Saturday, September 13

:: Losing the battle, and maybe the war

Today I read that our nasty little homegrown clero-fascists have grabbed mainstream headlines by putting both feet squarely on the new third rail of American politics:  racism.   See here for an article on some kind of dreadful anti-Obama novelty type item.  The article doesn't link to an image of the product itself, and I'm not providing one, because I don't intend to promote it through the back door ("you wouldn't believe this - click here now to see it!").

But the article itself reminds me of a question that is still, unfortunately, rhetorical - where was the "objective" mainstream media outrage over the "Hillary nutcrackers"?  They were sold in a big honking display at the CNBC store at National (Reagan) airport.  Maybe there were AP articles that declared them unambiguously sexist and implicitly immoral, but I don't remember seeing them.  This is the kind of item the press deems trivial and ignores, or describes as controversial, something that some people find offensive, or to which feminist groups object.  This article, while published in the not-MSM Huffington Post, is by a Chicago-based "editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer," and it captures the mealy-mouthed equivocating reaction in all its contextual glory: 
I'm still trying to figure out what to make of it -- feeling at once troubled that this is more cultural rollback, that it's OK (again, still) to mock the concept of women in power with quasi-sexual guffaws that mask deep male anger and fear, a la Tucker Carlson; yet at the same time swayed by the idea that this light-hearted product, while it has obvious appeal to Hillary haters, could also appeal to her supporters and to women in general because it conveys female empowerment, and in any case it's funny, and sometimes it's OK to just lighten up. 
My point has nothing to do with Sen. Obama per se.   My point is:  whatever else the current generation of feminists - and particularly the Third Wave feminists - have accomplished, the battle to diminish the cultural acceptability of sexism and misogyny is being lost.   Lighten up is not a successful strategy.  Lighten up is no strategy at all.

When I objected to the decidedly not-impressed employee at the airport store selling the nutcrackers, I was told "well, people are buying them."  When I subsequently tried to voice my outrage, I was flummoxed.  This wasn't about writing a Congressman, or calling for something to be banned, or calling for a boycott (which can backfire spectacularly). Writing comments on various blogs felt, at best, inconsequential.  There was no vehicle to do anything about this.  

The day will come when racist expression is vociferously and sincerely condemned in every corner of this country.  Norms have changed, and they continue to change.  Even the most entrenched stereotypes and assumptions can be uprooted.   In some ways, this is the kind of improvement that is the most meaningful, because it demonstrates that the way people think about race as a concept has evolved.

The dumbest response to this phenomenon would be to resent organized anti-racism interest groups (which include many, many feminists), the millions of individuals who have bravely spoken out on their own, or the beneficiaries of their efforts, such as Sen. Obama.  This is a success-in-progress that should be celebrated and emulated.

Feminists can make this happen with regard to sexist and misogynistic expression.  Around the world one can identify cultures where such expression is more common than in others.  Given that such differences exist, we know that at a minimum it is possible to move our culture along the spectrum, in the right direction.    

We must commit ourselves to an innovative and energetic campaign to change our culture.  The way things look now, we're not just losing a battle about sexism in this election - we're losing the whole damn war.  
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Sunday, September 7

:: Sarah Palin & Sex Education

As someone who spends much of her professional time working on policy issues surrounding sex education, I know how hard it is to find straight answers. 

Ever since Senator McCain announced his choice of Governor Palin, and especially since the fact of Governor Palin's imminent grandparenthood was revealed, we've heard over and over again about her support for abstinence-only sex education programs.  Much of the shaming and blaming has been justified by pointing to Palin's abstinence-only position.  To back up the charge that she supports abstinence-only, the shamers and blamers frequently referred to her answer to a questionnaire during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign in which she was asked whether she supported "explicit sex-ed programs."  Palin's written reply was, "Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support."

But the Los Angeles Times ran a story yesterday that makes this tale more complicated. Apparently, a few weeks after filling out the questionnaire.... August of that year, Palin was asked during a KTOO radio debate if "explicit" programs include those that discuss condoms.  Palin said no and called discussions of condoms "relatively benign."

