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    Tuesday, January 31, 2006

    The Bias Test

    Jay Dixit argues for bias tests for jurors:

    ... In 2003, Mahzarin Banaji, Anthony G. Greenwald, and Brian Nosek published a paper detailing an experimental methodology they had developed called the Implicit Association Test, or IAT. Rather than asking subjects what they thought about different races (or what they thought they thought), Banaji and her colleagues decided to time them as they paired words and images.

    How do you test internal bias? You can try asking people, but since most of us don't like to think of ourselves as biased, we won't necessarily admit to it on a questionnaire, even anonymously. But there's a test to detect the kind of bias people won't admit to and may not even be aware of themselves—a test that works. The psychologists who devised it, however, are squeamish about real-world uses of it. They shouldn't be. Though it shouldn't be used as the basis for hiring decisions, the test has its place.

    In 2003, Mahzarin Banaji, Anthony G. Greenwald, and Brian Nosek published a paper detailing an experimental methodology they had developed called the Implicit Association Test, or IAT. Rather than asking subjects what they thought about different races (or what they thought they thought), Banaji and her colleagues decided to time them as they paired words and images.

    In the test's most popular version, the Race IAT, subjects are shown a computer screen and asked to match positive words (love, wonderful, peace) or negative words (evil, horrible, failure) with faces of African-Americans or whites. Their responses are timed. If you tend to associate African-Americans with "bad" concepts, it will take you longer to group black faces with "good" concepts because you perceive them as incompatible. If you're consistently quicker at connecting positive words with whites and slower at connecting positive words with blacks—or quicker at connecting negative words with blacks and slower at connecting negative words with whites—you have an implicit bias for white faces over those of African-Americans. In other words, the time it takes you to pair the faces and words yields an empirical measure of your attitudes. ...

    The IAT, then, is an objective measure of bias. And research has shown that the test is powerfully predictive of behavior—as Banaji notes in refuting critics' claims that the test measures not individual bias but awareness of bias within society. People with high racial bias scores are more likely to choose a white partner to work with and more willing to cut funding for minority student groups. They're also more likely to judge minority suspects guilty in ambiguous situations and assign longer prison sentences to suspects with minority names.

    Yet the test's creators are extremely wary about unleashing the powerful tool they've created. Banaji has threatened to testify in court against efforts to use her test in real-world situations. Using the test to ferret out biased people, she argues, assumes that people who have high implicit bias scores will always behave in a biased way—which is not the case, since the tests don't predict behavior with 100 percent accuracy. Banaji also points out that some highly motivated subjects may be able to beat the test by focusing on "counter-stereotypes," for instance, by thinking about black heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela just before taking the test.

    Banaji is right: The test isn't a perfect predictor, and it may be possible to beat it. Those are good reasons to limit the test's uses. But they don't justify never using it at all.

    Consider juries. Since studies show that people with high bias scores judge minorities guiltier than whites, people who test as highly biased against minorities shouldn't serve on juries in cases involving minority defendants. It's standard for judges to strike prospective jurors who exhibit clear prejudice against a defendant; at the federal corruption trial of former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, one prospective juror was recently dismissed for writing in the questionnaire that he thought Campbell, who is African-American, should be "hung from the highest tree." Other jurors, however, don't volunteer their bias on questionnaires. Banaji's test would tell us who they are. Sure, not everyone who tests high for bias will actually judge the case before them in a biased way. But given the high stakes for the defendant—and the relatively low ones for a prospective juror—isn't it better to err on the side of keeping biased people out of the jury box? ...

    I was fortunate to take this test (the sexuality version) a few years ago and I never got my scores, but it was cool to be part of the research. You can take it too, in many versions here.

    Now, it's hard. It's not easy to do these kind of hand-eye things quickly. But it's interesting. I took one just for a fun a minute ago:

    You have completed the Family - Career IAT.
    The line immediately below summarizes the results of your task performance.

    Your data suggest a moderate association of Male with Career and Female with Family compared to Female with Career and Male with Family.

    I'm sexist.

    Dabny over at The Real Eve asks the next question:

    If everyone is biased, what do you do?

    I wouldn't object to it being used for juries if that was all it was used for. But I kind of think it would be hard to ever know whether or not this test was accurate. It seems like the kind of thing that could also be very much how you feel and think in the moment. If you've just spent the day working with your super-annoying white coworker, you may be down on whites when you take the test. It also seems like it might have something to do with how exposed you are to the media. For example, if you are the kind of person who watches a ton of television news magazine shows, you'd probably associate black men with "criminal" and with "articulate". Not to mention the complicated questions around language and what certain words are likely to connote out of context like that.

    In other words, I don't know whether I "believe" the results of the test (although I'm not surprised by mine, sadly), but I think that Dixit is right- if someone doesn't end up on a jury because they might be racist, that wouldn't be a bad thing. We have to do something to protect the accused, particularly when the accused are racial minorities that are likely to experience jurors' prejudice as jail time.

    Have You Visited a Friend This Week?

    On the current crisis in friend visitation:

    ... A new study finds that visiting friends has been declining for the past 30 years, while visiting relatives has been declining for 20 years. ...

    Analyzing data from the General Social Survey, funded by the National Science Foundation, he tracked social interaction between 1972 and 2002. The survey defines social interaction as visiting friends or family in homes or other locations.

    Mr. Saffer traces much of the decline to three factors: Americans are generally becoming better educated; they work longer hours; and the nation is more urban than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Rural people, he explains, "tend to have more social interaction, out of necessity."

    The data reveal other patterns as well. Older people have less social interaction, while single men typically socialize more. And blacks are more likely than others to visit relatives and neighborhood friends.

    Marriage brings changes, too. People who are married are likely to build their social lives around their spouse and spend less time with relatives and friends. Having children at home also changes social dynamics. These families tend to reduce their visits with friends but increase visits with grandparents.

    But perhaps the greatest shifts in social patterns occur in the workplace. "People spend more time at work and have more friendships and interactions there than they would have had in the past," Saffer says. "To some extent it replaces other kinds of friendships that people would have had outside of work." ...

    No one can claim that 21st-century Americans are less caring or less interested in maintaining "good feelings between members of society." Our lives simply take different forms. We spend less time at home. Even when we're there, we're not always ready to welcome guests. We fret that the house isn't picked up, the refrigerator isn't stocked, and there's no time to cook or clean.

    And who can say that electronic communications don't serve as a valid substitute? From voice mail and e-mail to instant messaging and text messaging, we're never out of touch. Perhaps it's a trade-off - fewer personal contacts but more high-tech connections.

    Still, something has been lost. Social interaction is believed to affect both physical and mental health, Saffer notes. Nothing can take the place of gathering around a table or a TV set with family or friends, sharing food and conversation.

    Saffer missed one major factor- people don't live in the same place as long and so don't become as dependent on the friends and family they have wherever they're living. When you live in the same place your whole life, you friends can become like family and your family can become even more tightly knit. You do everything together. But, when you uproot your life and go somewhere where you know no one or few people, you make due with what you have: if that's your kids or your partner or your computer and phone. Living in New York, I see this with a lot of people who still talk frequently to the friends and family they grew up with, but have a hard time getting themselves out of the house to see new friends because it takes a bit more effort to see people with whom you're less intimate. I think that education comes in here: People have their friends from high school and before. Now, instead of staying in that town and getting a job, more and more middle-class and working-class people are going to college, some of them are actually leaving the town or the state for college, and they make new friends there. Then, they leave college and get a job in yet another place and make friends there. Then, they might get a job elsewhere. Etc, etc, etc. And it's much more rare for people to live near family (though I read somewhere that I can't find right now that Gen X is moving back to be near parents and stuff more).

    My sister and her friends didn't go to college and so her best friends growing up are mostly her best friends now and they now live in the same town, having added a couple of new people from their various jobs to the gang.

    I'd also like to take a moment to blame that evil feminism. Now that more women work full-time, there's no one to facilitate, clean-up for and after, cook for, these little gatherings with friends and family. You kind of need a housewife to have the house constantly looking presentable and making sure you have coffee made and tea on hand.

    And, yes, there is the lure of the Internet and television. If your friends aren't wicked smart, you might prefer the company of Andrew Sullivan's blog, because he is. If your friends aren't seriously hot, you might prefer the company of the cast of The OC because they are. If your friends aren't way funny, you might just want to pop in your Chris Rock DVD. It's hard for anyone to compete with the cream of the crop all the time.

