowers the level of oxytocin. Therefore, relationship failure leads to pain which leads to elevated endorphins which leads to lower oxytocin, the result of which is a lower ability to bond. Many in this increased state of emotional pain and lower oxytocin seek sex as a substitute for love, which inevitably leads to another failed relationship, and so on, the cycle continues.But that's what you get when you shack up with Ben and Jerry.
I really wanted to actually analyze these ideas, and argue for why they're so . . . hateful, but that's just not going to happen right now, so here, read some more Amanda
So there you have it–anti-choicers are anti-sex all right, but they’re also anti-marriage, anti-child and anti-woman in real life terms, not in airy, abstract religious horseshit terms. They want sex to be a point of tension, not joy, in couples’ lives. They want children to be so numerous they can’t be cared for properly. And they want women to be resigned to a choice between being treated like whores or treated like incubators.- including her a post on some of the Kathryn Kraziness (Hormonal contraception: The driving force behind the smashing success of middle-aged hippie-created ice cream, indeed!). I'm going to go listen to some Marvin Gaye, that'll make it all better . . .
posted by Dan S. on 9:25 PM | | link
To The Muse.
. . . Oh Jenny,-James Wright, To The Muse.
posted by Dan S. on 6:13 PM | | link
The Republic of Dreams, The Country of Nightmares.
. . . I was a moderate liberal. In my imaginary republic, there was space for everybody — Baathists, socialists, liberals — as long as you didn’t hurt people or persecute them or impose your style of thinking or living on others.
- Omar Ghanim Fathi, in today's New York Times
posted by Dan S. on 8:07 AM | | link
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Crazy? I Was Crazy Once . . .
. . . they put me in a rubber - which one shouldn't pass out without any deeper context or conversation, or it will be degrading, to men and women. Right?
Ah - ok, maybe this needs a bit of context. The first part's an odd little middleschoolish chant; I can't find any mention of an origin, and it may be an actual piece of childlore (or an obvious piece of piece of pop culture I missed somewhere along the line?). There are various versions, some slightly more involved than others - the big perk, however, is that it's a loop, like the infamous Song That Never Ends.
Crazy? I was crazy once. They put me in a rubber - a rubber room, that is. I died there. Then came the worms. Worms? I hate worms! They make me crazy! Crazy? I was crazy once . . .And so on and on potentially forever, slightly maddening world (or worms) without end. The version I know seems a bit unusual, at least going by googlesearch standards, in its mild graveyard gruesomeness (rats or even ants often replace worms, and some don't involve the addled narrator dying at all), and its touch of innuendo-ish misdirection. - But while I do find this genuinely interesting, it's somewhat of a delaying tactic. After all, I don't know to approach the second bit, which is seriously weird.
Over at National Review Online's The Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez asks:
Does Anyone Really Disagree with This?And of course, across the blogosphere - and not just the lefty part - folks have been happy to oblige, with everyone from Tristero to Andrew Sullivan joining in for a big "Ok - you're crazy! (Kevin Drum, quite characteristically, asks readers to tell him that he's crazy).
I can't quite agree, though. She's not crazy, it's that her thinking is, ah . . . disordered. And no, that's not just a quasi-snarky reference to the hopelessly-out-of-touch document about ministering to gay Catholics recently approved at the big bishops' meeting (although I believe she bases her view in that tradition). This kind of thinking really seems out of order, mis-structured, confusedly jumbled, broken. Granted, having lived a sheltered life, I've only recently realized that the anti-contraception crusade (U.S. version) consists of more than five people, and that somehow they're taken seriously by folks who can actually spell. Additionally, what's quoted above is the whole of her post, with no other context or explanation: as Kevin noted " she thinks it's inconceivable that anyone would disagree with this view of contraceptives." So I don't have all that much to go on, and the whole thing sounds like the garbled meanderings of a dead idea (then came the worms I hate worms they make me crazy) but I can try . . .
