Monday, October 31, 2005

Give a pig!

Charitable Gift Giving that Makes a Difference | Heifer International

I just gave my son and daughter-in-law a pig for their almost simultaneous birthdays. I gave them a cow as a wedding present. Check out this link to the Heifer Project, a charity with low overhead that does lots of good.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers down

Miers Failed to Win Support of
Key Senators and Conservatives - New York Times

Harriet Miers has withdrawn and now, 7 am PDT, the TV pundits are running continuous coverage.

The remarkable thing is that everyone agrees Bush will favor women in appointing a successor. The administration doesn't seem to have any compunctions about affirmative action in appointing Supreme Court justices when, ironically, one of the qualifications for the position is opposition to affirmative action.

So here is a conundrum: why is affirmative action ok for ultra-elite high-visibility positions on the Supreme Court and in the Cabinet but not for the overwhelming majority of women who aren't in the pool for these ultra-elite jobs? What f-ing good is it if a few extraordinary women can get jobs as Supreme Court justices or Cabinet secretaries when the majority of women can't get a whole range of ordinary jobs that ordinary men can get?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | This age of fanaticism is no time for non-believers to make enemies: "Humanists must assert the secularity and plurality of politics and citizenship; but in doing this we should not assume all believers differ from us. Christian humanists also believe politics is part of the secular sphere (the natural law, not the divine law). Religious fanaticism thrives domestically where there is either physical poverty or poverty of political and social ideals, and internationally where there is gross injustice. Humanists need to be more active in social policies and less fussy about the company we keep."

Humanists must assert the secularity and plurality of politics and citizenship; but in doing this we should not assume all believers differ from us. Christian humanists also believe politics is part of the secular sphere (the natural law, not the divine law). Religious fanaticism thrives domestically where there is either physical poverty or poverty of political and social ideals, and internationally where there is gross injustice. Humanists need to be more active in social policies and less fussy about the company we keep.

What a remarkably reasonable thing to say! Immured as I am at a Catholic college (and glad of it) I haven't seen an upsurge of anti-religous sentiment on the ground. But the chatter in the ether seems to be reaching a crescendo, Dawkins beating the drum with Dennett's obligato and a crowd of witnesses denouncing sharia and suicide-bombing as a natural and inevitable consequence of pernicious ontological commitments.

And that is what religion is: commitment to the existence of some supernatural being(s) packaged in a fabric of art, myth and liturgy. The idea that any metaphysical theory by its nature could drive people to lunacy and violence is as bizarre as the notion my mother and others 50 years ago entertained that daylight savings time was a Communist plot.

This is not intentionally naive. As it happens adherents of metaphysical systems form themselves into groups--and even more often, groups adopt metaphysical commitments as part of their corporate identity. They develop customs and policies and fight with members of competing tribes. So do ethnic groups, sports fans and street gangs competing for turf. Religious warfare is commonplace but it isn't at bottom theologically motivated--metaphysics is innert.

Tribalism and violence are part of our genetic heritage--religion, like blood kinship, language, football team fanship or neighborhood is just one of the markers we pick up to define our tribe, to sort out who we support and who we beat up. Metaphysics is epiphenomenal--Dawkins, Dennett and all the self-righteous secularists who've emerged lately to make the case that bloated ontologies produce social ills are either naive or, more likely, disingenuous.

People are more likely to do violence in the name of religion than in support of other intellectual commitments because in the aggregate religious people are more likely to be uneducated, tribal and sexually diamorphic. Football fans of competing teams wreck property and do violence to one another because they're working class lads; opera fans who worship competing divas do not trash the neighborhood and beat up on oneanother because they are effete snobs.

Friday, October 21, 2005

American Prospect Online - ViewWeb

There was a time when a "liberal" was something most people -- even some conservatives -- wanted to be. On the stump in 1952, Dwight Eisenhower said "we need in Washington liberal and experienced members of Congress." Eight years later, Richard Nixon quoted FDR's definition of a liberal as "a man who wants to build bridges over the chasms that separate humanity from a better life," and said, "It is a wonderful definition, and I agree with him."

But when Republicans began to go after liberalism, Democrats cowered in fear, not only trying to distance themselves from the term but embracing the idea that a "conservative" is a great thing to be...As part of a solution, many on the left have decided to start with a clean slate, ditching "liberal" in favor of "progressive." As a strategic move, this has much to commend it. Recent American political history has made it hard to argue that the root of "liberal" -- liberty -- belongs more to the left than to the right.