    But the main reason I felt the need to comment on this article was the study's finding that young single men are more social than young single women. And it made perfect sense to me. I've discussed this a bit before but I think that there is so much pressure on women's friendships. Men can just go bowl together and don't think there's something wrong with it. But I find that, if I spend too much time with a female friend talking politics or something, that I feel a little guilty. I'm having a good time, but there is this sort of expectation that we should be talking about deeply personal things. If a guy's friend goes through a bad breakup, there's not all this pressure to go stuff him silly with ice cream or some garbage while you listen to him cry and pore over everything that could have gone wrong. You just chill. So, even if guys are wishing their friendships were closer and that they could talk about personal things more, they still don't have to dredge up nearly as much energy after a long day to sit around and play video games as you do to pour your heart out or give the right feedback to someone who's pouring hers. Women are supposed to have friends to help them survive the patriarchy and men are supposed to have friends to help them perpetuate it or ignore it.

    Need a Pep Talk?

    Yeah, me too. Jane Hamsher at firedoglake is going all out to make sure we don't throw in the towel.

    The Judiciary Committee hearings on Alito were a real eye opener for me and I think for many others as well. Not so much because the members of the committee were in such disarray -- that's been going on for a long time -- but because as we sat here together and watched them collectively I got a sense in reading the comments that some seismic shift was happening, that people finally realized that enough was enough. Something had to be done, someone had to start agitating for change and it wasn't going to come from within the Democratic establishment.

    I want to take a moment to thank each and every person who took the time to participate in the comments section on this and other blogs to voice your frustration and your willingness to do something. It really took me by surprise, I have to say, to hear people so engaged and ready to mobilize. This amazing move to fight this battle came from the ground up. DC pundits are feeling threatened, and many have tried to dismiss this as John Kerry's cynical attempts to manipulate the grass roots, but that's a mistake. It was a groundswell that swept me and other bloggers up and called out for direction, and somehow John Kerry heard that and he stepped into a leadership position and he gave it to us. He gave our frustrations a focus, he offered us a chance to stand up and fight regardless of the likelihood of success, and that was all we asked. He validated our efforts and he let people know that their voices were being heard in spite of the timidity gripping many of his peers.

    I frankly think the passion of the netroots community surprised him. For those who want to criticize him for not acting earlier or better, I do not think he had any reason to believe that this kind of support was extant or that we would have his back. He put his neck on the line over at Kos and the Huffington Post, not knowing what was going to come back. The outpouring of gratitude that came back to him for his efforts was extremely moving.

    We shook things up. People like Joe Biden and Barak Obama were extremely irked about being put on the spot. Diane Feinstein changed her vote, and it's entirely possible others did likewise and we just didn't hear it. We forced those who voted for cloture into publicly opposing us, and now we know where things stand. And everyone across the political spectrum knows we're here now. They are starting to get a glimmer of the kind of muscle we can put behind something we believe it. It was a great moment, a grand and noble fight and I am so proud of each and every one of you for taking part in it.

    The next big battle on the horizon are the NSA wiretap hearings coming up next week. On February 6 the Judiciary Committee will begin questioning Alberto Gonzales. I hope everyone will stop by Glenn Greenwald's blog and take time to look over his post on the points he believes will be the most important to cover during this process and to contribute your ideas. Glenn has a lot of people's ears right now after his work on the topic made headlines so it's a great way to prepare for and contribute to something that's going to be very critical for all of us. ...

    If anyone's been looking for the heart of the Democratic party, it's right here.

    I know what you're thinking: we may have the heart, but who has the brains? That's what I'm worried about myself. Sigh. I kind of ruined the pep talk, didn't I?

    Still, Jane is right- we have to learn from it and not stop. As much as I want to send my membership card right back to the DNC, we can't stop watching and calling and emailing and all that. Just in case it makes a difference.

    Monday, January 30, 2006

    The End

    Okay, so the filibuster was a debacle.

    I couldn't even post with any depth today because it's been foremost on my mind. I am SO disappointed in the Democratic Party and I hope that Reid makes sure the YES votes regret it. I want them all to feel it come November, but I don't want to lose any seats. Then again, what difference does it make?

    I'm going home to watch soap operas now.

    God, this is sad.

    Best First Lines

    100 Best First Lines From Novels at American Book Review. While the order might not suit my preferences, I am happy to see many of my musts made their way to this list.

    Of course, many of these "best first lines" are "best" because they opened great novels that everyone read and therefore recognized the first lines of. For example, #37: "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." —Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

    Of course, so not true for these:

    33. Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. "Stop!" cried the groaning old man at last, "Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree." —Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans (1925)

    5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

    6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)

    10. I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

    16. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

    17. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. —James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)

    26. 124 was spiteful. —Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

    30. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. —William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

    36. —Money . . . in a voice that rustled. —William Gaddis, J R (1975)

    39. They shoot the white girl first. —Toni Morrison, Paradise (1998)

    41. The moment one learns English, complications set in. —Felipe Alfau, Chromos (1990)

    44. Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. —Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

    49. It was the day my grandmother exploded. —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

    50. I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. —Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)

    61. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. —W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge (1944)

    62. Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. —Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups (2001)

    63. The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. —G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)

    67. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. —Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)

    71. Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there's a peephole in the door, and my keeper's eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me. —GŸnter Grass, The Tin Drum (1959; trans. Ralph Manheim)

    72. When Dick Gibson was a little boy he was not Dick Gibson. —Stanley Elkin, The Dick Gibson Show (1971)

    78. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. —L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1953)

    99. They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. —Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

    Found it on Feministe.

    14 Ways of Looking Like An Asshat

    The "Gang of 14" seem to have decided together that there should be no filibuster. Don't forget their membership next time you're voting or donating $:

    John S. McCain III, Arizona
    Lindsey O. Graham, South Carolina
    John Warner, Virginia
    Olympia Snowe, Maine
    Susan M. Collins, Maine
    R. Michael DeWine, Ohio
    Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island
    Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut
    Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia
    E. Benjamin Nelson, Nebraska
    Mary Landrieu, Louisiana
    Daniel Inouye, Hawaii
    Mark Pryor, Arkansas
    Ken Salazar, Colorado

    Deal with devil, Dems.

    Hitting the Mainstream Hard: Lez Zeppelin

    Lez Zeppelin on CNN.com?

    Will Commander in Chief Be Cancelled?

    We should be so lucky. I mean the television show.

    Commander in Chief is being put on hiatus:

    It's starting to look as if Geena Davis will be a one-term President.

    Despite the actress's Golden Globe win as best actress in a TV drama series, her show, Commander in Chief, is being benched until spring, ABC has announced. As of March 7, the timeslot will be given over to a new comedy, Sons & Daughters.

    Commander in Chief, which had a promising start with 16 million viewers tuning into its September premiere, has been experiencing a decline in ratings since November and then took a dramatic plunge this month with the arrival of FOX's rival ratings powerhouse American Idol.

    Last Tuesday, Commander attracted a less-than-commanding 10.3 million viewers, a new low.

    When the problems began in November, ABC replaced the show's writer-creator Rod Lurie with Steven Bocho, whose formidable credits include Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue. Under his watch, the series has tried to maintain a balance between family drama and political crisis of the week.

    You've got to feel sorry for Rod Laurie, like the show or not- losing custody like that would be a killer.

    If by "problems began in November", they are at all referring to the abysmal Thanksgiving episode, I can't help but agree to give the guy the axe. Why is it that, when a show's writers run out of ideas, we always get treated to the out-of-town relative who runs the gamet from a little wacky to absolute insanity? It's the prime-time equivalent to the daytime evil twin.

    The West Wing was successful for almost seven years and it rolled out the wonk carpet when the going got rough. Come on, Bochco- give us the inside of the White House as much as you did the courtroom and the operating room. The show is often an insult; I hope it will change in time to be saved.

    From Fox News:

    The White House drama starring Geena Davis as the first female president started out as the most talked-about new show of the season with healthy ratings and a wide-open future. ...

    "'Commander in Chief' will go on a brief broadcast hiatus so that it can return in the spring with all original episodes," the release said.

    ABC did something similar last year when it put "Boston Legal" on the shelf for a while and replaced it with "Grey's Anatomy."

    "Grey's" was such a hit that "Boston Legal" did not return for the rest of the season.

    The White House series will be off the air for at least six weeks, the network said. ...

    Ratings for "Chief" have been in a free fall ever since it came back this month after a long, holiday break holiday.

    Being on opposite "American Idol" — a huge hit in its fifth edition — has been especially tough. ...

    The show has changed — more or less dramatically — after ABC pulled creator Rod Lurie off the series and put in veteran cop-show producer Stephen Bochco to run the show.

    "Chief's" main villain, Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton, played by Donald Sutherland, has been softened. And Davis' on-screen husband, first gentleman Rod Calloway, played by Kyle Secor, has been toned down to become more of an adviser than a loose-cannon spouse.

    Blogs for Bush's kevinp thinks this has something to do with Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton.

    But who would you rather have as your President (and you can't go by whose face you'd prefer to look at during the State of the Union): Jed Bartlet or Mac Allen? No contest: Bartlet all the way.