The first thing that jumps out is the infantilization of adult men and women, who - whether or not they can handle the truth - are assumed to be unable, somehow, to handle the idea of contraception without some sort of patronizing "context or conversation". Now granted, some people do have trouble with the mechanics and/or the fine details, which is why us reality-based folks generally support comprehensive sex education - but I doubt that's what she's talking about, and anyone holding her view is unlikely to support that.
The next? Well, it sounds a bit like that point on the 'attitudes towards sex' wheel where distaste/disgust and a sort of chastely flushed over-veneration meet (and occasionally mix - people are weird). The common ground is that sex is one way or other sort of taboo, outside and below/above actual daily life. It's something - especially the latter - that I tend to associate with a occasional phase - self-righteous and very innocent, and usually happening somewhere in adolescence - often tempered by eventual experience. Most grown-ups come to realize that sex is (hopefully) a part of life, an important/amazing/rewarding/ frustrating/deeply intimate/transporting/add any and all adjectives you feel might apply/ part of life, to be sure, but still a part of life. - I can almost hear Ms. Lopez complaining in outraged shock after hearing grown-up women talk frankly about sex (if she listens to teens, she might well swoon).
Or [this part added the next morning], she could think it's degrading to men and women because the passer-out is implicitly assuming that the passee might well at some point be having The Sex! Possibly out of wedlock!! And regardless, conceivably not for the purpose of procreation!!! Why this is supposed to be degrading, I rather (obviously) don't quite get. Certainly there are folks who don't believe - personally, or generally - in nonmarital sex, or even nonprocreative sex, and that's ok . . hey, it's a free country . . . but like Kevin said, she seems to be under the impression that everybody, rather than a small minority, actually shares her view. And given that the physical setting for this whole scenario appears to be family planning clinics or possibly pharmacies, it's rather like, say, a Orthodox Jew insisting that a restaurant offering bacon cheeseburgers is degrading to people, or a strictly traditional Muslim insisting that Victoria's Secret - or Fashion Bug - is degrading to women . . .
And this kind of condemnation isn't just about wild-n-crazy multiple-everything-sex-with-various-devices - it very much includes even contentedly-vanilla-sex-within-marriage. Which brings us to the religious aspects (are there any others?) of the anti-contraception crusade; for example, that same bishops' meeting I mentioned also produced another document, Married Love and the Gift of Life, which argued that "When married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility, sexual intercourse is no longer fully marital. It is something less powerful, less intimate, more casual" (original italics). Which of course suggests that this group of never-married celibate men don't just unsurprisingly fail to grasp the daily (and often economic) realities of grown-up life that they've been sheltered from, but also fail to understand all that much about marital intimacy. When a couple's deliberately act[ing] to suppress fertility 'cause of, y'know, the whole plans for a shared life together, it's not more casual, it's less so. -Just to approach this argument on its own premises. In the end, I can only understand this as, deep down, springing from the belief that sex is bad, but can be tolerated as a guilty pleasure as long as - and only as long as - it's carried out for its proper natural-law cause: makin' babies! (And of course the last part of that - that people having sex always have to be at least open to having babies is quite explicit; it's the the first part that seems to be scrunched down).
-But - throwing up hands - I really don't understand this whole thing (and I say this as someone who has been occasionally uncomfortable with the way birth control pills have been marketed, and does think there's various messages o' hypersexualization being sent by society that can, in various ways, be pretty degrading - if from different causes and for different reasons than these folks). I keep trying, but all I can hear are nonsensical ramblings; sterile, repetitive craziness . . .
crazy? I was crazy once . . .
posted by Dan S. on 9:36 PM | | link
The March of Regress.
Over at Feministe, Jill asks, "If it’s wrong for public schools to be segregated by race, why is it justifiable to segregate them by sex?" Excellent question, but "wrong for public schools to be segregated by race"?
. . . That's next.
Via Atrios: Ruling: Classes divided by race: At Preston Hollow, principal tried to appease affluent parents, halt white flight, judge says.
For years, it was an open secret at North Dallas' Preston Hollow Elementary School: Even though the school was overwhelmingly Hispanic and black, white parents could get their children into all-white classes. And once placed, the students would have little interaction with the rest of the students.. Of course, this is just one story out of many, across the country - often coming out of the court-ordered ending of desegregation plans. And on we march, backwards into the past . . .
posted by Dan S. on 3:49 PM | | link
Media Queen Bees . . . or Wannabes?
