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    Wednesday, November 30, 2005

    Sharpen Your Pencils, Class!

    Enjoy this quiz from The Guardian:

    The Good Old Naughty Days is a smorgasbord of amateur porn from cinema's infancy. But can you tell it apart from the highest expressions of the seventh art?

    Mission Accomplished . . . When It Gets Accomplished

    If you haven't read the whole document, here are the 8 "pillars" of the "plan":

    1. Defeat the Terrorists and Neutralize the Insurgency
    2. Transition Iraq to Security Self-Reliance (Read Seymour Hersh on this topic.)
    3. Help Iraqis Form a National Compact for Democratic Government
    4. Help Iraq Build Government Capacity and Provide Essential Services
    5. Help Iraq Strengthen its Economy
    6. Help Iraq Strengthen the Rule of Law and Promote Civil Rights
    7. Increase International Support for Iraq
    8. Strengthen Public Understanding of Coalition Efforts and Public Isolation of the Insurgents (I think this is where the bombing Al Jazeera came in.)

    Allow me to point out a couple of interesting bits.

    - this description of one of the three named factions of "enemies":

    # Rejectionists are the largest group. They are largely Sunni Arabs who have not embraced the shift from Saddam Hussein's Iraq to a democratically governed state. Not all Sunni Arabs fall into this category. But those that do are against a new Iraq in which they are no longer the privileged elite. Most of these rejectionists opposed the new constitution, but many in their ranks are recognizing that opting out of the democratic process has hurt their interests.

    * We judge that over time many in this group will increasingly support a democratic Iraq provided that the federal government protects minority rights and the legitimate interests of all communities.

    - This framing of "timetable":

    Although we are confident of victory in Iraq, we will not put a date certain on when each stage of success will be reached -- because the timing of success depends upon meeting certain conditions, not arbitrary timetables.

    * Arbitrary deadlines or timetables for withdrawal of Coalition forces -- divorced from conditions on the ground -- would be irresponsible and deadly, as they would suggest to the terrorists, Saddamists, and rejectionists that they can simply wait to win.
    * No war has ever been won on a timetable -- and neither will this one.

    Umm, remember how the timetable requested was "nonbinding"? It was "could you kind of give us some idea and we won't even hold you to it? We just wanna know."

    - The whole document ends with this:

    "America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, to attain their own freedom and to make their own way."

    -- President George W. Bush
    January 2005

    I see some pretty major holes in the plan. For example, the whole Recruitment issue.

    How are we going to recruit enough Americans to the military so that our troops aren't enduring fourth, even fifth, tours in Iraq- because something tells me this might make it hard for our soldiers, no matter how committed, to keep the faith. As it is, practically anyone who can get out is and they're forcing folks to stay. I don't believe those people are able to give their best work under that duress. Similar issues are happening in the countries of our Allies, especially the U.K.

    But recruitment of Iraqis is also in dire straits. Being a member of the Iraqi police force right now isn't exactly a cushy job.

    How are we going to get enough good people to fulfill all the goals laid out by this "plan"?

    Merlot Democrats has a suggestion:

    the Bush Administration, means we’ll be sending in MORE troops. That’ll be hard to do, I hear. Maybe we’ll need to come up with some sort of system whereby service in the armed forces is doled out selectively – perhaps in some sort of “lottery”-type fashion.

    Little help?

    A couple articles to get you further up to speed:

    Al-Jazeera's take, NYT, Chicago Trib, Washington Post, LAT

    And on blog row:

    The Next Left, Liberal Pen Pal, Dispassionate Liberalism, Rebecca Hartong, Think Progress.

    More on Hirshman's "Stay-at-Home Feminists"

    Bitch Ph.D.'s response to the Hirshman article rocks my world:

    In my observation and experience, yeah, sure: liberal men will "feel squeamish" about sexism. But--and I say this as the currently money-earning half of a marriage with a stay-at-home partner--a person with a demanding job and the social/economic power that goes along with being the breadwinner, even if that person is a woman and a feminist, is not going to spend a lot of time "feeling squeamish" about unequal work on the home front. Partly this is because professional jobs take up a lot of mental energy; you're thinking too much about the job to be thinking about who's doing the laundry, especially if the laundry is getting done without your thinking about it. Partly this is because domestic work is a pain in the butt: no one who doesn't have to do it is going to spend a lot of time thinking about it. And partly it's because the nature of domestic labor (like most labor) is that if it's done well, it looks effortless and therefore becomes invisible. ...

    In fact, I believe that this is the single most irretrievably gendered division-of-labor issue for couples who want to be, or think they are, equals: the person whose job it is to monitor that equality is the person who has the least power. And in most cases, that's the woman. That's why "don't put yourself in a position of unequal resources" is absolutely crucial advice: if you're going to have to monitor your marriage to make sure that it's an equal partnership, then that is in and of itself part of the labor of the relationship. That "counts," and having to do that "extra" work will be a lot more palatable, and possible, if you ensure from the outset that all other aspects of your marriage distribute resources equally. Otherwise you're stacking the deck against yourself, and at some point, yes: it is going to be "easier" to "choose" not to pursue a demanding career and have children and keep a clean house and play the referee in your own marriage. To begin with, don't, for god's sake, change your name when you marry. What are the arguments for changing your name? "It's easier?" "It will make us more a family?" "It will be better for the children?" Do you not realize that already, even before your marriage begins, you are conceding that making things "easy," making the two of you "a family," worrying about "the children" is your job, not his? If having the same last name makes such a big difference to the two of you, let him change his damn name. ...

    I have also been thinking since of my own career angst and the ways that all of this is, in the end, easier said than done. It's really very difficult not to internalize the fear of pursuing power and status and convince oneself that one wants neither, and it's also very difficult not to internalize the fucked-up priorities of a fucked-up society and convince oneself that power and status are more important than a balanced life. This latter is probably part of the problem with analyses like Hirshman's that focus primarily on the feminist problems of a privileged class, even though it's also probably true that the privileged class probably feels the crunch between "power and status" and "contentment" most acutely.

    Left Center Left has this to say:

    Even if one doesn't agree with Linda Hirschman's points, the observations are great. Like her look at life chances of New York Times Wedding page brides and grooms:

    Every Times groom assumed he had to succeed in business, and was really trying. By contrast, a common thread among the women I interviewed was a self-important idealism about the kinds of intellectual, prestigious, socially meaningful, politics-free jobs worth their incalculably valuable presence.

    Or, this:

    these daughters of the upper classes will be bearing most of the burden of the work always associated with the lowest caste: sweeping and cleaning bodily waste. Not two weeks after the Yalie flap, the Times ran a story of moms who were toilet training in infancy by vigilantly watching their babies for signs of excretion 24-7. They have voluntarily become untouchables.

    Of course, the ideological division that Hirshman diagnoses just rephrases the split in the bourgeoisie itself, between those who trade in money and traditional power and those who are invested in cultural and humanistic betterment. Half of the gay men I know can be mapped in one camp or the other. And as someone who tends toward the latter, I don't know that I have much room for being judgmental about the kind of ideological-turned-material subjugation that marks contemporary gender inequality.

    Big Day Big Day For Roe v. Wade

    Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood and Scheidler v. National Organization for Women- TODAY, folks!

    The new Roberts Court takes on its first abortion-related cases. Martha Davis in the Boston Globe gives an explanation of what's really before the court in the latter case, which has gotten substantially less press:

    Scheidler case, which arises from the abortion clinic blockades and violence of the late 1980s, may have greater practical significance for women seeking abortions nationwide. We already face a crisis of access in many states around the nation. A return to the days of rampant clinic violence could seal the end of reproductive choice even if the abortion procedure itself remains legally available.

    NOW initiated this case in 1986, charging antiabortion activists like Operation Rescue and Joseph Scheidler with violations of the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law, or RICO. In 1998, after a seven-week trial, a unanimous jury found the defendants guilty of violating RICO, and the district court issued a permanent nationwide injunction prohibiting them from blockading, trespassing, damaging property, or committing acts of violence directed against clinics. The specific questions now before the Supreme Court concern arcane issues of statutory construction. However, if the court rules against NOW, it will lift this nationwide injunction against clinic violence, setting the stage for the return of lawless blockades, threats, and worse.

    It may interest you to know that breaking the law will still be against the law, however. The question is whether making your way through a bunch of fetus-posterboard waving protestors constitutes "undue burden".

    AP on Ayotte:

    The court is considering whether the 2003 New Hampshire law puts an ''undue burden'' on a woman in choosing to end a pregnancy. O'Connor is an architect of the undue burden standard, and was the deciding vote in the last abortion case five years ago, when justices ruled that a Nebraska law banning a type of late-term abortion was too burdensome.

    That law, like the one at issue Wednesday, did not have an exception to protect the mother's health. New Hampshire argues that exceptions are permitted when the mother's health is at risk, and that should be enough.

    The law requires a parent or guardian be notified when an abortion is planned for someone under 18, followed by a 48-hour waiting period. A judge can waive the requirement.

    ''In an emergency, a woman needs to go to the hospital not a courthouse,'' justices were told in a filing by Jennifer Dalven, attorney for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England which challenged the law.