    On Public and Private

    Dear Prudence bugged the hell out of me today:

    Dear Prudie,
    I finally did it. While sitting at my favorite coffee shop I endured an excruciating 25 minutes until I could bear it no more. I loudly told the mother of a 2-year-old to shut her child up. I have no regrets, but am interested in your opinion. Every day I listen to college-age women gab on their cell phones about the most intimate matters, while I am sitting mere feet away. I once gently told one woman, about to initiate her fourth 15-minute conversation of the day, that I had been learning a good deal about her, her friends, and her thoughts about life and relationships. While I found it interesting, I wondered whether she really wanted to share all these things with a complete stranger. Stunned into silence, she withdrew into, mirabile visu, private meditation. Today I witnessed the drearily familiar scene of a parent, undoubtedly driven mad by the auditory excesses of her child, seeking solace over coffee with friends. Who would not sympathize? Well, I don't, not when she barely made an effort to quiet a kid who was running around and screaming. It is wrong to take my time away from me because you are unable to discipline your child. Our society is losing touch with the concept of borders and the separation between public and private. Today I struck a small blow for a return to the notion of shared space that does not equate to the absolute surrender by all to the whims of a 2-year-old.


    Dear Un,
    Prudie shares your feelings entirely. Observation suggests that we are too deep into a culture of "do whatever." Cell phones are, alas, now part of life, and either people don't care that they're bothering others and may be overheard—or they've never given it a thought. We are also in agreement that borders and boundaries are gone with the wind, save for the minority who still cares about politesse. To protect yourself, my only recommendation would be to find places that are not hangouts for young mothers. This is a public policy problem with no answer. Probably the best thing you can do (when you can stand it no longer) is to say something. Once in a while it may even do some good.

    I can get behind the shut-the-kid-up thing because kids will be crying and generally messing around in ways that are loud, dangerous, and completely and totally unignorable and it can completely ruin another person's experience. But why is it that people (oh, excuse me, this seems to apply exclusively to those ditzy young women) cannot speak about their personal lives on the phone? I truly don't think it's your right to be offended that someone doesn't want to hide away at home and whisper the shameful secrets of their lives just because you do. I mean, you don't know this person so what difference does it make if you know everything about, say, her sexual habits or her most recent therapy session? How can that hurt you? If they are shouting it, you are well within your rights to tell them to speak at a lower volume, but, if you're sooooooooo concerned about their privacy, then why do you feel the need to enter it by telling them not to share what, to them, may not actually be "personal" information? I mean, this Ungently bitch (and I mean that in a gender neutral way) pretends that the young women sharing whatever information they damn well please over their cellular phones are so stupid as to be unaware of the fact that, gasp, they might be overheard while in a public place! And if these people don't care that you know, why should you? If they're talking to you and you don't know them, tell them to leave you alone. If they're simply enjoying a conversation with a friend, in the name of privacy and boundaries and all that holy stuff, mind your own business!

    I also cannot stand the smugness of Ungently- as if s/he is some kind of righteous activist.

    Finally, is it just me or does it seem like some rickety (and not entirely conscious, on Ungently's part) association is being made between the screaming of a toddler at a cafe and the telephone habits of young women? Am I being shrill if I suggest that some infantalizing of young women is going on?

    More "Passing" Authors

    While rich-kid-playing-bad-boy James Frey is the main course and gender-indeterminate-age-unknown JT Leroy is the appetizer, save room for dessert, kids. The most delicious viddles of "lit-hoaxing" since Anatole Broyard.

    Quote of the Day

    In America, the words "sex" and "city" are interchangeable. When you tell a full-figured woman that you want to have sex with her, you are really saying that you want to "city" her. Sex between a man and a woman leads to children, to an increase in numbers, to multiple dwellings. After a while, many multiple dwellings create a city. For this reason, no one is having sex in American small towns. Instead, they consume food. Once rural Americans start to have sex, they migrate. This is why the cities are bursting. They are full of formerly rural people moving in and having sex constantly in multiple dwellings where they rarely eat in their tiny, charmless kitchens. Thus if you say that you live in the "city," you are really saying that you live in "sex." This is why the legendary series was called "Sex and the City" rather than "Sex in the City."

    - Lee Siegel from The New Republic in DISCOVERING AMERICA THROUGH "LOVE MONKEY."

    Senators Biden and Obama on the Filibuster

    From the Chicago Tribune:

    Sen. Barack Obama said he would vote Monday to filibuster Judge Samuel Alito's confirmation to the Supreme Court, but he conceded the effort would be futile and criticized Democrats for failing to persuade Americans to take notice of the court's changing ideological face.

    "The Democrats have to do a much better job in making their case on these issues," Obama (D-Ill.) said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week." "These last-minute efforts--using procedural maneuvers inside the Beltway--I think has been the wrong way of going about it."

    I'm a little confused because I thought Sen. Obama was himself one of these Democrats of which he is so critical. Here's to third party Senators!

    Obama criticized the merits of a filibuster. The senator has worked to avoid being portrayed as walking in lock step with Democratic partisans, but at the same time he is seeking to be responsive to a core constituency.

    "We need to recognize, because Judge Alito will be confirmed, that, if we're going to oppose a nominee that we've got to persuade the American people that, in fact, their values are at stake," Obama said. "And frankly, I'm not sure that we've successfully done that."

    Kerry, who worked through the weekend to get other Democratic senators to join the filibuster effort, welcomed Obama aboard and praised him for "taking a stand on principle."

    "It's not easy, but it's important for our country," Kerry said in a statement. ...

    Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has argued against a filibuster. Other Democrats said the effort could allow Republicans to portray Democrats as obstructionist.

    A filibuster, a procedural move to keep debate alive, could delay a final vote on Alito. If the filibuster attempt fails Monday, a vote on Alito's confirmation is scheduled for Tuesday, hours before President Bush delivers his State of the Union address. At least three Democrats and virtually all Republicans have pledged to support Alito, making his confirmation all but certain.

    Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) said he also would vote to keep debate open Monday, but he questioned the wisdom of a filibuster, predicting it would fail.

    "I think a filibuster makes sense when you have a prospect of actually succeeding," Biden said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition."

    Biden, Obama, and others seem afraid to be wrong. They want to have it both ways: if the filibuster ends up being the winning-tortoise, they don't want to look like cowards who wouldn't take the political risk and take a "stand on principle", but they also don't want anyone to say, "Did you really think this would work?" It's asinine and selfish and makes me furious. If you're in the camp, you should be fighting for it all the way and, if you're concerned that the American people aren't convinced that Alito's bad news, go about convincing them rather than spending your time on the Sunday morning shows sneering at your own so-called allies. How pathetic and opportunist. That's what makes Democrats look weak.

    I agree with Sen. Obama. The Democrats should have ridden that Concerned Alumni thing into the "race-card" ground. The DNC should have spent a ton of cash (though some are saying that, thanks to good old Dean, they don't have much) showing ads with quotes from the Concerned Alumni's meetings, statements, and mission, and every Democrat should have been reminding us that saying you were proud of belonging to a racist organization is as bad as belonging to one. We should have been doing that before Alito hit the floor to listen to Biden et. al. blah-blah-blah him into safety. That whole, "We're going to be so objective and hear his answers to our questions and then judge," thing was idiotic as hell. When the conservatives didn't want Miers, she didn't make to her hearings- which is what we should have done here.

    Ahem. But we didn't. So Democratic senators: please shut the hell up about what everyone else didn't do (though you critics were oh-so-perfect) and support the filibuster!!!!!!!

    The Declining Savings Rate

    From the Washington Post:

    Americans' personal savings rate dipped into negative territory in 2005, something that hasn't happened since the Great Depression. Consumers depleted their savings to finance the purchases of cars and other big-ticket items.

    The Commerce Department reported Monday that the savings rate fell into negative territory at minus 0.5 percent, meaning that Americans not only spent all of their after-tax income last year but had to dip into previous savings or increase borrowing.

    The savings rate has been negative for an entire year only twice before _ in 1932 and 1933 _ two years when the country was struggling to cope with the Great Depression, a time of massive business failures and job layoffs.

    Of course the article quickly blames everyone for overspending, rather than looking at the sad state of labor laws in this country, the price of a college education, the cost of health care, the rising energy costs, and a plethora of other things that place the blame firmly at the feet of our government.

    How about this? If it looks like the Depression and feels like the Depression ...

    Poetry: The Wonder Drug

    Put down the bottle. Pick up some Lyn Hejinian.

    Poetry is good for your health. That, at least, is the premise of studies currently under way for the Arts Council and the Department of Health. One study, published a couple of years ago in the journal Psychological Reports, suggested that writing poetry boosted levels of secretory immunoglobin A. Another, undertaken by a consultant at Bristol Royal Infirmary, concluded that poetry enabled seven per cent of mental health patients to be weaned off their anti-depressants. Poetry, it seems, is not the new rock'n'roll, but the new Prozac.