"Explicit means explicit," she said. "No, I'm pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues. So I am not anti-contraception. But, yeah, abstinence is another alternative that should be discussed with kids. I don't have a problem with that. That doesn't scare me, so it's something I would support also."
I don't think I've actually heard her say anything recently that contradicts this - not that she would, since the conservative, pro-life part of the Republican base loves her, and to reaffirm this position now would be a slap in their collective face.  But it's important to remember that the facts people repeat because they "seem" true often aren't, and that the media loves telling the narrative that they want to tell, as Bob Somersby reminds us.

One important, verifiable fact that has been missing in action is that Alaska is not an abstinence-only state in terms of the one source of federal abstinence-only money that goes directly to the states, the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage grants. There are currently 25 states that are no longer participating in this program, including Alaska. 

Most of the states not participating in the abstinence-only-until-marriage grant program have decided not to do so because it conflicts with other public health priorities and because there has been little to no evidence to show that such programs are effective. That being said, it is possible that Alaska turned down the money for administrative reasons (according to the SIECUS state profile of Alaska, it looks like no one applied for the funds so the program ceased operating).  Or, possibly not applying for the money was their way of "opting-out."

There are other sources of federal abstinence-only money, including the Community Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program, and Alaska has one grantee that receives that funding. CBAE grantees can and often do provide programs in schools. Alaska doesn't have any laws that govern sex education and/or HIV/STD prevention in schools.

Sex education is an incredibly local issue so it's hard to say even from all of this what is taught in a specific school, except in those states that have very specific health curriculum standards.  But even the most detailed curriculum standards tend to be general enough to allow for variation from school to school. In fact, one of the biggest challenges faced by sex education advocates in states with good laws and/or good health education standards is that there is often no way to enforce the rules - it's hard to know what goes on in each school, and even if one can prove that a school is out of compliance, there are often no penalties in place.

All of which is to say that while I personally don't think it's at all relevant, we basically have no idea what kind of sex education Bristol Palin got at school or at home and whether her mother's public policies or familial sex education failed. As others have pointed out, she may have used contraception that failed, or she may have wanted to get pregnant. We simply don't know, and it's not fair to use the fact that her teenage daughter is pregnant to attack Sarah Palin's policy positions, which may not even be what so many liberals think they are. 

And what if it turns out that her high school had a comprehensive sex ed program? Would we be so quick to call that a failure?

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Friday, September 5

:: Friday humor

Lolcats - still funny after all these years.

See? Its not all fist-shaking and "get off my lawn" around here.

In related news, Cats rescued after apparently starting house fire. There is a serious lack of pet-accountability these days - take it from me, I know. Scientist-at-large and I have gold medals in Dog Bite ("recipient" catagory).

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Thursday, September 4

:: Right Back Atcha

I watched Governor Palin's speech last night. She rocked. I cannot believe this woman is not on our side. She was strong, smart, confident, funny, tough and likeable. There probably is not a single policy position of hers that I agree with.  But I was rooting for her when she told all the smarmy, sneering jackwipes to go scratch. I was rooting for her when she made them look like the scared little boys they are. 

And I was rooting for her when she handed Obama his ass.

Why can't she be one of ours?  Why does she have to be so conservative? Why, I ask you, why, Doggamit!

There aren't any poll numbers yet that reflect the speech; I don't think we'll see those until Sunday or Monday. But there is data from Nielsen:
More than 37.2 million people tuned in for coverage of the third night of the 2008 Republican National Convention, which featured Sarah Palin’s much anticipated national debut.

Wednesday night’s RNC broadcasts attracted just a 1.1 million fewer viewers than Barack Obama’s record-breaking speech on day four of the Democratic convention.

Coverage of day three of the GOP convention drew a large female audience (19.5 million) — 5.2 million more women than tuned in for day two of the Democratic convention, when Hillary Clinton addressed the delegates, and 6.9 million more women than watched Joe Biden accept the Democrats’ vice presidential nomination last Wednesday night.
I think that's the first evidence that the Dem leadership screwed up royally by unleashing the viciousness they let run rampant during the primary.  Here's where the brain trust went wrong:
  1. They drove interest in her speech sky high. Surely a good many of the viewers were like me, curious to see how she would do. I'd have been less curious if the Dems hadn't made such a spectacle of her.