    This is what's really scary: there's no exception for the "mother's" health (excuse me if I don't think she's a "mother" yet). Meaning, the young woman could suffer complications that could affect her health for her entire life while a judge decides whether she has to tell her parents, while her parents return from a second honeymoon in Mexico, while her parents fight over her custody, not to mention all the dangerous stuff from abusive parents.

    Now, check out the language, courtesy of the Washington Post:

    At issue during oral arguments set for 11 a.m. is a New Hampshire law requiring parental notification for underage women seeking abortions, with no exception made when the woman's health is at stake, unless she is certifiably confronting death.

    Meaning, if it's only a 10% chance that she could die, we'll just see if we can get Mom or Dad on the horn. Meaning, that fetus really is being treated as more of a "life" than the teenager in this case. And the 48 hour waiting period: how can that not be seen as "undue burden" when the doctors offering abortion services are dwindling, dwindling, dwindling in today's political climate?

    Call me crazy, but I think the Court's going to go our way on this one. It certainly doesn't hurt that Sandra "Undue Burden" O'Connor is still around. The Fifth Column disagrees.

    As always, SCOTUSblog, is the go-to for the ins and outs of Scheidler and Ayotte.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2005

    Did I Just See Brad Mehldau?

    The Cross-Pollinators:

    Jazz and indie-rock, if not opposites, are distinctly unrelated; what they have most in common is a vastness that strains the terms of genre. It doesn't take much cynicism to suspect "Gold Sounds" and its label, the upstart Brown Brothers Recordings, of crossover designs. You would have to go back at least a generation to find a time when jazz claimed an audience as robust as indie-rock does today, and one as socially connected, fiercely protective and doggedly partisan. (On second thought, partisanship is another thing the two scenes have in common.)

    Only a few jazz artists have successfully tapped into that audience. One, the pianist Brad Mehldau, was the headliner at the Village Vanguard with his trio last week; it's likely that a substantial portion of each full house was familiar with his past interpretations of Radiohead, a major-label band with indie-rock cachet. Another three-piece band, the Bad Plus, also reliably packs the Vanguard, and its base fits an indie profile more precisely; or at least, it includes a preponderance of 20-something white fans who don't otherwise visit jazz clubs. Last week, Mr. Mehldau's album "Day Is Done" (Nonesuch) was the second-ranked jazz recording on the college radio charts, as reported by CMJ New Music Report; "Suspicious Activity?" (Columbia), by the Bad Plus, had just slipped from third to fourth place. (On Billboard's general-interest jazz album sales chart, neither "Day Is Done" nor "Suspicious Activity?" ranked in the Top 10.) The new Bad Plus and Mehldau releases haven't yet been reviewed by Pitchfork Media, the online clearinghouse of indie-rock, but their previous albums have, and that's a distinction few jazz artists can claim. (A Pitchfork headline from September read: "The Bad Plus Make Jazz Cool Again With Album, Tour.")

    I wish I'd been there the other night, but I did have one really amazing evening at the Vanguard listening to the Brad Mehldau Trio (when Jorge Rossi was on drums). I was a major fan of Brad Mehldau even before his Radiohead phase, but the first time I heard their rendition of "Everything in It's Right Place", I thought I could die happy. If I could only listen to one piece of music ever again for the rest of my life, I think I'd have to select that.

    I've been trying to get "Day is Done" for a week now and every time I bring it up on iTunes, it says it's being "modified". Grrrr!

    Because One of the Great Pleasures of Poetry Is It's Effect on the Ear

    A new Web site under the auspices of Andrew Motion, the poet laureate of Britain, will collect recordings of poets reading their own works. The Poetry Archive (www.poetryarchive.co.uk) goes online today with recordings of Margaret Atwood, Harold Pinter, Simon Armitage, U. A. Fanthorpe and Seamus Heaney, who is listed as the organization's president. The site also has historical recordings by Robert Browning, Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Tennyson, and W. B. Yeats, among others. The recording project, begun five years ago, captured Charles Causley and Allen Curnow shortly before their deaths. "Actors may (or may not) read poems well,'' Mr. Motion said in a statement, "but poets have unique rights to their work, and unique insights and interests to offer as we hear their idiom, pacing, tone and emphases." He added, "They all, in their different ways, validate the intention of the archive to preserve the mystery of poetry while tearing away some of the prejudices which can make it appear unduly 'difficult' or separate from familiar life."

    From NYT.

    I don't personally believe that the poet is necessarily the best reader of her/his work, but I do think they'll usually do at least a bit better than actors. Because poems shouldn't be acted out vocally the way plays are. There's nothing worse than some booming voice reciting Shakespeare's quietest sonnets or John Donne's devotionals or Plath's Ariel. I'm sure there are some actors who read poetry brilliantly, sensitively, and insightfully, but it seems that audiobook publishers rarely pick those actors.

    If the goal is to make poetry more accessible, I am all in favor of focusing on the auditory aspect. Not as in slam poetry with its consistently hard and forced rhymes, but as in the incredible deliciousness of language. If it floats above you in the air at a pace you can't control, you can worry slightly less about "getting" every word.

    There is the problem that not all poetry can be read, but hopefully this online audio stuff is the gateway drug.

    Boys Lie

    The Blinding Glare of the Obvious on the Today show:

    I had the Today Show on in the background while getting dressed this morning, and saw a segment on "Why Do Men Lie?" or something similarly titled. It seemed to consist of images of Clinton's infamous "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" finger-shaking fiasco, Jimmy Swaggart's tearful "I have sinned" televised contrition, and lowlights from other such high-profile scandals interspersed with our intreprid reporter Al Roker stopping people on the streets of Manhattan asking them why they think men lie.

    I fear I may be betraying my feminist roots here, but do men really lie more than woman? I tend to think not.

    I tend to agree with Lizzie.

    It's amusing when you read literature on women spanning centuries because this whole, "Women are good and honest" thing is a fairly anachronistic point-of-view. Women, like most minorities, were considered slippery and untrustworthy and cunning and such.

    Here's the current problem though: the protection of heterosexual monogamy. So lies about adultery by powerful people (read: men) matter, hence the Clinton thing.

    We are also rather obsessed with the moments when religion and scandal meet, hence the Swaggart thing.

    Men are in positions for their lies to have a greater impact (usually; counter-example: Martha Stewart) and, therefore, their lies matter and are worth reporting on. Women lying about their age, weight, and whether they die their hair doesn't really undermine much.

    Audre Lorde Flips In Grave

    That's Great . . . Just Great on the Women-of-Color-only "Vagina Monologues" and the subsequent backlash.

    Attn: White Women
    Don't be dumb. Do you really need to be in this particular production? Would it kill you to sit in the audience this time around?

    Full Disclosure: White EL, blogger extraordinaire and former high school thespian, managed to be in a high school production of "For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuf" by Ntozake Shange. But I just auditioned; I didn't protest or anything.

    Save The Children: Keep the Men Away!

    NEW Zealand's Green Party says a Qantas and Air New Zealand policy banning men from sitting next to unaccompanied children is discriminatory.


    Air New Zealand said today the policy was common practice among airlines and that it had been in place on its domestic and international flights for "a long time".

    "It's in line with other carriers' policies internationally," a spokesman for the airline said.

    It would make no further comment.

    Earlier, a Qantas spokesman confirmed the airline did not allow unaccompanied children to sit next to men.

    Qantas believed customers wanted the policy, the spokesman said.

    But Green MP Keith Locke said the policy was an example of moral panic about men posing potential threats to children.

    Now, they get to real point:

    "The moral panic about men being a potential threat to children has already had negative effects, particularly in childcare and in pre-school education, where men are now grossly under-represented in the work force."

    The media and culture in general try to paint men as either/both criminal and/or criminally negligent when it comes to children, their own and everyone else's.

    From The Age:

    A Qantas and Air New Zealand policy banning men from sitting next to unaccompanied children on flights implies all males are a threat to minors, civil libertarians say. ...

    NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy said there was no basis for the ban.

    "Not all adult males are a danger to children and in the reverse, not all adult women are safe in the company of children," Mr Murphy said.

    "The real concern with this is that it seems to accept that there is danger posed by all adult males regardless of their circumstances - that's wrong."

    Mr Murphy said while he was not aware of the policy, there was a danger some men could be refused air travel because there was not an available seat.

    "What airlines need to be doing is taking proper steps to ensure the safety of unaccompanied minors," Mr Murphy said.

    And from News24:

    Auckland man Mark Worsley said he was told by a flight attendant from Qantas - an Australian airline that also operates domestic flights in New Zealand - that the airline's policy stipulated that only women should sit next to unaccompanied children.

    "At the time I was so gob smacked that I moved. I was so embarrassed and just stewed on it for the entire flight," Worsley told the New Zealand Herald.

    The 37-year-old father of two-year-old twins was later told by the airline that Qantas wanted to err on the side of caution.

    "I felt that it was totally discriminatory - besides the point of what the hell was I going to do on a crowded flight."

    Yeah . . . maybe not such a good self-defense, Mr. Worsley, but good point.

    If, as the airlines in question report, this is business-as-usual for most major airlines, maybe we can get men on board with the ERA. :)

    Demonizing men to uphold the patriarchy- you guys sick of the big P yet?