    This was not instantly evident at the ceremony for the TS Eliot poetry prize last week. Perhaps it was the strip-lighting, but the assembled throng of pasty faces and panda-shadowed eyes did little to foster a sense of radiant health. As feel-good events go, it ranked just above a tussle with your online tax return, but probably below a Thai takeaway in front of Celebrity Big Brother. It was, of course, not fair of Cyril Connolly to describe poets as "jackals fighting over an empty well", but it is true that £10,000 prizes do not, on the whole, boost the health and happiness of those who don't win.

    Umm, okay. Weird article. But remember: Anne Sexton started writing poetry to help with her recovery after her first institutionalization. Bad example?

    Why do I get the feeling that the studies above probably involved some heavy dosing on the Billy Collins?

    Suicidal readers of My Amusement Park: if you have been prescribed Charles Bernstein, or Ezra Pound, the side effects could kill you. Stick with time-tested Wordsworth, my friends.

    (Ripped from Fluffy Dollars.)

    OK, I've Been Tagged

    This is the first time ever. But online crush, Bitch, has taken my hand and led me into the dirty, self-indulgence of memes. Here goes:

    four movies you could watch over and over
    (for me, this means nothing that's going to hurt too much, not necessarily my all-time faves)

    Rebel Without a Cause
    Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls In Love

    four tv shows you love to watch: (only four, come on, people!)

    L Word
    Queer as Folk
    The O.C.
    The West Wing

    (I have to do it-) Honorable Mentions:

    Six Feet Under
    Freaks and Geeks
    Star Trek: The Next Generation
    Desperate Housewives
    Curb Your Enthusiasm

    four websites you visit daily

    The New York Times
    Alas, a Blog

    four of your favorite foods:

    poached salmon
    portabella mushrooms

    four places you’d rather be right now:

    on safari
    Disney World

    Tagging bloggers:

    Femme Feral at Fluffy Dollars
    Grownup Sarah
    Omnipotent Poobah
    zp at I Hate the New Yorker
    Bella Sultane at Commeo

    Confidential to My Amusement Park readers: Was it good for you?

    Alito Action Alert

    From the DailyKos:

    This is a follow-up to Armando's great posts this morning on the filibuster. Improbable? Yeah. Impossible? Never. Take 15 minutes out of your weekend for democracy's sake. Track the updates on the cloture count here. Here is the latest update:

    NO on cloture (announced support for a filibuster):

    1. Barbara Boxer (D- CA)
    2. Dianne Feinstein (D- CA)
    3. Christopher J. Dodd (D- CT)
    4. Richard J. Durbin (D- IL)
    5. John F. Kerry (D- MA)
    6. Edward M. Kennedy (D- MA)
    7. Paul S. Sarbanes (D- MD)
    8. Debbie A. Stabenow (D- MI)
    9. Harry Reid (D- NV)
    10. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D- NY)
    11. Charles Schumer (D- NY)
    12. Ron Wyden (D- OR)
    13. Russell D. Feingold (D- WI)
    14. Barack Obama (D-IL)
    15. Joe Biden (D-DE)
    15. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

    Also: Durbin says he has 37 votes. If your senators are not both listed above, call, fax, and email and let them know their constituents are afraid of what Alito could do. If your senator is on the list, let them know that you wholeheartedly support them.

    Some motivation from Ted Kennedy:

    Senator Kennedy just had a conference call with a number of bloggers to update us on his and Senator Kerry's filibuster effort, and to encourage the netroots and the grassroots to keep up our efforts. He's very excited by what he's seeing here and throughout the blogosphere, and gave a great pep talk.

    He is encouraging you to contact your Democratic Senators, regardless of what they might have said so far, but specifically mentioned Senators Pryor, Lincoln, Cantwell, Murray, Baucus, Harkin, Levin, Bayh, Lautenberg, Menendez, and Lieberman. In addition, he said to keep the pressure on Republican Senators Snowe, Collins, Chaffee, and Stevens.

    Senator Kennedy talked in particular about one thing that I think is critical to keep in mind as we approach our Senators, and for them to keep in mind as they are considering this vote. We need to overcome the media noise machine by letting our Senators know that in voting their conscience, and making it clear that they are voting on principle, on conscience, they will overcome the media noise machine calling them obstructionists. We can help them realize this by letting them know that we've got their backs. That they are voting our conscience as well, and that we will not forget their courage. ...

    Sisterhood is Powerful Part II: Sheehan's Next Victim

    Cindy Sheehan might challenge Senator Dianne Feinstein:

    Cindy Sheehan, the peace activist who set up camp near President Bush's Texas ranch last summer, said Saturday she is considering running against Sen. Dianne Feinstein to protest what she called the California lawmaker's support for the war in Iraq.

    "She voted for the war. She continues to vote for the funding. She won't call for an immediate withdrawal of the troops," Sheehan told The Associated Press in an interview while attending the World Social Forum in Venezuela along with thousands of other anti-war and anti-globalization activists.

    "I think our senator needs to be held accountable for her support of George Bush and his war policies," said Sheehan, whose 24-year-old soldier son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004.

    Feinstein's campaign manager, Kam Kuwata, said the senator "doesn't support George Bush and his war policies."

    "She has stated publicly on numerous occasions that she felt she was misled by the administration at the time of the vote," Kuwata said by phone from California.

    But with troops committed, Feinstein believes immediate withdrawal is not a responsible option, Kuwata said.

    "Senator Feinstein's position is, let's work toward quickly turning over the defense of Iraq to Iraqis so that we can bring the troops home as soon as possible," he said.

    Now, I'm not feeling too warmly toward Sen. Feinstein these days myself, but please!

    If this woman actually had two seconds of political experience (and as much as we may like to count activism, activism is like being constantly on the campaign trail), maybe I could deal with the fact that she seems most concerned about slamming every Democratic woman she can find, while powerful men of the Party seem to elude her glare. Maybe I could deal with her running because she had a different point of view, but the idea that setting up camp at someone's ranch and then touring around the country in a protest bus is any preparation for an office of that magnitude is deeply disrespectful to the Senate and the country.

    But I still think the main thing that bugs me is her sexism.

    Not Even with the Pink Weights?

    In my junior high school, both shop and home ec were required for everyone, regardless of gender, but my parents always reminded me that boys took shop and girls home ec when they were teenagers. This story must remind them of the bad old days:

    A female star athlete at a Tennessee high school has been allowed to return to a weightlifting class, after being pulled from the class because she was the only girl. School officials said their decision to remove the student, Ambrea Phillips, from the class was based on a “safety issue.” “If it were my daughter, I wouldn't want her in a class of 50 boys,” principal Bob McCracken told reporters, according to GenderPAC, a DC group that works to end gender-based violence and discrimination. Instead, the student, senior Ambrea Phillips, was given a job in the school office.

    Friday, January 27, 2006

    Oprah Jumps The Shark

    Didn't think such a thing could happen to the big O, did you? Well, I think that her backflip on James Frey takes her down about 30 notches for me. How can I keep watching a show when the star went from crescent-fresh 2006 pomo to "the truth is the truth is the Truth" circa Enlightenment? (Not that I did watch it, but I didn't think it was bad to watch it.) I just wanted to shake her and tell her to grow the fuck up. But you can't shake Oprah. Especially since she just put Elie Wiesel as her next selection. But that's different, because it's about the Holocaust.

    I just want to say, "Oprah- you're hurting America!"

    And poor Frey. Compared to George W. Bush.


    Forgive me, reader, for I have sinned. Against the cynicism of the blogosphere. Against its unwritten Mission Statement and Constitution. Here goes:

    As disgusted as I am by this article about families writing Mission Statements, I think it might not be such a bad idea.

    Yes, rich people do it, but it still might not be a bad idea. Yes, the only people in the world who do it are that weird group of sickos that NYT's Style section manages to cover in exclusivity, but it still might not be a bad idea.

    Women, You've Heard this Before

    85% of women are wearing the wrong size bra.

    You can't read a damn magazine anymore without that tidbit assaulting you.

    NYT's intrepid Alex Kuczynski discovers her true size.

    What do we find out? Getting a bra that fits cost A.K. $124. A.K. might have that kind of money to prevent her cashmere from looking a little lumpy, but the rest of us might have to spend that $124 to buy enough bras for the next 5 years.

    There's yet another problem with getting a bra in your "true size" and it is best described in another NYT article, this time Penelope Green's "Our Equity, Ourselves," which details the introspective nature of women's real estate purchasing:

    For women, first-time home-buying, they realized, is "both a painful and revelatory process." How you handle it, they said, tells you a lot about how you handle life in general. Ms. Huneven and Ms. Murphy leaven a therapy-infused vernacular with an appealingly dry, seen-it-all tone. "The market will tell you where you belong," Ms. Murphy said with a snort, "but you can't take that as a reflection of who you are. At least you're not supposed to. Of course we all did. The market will also tell you to 'get in, get in, before it's too late.'