  2. They set the bar for success ridiculously low. If the Dems had prepped the media and the public that Palin was a vicious attack dog and a formidable speaker, the response to her speech might have been "huh, she wasn't that big a deal." Instead the headlines were "Palin the Rising Star."

  3. They set themselves up to be seen as the sneering elitists they are.  They actually built with their own actions the paradigm of Ivy League Snob vs. Real America days before the Republicans went for it at their convention.  

  4. They revived the problem of Obama's lack of experience. They bought right into an Obama-Palin deathmatch, with McCain hovering above the fray.
Has the Dem leadership learned a lesson yet?  Are they going to get their shit together?  I don't think so.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - a guy who is supposed to be on our side - had his press guy make the following statement in response to last night's speech:
"Shrill and sarcastic political attacks may fire up the Republican base, but they don't change the fact that a McCain-Palin administration would mean four more years of failed Bush-Cheney policies."
Shrill.  Everybody gets the implications of that word.  So I guess this was Reid's way of signaling that Dems should be comfortable using low blows - because hey, she *deserves* it, right?  And sure enough, right in the first handful of comments, we see Our People having a good ol' hatefest:
- I guess the lady at the check out counter in Wal Mart should be groomed to run for Secretary of State…….. this is becoming pitiful and beyond a joke

- So how is this going to fix the domestic and international problems we face? She brings to the table NOTHING. Quite pathetic.

- I don't think Senator Reid should dignify this parasite by responding to her laughable attacks.
Over at the Democratic Strategist, some people are doing their bit to keep the Democrats in the gutter:
But the bigger question is whether Sarah Palin herself, in her acceptance speech tonight, does some tastefully delivered whining of her own. To put it another way, does she cast herself as Everywoman--a highly sympathetic "hockey mom" who's being beat up on by elitist Democrats and media figures--or as Superwoman--a highly acccomplished executive whose slim resume disguises a deep knowledge of public affairs and a demonstrated commitment to "reform?"
That's right, she's just whining. Cause that's what women do, whine whine whine.  They don't have serious concerns, real concerns, like men do.  

[Seriously, how does "whining" fit into the "Everywoman / Superwoman" dichotomy?  Being a hockey mom is whining? Or being an executive is whining? Or perhaps its RWF (Running While Female) that constitutes whining?]

Of course there have been plenty of completely inappropiate charges hurled around the media - that Palin can't be a good mother and run for high office, that she should be too scandalized by having a pregnant daughter to even think of joining the ticket, and that she's a bad person because of her own reproductive choices. Not to mention the characterization of an elected Governor as a "joke" and a "stewardess" (Bill Maher). And of course, according to Senator Reid, she's "shrill."

These are serious matters to women who want to succeed in politics and other spheres. Responding to them isn't "whining," regardless of whether the target is a Republican or a Democrat. It is important to address the use of stereotypes, constrictive gender roles and shaming as political tools against a female candidate. The deployment of stereotypes - even against an "enemy" - reinforces their validity and normalizes their use.  Words like "shrill" or "bimbo" or "beauty queen" don't just criticize an opponent for being harshly negative, unintelligent or lacking in substance.  They invoke the opponent's gender, making gender a part of the problem.   If someone wants to say that Governor Palin is inexperienced or too negative, so be it.  But calling her a "bimbo" or "shrill" is like saying the problem is that she's an inexperienced woman, or a harshly negative woman.  

Gender equality is supposed to be a core Democratic value. But you won't see this kind of essay at the Democratic Strategist.   It is a terrible thing to hear slimemasters like Giuliani scoring points on this issue.  Because he wouldn't have the opportunity to score those points if the Democrats would have just stood up for women in the first place.  Reid and Dean and the Obamabots created the opportunity that Giuliani et al are now exploiting.

Who will save the Democrats from themselves?  I don't have the slightest idea.