    Another Valiant Defense of Wal-Mart

    Sebastian Mallaby for the Washington Post:

    There's a comic side to the anti-Wal-Mart campaign brewing in Maryland and across the country. Only by summoning up the most naive view of corporate behavior can the critics be shocked -- shocked! -- by the giant retailer's machinations. Wal-Mart is plotting to contain health costs! But isn't that what every company does in the face of medical inflation? Wal-Mart has a war room to defend its image! Well, yeah, it's up against a hostile campaign featuring billboards, newspaper ads and a critical documentary movie. Wal-Mart aims to enrich shareholders and put rivals out of business! Hello? What business doesn't do that?
    Wal-Mart's critics allege that the retailer is bad for poor Americans. This claim is backward: As Jason Furman of New York University puts it, Wal-Mart is "a progressive success story." Furman advised John "Benedict Arnold" Kerry in the 2004 campaign and has never received any payment from Wal-Mart; he is no corporate apologist. But he points out that Wal-Mart's discounting on food alone boosts the welfare of American shoppers by at least $50 billion a year. The savings are possibly five times that much if you count all of Wal-Mart's products.

    These gains are especially important to poor and moderate-income families. The average Wal-Mart customer earns $35,000 a year, compared with $50,000 at Target and $74,000 at Costco. Moreover, Wal-Mart's "every day low prices" make the biggest difference to the poor, since they spend a higher proportion of income on food and other basics. As a force for poverty relief, Wal-Mart's $200 billion-plus assistance to consumers may rival many federal programs. Those programs are better targeted at the needy, but they are dramatically smaller. Food stamps were worth $33 billion in 2005, and the earned-income tax credit was worth $40 billion.

    Set against these savings for consumers, Wal-Mart's alleged suppression of wages appears trivial. Arindrajit Dube of the University of California at Berkeley, a leading Wal-Mart critic, has calculated that the firm has caused a $4.7 billion annual loss of wages for workers in the retail sector. This number is disputed: Wal-Mart's pay and benefits can be made to look good or bad depending on which other firms you compare them to. When Wal-Mart opened a store in Glendale, Ariz., last year, it received 8,000 applications for 525 jobs, suggesting that not everyone believes the pay and benefits are unattractive.

    But let's say we accept Dube's calculation that retail workers take home $4.7 billion less per year because Wal-Mart has busted unions and generally been ruthless. That loss to workers would still be dwarfed by the $50 billion-plus that Wal-Mart consumers save on food, never mind the much larger sums that they save altogether. Indeed, Furman points out that the wage suppression is so small that even its "victims" may be better off. Retail workers may take home less pay, but their purchasing power probably still grows thanks to Wal-Mart's low prices. ...

    To be fair, the $4.7 billion of wage suppression in the retail sector excludes Wal-Mart's efforts to drive down wages at its suppliers. "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," the new anti-Wal-Mart movie that's circulating among activist groups, has the requisite passage about Chinese workers getting pennies per day, sweating to keep Wal-Mart's shelves stocked with cheap clothing. But no study has shown whether Wal-Mart's tactics actually do suppress wages in China or elsewhere, and suppression seems unlikely in poor countries. The Chinese garment workers are mainly migrants from farms, where earnings are even worse than at Wal-Mart's subcontractors and where the labor is still more grueling.

    Wal-Mart's critics also paint the company as a parasite on taxpayers, because 5 percent of its workers are on Medicaid. Actually that's a typical level for large retail firms, and the national average for all firms is 4 percent. Moreover, it's ironic that Wal-Mart's enemies, who are mainly progressives, should even raise this issue. In the 1990s progressives argued loudly for the reform that allowed poor Americans to keep Medicaid benefits even if they had a job. Now that this policy is helping workers at Wal-Mart, progressives shouldn't blame the company. ...

    Companies like Wal-Mart are not run by saints. They can treat workers and competitors roughly. They may be poor stewards of the environment. When they break the law they must be punished. Wal-Mart is at the center of the globalized, technology-driven economy that's radically increased American inequality, so it's not surprising that it has critics. But globalization and business innovation are nonetheless the engines of progress; and if that sounds too abstract, think of the $200 billion-plus that Wal-Mart consumers gain annually. If critics prevent the firm from opening new branches, they will prevent ordinary families from sharing in those gains. Poor Americans will be chief among the casualties.

    Do I have to say it again? So-called "big-box" retailers not only employ more people than "mom and pop" businesses, they also tend to pay better wages and offer room for advancement. If you work at Mom N Pop Store, and you do your very best everyday for $5.25/hr, for ten years, you are still a cashier because you're not Mom or Pop. Walmart employees (like Starbucks, Best Buy, and all the other hated-ons) can be promoted: floor manager, shift manager, assistant manager, night manager, day manager, and sometimes up to corporate positions. The valedictorian of my mother's high school class didn't go to college, she started a family. She was divorced with no job experience and living in a tiny Midwestern town. All of a sudden, in comes Walmart, and she is now making a living, kids-raising wage at the Concessions manager. For poor, uneducated people, especially people of color, immigrants, senior citizens, and single mothers, Walmart and other such corporations offer a leg up and, in some cases, provide an opportunity for social mobility.

    From The Little Green Blog:

    What do Americans have against Wal-Mart? First stylized fact, Wal-Mart drives small local retailers (mom-and-pop joints) out of business. What do Americans expect? There are economies of scale in the retailing industry and a larger firm has a competitive advantage that it can and will use to provide goods at a lower price to customers while making higher profits than small, independent firms. If Americans really want the charm of their mom-and-pop stores, they should be willing to pay the premium. There are some markets in the US that have chosen to do that, particularly in New England and California.

    Second accusation of Wal-Mart is that it mistreats employees and blocks unionization. As far as the alleged abuses of the firm against its employees, one can deal with the situation in the appropriate manner, civil courts etc. As far as unionization goes, unions are not unambiguously good. True, they work to maintain certain standards in working conditions for employees etc. However, their affect on employment and productivity is still a much debated topic in the realm of Labor Economics. Most economists generally agree that unions decrease employment, but they often also find that unions are correlated with higher productivity. If unions lead to higher productivity, then Wal-Mart would be fool to block unionization and thus will sooner or later realize the error of its ways, assuming there is one. However, if unions lead to decreased employment, then it would be a loss to society. We could create an insider and outsider effect with union members enjoying higher standards of living, while many suffer from unemployment.

    I'd love people to go in and take a look at the people employed by the big corporations vs. the "mom n pop" operations. Let's take the NY example: Blockbuster vs. Kim's Video.

    I have a great number of friends who think Netflix, Blockbuster, and Hollywood Video are devil's spawn and will go way out of their way to rent movies at Kim's at St. Marks Place. I'll hand it to Kim's- I'm glad they exist because they have a great selection. However, it would certainly appear that Kim's is less likely to hire low-income people of color, favoring local NYU students who can deal with the extremely low hourly rate. Same with Alt.Coffee vs. the Starbucks just blocks away. In an economy like NY, where an estimated half of Black and 40% of Latino men are unemployed, I am happy to see that, when I shop at Kmart, I am being helped by those who might otherwise have no employment, whereas Kim's and Alt.Coffee and such are staffed by young hipsters supplementing their freelance writing and web design or whatever. These folks, when they graduate or get sick of the freelance life or make it big or something, have no reason to continue working for Kim's or Alt.Coffee, whereas retail and service jobs are, believe it or not, lifelong careers for some people. This may seem like a very New York phenomenon, but I have seen the same trend when I go back to Kansas and Colorado each year.

    I'm glad there seems to be this recent trend of sticking up for Walmart and other bastions of corporate power. The problem may be corporatism, but, as with most "-isms", pinning down the ones to blame is a complicated process.

    The New White Flight

    New and improved, folks.

    Perhaps you remember white flight.

    That is, of course, the term for what happened in the '60s when blacks, newly liberated from legal segregation, began fanning out from the neighborhoods to which they'd once been restricted. Traumatized at the thought of living in proximity to their perceived inferiors, white people put their houses on the market at fire-sale prices and took flight. ...

    White parents are putting their kids into private schools or moving to areas where the public schools are whiter, less Asian and less demanding. Where sports and music are also emphasized and educators value, as one parent put it, "the whole child."

    One white woman told Hwang how she dissuaded a young white couple from moving to town, telling them their child might be "the only Caucasian kid in the class." Another said, "It does help to have a lower Asian population."

    Which plays, of course, into the old stereotype of the hyper-competitive Asian. But the new white flight has also given rise to a new stereotype one educator calls "the white boy syndrome." It says that white kids don't have it between the ears.

    The irony speaks for itself.

    I'm worried about these white kids whose parents want a school to focus on sports and music. Because, when those kids graduate and want to become concert violinists, they're going to be the guppies in the big, Asian-dominated pond.

    P.S. I'd also like to note that the phenomenon of dumb white children is not called "white kid syndrome", it's called "white boy syndrome".