    Women, we just can't do anything without it being a big narcissistic emotional experience of self-discovery, can we?

    Hey, "Liberal Base": How Do You Like Me Now?

    I love you!

    Wednesday, January 25, 2006


    Just a few of the most SHOCKING SHOCKING SHOCKING things I read today:

    White House Got Early Warning on Katrina

    Army Stretched to Breaking Point

    Alito Seems Assured of a Seat on High Court

    Quote of the Day

    In response to announcement of The New York Stock Exchange and National Association of Securities Dealers filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission a proposal for "principle-based standards that address the obligations of securities firms and individual brokers in connection with business entertainment":

    Bankers and stock brokers make up a large part of our clientele. If you try to curtail their visits to Scores, then the world might as well come to an end.

    - Lonnie Hanover, spokesman for the Scores gentleman's club, which operates New York's two largest adult entertainment establishments

    Hat tip to Feministing.

    L Word again

    Was it just me or was this week's episode ...

    kinda good?

    The Pill: Part II ?

    The Times magazine tackles anti-retrovirals for the "pre-positive" population:

    Of course, researchers have made progress in treating patients who already have H.I.V., developing powerful drug cocktails that can stave off disease. But when it comes to preventing the virus's spread, success is spotty. One of the few effective interventions involves the use of anti-H.I.V. drugs to keep a mother from infecting her baby. And an underappreciated facet to this story has far-reaching implications: both mothers and their uninfected babies receive the drugs.

    If anti-H.I.V. drugs can help uninfected babies dodge the virus, might the same approach work for uninfected adults? Could the sexually active take antiretrovirals to avoid contracting H.I.V. in the first place? Intrigued by the prospects, some gay men already have experimented with what's known as "pre-exposure prophylaxis" or PrEP: a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at gay-pride events in four U.S. cities found that 7 percent of those interviewed said they had tried it.

    A half-dozen studies are now under way that will determine whether these men are onto something. The trials all focus on tenofovir (marketed under the brand name Viread), a drug that appears safer than the other AIDS medications on the market. Placebo-controlled trials are enrolling 5,000 people on four continents who are in high-risk groups, including gay and bisexual men, sex workers and injecting drug users. ...

    If the intervention worked, she reasoned, then researchers could confront the problem of behavioral disinhibition head-on with education campaigns, much as they do with condom promotion efforts that simultaneously encourage monogamy or even abstinence. And if tenofovir PrEP fails to stop H.I.V. transmission or causes serious side effects, then people urgently needed that information too. ...

    New Aids Review says:

    ... For the immediate problem it suggests is, of course, side effects. Cohen recognizes this drawback by talking of a new drug which is supposed to have fewer side effects than the norm for HAART drugs, the standard regimen which gave Larry Kramer a liver transplant and is wont to render your appearance rather unpleasant with fatty deposits in the wrong places, before eventually killing you off.

    The trials all focus on tenofovir (marketed under the brand name Viread), a drug that appears safer than the other AIDS medications on the market. Placebo-controlled trials are enrolling 5,000 people on four continents who are in high-risk groups, including gay and bisexual men, sex workers and injecting drug users. All told, the experiments will cost more than $40 million, which is being paid for by the C.D.C. and the National Institutes of Health, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    In other words, the side effects of this "safe" drug remain to be seen. But there is one hint that tells us already what they are likely to be. The company which makes the drug says it has no interest in extending their beneficial influence to people without any sign of HIV,

    And if tenofovir PrEP fails to stop H.I.V. transmission or causes serious side effects, then people urgently needed that information too. (In part because the prospect of harming a healthy person raises formidable liability issues for Gilead Sciences, tenofovir's manufacturer, the company says it has no interest in marketing the drug as a prophylaxis, even if trials prove that it works.)

    This doesn't stop Cohen, of course, who believes that handing the stuff out in the gay community might cut new HIV infections by more than 80 percent, if it works "90 per cent of the time". All this is based on "mathematical models, ie is nothing but speculation.

    Optimistic mathematical models show that if tenofovir PrEP is effective 90 percent of the time and is used by 90 percent of the people who are at highest risk of becoming infected, it could cut new H.I.V. infections in a community by more than 80 percent in a few years. That is, if behavioral disinhibition does not undo the benefits.

    What he means by the last sentence is that if it works and people feel they are protected against catching HIV, then they will get up to even more mischief, sexually speaking. This is the concern of his source for the idea, the chief of San Francisco city AIDS research:

    Dr. Susan Buchbinder, head of the H.I.V. research section at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, runs one of those trials, known as Project T. Buchbinder says she initially had "big reservations" about the research, because she worried about what psychologists call "behavioral disinhibition": what if fear of H.I.V. declined in people who took the drug, and they then skipped using condoms or increased their number of sex partners? "It's scary as an investigator, as a public-health official and as a person who has worked with the community for many years to think about doing something that could paradoxically make the epidemic worse rather than better," she says.

    If this is the usual quality of logic brought to bear on the epidemic by the chief city researcher at the ground zero of the US AIDS epidemic, one can only say that the continuing confusion about HIV?AIDS and the flourishing survival of an apparently baseless paradigm in the medical community is no mystery.

    That is to say, if the premise is that the drug does protect against infection, why would it expand the epidemic if those protected against carrying HIV escalate their sexual antics? What Ms Buchbinder has to fear would be the expansion of hospital admissions for side effects, one would think, not new HIV positives. ...

    From Big Gay Picture:

    Should sexually active HIV-negative men (and some sexually active African American women) be put on an HIV anti-viral regimen, since there is some evidence that such a regimen can prevent HIV infection in these high-risk populations? Some models show that new HIV-infection rates could fall by as much as 80%. But what if the existence of such a pill causes gay and bi men to take greater sexual risks--more partners, and fewer condoms--screwing up the model projections and resulting in MORE infections, or more resistant strains of the virus? ...

    I like the idea of actively involving HIV-negative gay and bi men in their health, and in maintaining their negative status (much the same way every gay and bi man is, or definitely should be, vaccinated for heptatis B). And my God, anything that could keep more people from being infected with HIV is something that should be considered and researched.

    But this new strategy has the potential for much danger; anyone who doesn't acknowledge this is a fool. ...

    I ask my friend, Jay Gladstein, M.D., an infectious disease specialist who works with people with HIV, for his reaction:

    One of the advantages to a pill is that it provides a degree of protection--I must emphasize, a degree of protection--that is especially helpful to those who are not in a position to insist on condom use, namely women who are on unequal footing with men. I do not believe there have been studies of tenofovir pre-exposure prophylaxis among gay men, but, again, there could be a study(ies) underway that I am not aware of. If it has not been studied among sexually active, HIV-negative gay men in the industrialized world, especially in the US, then I would say that no sound conclusions can be drawn based on heterosexuals in the 3rd world or in countries where tenofovir is already widely used. ...

    Use as many tools as possible: condoms, low viral loads among positives, treat herpes, wash after sex, limit the number of one's sex partners, etc. I wouldn't put all my eggs in one basket with any of them. Getting into a sling at the local bathhouse and getting plowed by every guy who walks in is VERY risky, even if everyone wears a condom (though it might feel pretty good, if the person is on crystal). Similar thing goes for a pill. Even with the pill, that sling is extremely risky.

    "The reason is this. Any drug will only work against virus that is susceptible to it. For tenofovir, it takes only one mutation for the virus to become resistant, the K65R mutation. With more and more men on tenofovir in this country, I am sure that we will see an increasing prevalance of the K65R mutation among positive men. And what protection will tenofovir afford against HIV-laden cum that contains the K65R mutation? Little or none. But to really know that, we'd have to do a randomized, controlled study. Any volunteers?"

    I don't know much about medicine, so please take everything I say with a shaker of salt, as they say, but this whole thing really seems off. I'm all for preventing HIV infection, but it does seem like a recipe for resistance.

    I'm interested, however, in the idea that condoms are for people who don't want to think about taking something everyday, but just want to deal with it when sex comes up, whereas antivirals (and birth control pills) are for people that don't want to have to deal with remembering protection "in the heat of the moment", but are fine with taking something everyday. I like the idea that there should be different methods of protection for different kinds of people, but it does seem like one kind of people are likely to fuck things up for the rest of us. Just like with antibiotics, where a bunch of people who couldn't be bothered with being sick made it so that everyone had to deal with more and more horrible strains of illness. I could be wrong, perhaps the drug-resistant strain is not much of a possiblity for HIV, but the thought really, really scares me.