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    Wednesday, September 3

    :: This didn't have to happen

    Oh, goody.

    G.O.P. Women Call Palin Criticism ‘Sexist’

    Rosario Marin, a former United States treasurer, said she was “absolutely incensed, offended, insulted” that stories had addressed Ms. Palin’s infant son, Trig, and his Down Syndrome, suggesting, she said, that someone with a child with special needs should not seek the vice presidency. “Shame on them,” she said of the media’s portrait of Ms. Palin.

    “Who better than her to understand the challenges we have as career women trying to balance career and family?” said Ms. Marin, who said she, too, was the parent of a child (now grown) with Down Syndrome. “They would never dare to say that about a man.”
    Huckabee has a statement calling the criticism of Palin's family sexist. Huckabee. has. the. moral. highground. This should never, never have happened. And it wouldn't have happened if the Dean-Reid-Pelosi Democrats hadn't handed the Republicans this issue on a silver platter. If they hadn't already tacitly sanctioned sexism as a campaign tactic.
    "Let me be as clear as possible. I think people's families are off-limits, and people's children are especially off-limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin's performance as governor or her potential performance as a vice president...How a family deals with issues and teenage children, that shouldn't be the topic of our politics, and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that's off-limits." Senator Obama, September 1, 2009
    The party is lucky Obama did the right thing, quickly and unequivocally. But I am left wondering how I'd feel about this election if Obama had made this statement not just about the unfair attacks on Governor Palin, but about the misogyny hurled at Senator Clinton. If Obama had said - and released a statement to reinforce - that criticizing or mocking Senator Clinton because of her ostensibly "shrill" voice, her appearance, her status as the wife of a former President and other gender-related characteristics were every bit as off-limits as racially-based insults, I wouldn't feel so dismissive of his campaign rhetoric.
    "Let me be as clear as possible. I think gender-based insults are off-limits, and someone's marriage is especially off-limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Senator Clinton's performance as Senator of New York, her performance as First Lady, or her potential performance as a president... Comments about a woman's physical characteristics or how she deals with issues in her family, that shouldn't be the topic of our politics, and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that's off-limits."
    It was a simple thing, really, that he needed to do. Make the statement he made about attacks on Governor Palin, but on the topic of gender-based insults and slurs of Senator Clinton. Right after New Hampshire would have been a good time to do it. Read more!

    Tuesday, September 2

    :: Let's Start the Week Ranting

    “The media is already trying to spin this as evidence that Governor Palin is a hypocrite,” said James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. “But all it really means is that she and her family are human.”
    Yes, compared to some of the people on "our" side, James-fucking-Dobson sounds like a reasonable man.  That is a very sorry, how-low-can-you-go, state of affairs.

    I recently posted the following comment at Shakesville; now I am sharing my wealth of insights here. For what its worth, etc.

    No doubt the GOP is quivering in anticipation of the moment when Governor Palin can look Joe Biden in the eye and say "As we all know my daughter Bristol is expecting my first grandchild. I've seen my grandson's (granddaughter's) sonogram and listened to his (her) tiny heartbeat. There is no way you can tell me, as a mother and grandmother, that my grandbaby isn't a human life worthy of protection." And watch Biden (or Obama) scramble to try to define late term / "partial birth' abortion etc. Either or both of them will fold like.... well, folding chairs, or something.

    And I'm sure they are looking forward to "Troopergate" vs. Rezko. The investigation into Palin's cop former brother-in-law began before Palin started her gubernatorial campaign and was based on legitimate (and legitmated) complaints. Even if its found that Palin did replace Alaska's top public safety guy because she was unhappy that the ex-brother in law was still on the force, given the ex-brother-in-law's record of drunk driving, drinking beer in his patrol car, threatening to kill his father-in-law if his wife hired a divorce lawyer, tasering his 11 year old stepson, and a few other things found to be true by the internal police investigation, Palin's concerns hardly seem outrageous. Nor does this sound all that troubling compared to vouching for and benefitting from Rezko. If I had to pick a scandal for my candidate to have, I'd take "why is this rogue cop still on the force" over "love me, love my slumlord" in a heartbeat, and I'd welcome the comparison. "Troopergate" makes Rezko a relevant topic of conversation again.