    Big Fat Jewish Divorce . . . (From the Christian Right)

    Throughout the last five years, as the Christian right has assumed ever greater power and prominence in America, the organized Jewish community has been remarkably quiescent. Traditionally, Jewish leaders have been among the most vigilant guardians of American secularism, seeing the separation of church and state as key to Jewish equality. But faced with an evangelical president who seemed inviolable and an alliance of convenience with the religious right over Israel, Jewish leaders didn't raise much of an outcry when billions of taxpayer dollars were diverted toward religious charities through Bush's faith-based initiative. They didn't make a fuss when the administration filled the bureaucracy with veterans of groups like the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition. As leaders of the religious right and their allies in the Republican Party trumpeted plans to "take America back," observers detected growing anxiety among ordinary American Jews, but there was little response from organized Jewry.

    This month, that started to change. Two major Jewish figures -- Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism -- have taken on the religious right and, by extension, the Republican Party. By doing so, they have enraged some evangelicals and opened a fissure in the larger Jewish community. Some leaders are worried about provoking a conservative backlash and ushering in a new era of anti-Semitism. Others rejoice that someone has finally articulated what so many ordinary American Jews have been thinking. Either way, the culture wars have suddenly taken on an overtly sectarian cast.

    It's really hard to organize religious Jews with secular Jews over these kind of issues, I would imagine. Also, this coming from Reform Jews must be causing some rifts. From Blue Voice:

    Reform Judaism is the most widely practiced version in the US. To the extent that the Christian Right groups take Judaism seriously as a religion at all, their affinity is for the Orthodox version. The Orthodox version shares some of the Christian apocalyptic ideas that are used in support of hardline rightwing policies in Israel, including the militant settler movement, which some conservative Christian groups help to finance. Orthodox Judaism tends to emphasizes "traditional values" as the Christian Right understands them in issues relating to sex and personal conduct.

    I've always suspected, too, that Orthodox dress and dietary practices make them seem more exotic to many conservative Christians, which fits with their image of Jews as somehow strange and alien.

    Back to the Salon article:

    Yoffie approaches the issue from a religious rather than a political perspective.

    "We are particularly offended by the suggestion that the opposite of the religious right is the voice of atheism," he told his audience. "We are appalled when 'people of faith' is used in such a way that it excludes us, as well as most Jews, Catholics and Muslims. What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God and that anyone who disagrees with you is not a person of faith?"

    Blue Collar Politics thinks the Catholics already share the frustration:

    The Catholic Church recently awoke from their spiritual coma, and realized that the right-wing Christians were not now, nor had they ever been, enamored of worshipers of Christ who didn't march under their banner.

    To the right-wing fundamentalists, "mackerel snapping" was the noise they'd hear as they were carried up in the Rapture and Catholics' burned below.
    After coming to that realization, the Catholic hierarchy recently came out for Evolution and against any closer alliances between faith and government in America.
    Now the Jews seems to realize that the main difference the uber-Christians see between Jews and Catholics is a matter of queuing: Jews die just before the destruction of the Catholics, homosexuals, commies, Liberals, Democrats and Republicans who haven't pushed to hurt the poor, crippled or the UN.

    Ahem. The lines are now being drawn fairly strictly by faith now:

    Foxman lamented the divisions in the Jewish community over the issue, noting that there is much less unity than there was 15 years ago. Nor could Jews count on their old allies in the civil rights struggles -- African-Americans and Latinos -- for help. Those bonds have withered; those groups no longer tend to see church-state separation as a vital condition for minority rights.

    As in, the idea of "minority" long meant it seemed necessary for the groups with less power to back each other up if anyone was going to gain equality. Times have changed.

    Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein, founder and chairman of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews -- and a former staffer at the ADL -- predicts that Foxman's call for a united Jewish front is doomed to fail, since other Jewish leaders won't want to take on the religious right. Eckstein's entire career is devoted to being a liaison between evangelicals and Jews -- his organization raises money from Christians for Jews in Israel and in the diaspora, and he's an advisor to Ariel Sharon and a goodwill ambassador to the state of Israel. Conservative Christian support is crucial for Jews in both Israel and America, he says, and it's folly to attack them.

    Eckstein says that it's the liberal Protestant churches that have turned on Israel by calling for divestment. Meanwhile, secular Europe treats Israel like a pariah. "And who are the only ones who are coming out and standing with Israel? The evangelical Christians," Eckstein says. Eckstein acknowledges Foxman's fear about the erosion of church-state separation, but thinks any danger posed by the American religious right pales beside the threats to Israel. "Jews need to always be on guard for their survival as Jews, and for their rights as Jews here in America, but I don't believe that those rights are threatened to the point that Jewish leaders like Abe Foxman should try to galvanize the Jewish community and start a battle with a constituency that includes the president of the United States, and that includes such a large part of the Republican Party and such a large part of America," he says. "I don't think it's reached that point that Jews should be alienating their greatest friends in the real battle of Jewish survival."

    When I spoke to Eckstein, he had just gotten off the phone with someone from Focus on the Family. Christian leaders, he said, feel hurt and victimized by Foxman's speech. And he feared what might result: "Rhetoric can create an anti-Jewish feeling among good Bible-believing Christians," he says. "Certainly in the evangelical world they're very focused on their leadership. It's very different than the Jewish community -- most of the Jewish community doesn't care what Abe Foxman says. If their pastor says that black is white and white is black, well, the pastor said so. If leaders themselves start to say it's the Jews who are preventing us from having a moral society in America, that's what we saw in history."

    Zombie-Christians, huh? That's not gonna provoke any anti-Semitism! Somehow the notion that they are respectable enough to be disagreed with seems preferable to the notion that they're robots, ready to go Nazi if programmed that way.

    I am really glad to see this splitting of the "faithful" ranks because we all know that the evangelical Protestants were using everyone else, even using the language of "faith" to get their agenda put in place. It's not that I really think that evangelicals hate Catholics and Jews (Muslims, perhaps, a different story?), but that they don't really care who joins them as long as they've got as many people as possible. I don't think standing up to them will endanger Jewish lives because I think the evangelicals really only want to convert them, not kill them. Sure, it's murder through assimilation, but it's not genocide.

    Companies Concerned With Money More Than Greater Good

    According to the "MediaWise Video and Computer Game Report Card," the companies that make video games are more concerned with profits than protecting children from violent and sexually graphic material.

    Maybe because ... making video games for profit is what they do?

    Thanks to ABC News for that Special Report.

    Monday, November 28, 2005

    Growth of the Income Gap

    From Common Dreams:

    ... At the end of World War II, income inequality was lower in the United States than at any time since the 1920s. During the ensuing three decades, incomes grew briskly and at about the same rate - almost 3 percent per year - for households up and down the income ladder.

    That pattern began to change in the 1970s. Since 1979, for example, the incomes of families in the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution have grown by less than 1 percent each year, and only households in the top 20 percent have enjoyed income growth comparable to that in the earlier period. For a small group at the very top of the economic ladder, however, incomes have been growing explosively. ...

    More generally, rapid pay growth at the top owes much to the spread of reward structures once confined largely to markets for sports and entertainment. In these "winner-take-all markets," small differences in performance often translate into enormous differences in economic reward. Now that we listen mostly to recorded music, the world's best musicians can literally be everywhere at once. The electronic news wire has allowed a small number of syndicated columnists to displace a host of local journalists. And the proliferation of personal computers has enabled a handful of software developers to replace thousands of local tax accountants. Each change has benefited consumers but has also led to greater inequality.

    Around the globe, income inequality has been growing for essentially similar reasons. In most countries, public policy has attempted to counter this trend. Not in the United States. With the market's push toward greater inequality already apparent, for example, Congress reduced the top marginal income tax rate from 50 percent to 28 percent during the 1980s.

    These tax cuts have increased inequality not only through their direct effects on after-tax incomes, but also through indirect effects on federal spending policies. Although supply-side economists predicted that the cuts would increase tax revenues by stimulating more than enough income growth to offset the lower rates, this did not happen, and hence the large budget deficits of the 1980s.

    Those deficits were eliminated during the Clinton years but have reappeared, larger than ever, under President Bush, who has reduced tax rates on earnings, dividends and large inheritances. Once the enabling legislation is fully phased in, more than half of the resulting cuts - 52.5 percent, according to one recent estimate - will go to the top 5 percent of earners. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office now forecasts deficits larger than $300 billion for each of the next six years.

    Many proponents of smaller government applaud these deficits, arguing that they will force legislators to cut wasteful spending. As always, however, budget cuts focus not on wasteful programs but on those whose beneficiaries are least able to resist them. Recent proposals by House Republicans would eliminate free school lunches for 40,000 children and food stamps for 225,000 people in working households with children. House Republicans also propose $12 billion in cuts for Medicaid, a program on which 25 percent of American children now rely heavily for access to medical care.

    The combined effects of market forces and changes in public policy have clearly made life more difficult for middle- and low-income people. They are working longer hours, saving less, borrowing more, commuting longer distances, and doing without things once considered essential. Personal bankruptcy filings have set new records in each of the last several years. The personal savings rate, always low by international standards, has fallen sharply since the 1980s. It has hovered close to zero since the late 1990s, and in recent months has actually been negative. About 45 million Americans now have no health insurance, 5 million more than in the early 1990s.

    lthough income inequality has increased sharply in recent decades, it has always been greater here than in other industrial democracies. Can a case be made for it? Many have described inequality as the price we must pay to achieve high rates of economic growth.