    There are some people that should definitely be testing this out, though. Despite the side effects, people who, for example, have positive partners might find it takes a load off their minds to use condoms, but not worry quite as much if one were to break. Same with people who are receptive and promiscuous. I hope that people will use them as backup. But I've seen how it works with women who are on the Pill and have sex with men. So many of them have unprotected sex because the pregnancy issue seems moot and most middle-class heteros don't take HIV very seriously. But it's not just HIV, it's tons of stuff you don't want to be exposed to.

    Since you can't go around ruling people's sex lives, I believe that anti-virals should be available (and affordable) to people who prefer to take them, just as women should have unlimited access to emergency contraception and abortions, even if we'd prefer they use regular contraception, even if we prefer they don't use EC and abortions regularly, because people should be able to do what they want with their own bodies and protect themselves at whatever level and whatever point in their sexual activity that they wish. But I truly hope that this won't further dilute the condom message.

    Again, especially as drug and alcohol use interact dangerously with sexual activity, forgetting or not caring to protect themselves and their partners, it is not a bad idea to have something that you can take at 9am when you still have the presence of mind to be concerned about the risks. But the side effects could be far worse than the serious hormonal weirdness that many women on the Pill experience.

    The other serious concern I have is the effectiveness if people don't take these anti-retrovirals everyday, as often happens with birth control. A lot of women I know feel very safe being on the Pill, despite using it rather haphazardly. To me personally, it seems a lot easier to remember protection when you're right about to have sex than everyday at the same time, but ... that's just me.

    A lot of folks commented, though, that this could potentially be the basis for a vaccine, which would be a tremendous breakthrough. I have to admit that, as much as I wish we had a vaccine on its way, I would worry about many of the same things there too. And I can't help but think it would be hard not to begin mandating such a vaccine were one to exist, which troubles me; I don't think anyone should be able to force you to put anything in your body.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    Pleasures of the Times Book Review

    Some of us read while others of us wish we read. If we see that statement on a continuum, I am in the middle. I believe in reading, am in grad school for English (so, some reading is necessary), but still so many books pass me by.

    This week's Book Review took my breath away by covering a great deal of the books I'm eagerly anticipating, though will likely never read.

    1. Noam Scheiber on The Pro-Growth Progressive by Gene Sperling.

    More than anything else, "The Pro-Growth Progressive" embodies the neoliberal idea that all problems are solvable if we just set aside ideology and focus on what works. Sperling notes at the outset that resolving trade-related issues requires "deep, honest exploration that does not easily fit within any right-left, pro-globalization-anti-globalization perspective." Later he writes that "neither progressives nor conservatives have articulated a vision for retirement security" that guarantees a reasonable nest egg while also helping workers invest in equities. Much of the book employs this third-way tone. Yet while Sperling appears to chide both sides equally, his book functions primarily as a useful reproach to progressives who believe that ideological purity requires rejecting market-friendly means.

    Democrats have little to lose and everything to gain by embracing the hallmarks of a dynamic economy (like freer trade or widespread stock ownership) and by promoting policies that help individuals help themselves (like replacing welfare with tax credits to encourage the poor to work). The first is a concession to irreversible economic trends, the second a concession to political and budgetary reality.

    Sperling's ideas are unfailingly sound. He proposes linking economic aid for single men to responsible fatherhood; and starting a universal, government-financed 401(k) program. One of Sperling's more ingenious ideas is to devise a system so that aid for people displaced by foreign trade isn't merely reactive. Today the government doesn't get involved until a textile mill closes. Sperling suggests retraining workers as soon as it's clear their factory isn't viable, so that they have years, not weeks, to prepare for a new career.

    The problem with all this is that Sperling is fighting the last war. The differences between big-government progressives and pro-growth progressives like himself defined politics during the 1990's. But they've since been swamped by the differences between all Democrats (and even moderate Republicans) on the one hand, and the Bush administration on the other. ...

    Today, what divides most Democrats on economic questions isn't ideological; it's tactical. On one side are those who believe Democrats must devote their energy to blocking what they consider a dangerous, even radical Republican agenda. Those on the other side believe Democrats should engage the White House and hammer out deals agreeable to both sides. Sperling places himself firmly in the second camp. But in the present context, this position comes off as a little quaint. ...by this point in Bush's tenure, it's pretty clear that the White House is not negotiating in good faith. The multiple Bush tax cuts, the prescription drug plan, bankruptcy reform, tort reform, Social Security reform - all follow the same playbook: embrace the proposals of your corporate donors, then use a combination of procedural tricks and political hardball to ram them through Congress. ...

    Sperling clings throughout to a "good policy is good politics" outlook. For example, he says Democrats could pay for his universal 401(k) proposal by partly reinstating the tax on wealthy estates that Republicans have repealed. "This should not be a hard sell," he says. "In the average state, only those 200 taxpayers with the absolute richest estates would pay somewhat higher taxes than under President Bush's proposal." But that raises the question: How could Congress have passed legislation in the first place whose only beneficiaries are each state's wealthiest people? This is the question the Bush administration has forced Democrats to grapple with.

    Gene Sperling is thoughtful, hard working, well intentioned and wickedly smart. Reading his book gives me pangs of nostalgia for the days when he and his colleagues ran the country. But the same approach that works when you're in power doesn't necessarily work when you're completely shut out of it. Is this really the time for statesmanship? Sadly, Democrats may be better off embracing bare-knuckle politics.

    Sperling is great at coming up with ideas, not so much at executing them, especially in such a way that these things last long-term. I agree. But I think many of his ideas do not inhibit a "bare-knuckle" style of politics. In fact, even proposing them these days might seem that way. For example, the universal 401K, subsidized by revoking tax cuts for the rich. That doesn't seem like much of a "compromise", "bi-partisan" move to me, but it does seem like the kind of thing the public would get behind if it were presented the right way. I mean, the Dems freaked everyone out on Social Security; we could do it again. :)

    We need to take good, solid economic ideas like Sperling's and introduce them to the public with a healthy dose of money-fear-mongering. Because it's not disingenuous- we're in trouble, most Americans are in or heading financial problems, or, at best, not even inching (or centimetering) toward prosperity. Everyone is constantly saying that people "vote with their pocketbooks/wallets". If that's so (which I think is drastically oversimplifying voting, but anyway ...) we need to have ideas to confront Congress on and we need to spend a whole lot of cash promoting these ideas so that people will push their representatives.

    2. Wyatt Mason reviews Colin McGinn's The Power of Movies:

    When I read Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Hours," I admired it as a thoughtful, delicately considered engagement with the literary past and a sensitive articulation of various kinds of loss. Curiously, though, when I sat in a dark theater and watched the movie version, I sobbed and moaned as though I were being viciously beaten. And although my cinematic reaction was physically extreme whereas my literary response was emotionally mild, I would say it is Cunningham's novel, and not the film it spawned, that is of greater value. I have had any number of interesting conversations about the book, and phrases from it stay with me ("without her there is no world at all"), but of the movie I can now remember precious little beyond its having left me sobbing.

    I suspect the nature of this paradox has everything to do with what the philosopher and Rutgers professor Colin McGinn means when he writes, "Movies carry some sort of psychic charge that no other art form - perhaps no other spectacle - can quite match." ...

    One might try to arrive at an answer by making a comprehensive study of famous movies, or conducting a series of conversations with notable filmmakers or undertaking a neurological profile of the brain while reading a book versus viewing a film, but McGinn has nothing so practical in mind. Rather, his approach is elevatedly philosophical: "I had been working with the idea that our immersion in our dreams is analogous to the immersion we experience in fictional works, especially films. . . . But then it occurred to me that perhaps . . . our experience of films is conditioned by our prior experience with dreams. Could it be that the allure of film is explained by the fact that films evoke the dreaming mind of the viewer?" Although McGinn acknowledges that "the dream interpretation of film has a history," he also asserts that "the idea had never been fully developed and treated as a theory to be argued for and tested."

    For example, after citing the film editor Walter Murch's idea that television is a "look-at" medium whereas movies are a "look-into" medium, McGinn assembles a list of 10 things we look into (holes, water, windows, etc.) and then elaborates on each in order to evaluate the extent to which they inform the experience of "looking into" films. If this sounds potentially interesting, it is not.

    Okay. Using The Hours, a film adapted from a novel, the film vs. book thing seems easier to compare. Film = more concentrated. Novel = more nuanced. This is common, when novels are the basis for screenplays. The concentratedness will make you sob, of course. The novel will press upon you more mildly. This doesn't seem like much of an observation. What's interesting is the function of memory: if you can't remember why you were sobbing, does it matter that you sobbed? Does the emotional trauma impact you more deeply if it is unconsidered and, basically, psychic; does the emotional trauma not quite register as trauma if it is accorded the space of reading a novel (usually not in one intense two-hour block) and the physical control you can exert over it (put it down, get a snack, make a phone call, when it gets rough)? On the other hand, can the consideration, the self-created (though author-designed) imagery, and the memory of the experience make the experience more meaningful? And does all this change when the film is on DVD?