(Or, Fast Times at Beltway High).
There's a nice back and forth blogversation between Digby and (the wonderful) Sara Robinson at Orcinus about the sudden return of what's been dubbed Kewl Kids/Mean Girls (horrible-high school-flashback) journalism. Digby starts out talking about how folks are almost instantly back to operating on Clinton Rules Redux:
They are partying [on MSNBC] like it's 1999. Norah O'Donnell, Lawrence O'Donnell, Mary Ann Akers and some other person I don't know have just spent half an hour discussing the fact that Nancy Pelosi ruined her own honeymoon and now it is really quesionable whether she can lead. . . . After a thorough discussion of how hapless the Democratic nerds have already proven to be, Mary Ann Akers whispers that reporters all over town are "loving" this story. It's so much fun! . . . The spite girls are back in town. It isn't so much a matter of substance. . . .That's not the problem. It's that the patented 90's style smug, juvenile, derisive Kewl Kidz tone is once again ooozing through everything they say. . . .Sara responds with excellent advice on how to respond - to Bring On the Angry Liberals, Redux:
Back in the 70s, when the GOP were the media's angry loonies, they played into it without apology. By their analysis, there was plenty wrong with the country, and their rage was totally justified. . . Their willingness to look angry made them look strong, full of conviction, and worthy of respect. This was a huge part of how the Republicans turned the PR tide in their favor in the late 70s and early 80s . . . It will work for us now -- but only if we consistently, reliably, choose firm defiance over spinelessness every time, and make it clear that they're taking the risk of devastating public humiliation every time they open their giggling mouths . . .Moving on, she stops to actually look at the Kewl Kids and Queen Bees, noting that
The image of the mainstream media as a gaggle of adolescent Kewl Kidz giggling and sneering in high school hallways has been in circulation as a stock lefty blogger meme for a few years now. But I don't know that anyone's really stopped and taken a look at the deeper implications of that analogy -- or the possible solutions it might point to, especially what we know these days about "relational aggression," which is what this precise form of bullying is called when it happens in schools.Indeed, she proceeds to not only do just that - via parenting websites and Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabes - but also adapts anti-relational-agression strategies into a list of strategies liberals can use. Digby bounces off her post with some additional talk about Shrinking the Kewl Kids. Meanwhile, Gleen Greenwald has a detailed post on the Beltway Attacks on Nancy Pelosi, pointing out how
She's not even Speaker yet, and they've already pronounced her to be a bitchy, vindictive shrew incapable of leading because she's consumed by petty personal bickering rather than serious and substantive considerations. And all of this is based on nothing.He goes in to demonstrate how what's being said is mostly "all based on giggly chit-chat and gossipy garbage that has no legitimacy other than the fact that they all repeat it in unison on television and in print," or (however regrettable) standard-issue Washington politicking. On top of that - and this is the big point for me -
that's to say nothing of the fact that the Hoyer-Murtha race is being depicted as some sort of sign of hateful Democratic in-fighting that shows Pelosi has lost control, even though Republicans are mauling each other for every single House leadership position, all of which are hotly contested.See, I'm less picky than Digby, who doesn't mind the substance, but the tone. Certainly I'd prefer an aggressive and substantive fourth estate that would help root out corruption and misgovernment across the board, but if the media just felt the need to sound like a bunch of bipartisan high school Heathers - as he depicts Maureen Dowd in his Shrinking post . . . Well, it's not the best thing for democracy, but I think it would be a relatively simple matter to marginalize them in favor of Serious News for Serious People (left or right), and lessen the damage. Thing is, that personality type just inherently doesn't work this way, and for years now they've decided that the GOP is their BFF - Republicans Rule, Democrats Drool! And all this despite apparently knowing just who these guys were, if the editorial director of of CBSNews.com is to be believed (via Kevin Drum):
This is a story I should have written 12 years ago when the "Contract with America" Republicans captured the House in 1994. I apologize.Mean Girls and Kewl Kids with a big honkin' crush on 'roid-raging Chess Clubbers . Very, very odd.