    The evidence, however, suggests otherwise. As economists Alberto Alesina and Dani Rodrik have found, for example, growth rates across countries are negatively related to the share of national income going to top earners.

    Others have portrayed inequality as a necessary condition for socioeconomic mobility, arguing that people who are willing to work hard and play by the rules face a better chance of making it to the top here than in any other country. But here, too, the evidence suggests otherwise. Even as economic inequality has been rising, social mobility has been declining. According to sociologist David Wright, the probability that a child born to parents in the third quartile of the income distribution would move up into the top quartile was only half as large in 1998 as in 1973. Economist Thomas Hertz has found that children whose parents are in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have only a 7.3 percent chance of making it into the top fifth. In contrast, children born in the top fifth have a 42.3 percent chance of remaining there. Contrary to popular impressions, socioeconomic mobility is now lower in the United Stated than in most other industrialized countries. ...

    Major social upheavals are sometimes preceded by years or even decades of rising levels of social unrest. If such unrest is currently building in the United States, it remains well-hidden. But as recent experience has made clear, social upheavals often occur with virtually no warning. Almost no one predicted the fall of the Eastern European governments in 1989. Because revolutions almost always entail important elements of social contagion, even small changes can launch political prairie fires once a tipping point is reached.

    As Plutarch wrote almost 2000 years ago, "An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics." Before the United States succumbs to that ailment, we might want to reconsider the wisdom of policies that widen that already large gap.

    The threatening ending (Watch out Richie Richies 'cause the revolution's a-coming!) is a little weird, and frankly, so far from possible in my opinion, but the rest is crucial reading.

    This idea of social mobility, that you personally may make it into this top 1/5th powers our general, cross-class oblivion to the actual economic barriers. Because it is theoretically possible for people to rise from poverty to become multi-millionaires, a lot of working and middle class folks don't want to wreck it for themselves if it happens to them. Also, a lot of middle class folks don't realize just how serious the difference is between their income and the income of the richest Americans.

    I see it in my upper-middle-class parents. I was talking to my mother about the estate tax and she was concerned that it would complicate her leaving anything to me and my sister. I told her that, if she and my father had millions of dollars to leave to us, we'd be happy to pay the necessary taxes and I'd imagine she'd agree. She was surprised to find out just how rich they'd need to be for this to become a problem. And, if you're that rich, it's really not a problem! If you have 2 million dollars even, 1.25 million of it leaving your hands (and we're far from that) doesn't seem like such a hardship. And the idea that we're penalizing people for working hard and getting ahead is ludicrous- they still have more money than everyone else, they just give more money to the government as well.

    It's sickening how quickly we went back from Katrina to "la-la land and teddy bear country", to quote a friend. Breaking the lock the rich have on money, safety, health, power, security, leisure, and privilege should be our number one priority.

    "Modern Love"

    NYT is filled with sick puppies. "Modern Love" hosts many of the worst culprits of the Times Style Section. And that's saying something. This week, Raya Kuzyk actually seems to brag about her innovative (despite my having seen it on a Kinkos commercial about a decade ago) manner of breaking up with her sort-of boyfriend (who just so happened to be engaged to someone else):

    So when my last relationship started going bad, I decided I would come better prepared to the breakup by working out my delivery in advance. I began by jotting my relationship-related grievances onto a legal pad. Because this turned into an exercise of procrastination, months flew by until suddenly I had a new problem.

    Though I had postponed the inevitable long enough to be certain that I was doing the right thing, I had also drawn it out to the point where human decency (and dating etiquette) called for a sensitively handled breakup. A breakup of a higher standard than the one to which I would have been held had I ended our relationship when I first realized we had no future. ...

    started having to rely on mathematical symbols and contrived a Pantone color chart system that reflected the range of my moods in his company. (To convey the magnitude of the project, lilac and heliotrope were two colors on which I commonly relied.) Soon I had filled my entire legal pad and turned to using scraps of paper I found around the apartment.

    Every time Nick would leave the dinner table to answer his cellphone or disengage himself from a conversation to send an e-mail message on his BlackBerry, I would tear a sheet of paper from my appointment book or swoop in on a napkin and write down something new.

    Finally, to contain the mess of notes I had scribbled, I stapled them to the sheets of my legal pad until I was left with a fat fan of mismatched papers: a rounded, tattered orb.

    At a loss at what to do next, I called my sister, Tamara.

    "That's great that you're putting so much thought into it," she said.

    "Only I'm having trouble quantifying things," I confessed. "I've got more charts and graphs than I do complete sentences."

    "Well, it's still helped you put things in perspective, hasn't it?"

    A thought struck me then. "You know, I'm really tempted to just PowerPoint the whole thing."

    No need to continue. Only a "writer from Brooklyn" (okay, Manhattanites, Jersey City folks, Astoria-dwellers, and even residents of Hoboken) could get so gross and then write about it like, "Aren't I ever so amusing?!"

    "Modern Love" is a really terrifying parade of urban "intellectual" misfits who need to make their hook-ups and break-ups somehow "modern" (in the fakest of ways) to find meaning in their utter pathos.

    Sometimes I can't believe I still read the Style section, but it's like "Growing up Gotti" or "Boy Meets Boy"- so gross, so stupid, so irresistable to hate.

    Gym Class Makeover

    If you were anything like me in high school, dance class every day after school and aerobics instructor at the local Y, lover of yoga and weight training, loather of volleyball, dodgeball, flag football, and kickball, exercise-aficionado who couldn't get picked for the team, you'll be as happy as I am to read about the new trend in school P.E. programs:

    Less Sports, More Fitness.

    In a mirror-lined dance studio teenagers sashay through a number from the musical "Hairspray." Next door in the weight room, teacher Shawn Scattergood demonstrates proper form on the leg press.

    At Northport High School on Long Island, physical education also includes yoga, step aerobics and fitness walking, as well as team sports like volleyball and basketball. There are archery targets, soccer fields and a rock-climbing wall where students inscribe their names to show how high they get.

    For anyone who grew up when P.E. meant being picked last for softball, it's a dizzying array of choices. ...

    While the offerings at Northport, where the median household income is $86,456, may exceed those at many public high schools, the school is representative of a national phys ed trend that promotes fitness and downplays competitive sports that leave the uncoordinated feeling left out.

    "There's been a major trend by school districts to improve their fitness centers," said Tom Caione, director of physical education for the suburban Bedford Central School District north of New York City. "It's really not 'roll out the old ball,' as it was." ...

    more Miami-Dade students are choosing to take phys ed since the district started providing elliptical trainers and heart-rate monitors and adding classes like kayaking and snorkeling, Greenberg said.

    "By offering these more innovative lifetime activities we're getting them back," she said. "On the average the kids that are overweight are losing 8 to 10 pounds a semester."

    At Northport High, the gleaming weight machines and well-maintained tennis courts rival an expensive health club. There is also a sprawling "adventure" area where students can perform team wall-climbing exercises or reach for a trapeze from the top of an 18-foot pole.

    Fourteen-year-old Stephen Jackman said he enjoys team sports like flag football and ultimate Frisbee but was looking forward to the weightlifting unit, because "you're just competing against yourself."

    As remarkable as the up-to-date equipment, the school district's mission statement is striking, too: "Classes are undertaken in an active, caring, supportive and non-threatening atmosphere in which every student is challenged to grow. ... Every student, regardless of ability or ability level, is provided with a learning environment that is modified, when necessary, to allow for maximum participation."

    At the recent dance class, led by full-time dance teacher Kaylie Howard, pupils were at all ability levels, and one was in special education.

    This phenomenon was starting when I was in high school. In addition to all the sports options, there was a weight-training option. I wish it had been even more varied.

    I don't think we should eradicate opportunities for athletes; for many kids, sports are what get them to school each day and they should be valued as much for those skills as for academic ability. (Check this article for more on that topic.)

    However, most kids don't thrive on competitive sports. Most of my worst memories of school happened in P.E. and I truly think I would be a less bitter person today had I been spared the evils of daily gym class. Intramurals and after-school sports programs offer options for athletes too.

    I also hope that these new programs spread to public schools in lower income areas, as those kids are most likely to be obese and most likely to live sedentary lifestyles.

    I also think that kids should be able to take community classes or participate in community sports programs (at church, the Y, community centers, Parks and Rec, etc) for school credit. It was possible, but difficult, to do so where I went to school and it was not possible before 10th grade.

    Christine Quinn for City Council Speaker

    Gay City News on Councilmember Quinn:

    City Councilwoman Christine Quinn, the Chelsea Democrat, made her public debut as a candidate to succeed Gifford Miller as Council speaker, along with six other hopefuls at a forum November 17. If elected by a vote of the 51-member Council on January 4, Quinn would hold what is arguably the second most powerful office in New York City and would be the first out gay or lesbian official in the post. ...

    Quinn has been on the Council longer than her competitors, having won a special election in 1999 to replace Tom Duane who was elected to the State Senate and allowed under provisions of the term limits law to serve two full four-year terms, the second of which begins this coming January. She emphasized her “inclusive” style of leadership, bringing “all important stakeholders” on an issue together before moving forward as she did on the Equal Benefits Law, that would have guaranteed gay and lesbian employees of city contractors equal footing in terms of partner benefits and was passed by an override of Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto last year. With the mayor in court blocking its implementation, Quinn said that the issue demonstrates why the Council needs a legal team with the same bench strength as that of Bloomberg’s Law Department.