    I like the comparison between film and dreams, particularly as it applies to memory. The snatches of movement, blips of imagery, general senses that stay with you for a couple hours upon waking/leaving the theater- that's the way film works on the psyche. (Obviously, film and dreams are different- I'm not too dumb to see that- but I like the idea, it gives me a whole new affection for film.)

    Of course, we can't talk about Film without talking about its pretty, popular sister, Television. But just because someone hangs with the cheerleaders doesn't make her shallow. And just because someone stalks around the hallways brooding doesn't mean he's deep either.

    3. David Kamp reviews Norah's Vincent's Self-Made Man:

    your premise in a nutshell: assertive, opinionated Vincent, best known as a contrarian columnist for The Los Angeles Times, goes undercover as a man to learn how the fellas think and act when them pesky broads ain't around. Flip the book open, and the first thing you come to is its dedication: "To my beloved wife, Lisa McNulty, who saves my life on a daily basis." Yes, ladies and gents, the author is a self-proclaimed "dyke."

    But "Self-Made Man" turns out not to be what it threatens to be, a men-are-scum diatribe destined for best-seller status in the more militant alternative bookstores of Berkeley and Ann Arbor. Rather, it's a thoughtful, diligent, entertaining piece of first-person investigative journalism.

    What does it "threaten to be"? Oh, well, since "the author is a self-proclaimed 'dyke'," it threatens to be a "men-are-scum diatribe". Good start, Dave.

    Vincent's status as a "masculine woman" abets this transformation, but the subject of her lesbianism falls away, more or less, once her adventures as Ned begin. Indeed, one of the great attributes of "Self-Made Man" is its lack of agenda or presuppositions.

    No suppositions, I suppose, because she doesn't suppose anything other than what the author and the reviewer so clearly seem to share: that men and women are Different. And, as long as this dyke can see that, she's "objective".

    4. Ann Althouse reviews Kenji Yoshino's Covering:

    He gets the message that he ought to modify his physical appearance, to steer away from gay culture and to minimize his relationships and his activism. His mother accepts that he's gay but wonders why he needs to be such a jandaaku - a Joan of Arc.

    The idea of covering applies so interestingly to activism and community service. You are expected to help a group other than the group of which you feel/seem to be a part because working with/for "your" group and interests accentuates your difference, but your involvement also emphasizes an image of yourself as in need of service or uplift, which makes you scary because you want more than you already have.

    5. Paul Beatty gives an adapted bit of the introduction to his new book, Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor:

    My introduction to black - excuse me, Black - literature happened during the summer between eighth and ninth grades when the Los Angeles Unified School District, out of the graciousness of its repressive little heart, sent me a copy of Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." It was the first book I'd ever opened written by an African-American author. Notice I said "opened" and not "read." I made it through a few pages before I began to get suspicious. Why would a school district that didn't bother to supply me with a working pair of left-handed scissors, a decipherable pre-algebra text or a slice of pepperoni pizza with more than two pepperonis on it send me a new book? Why care about my welfare now?

    I read another paragraph, growing more oppressed with each maudlin passage. My lips thickened. My burr-headed Afro took on the texture of a dried-out firethorn bush. My love for the sciences, the Los Angeles Kings and scuba diving disappeared. My dog, Butch, growled at me. I suppressed my craving for a Taco Bell Bellbeefer (remember those?) because I feared the restaurant wouldn't serve me. My eyes started to water and the words to "Roll, Jordan, Roll," a Negro spiritual I'd never heard before, rumbled out of my mouth in a sonorous baritone. I didn't know I could sing. I tossed the book into the kitchen trash. I already knew why the caged bird sang - my family was impoverished every other week while waiting for my mother's paydays - but after three pages of that book, I knew why they put a mirror in the parakeet's cage: so he could wallow in his own misery.

    After this traumatic experience, I retreated to my room to self-medicate with James Clavell, John Irving, Joseph Wambaugh, the Green Lantern and Archie and Jughead. It would be 10 years before I would touch another book written by an African-American. As my wiser sister Anna says, "Never trust folks like Maya Angelou and James Earl Jones who grow up in Walla Walla, Miss., and Boogaloo, Ark., and speak with British accents." ...

    Some black humor I found on my own bookshelf. I reread Zora Neale Hurston's freewheeling story "Book of Harlem," written circa 1921. ("And she said unto him, 'Go thou and buy the books and writings of certain scribes and Pharisees which I shall name unto you, and thou shalt learn everything of good and of evil. Yea, thou shalt know as much as the Chief of the Niggerati, who is called Carl Van Vechten.' ") I heard Richard Pryor shout-out Cecil Brown on "Bicentennial Nigger," and figured that if Pryor was giving the man some dap, then Brown's novel "The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger" (1969) must be worth a look-see. It is. ...

    Even more of a shock was my discovery that W. E. B. Du Bois, the pillar of African-American stolidity, had a sense of humor. His 1923 essay "On Being Crazy," while by no means hilarious, is at least an example of the great man letting his "good" hair down to engage in a little segregation satire.

    It's strange to me that people would see this solemnity or seriousness that Beatty jokes about above as a hallmark of African-American literature, especially now, after Henry Louis Gates's The Signifying Monkey. I mean, so many of the canonical African American novels are really funny: Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon ... these books aren't by any means strictly comic, they deal with some of the most serious themes possible, but they still contain some truly hilarious passages. That said, Alice Walker and Gloria Naylor may have screwed it up for everybody. :)

    Well friends, I'm not taking on the new Joyce Carol Oates or Mary-Ann Tirone Smith's memoir, either. So, go journey alone.

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    Breathe a Sigh of Relief

    Ocean County freeholders will grant Laurel Hester her dying wish, to have her death benefit given to her same-sex partner."

    Happy Birthday Roe v. Wade!

    One day belated, because EL doesn't do Sundays.

    Feministing does it up right, so click there first.

    Next stop, the participants of Blog For Choice. Just click around freely. Besides being chock-full of great posts on women's right to choose, it's also a great way to find hot new blogs you might not have met yet.

    Check out "When the Anti-Choice Choose" (hat tip to (En)gender).

    Also, Ampersand does (Very) Basic Economics and Abortion.

    This year, we should be using this anniversary to put the press on our elected representatives to the US Senate: FILIBUSTER, FILIBUSTER, FILIBUSTER. Remind them that women's equality is still something for which we expect them to fight. If you haven't yet called or emailed (preferably both), YOU'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME.

    Friday, January 20, 2006

    Really Weird New Sean Jean Ads

    Featuring My Amusement Park favorite, Penelope Cruz.

    What does this mean, people? This looks like a wife/girlfriend having a miserable time with her husband/boyfriend and his associates. Why is this an ad?

    The pic below redeems any inscrutability.

    Step Away From the Bodega

    NYT on new low-fat milk plan for bodegas in low-income neighborhoods:

    Look in just about any bodega in the city's poorer neighborhoods and it is easy to find shelves well-stocked with potato chips, sodas and doughnuts. But just try to find something healthier like fruits or vegetables.

    The owner and workers at El Barrio Superette, a bodega in Harlem, wore T-shirts Thursday that encouraged customers to try low-fat milk. The city's Health and Mental Hygiene Department is promoting the program.

    For many low-income city residents, such bodegas are more common shopping options than supermarkets with a much larger roster of healthy items.

    So in an effort to provide healthier food choices, city health officials have enlisted bodega owners in an effort to encourage the sale of low-fat milk. ...

    Besides announcing the milk program yesterday, the Health and Mental Hygiene Department released the results of its survey of the availability of various healthy foods in the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

    The agency found that only one in three bodegas there sold reduced-fat milk, but that 9 out of 10 supermarkets in the neighborhoods did. More than 80 percent of the 373 food stores surveyed in the two neighborhoods were bodegas. ...

    Bodegas are also much less likely than supermarkets to stock fruits and vegetables, it said. While the majority of bodegas and supermarkets carry some kind of fresh fruit, only 21 percent of the bodegas in Bedford-Stuyvesant offered apples, oranges and bananas. Supermarkets were four times more likely to carry all three.

    Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale were found in only 6 percent of the bodegas surveyed. Bodega owners said an important reason they did not carry healthier foods was that they are not very popular.

    Even when healthy food is available, bodegas often charge more for it than supermarkets do. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, the average cost of a gallon of milk was 79 cents more in a bodega than in a supermarket.