It depends what you mean by "liberty"--or perhaps what kind of liberty matters. The kind of liberty that matters to most writers who concern themselves with these issues, whether on the left or right, makes no difference at all to most people. Freedom of the press? How many journalists are there--and how many people who have any interest in serious news or opinion? Freedom of speech? How many people care about anything beyond gossip, shoptalk and the minutia of daily life? Business owners balk at the constraints imposed by the state--the rules and regulations about workplace safety and fair hiring practices and the burden of paperwork that undermines their liberty to do business as they please. But how many people own businesses?

People who construe liberty in these terms are highly privileged: they don't realize the real constraints on most people's freedom--poverty and drudgery. In the most fundamental sense liberty is just the absence of physical constraint. Most people don't have that privilege: work for most means being physically constrained, being confined to a small space--at a desk, behind a counter, at a check-out stand, at best, in a room. You punch in in the morning and there you stay--every day like a long plane flight--until you punch out. Most people have little choice about the work they do. They're also mentally constrained, doing repetitious tasks that make it impossible to think about anything else--inputting data, dealing with customers, answering phones.

Outside of the privileged few who have, by dint of dumb luck, managed to avoid "real work"--like me--this is life and there is no way out. I know this because, having been a bad girl in high school I ended up working for half a year as a clerk-typist at a bus company, until my mother bought me into an expensive college for rich underachievers. I was 17--some of the girls who worked with me were not much older, but they were dead. They were married, trying desperately to get pregnant--their ticket out. I listened to their conversation day by day (they wouldn't talk to me because I'd gotten into a political argument about the war in Vietnam early on). They had no aspirations because there were no options for them--the only career ladder lead to Office Manager, the position of Miss McCauley, an elderly spinster, occupied. Who wanted that? They didn't even want to travel. They just wanted out. There was nothing to learn, nothing to accomplish, nothing to make, no way to improve or achieve. Even going fast made no difference: when I finished my work and asked for more they laughed at me: "sort paper clips and look busy." That is what real work is.

My mother plonked down her money for tuition so I got out. But that is the only reason I got out--I was no different from any of them apart from simply being richer. When I got to Lake Forest College I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I didn't have to spend my entire day at a desk in one room. I didn't have to spend my entire day filing cards, stamping tapes and trying to look busy when I was done. And the only reason I didn't was because my mother had money--I took that to heart and it made my politics.

The whole aim of liberalism is to see it that people have options--that no one is stuck doing the drudge work I did permanently because they don't come from rich families. The market won't make that happen--that is simply an empirical fact. If my mother hadn't bailed me out I couldn't have worked my way though school as a clerk-typist for Intercity Trans. Co., Inc. I couldn't have afforded the tuition making, as I did, $60/week; I wouldn't have had the time to go to classes, much less study. I wouldn't have had the energy to do anything besides work--when I came home, I just went to bed and cried myself to sleep.

Liberalism is about liberty--real liberty: the provision of real options for people so that they don't have to do jobs like this if they're prepared to make the effort to get education and training.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Dare to Bare - New York Times

Most babies and toddlers around the world, and throughout human history, have never worn diapers. For instance, in places like China, India and Kenya, children wear split pants or run around naked from the waist down. When it's clear that they have to go, they can squat or be held over the right hole in a matter of seconds. Parents and caretakers in these cultures see diapers as not the best, but the worst alternative. Why bind bulky cloth around a small child? Why use a disposable diaper that keeps buckets of urine next to tender skin? The trick is that infants in these cultures are always physically entwined with a parent or someone else, and "elimination communication" is the norm. With bare bottoms, they ride on the hip or back and it's easy to feel when they need to go... I was against the Western ideology of making my child independent and self-reliant. I rejected the crib, stroller and jump seat, all devices intended to teach babies to be on their own. Instead I embraced the ideology of non-Western cultures and opted for the closest kind of attachment I could get.

Why use diapers? Because we don't want to carry babies on our hips or be "physically entwined" with toddlers for most of the day. It's a matter of adult convenience not a cultural psychological bathroom fixations or the value we place on making our children independent. It's a matter of the value we place on our own independence, our own legitimately selfish desire not to be bothered by little kids.