    While we can't vote on this position, we can let our representatives on the City Council know which candidate we support and encourage them to vote accordingly.

    Women Hit the Felt

    Women are sitting down the poker table:

    A 2005 survey by the World Poker Exchange, a gambling site based in the Caribbean, reported that women are six times more likely than men to play poker online. Anonymity on the Internet is undoubtedly a large draw for women.

    But the clink of chips on a green-felt table is an irresistible siren song for many women, even if most of their poker-room opponents are men.

    "I'd say 15 percent of the players at any of our daily Hold 'Em tournaments are women these days," said Gary Taub, poker director at Sycuan Casino in El Cajon. "Go back five years, and that figure would not be 1 percent. They are coming out of the woodwork now; they aren't scared anymore.

    Apparently, women are a bit scared, as they're playing poker online more than at a table with men.

    Cat Hulbert says sexual tension comes into play when women sit down at a poker table.

    To outplay the boys, Cat Hulbert offers "tips for competitive women."
    "Women who know how to play the game have several advantages over men, but the biggest is that their sexuality is distracting," said Hulbert. She is a Los Angeles poker pro, poker instructor and author of "Outplaying The Boys: Poker Tips for Competitive Women."

    "I have a friend who plays high-stakes games at the Bellagio (in Las Vegas) who says that whenever a woman sits down at the table, he immediately thinks about whether he could bed her," Hulbert said. "He says it doesn't matter how good-looking she is.

    "This definitely affects a man's focus."

    Jennifer Tilly can certainly be distracting.

    Besides being a solid poker player, the Oscar-nominated actress (for 1994's "Bullets Over Broadway") is drop-dead gorgeous and not averse to wearing cleavage-revealing blouses and dresses at Nevada poker tables.

    That may not have helped Tilly when she won a WSOP bracelet by taking the 2005 Ladies Tournament (advice from her boyfriend, poker pro Phil Laak probably had more to do with it).

    But Tilly, 46, certainly employs her wiles and charms, belying her ditzy on-screen persona, in holding her own at Hold 'Em among the big boys of professional poker.

    Lipscomb, who has played poker for years in addition to producing it on TV, said "player for player, women are better at poker than men."

    The reason? Sex appeal.

    Great. To sum up: women are good for two reasons.

    1. Their boyfriends are good coaches.

    2. They "distract" men with their sex appeal. No word yet on how that affects that online poker tournaments for which women are turning out in droves. What? Don't they want to exploit their sex appeal for a big win?

    And here's another great moment:

    "Some men, if you smile at them across the table, they'll fold. Others seem angry that you are there, or play more aggressively against you than against other men," she said.

    "Smart women can use all of these things to their advantage."

    I think smart women want equality. But that's just me, unfortunately.

    There are also mother issues for men, Hulbert said, when it comes to the significant minority of older women – including many retirees – who frequent poker rooms.

    "An older woman player can be unsettling for some men. They don't suspect she might bluff, for instance," she said.

    "I have a friend whose mother is 70 and plays every day. She's not a very good player, but she has a good winning record because she bluffs so much and gets great value out of lousy hands."

    So, maybe you can win without appealing to sex? (Only if you're elderly.)

    "Poker is a great game for me because I love studying people and I love psychology," Scott said. "Poker is such a great way to learn about life, about how men treat women and how women relate to men. I'd spend all day at the table if they'd let me.

    "And to beat a bunch of smug boys – that always feels good."

    For women, poker is about figuring out relationships and playing out the "Battle of the Sexes". For men, it's about cash and competition. Go figure.


    Bill Gifford on bike-travel.

    I truly wish that people didn't drive as much as they do. In NYC, I walk as much as possible and take the train when I must. But Manhattan is engineered for that, so I'm not making any sacrifices. Also, having a bike or riding the train or, God forbid, having a car or taking cabs, are pricy, and I am a miser.

    It's ridiculous where I gew up in the suburbs, seeing people drive six blocks for a cup of coffee. But, there are problems besides laziness:

    1. Things are too spread out in the suburbs. You can't walk to the grocery store or the bank.

    2. It's unsafe because roads don't have pedestrian accomodations.

    3. In the winter after 4pm and most of the year before 6:30ish, it's pitch black with almost no street lighting in the suburbs and, for women in particular, it's practically suicide to walk by yourself, surrounded by alleys and bushes.

    4. In the suburbs, too many idiots have dogs from which the public are not properly shielded. In addition, as one who grew up in Colorado, I know that there are often wild animals (wolves, bears, mountain lions).

    5. People insist on saying "hi" and such crap to everyone they meet in the suburbs. If you want to avoid such petty awkwardness, you secure yourself in an enclosed automobile.

    In conclusion, this is a city planning issue and another argument against "sprawl". It is also a cultural problem.

    I wish more people rode bikes. I also wish the people who did ride bikes would actually follow laws. New York can be dangerous sometimes because of the wild cyclists, popping up on sidewalks, disobeying traffic laws of all kinds, and actually mowing people down not unfrequently. And, really, do you have to have a bike in a city with the best public transportation in the nation? I am more concerned with people's ability to bicycle to work and such in places with awful public trans, which is most American cities and towns.

    Groups like Critical Mass and other such "activist" organizations for unruly, obnoxious, dangerous cyclists are also often responsible for giving full-time cyclists a bad name, as in the article. Please guys, stop pretending you're standing up for any real "rights", when you endanger people's lives every time you "protest".

    "Prayin' Hard for Better Dayz"

    I don't even know what to say about this nauseating thing, but I read it, so you should too. Maybe I'll recover enough to respond; maybe I'll never recover.


    Did You Do Your Homework?

    Over the weekend, I asked you to read Linda Hirschman's article about "stay-at-home feminists". Because it rocks.

    Now, before I begin, let me say that I do strongly object to the whole notion that what the "elite" women are doing is what's most important. Fuck the elite women.

    But, generally, I agree with this article. Radical feminism, tied, as Hirschman points out, to socialism and separatism which we all know were DOA, lost out to liberal feminism. (These categories are useful, if not perfect, okay?) So, the culture didn't change enough. I think the culture particularly didn't change enough around child-rearing.

    Why? We can blame our stupid embrace of "science" for that.

    It reminds me of a discussion I had over the glorious holiday weekend. A woman I know is reluctant to marry her boyfriend, but he will have to leave the country if she doesn't choose to marry him. I, as you may know, am not a fan of hetero marriage, but, in this case, I thought, "Hell, marriage doesn't mean anything for straight folks! Go for it- you can always get a divorce!" She says, "Marriage is the end of a woman's life."

    This woman is Westchester-bred, Seven-Sisters-educated, with a cool job. Why would it be the end of her life? Isn't it the end of her life if she lets it be?

    It seems like some women just accept that marriage is oppressive and resign themselves to it, rather than entering the institution to subvert and change it. In this day and age, if you are "elite", like the woman in question, there's no reason on earth why marriage has to be the end of your life. And, if it is, (and this may sound victim-blaming,) it's your own fucking fault. I'm not talking about working-class women with high school educations here, I'm talking "elite".

    Once again, since the "elite" women are the ones who set the tone for the country (after all, it's their asshole husbands who are coming up with the detergent and dishwashing soap ads), the other women have to suffer because of the passive "elite"'s failure to stand up for themselves. If marriage feels like the end of your life, LEAVE THE MARRIAGE! Or CHANGE MARRIAGE! If not for yourself, for everyone else!

    I also like this article's willingness to admit that cleaning house is probably not as intellectually stimulating as most white-collar jobs. I will say that cleaning your own house is likely equally stimulating to cleaning other people's houses. The difference is that, in the latter case, someone is paying you; in the former, you are perpetuating an unrealistic ideal.

    I frankly think that women should stop leaving the workforce to raise children until an equal number of men do the same. The same problem that theorists like Marilyn Frye decried in the 1970s (women are never collective in their decisions) is the problem now. "Elite" women see themselves as individuals. Individuals that screw the rest of us women over.

    Great posts from On the Verge, Just Between Strangers, World Wide Webers, Countably Infinite, Midlife Mama.

    Sunday, November 27, 2005

    Child-free as a Bird

    Vincent J. Schodolski takes us into the strange world of couples ... without children.

    When Tina Roggenkamp and her husband, Mark, decided to keep their marriage free of children they took a lot of things into account.

    They considered their desire for greater freedom, something that enabled her to get a graduate degree and start a small consulting business. There was also their enjoyment of what she called "smaller things," such as being able to sleep late when they wanted and to dine out whenever the mood struck them.

    There were larger issues too, such as environmental concerns and worries about an overcrowded planet.

    "We worry about global warming," said the 25-year-old who lives in Charlotte. "We worry about what the world will be like in the future. There's so much uncertainty, and I can't see bringing a life into such a world."