    And as for experience - same thing. Who can honestly say that a guy who spent eight years pushing the yes, no or present button in a part-time state legislature plus half a term in the U.S. Senate, a man with no foreign policy experience, is a serious pick to be president of the united states? But here we are. If I were McCain's camp, I would welcome every opportunity to bring this up over and over again, even if it knocked down my VP candidate a bit. It's a net plus.

    Choosing Palin is an open opportunity for the Dems to expose themselves as elitist, sneering, superficial, anti-family, anti-Christian, anti-ordinary folks, holier-than-thou moralists. The gamble McCain is taking is that this negative impression of the Democrats will be more potent than the hit he takes from the media for the crime of naming a female - and thus superficial and ridiculous - person to the ticket.

    McCain is running with the "I'm more like you ordinary voters; you and me, we think alike; I respect and will represent your values; and just who do these highfalutin' Democrats think they are anyway" narrative against the Democrats "we're right on the issues, and we're smarter and better and younger" narrative. And when you're not smarter or better, or right on the issues, that's a very good approach to take.

    To wrap it up - Palin makes lack-of-experience, scandal, and liberal snobbery "newsworthy" topics of conversation, since its the Democrats who are raising / walking into these issues.

    THEN I read this post at Anglachel's Journal :
    At this point in the election, there are only two issues that matter. One is the Republican ticket and how that will affect Republican turn out. The other is the disaffection of the Democratic base....McCain correctly identified his electoral weaknesses (loss of image as outsider, growth of image that he is not a mover and shaker, belief that he is not sufficiently conservative) and has located a running mate who helps him shore up issues without detracting from him. He has reasserted the maverick brand, positioned himself as a change agent, and has neutralized most of his hard-right defection threat. What Democrats need to understand is the VP selection was all about McCain and the problems he was having creating the right image and was not about policy, credentials, or filling an office. Our Republican friends are ecstatic about the selection of Palin because it fixes their problems with McCain. They now have a positive reason to vote for their ticket..."

    "What too many on the Left see as Palin's weaknesses will not, repeat, NOT be seen that way by her base. For example, there is an article today in the NYT by Kit Seelye about Bristol Palin's pregnancy. The headline screams "Palin’s Teen Daughter Is Pregnant; New G.O.P. Tumult," but the text of the article shows one Republican after another saying some variation on "Stuff like that happens. I wish the family the best." No tumult at all. Kind of like the Pope approving of Madonna's song "Papa Don't Preach." Also, absolutely do not under any circumstances breathe that Gov. Palin should have to produce medical records related to her reproductive history. Quite aside from that being a HIPAA violation, it is what the Republicans want the power to do, so do not damage your own privacy interests.

    Attacking Palin on personal integrity grounds, as was done to Hillary, will boomerang into increased conservative support because you are outsiders attacking one of the tribe and they will come to her defense. The experience issue is a non-starter. McCain has already abandoned that as a significant argument and it is now the Democrats who keep the meme alive. No one who intends to vote for Palin cares about the "experience" argument and it allows the Republicans to shoot back "But what about Obama?"
    About the Democratic base, she writes:
    "...The DNC and the Obama campaign denigrated and dismissed the preferred candidate of more than half the party, using misogyny and false accusations of racism and giving the CDS-afflicted media carte blanche to act out its worst impulses. When the candidate refused to be intimidated out of the race, the smears were aimed at her supporters. These smears continue to this day. These two lines of attack, one aimed at the voters, the other attributed to them, have inflicted damage that the Obamacan faction will not take responsibility for, let alone move to fix."
    I don't know what "CDS-afflicted media" means, but I'm pretty sure its not good.  (Constitutional Defiance Syndrome? Consistently Deficient Syndrome? Compulsive Dentistry Syndrome?) 

    What Anglachel wrote is really good, much better than what I wrote, and there's more to it than what I pasted here so go read it. You'll be edificationalized, I guarantee it.

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