    Now, I don't have a problem with this program or anything except that it seems like this article makes a case for another program. Instead of saying, "These poor people waste a bunch more money on junkier food at bodegas, let's add some 2% milk to these very overpriced junky bodegas," what if we had a major campaign encouraging low-income people to shop at supermarkets that offer better prices and more options? What if, for example, we encouraged these supermarkets to offer free delivery, so that people didn't have to walk as far from their homes? That's got to be one serious factor in people's choosing bodegas over supermarkets. Another one might be their hours of operation. Even if 80% of the food stores servicing these communities are bodegas, that still leaves about 75 supermarkets. So, encouraging people to shop in supermarkets, perhaps by giving even further discounts on one or two healthy items per week, in addition to encouraging free delivery and more convenient hours, seems like a better place to start spending city dollars. It might get the bodega owners angry, but it'd be better for the city in general.

    Self-Made Man Reviewed

    You must read Andrew O'Hehir's impeccable review of Norah Vincent's Self Made Man. (The most overused title in gender studies memoirs.)

    Ned completely sucked as a bowler, and as Vincent ruefully admits, by the standards of this working-class environment, even the butchest woman in drag comes off as a girlie man.

    But Vincent finds herself continually surprised by her teammates. Ned is hardly ever ridiculed for his wretched technique, but instead becomes the object of fraternal-paternal education and concern. By showing up week after week, he's accepted as one of the guys, oddball that he is, and his modest accomplishments are celebrated. This is the upside of the often ruthless male competitive urge, and any boy who has struggled with his own lack of athletic talent can identify with it. (The day I got a legitimate Little League hit, after numerous coaching sessions -- OK, it was a fisted bloop down the right-field line, but it went for a triple! -- is one of my fondest childhood memories.)

    Ned's first meeting with his team captain, Jim, a pugnacious squirt in an oversize football jersey who likes to be the butt of his own jokes, is so good it deserves quotation. Vincent writes that they extend their arms toward each other in that ritual, dudelike sweeping motion. "Our palms met with a soft pop, and I squeezed assertively the way I'd seen men do at parties when they gathered in someone's living room to watch a football game. From the outside, this ritual had always seemed overdone to me. Why all the macho ceremony? But from the inside it was completely different. There was something so warm and bonded in this handshake. Receiving it was a rush, an instant inclusion in a camaraderie that felt very old and practiced.

    "It was more affectionate than any handshake I'd ever received from a strange woman," she continues. "To me, woman-to-woman introductions often seem fake and cold, full of limp gentility. I've seen a lot of women hug each other this way, too, sometimes even women who've known each other for a long time and think of one another as good friends. They're like two backward magnets pushed together by convention. Their arms and cheeks meet, and maybe the tops of their shoulders, but only briefly, the briefest time politeness will allow. It's done out of habit and for appearances, a hollow, even resentful, gesture bred into us and rarely felt." ...

    It is not uncommon to hear women, including myself, feeling sorry for men for the way that certain brands and tenets of masculinity curtail their show of emotion. I've heard many male friends over the years longing for the Waiting to Exhale, Sex and the City, or Steel Magnolias idea of friendship and bonding that is coded female; the idea being based on this ever-lasting promise to help you through the pain, to be "supportive".

    I had a conversation the other day with my partner, A, about this. I said that I abhor this notion that the best friendship is one in which two women (or, for some reason, often four women) are "supportive" of each other and "there for each other". That's a nice thing sometimes. But, for me, friendship is best when it is two things: 1. fun and 2. challenging. I feel that women are disallowed from the second of those; with many women, not accepting her side of the story, not simply listening and simpering and coddling, means you're not being a good friend.

    On the other hand, I hate that fakey "Hey, you son of a bitch, fuck you!" when you walk in the door that men do to combat that "me-and-my-girlfriends-forever" thing.

    I am lucky that all my close female friends (okay, meaning all my close friends) are feminist-identified and so don't just sit around crying about their relationships (though you wouldn't know that from my Tuesday night). I'm lucky that we do challenge each other. I'm lucky that, when we greet each other, we hug for real. But these are my good friends.

    I've said this with regard to street harassment and relations with men, in general. Men often seem to feel that they are allowed to act familiar with you, even if they just happened to glimpse you for the first time. But I just realized, reading this passage, that it's not just with men; women are expected not to have barriers to their inner selves. We're expected to be immediately intimate with anyone we meet.

    I'd love to walk into a room of people I didn't know and give and get that validating firm handshake. Validating because it is what it is. friendliness that doesn't pretend an intimacy that hasn't yet been acheived.

    On her own among America's most detested minority, working-class white men, Vincent discovers that these particular specimens are not especially racist or misogynist or homophobic. Sure, the talk is frank and raunchy, and considerable effort is devoted to planning clandestine trips to "titty bars." But Ned's teammates speak of their wives with tremendous respect and admiration, and when he finally spills his secret, they seem both impressed and relieved. "I gotta hand it to you, that takes balls -- or whatever," says one. Finally, Ned makes sense: This is why he's such a good listener, and such a crappy bowler. ...

    It's undoubtedly brave and noble that Vincent tried to cross class as well as gender boundaries, but as aware as she is of that issue on the bowling team, I think the former category is more important than she realizes. Beyond the agonizing dating chapter, she never tries to pass for the kind of straight man she might already know, an urban guy with bobo-style, liberal-arts values and inclinations. (For that matter, she also doesn't try to be a gay man.) In that context, I don't think being a man is half as hard as she thinks it is, and whatever one thinks about the biochemical basis of sex and gender, the performance of gender roles is a lot more fluid than she depicts.

    My personal experience as a man may have no more general applicability than Ned's, but, hey, I've been a guy much longer than he has. If the legacy of feminism has complicated certain things about being a heterosexual male, I'm pretty happy with that. Maybe men still don't "open up" as readily as women do, but the intense emotional self-censorship Vincent describes is not ubiquitous or unanimous. I've discussed my dad's death, for example, intimately with my male friends on numerous occasions, and was grateful when my oldest friend reciprocated after the death of his own dad (a man I also loved). ...

    I would love to see drag kings take on the hipsters. (But they've still got some good old-fashioned guy stereotypes to get through first, notably the frat guy.) I think that the variety within masculinities (not just based on class and race and sexual orientation, but also region, job, interests, etc) is one of the most interesting thing gets lost by books like this, when masculinity= working-class white bowlers. One of the most memorable people I've heard speak on the subject was a man by the name of Griffin Hansbury, who was on two different episodes of This American Life, called "What is This Thing?" and "Testosterone". I recommend listening to these first, because it's so rare that the media will allow any well-adjusted transperson to speak about their experiences, but more importantly, Hansbury is funny and articulate. There's this moment where he explains that, as a dyke, he was very hip; as a man, he's this little geeky dude. And it made me realize something pretty startling. While I'm not trans, I've had, as many women do I'm sure, fantasies of how great it would be to be a man. And I realized that I never once pictured myself as a man, but as a MAN, unrealistically masculine, unrealistically swaggering and macho and heterosexual. And that made me realize how much I still conceive of men as "other", unless I am personally close to them (which is rare).

    ... Vincent seems to suggest that only men experience sexual desire as an inconvenient burden, an ambiguous appetite to be sated or repressed, and I'm not buying it.

    You don't need a psychology degree to understand that if men have long been socialized to expend their excess erotic drives on sexual surrogates -- whether they're spending $5.95 on Miss January or $650 on one of Heidi Fleiss' working girls -- women have been trained to sublimate theirs into Manolo stilettos and Hermès scarves. Furthermore, it's no secret that the gender divide has narrowed sharply on these issues in recent decades, even if we don't agree on how or why it happened.

    Personally, I've never dated a woman who wasn't at least somewhat titillated by pornographic fantasy or curious about the kinds of nonvanilla, nonmainstream "bad girl" experiences that only men were once supposed to want. For women as well as men, desire is not always desirable. I briefly went out with a lawyer who abhorred porn, and who subscribed to the Catharine MacKinnon ideology that it was itself a form of sexual violence that should be outlawed. At least that was her story during the daylight hours -- until the pile of impressively filthy magazines under her bed came out late at night, after three or four vodkas. ...

    Ned seems as if he was a good guy. A little dippy, a little overly earnest, a little too eager to please. But his heart was in the right place, and we can always use more guys like that. Is it as tough to be a guy as it was for him? Well, it can be; manhood 2.0 offers all the old pitfalls and some new ones too. We're all trying to make it up as we go, mixing something from Category A with something from Category B: a dose of old-fashioned stoicism, some dudely 'tude, along with the ability to cry every now and then, or hug each other without grotesque embarrassment. A shot of bourbon and a glass of Chardonnay; it doesn't always work.

    Come to think of it, you could say the same thing about women. These days they're all trying to be the attorney general while wearing sexy lingerie and downloading killer cookie recipes on their BlackBerrys. It can be pretty awkward. Some, like Norah Vincent, are trying to find a form of femininity that borders on masculinity. It seems to me that it's pretty hard to be human, and that we might all be the same misfit, mask-wearing, role-playing species after all.

    The book couldn't possibly beat this well-written review. Too bad not one of those who wrote letters to Salon seems to have grasped any nuance.