    I understand the impulse to use "child-free" as an alternative to "child-less" and, perhaps twenty years ago, such a thing was imperative. But now, I just think it makes people who don't have kids seem like spoiled, snotty brats. I myself don't wish to have children, nor does my partner, but we don't feel the need to go around proclaiming ourselves "child-free" as though children are a burden, even though we sort of think they are.

    When you have good reasons for not having children, I think you should express them like Roggenkamp does here- mix the selfish and the societal. Because no one really believes you when you say it's for population control.

    One good reason for me not to bear children is that I don't think we need any more white people. I don't usually say that, though.

    Don't take my word for it, Mostly Modern Media:

    This is a free country, more or less. So no, I don't care if people decide to adopt the "child-free" lifestyle.

    What bugs me is the "child-free" attitude.

    Here's the thing -- the decision to go without kids wasn't some flash of brilliant insight that you had and we parents didn't. Yes, people who don't have kids have more spare time. They can focus on their careers, their health, their meditation, their personal growth and their sex lives in ways that those of us whose schedule revolves around nap times cannot.

    To which I say this: Duh.

    It's about choice. Those of us who decided to be parents (and were lucky enough to make it work) gave up that time to do something else we find fulfilling. Child-free folks have the freedom to do what they want. So do we. This is what we want.

    If you're child-free (voluntarily, of course), you've made a choice. A valid one. But smarter?

    Now, back to the article.

    Many groups have formed that seek to connect these couples across the country. No Kidding! and The Childfree Ring are among the most active. Some offer bumper stickers. One reads "If I want to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, I'll put shoes on my cat."

    Umm, just like the "child-free" language, this kind of crap doesn't help the "cause", folks.

    Some childless couples report that not everyone is comfortable with this trend. Jennifer Shawne, 32, author of "Baby Not On Board: A Celebration of Life without Kids," said she has been accused of being un-American for making the choice not to opt for motherhood.

    "There is this assumption that all women have a biological clock that one day is going to start ringing, and we're going to become baby maniacs who have to give birth no matter what," Shawne added. "But that's just not true."

    A lot of women today, Shawne said, are realizing that the feminist ideal that you can have it all--kids and a successful career--is not feasible. ...

    Yup. I knew the "feminists" were going to rear their ugly heads in here somewhere. I'm happy for us to take credit for a trend that says, "Hey women! You don't have to do things you don't want to do!" I'm not happy for the fact that we're always blamed for the lack of "feasibility" of having family and career. Not our fault, people. Not our fault. Somehow it's "feasible" for men, so I think it might be a patriarchy thing.

    This is hardly the first generation of people making such a decision. Over history, social changes, technological breakthroughs or economic factors have made it possible or desirable to not have children.

    "Childlessness is not new," said Philip Morgan, a professor of sociology at Duke University.

    "However, childlessness in the past was more closely connected with non-marriage than now. But even in 1910 [in the] U.S. some women were voluntarily childless within marriage," he said.

    During the Depression, he added, many Americans could not afford to have children.

    "Childlessness levels now are not higher than those in the 1930s," he said.

    Really? 'Cause I heard that this was "record-breaking"!

    Some see this issue as a defining one for modern American society, as a line in the sand in the nation's so-called culture wars, a place where science and beliefs clash.

    One such person is Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He sees a decision by a married couple to refrain from having children as a violation of God's will.

    "I am trying to look at this from a perspective that begins with God's creation," Mohler said. "God's purpose in creation is being trumped by modern practices.

    "I would argue that it [not having children] ought to be falling short of the glory of God. Deliberate childlessness defies God's will," he said.

    Mohler, who uses the same argument in his opposition to same-sex marriage, said that rather than being concerned about overpopulation he was concerned about underpopulation.

    "We are barely replenishing ourselves," he said. "That is going to cause huge social problems in the future," a reference to demographic shifts that might occur.

    I guess Mr. Mohler doesn't agree with my "we don't need more white people" argument.

    Not all Christians agree with Mohler's views.

    Amy Showalter, 44, and her husband, Randy Boyer, 45, decided not to have children and consider themselves devout and conservative Christians.

    They attend weekly services at the Crossroads Community Church in their hometown of Cincinnati.

    "Nobody has ever told us this is a sin," she said. "It just does not come up."

    Showalter, a consultant, said after 11 years of marriage she and her husband had concluded that they would be bad parents.

    "We didn't feel we would be qualified," she said. "It was not that we wanted to be rich or anything like that."

    Thank God these conservatives don't want to be rich or something like that. Huh?

    I guess it's okay because they'd be bad parents anyway.

    Saturday, November 26, 2005

    I Offer You . . .

    1. Sex and Chess: Is She a Queen or a Pawn? from NYT's Sunday Styles.

    A couple of juicy bits from Salon:

    2. Rebecca Traister on our Jennifer Aniston fixation.

    3. David Radosh on the darker side of contemporary Christian music.

    4. In Slate, an article about Sarah Schulman, whose novel provided much of the material for "Rent".

    5. Linda Hirschman in the American Prospect on "stay-at-home feminists".

    All for the holiday weekend. Comments to come when vacation's over.

    We Got the Grit!

    It may comfort you to know that, despite "Rent" going Chris-Columbus-silver-screen, Jesse McKinley says the East Village has still got it:

    I realized I had probably glossed up my recollections the same way the "Rent" folk had glossed up the movie version of the old East Village. But it was satisfying to know that there was still a little real-life grit around, including some clinging to the edge of my beer mug.

    Wednesday, November 23, 2005

    Haters Love Company

    You all know how I love to hate on the Baby Boomers?

    I've found a very brilliant soulmate in Grownup Sarah:

    Baby boomers are not that special.

    Yeah, you heard me, the baby boomers are not that special. And I wish everyone (read: the media) would quit telling them that they are.

    There are these ads on TV (I can't remember for sure, but I think they might be Lincoln Financial Group) that just drive me nuts. In essence, they reach out to boomers, talking about how unique and world-changing they were and how their retirement plan should be special just like them.

    Here's the thing...Baby boomers were sell outs. They had all these liberal anti-materialistic values when they were young, but once they had some money they started buying gas-guzzling SUVs and McMansions. Now, I'm ok with being a sell out. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do...but being a sell out doesn't make you special. And neither does being a liberal, not that the boomers remained liberal as they aged anyway. And most of them probably weren't even truly liberal (as in pro-civil rights, or bra burners, or anti-Vietnam protesters) as young people; they just liked to have sex and smoke some weed. Oooh, just like every single freaking college student. Way to go.

    And then there's that recent Newsweek (or maybe Time? I'm not sure) cover story, "Ready or not: the boomers turn 60" or some such nonsense. Who gives a crap? So they're old. They were old when they were turning 59. Big deal. There won't be these articles ooh, look Gen X or Y turns 60, when that happens. They'll be busy reporting things like "Ready or not, Baby Boomers turn 90" or "Holy Crap! The Boomers are all dead!" Blech.

    To reiterate: Boomers are not special. They are just the largest generation on the "liberal" side of the pendulum swing. It's just a cycle. They aren't unique. Their parents were conservative and they were rebellious liberals? So what? My parents were conservative and I'm liberal. The young are often liberal...they just mostly sell out and get all selfish by the time they get old. Hey! Just like the baby boomers. Go figure.

    I say, Gen X and Gen Y, revolt! Well, at least roll your eyes and sneer without mercy at how everyone panders to the Boomers. And tell a Boomer next time they feel special that they only reason the marketers pander to them is because everyone knows they can be swayed like small children into wanting what's "cool."

    You know what? I'm thankful for the fact that I'm not a Baby Boomer.

    Fiddy a Feminist?

    See for yourself:

    50 Cent believes Eminem is like US tennis star Serena Williams.

    The rap star believes the 'Just Lose It' singer, who signed him to his Shady Records label, is the same as Serena because he is the only successful white rapper in a predominantly black music genre, just as Serena, along with her sister Venus, is triumphing in the tennis world as a young black woman in a mainly white sport.

    He said: "I think Em' is like Serena Williams.

    There's no particular gender or race which is supposed to be involved in things, it's universal.

    The Break From Local Politics Is Over!

    Jessica Bennett gives a good rundown of the City Council Speakers Debate last week at Baruch:

    The issue of campaign finance sparked forceful responses from the candidates, especially in the aftermath of the council's decision this week to loosen restrictions on union campaign contributions. But controversy was far from the microphone in last night's debate. Candidates joked, complimented one another, and agreed on the majority of issues—at times nearly mimicking each others' responses.

    All seven candidates said they oppose non-citizen voting rights, and "yes, but only if absolutely necessary" was the common response to questions on whether or not they agree with the use of eminent domain.

    Manhattan's Quinn, who chairs the health committee, was commended by nearly all her competitors when the healthcare issue was raised—even called "a tiger" on the topic. She spoke emphatically about "the need to make it easier for the uninsured to get insured," proposing going "hand-in-hand to Albany" to demand a change in what she described as a tedious and difficult registration process for public insurance programs.

    Brooklyn's de Blasio highlighted the importance of "our role as check and balance to the mayor," and, with nearly 1.8 million New Yorkers uninsured, Fidler called Mayor Bloomberg's remark that the poor receive better health care than the wealthy "nuts."

    When asked how they would change the council, Quinn stressed eliminating the practice of sending out citywide speaker mail. Miller ran into trouble on that front during his race for mayor, using $1.6 million in council funds to send out fliers with his name and face on them.