I feel I should add some sort of original though here at the end of all this, so: I'm not a very good political junky, and for a while I've tended to avoid the cable political gabfests and such (since it's not really fair to make my wife put up with non-stop spittle-spray screaming at the tv screen for too long - not that she would), but I've been watching a fair bit around the election, and . . . Hmm, not sure how to put it, the sense I got. It's not that many of these folks think that the Democratic victories are illegitimate, not exactly . . . More like it's very much not in the natural order of things, that the world turned upside down (-allegedly the tune the British played during the surrender at Yorktown).
And that gets us back to Sara's point, because the wider context for that kind of standard middle-to-high school aggression reflected here is in the growing pre- and adolescent need to fit in, to find and be assured of one's place, the near-frantic enforcement of conformity (sometimes in nonconformity, granted . . .), the deep desire for peer approval. Of course, now they're in the adult world, the rewards - both monetary and social - are much higher, but the dynamics seem bizarrely the same. And that's why, perhaps, they're not just eagerly shifting to anti-Republican sniping. The "fear of the growing horde of furious right-wing letter-writers [that] eventually conditioned every news editor in the country to involuntarily wince before saying anything nasty about these people" that Sara and others have mentioned, the constant drumbeat of "Liberal Media Bias!!", even all that post-presidential-election pontificating about Red and Blue America (I blame Brooks! - but perhaps that's a bit of a bee in my bonnet) - it's all been very powerful. It's quite arguably convinced the mediafolks, on a very basic and internalized level . . . not even that Republicans are cool, but that Republican dominance, movement conservatism is the Real America (tm), the Natural Order of Things, the Way It's Supposed to Be. Any change is a temporary abberation, like peasants and Fools getting to act like nobles and kings for a day - something humorous, mockworthy . . . and, if it threatens to be an actual change, almost frightening. How will one know how to act, where one stands? (Which isn't to say, of course, that there aren't other considerations, down to the nature of media consolidation, corporate ownership, and the learning curve for bread-buttering.)
This has to stop. It's not good for the Democrats, sure, but more importantly, it's not good for the country.
And really, when you get down to it, the preening media types so aren't the Kewl Kids or the Queen Bees. Those roles have been filled by others, generally in positions of political power. They're either - going by Wiseman's article on Girl's Cliques: What Role Does Your Daughter Play over at iVillage, the Sidekicks
She notices everything about the Queen Bee, because she wants to be her. She will do everything the Queen Bee says. The Queen Bee, as her best friend, makes her feel popular and included.or the Wannabe:
She will do anything to be in the good graces of the Queen Bee and the Sidekick. When two powerful girls, or two powerful groups of girls, are in a fight, she is the go-between. However, the other girls eventually turn on her as well. She'll enthusiastically back them up no matter what. She can't tell the difference between what she wants and what the group wants.Meanwhile, to bounce off that site's Clique First-Aid Kit, there's been a good bit of Democratic and/or liberal strategizing that sounds more than a little like "[v]ictimized girls [who] mistakenly think, if they were just prettier or thinner, then they wouldn't be teased" (which is not to make light of the girls' situations). If we just weren't so pro-choice, if - as Amy Sullivan keeps telling us - we just were more religious, why, maybe they'd like us, they'd really like us! Uh-uh. Now, one can argue the pros and cons of various policies & strategies, big tents & local races, etc., etc, etc - but playing into this sort of narrative is just ridiculous. As has been repeatedly pointed out (and is true in the sadly non-metaphorical case) it's not really about us. For example, as everybody always tries to tell Amy, however the Democratic Party should approach religion, the whole notion of (apparently) hordes of anti-religion politicians speechifying about Dawkins and trying to ban Christmas is just ideological bullying (as well as base-meat). Like all good lies, there is a piece of truth buried inside it, but it's one that many Americans might well consider in a different light. And so on.
posted by Dan S. on 12:38 PM | | link
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