Throughout human history and in places like China, India and Kenya women haven't been valued--our time wasn't worth anything. Our only job was to drudge for our husbands, children and extended families--carrying babies on our hips all day, making sure to put them on the pot before they pooped, carrying jugs of water on our heads, grinding meal, cooking whole grains from scratch and all the other labor-intensive fruits-and-nuts-approved activities that impose drudge work on women and eat up our time.

I didn't embrace the stroller and jump seat because I wanted to teach my babies to be independent: I used these labor-saving devices because I wanted to make things easier for myself. I slept in the same bed with my babies because it was easier for me, not because it was better for them. I never made any attempt to toilet train them because I didn't want to bother. When they got sick of wearing dirty diapers they started using the toilet of their own accord.

Let's get real here: running around with a bare bottom is probably more pleasant for little kids than wearing dirty diapers. But it's less convenient for adults. There is a conflict of interests and there is no reason why the child's interests should trump the adult's.

Articles like the one linked here set my teeth on edge. When my kids were babies the preaching was about using cloth diapers rather than paper and grinding your own baby food. And no one ever dared to say, "I don't make my own baby food because it's a hassle to grind vegetables and wash up the grinder--if there's some marginal advantage to the baby to get freshly ground food that's outweighed by the major hassle to me." No one dared say either "I use paper diapers because it's easier and I care more about my convenience than I do about the environment or my baby's comfort.

No one--that is no women--dared to say such things because no woman dared say "I count: my time and convenience matter as much as my kids' well-being so I will not sacrifice for them. Everyone, including me, counts as one, no one counts as more or less than one, and in case of a tie I come first."

Monday, October 10, 2005

Euthanasia: Me first--screw you!

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The whole debate between conservatives and liberals seems to be distilled as one of whether getting what one wants is what is most important. I think it is.

But that's precisely why I oppose euthanasia. I want to survive as long as possible and I don't care how much of a burden I am on anyone. It's my life and all that I have. I don't want to be bullied or manipulated into having myself put down. I just want to live as long as I can--that's it. Fuck everyone else--I want to live.

I don't want some crappy little legislative policy empowering my relatives to pull the plug on me. It isn't a matter of stupid rules vs. what people want. It's what people want vs. what their relatives, and the state, want. Fuck them.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Kurt Vonnegut interviewed on PBS


What a detestable old fart. Speaking as an anthropology MA he notes that we need "little gangs," clans and extended families. Very romantic--he obviously hasn't seen tribalism on the ground in North Jersey--or even watched The Sopranos.

Vonnegut is of course a Humanist and, in fact, the honorary president of the Humanist Society. But this doesn't stop him from quoting the Beatitudes and making the conventional sanctimonious noises about how it didn't matter that Jesus wasn't God because what mattered were the marvelous things he said. Of course Vonnegut is very selective, citing the Sermon on the Mount but not the crackpot apocalyptic ranting or puritanical moralism.

He finishes with a little story about the joys of going out to buy ONE envelope and, on the way, smelling the flowers--waving to people in the street, chatting with salespeople and shoppers in the stores, concluding that we were "born to fart around." Well this is nice when you're an 85 year old millionaire celebrity. So sorry but I hate farting around--crapping around with the business of life makes me miserable and I am sick of hearing sanctimonious old farts preach about the virtue of going with the flow and stopping to smell the flowers.

What a despicable, over-rated, self-satisfied, old fart--consecrated as a cultural icon because he succeed in distilling the adolescent cynicism of ten million over-privileged children 40 years ago.

Taking Turkey Personally

I've been following the Turkish bid to join the EU for years now, and taking it personally. I was nervous when I read that Austria opposed them and felt genuine relief and pure joy when there was an eleventh hour reprieve.

Modern Turkey surely is a state that played it right: under Ataturk it modernized, Westernized and secularized. The Arabic alphabet was out, Roman alphabet in; women were emancipated, veils were out and men's turbans as well. The aim was to be European.

If the EU had rejected Turkey it would have confirmed the worst fears of all cultural outsiders, in particular all Muslims, viz. that exclusion was inevitable: that no matter how acculturated a nation or individual became there would be no way to overcome "otherness"--and appearance. The message would have been clear: we don't care how committed you are to democracy and the values of the Enlightenment, how much you want to assimilate, how far you will go to adopt the values and policies of liberal European nations--we will not accept you because you are Other, and because we don't want lots of swarthy Mediterranean types with big mustaches and lots of body hair getting access to our countries.