    Though candidates skirted around how to close the city's $4.5 billion budget gap— the majority saying they would appeal for state and federal aid, Fidler contended that "as long as George Bush and George Pataki are the people we're going to, the George Washington's we're entitled to are not what we're getting!"

    All seven candidates said they oppose term-limits, favoring extending the present two-term, eight-year limit an extra four years. As Rivera, who represents part of the Bronx, described it, it's like choosing a dentist. You wouldn't want an inexperienced dentist drilling on your pearly whites, right?

    Sam Walton is John Galt

    Ron Galloway steps in on behalf of Walmart. Finally.

    Why does Wal-Mart make some people crazy? Because they started selling groceries in California, that's why. A certain union got unhinged and funded a staff of 35 at WalmartWatch to do nothing but use member dues to pester Wal-Mart. Is it a prudent use of union dues to pick on a store most of their dues-paying members enjoy shopping at? Unions and assorted special interests (the National Petroleum Marketers Association, hmm...) are comically obsessing on a store 138 million people voluntarily shop at every week. It's just a store. The anti-Wal-Mart campaign is the biggest waste of time and resources since the last 3 Star Wars movies.

    Speaking of Hollywood, why are they picking on Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart is Hollywood's biggest customer, responsible for nearly 40% of DVD sales. Except of course, my film's DVD, which they won't carry. Check out SAG's website, Wal-Mart is a guild signatory. Did Robert Greenwald's anti-Wal-Mart film use union crews and pay guild wages? Just asking...

    Has Wal-Mart lost the life savings of investors, as WorldCom did? Did Wal-Mart just fire 30,000 workers, many of them union, as GM just did? Does Wal-Mart stiff its workers on their pensions, as the airlines are doing? No, no, and no. Wal-Mart saves families nearly $2,000 a year on average, Wal-Mart is hiring, and even part-timers at Wal-Mart get an employer match in their 401-k!

    I firmly believe no special interest group in this nation benefits the poor and blue collar as much as Wal-Mart does. Ask a single Mom where she shops. I'll tell you where she shops. Money is freedom, and by saving families money, as is its mission (Always Low Prices), Wal-Mart literally provides their customers more freedom in their daily lives.

    Wal-Mart's detractors are focused and well organized in their sub-optimal media assault on the company. I think that Wal-Mart believes that by doing their best to fulfill their responsibilities to their associates and customers, the need to defend their success and innovations should be an afterthought. In today's world, it's not.

    Please allow me to add that there is no employer in the United States that hires as many senior citizens or differently-abled individuals. (Not everyone can make a living as a spokesperson for Viagra or wheelchair rugby.)

    While I certainly don't think that all of Walmart's business practices are kosher, we can't simply criticize a few companies for the sins of American (and, more and more, global) business.

    Indiana Court Upholds Abortion Waiting Period

    Decision was 4-1:

    The court said such a challenge would fail because the law "does not impose a material burden on any right to privacy or abortion that may be provided or protected" under the state constitution.

    Taking two trips, two carfuls of gas, two days off of work, two days of babysitters: priceless.

    Bring on the complaining about unwed mothers on welfare.

    Thanksgiving Weekend

    1. See Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

    Ebert and Sun-Times readers give it 4.4 stars, EW gives it 3.8,SFGate's Ruth Steine joins with a 3.8.

    2. See Syriana.

    J. Hoberman in the Voice, Kenneth Turan in the LAT, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.

    3. I know you know this, but it's important to remember this holiday has its roots in genocide. You hear it every year, but it's still true and still sobering.

    Who Would You Want on Your Jury?

    Senator Kerry serves as foreman:

    Sen. John Kerry's public profile and prosecutorial past didn't spare him from performing that most mundane of civic responsibilities -- jury duty.

    Kerry was not only chosen this week to sit on a jury in Suffolk Superior Court, but also was elected foreman.

    The case involved two men who sued the city for injuries suffered in a 2000 car accident involving a school principal. The Kerry-led jury rejected their claim Tuesday, and his fellow jurors said the state's junior senator was a natural leader.

    "I just found him to be a knowledgeable, normal person," said Cynthia Lovell, a nurse and registered Republican who says she now regrets voting for President Bush in last year's election. "He kept us focused. He wanted us all to have our own say."

    Don't elect for President someone you wouldn't want to be a jury foreperson if you were the defendent.

    Not the New Yorker!

    Miss Grace's Salon tells us the ugly truth about one of our favorite magazines:

    In the calendar year of 2004, The New Yorker printed 702 articles. Of this total, 147, or 21%, were written by women. ...

    67% of the 2004 reviews written by women were in the fields of fashion, television, or dance (above). No male authors wrote a review on these subjects. ...

    Most issues of the New Yorker feature four brief book reviews. 74% of the books reviewed were by men (above). It's even worse for nonfiction: 81% of the books reviewed were by men.

    Hillary Is Not a Hawk!

    NYO on Rodham-Clinton on the war in Iraq:

    On the question of Iraq, she said, “we have not only the need for patience but a sense that we are going to be involved over the long run.”

    Nobody’s talking about the long run any more. The call for withdrawal from a little-known Pennsylvania backbencher, Congressman Jack Murtha, exploded a debate that had been dominated by the caricatures “Stay the Course” and “Cut and Run.” Both parties in Washington are now discussing how many troops will leave before the Congressional elections in 2006. And as the Congress inserts itself into the conduct of foreign policy more forcefully than it has since Sept. 11, 2001, Mrs. Clinton’s complex position on the war is moving into the political foreground.

    Mrs. Clinton has been a force on both sides of the debate over the war. She was an early, consistent defender of the rationale for invading Iraq: that Saddam Hussein posed a danger to the U.S. Unlike former Senator John Edwards, among others, she never backed away from her vote to give Mr. Bush the authority to wage war. But she has also questioned whether the invasion was necessary, and from her perch on the Senate Armed Services committee, she has become a leading critic of the war’s prosecution. ...

    “You know, there are some who believe we should withdraw immediately—I think that would be a big mistake. I think it would cause even more problems for us,” she added, warning that “it will matter to us if Iraq totally collapses into civil war, if it becomes a failed state like Afghanistan was, where terrorists are free to basically set up camp and launch attacks against us.”

    She continued: “On the other hand, what you hear from the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary of Defense is, ‘We’ll stay as long as it takes until the job is done.’ They’ve never defined the job, and I don’t think we should give Iraqis an open-ended invitation not to take care of themselves.

    “My approach is different. My approach is, we tell them we expect you to meet these certain benchmarks. And that means getting troops and police officers trained, equipped and ready to defend their people.” She said the Dec. 15 Iraqi elections would be crucial in moving that process forward. ...

    Mrs. Clinton’s husband, the former President and her chief floater of trial-balloons, has also tested a slightly more anti-war position, calling the war itself “a big mistake” in a recent speech in Dubai, drawing fire from the right and praise from the left.

    To the Senator, however, immediate withdrawal is the “big mistake,” and her position has drawn fire from the anti-war left and put her in a group of Senators that Marshall Wittmann, a conservative Democrat who is close to Senator John McCain, labeled “the coalition of the adults.” ...

    she has dwelt on the details of soldiers’ lives, introducing legislation with Senator Lindsay Graham, the South Carolina Republican, to expand health-care benefits to reservists and National Guard members.

    But in a hardening political landscape, and with a rush away from war, Mrs. Clinton’s position on the war remains ambiguous, hard to call “pro-” or “anti-.”

    To her supporters, her stance is responsible; to her critics, opportunistic.

    “I think she is a political animal who believes she has to be a war hawk to keep up with the big boys,” Ms. Sheehan wrote last month on the Web site of filmmaker Michael Moore.

    I really like Ben Smith's article and it's the kind of thing I wish we were seeing in a newpaper people actually read. To me, the question is less about whether or not we should pull out, but when and how and what do we have to do first and how we do that. Yes, the war was a huge mistake. Which makes it even more irresponsible just to withdraw, leaving innocent Iraqis even more vulnerable than perhaps they were when we came on the scene.

    I think a lot of anti-war folks think they are sensitive to the Iraqi people because they say, "End the occupation!" I think that pulling out now is disgustingly selfish. I hate that we're there, but we need to finish (and, while we are here, let's not torture people!) We are basically saying "Throw 'em to the wolves!" Because I sure as hell hope that our troops aren't more dangerous to these civilians than the insurgents. It's another case of valuing American lives more than "foreign" lives.

    I think that Bush, his gang, and the Pentagon need to take control of the situation. Timetable, adequate equipment, a PLAN, and if the Army, Navy, and Marine top brass need to show up in Baghdad and get things organized, then make them.

    I need to add that I hate how Senator Clinton is expected to be anti-war in a prescribed way because she's a woman (and a woman who cares about women's rights and children and is a Democrat - she was a Republican first!) Why, of all people, is she getting scapegoated by Cindy Sheehan, mother of a fallen soldier, when the Senator is one of the few who are keeping their eyes on the daily lives of the troops? Why do we have to assume she is committed to finishing this job because she wants to "keep up with the big boys"? Ummmm . . . she is a "big boy".