Friday, December 28

:: How Ignorant Is He?

Mike Huckabee is so ignorant there may be no need
for the writer's strike to end.
I just want to make sure you see all of Mike Huckabee's evolving responses to the Bhutto assassination. I laughed really, really hard. I think you will too. The New York Times has a decent summary:

Explaining statements he made suggesting that the instability in Pakistan should remind Americans to tighten security on the southern border of the United States, Mr. Huckabee said Friday that “we have more Pakistani illegals coming across our border than all other nationalities, except those immediately south of the border.”

Asked to justify the statement, he later cited a March 2006 article in The Denver Post reporting that from 2002 to 2005, Pakistanis were the most numerous non-Latin Americans caught entering the United States illegally. According to The Post, 660 Pakistanis were detained in that period.

A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security, however, concluded that, over all, illegal immigrants from the Philippines, India, Korea, China and Vietnam were all far more numerous than those from Pakistan.

In a separate interview on Friday on MSNBC, Mr. Huckabee, a Republican, said that the Pakistani government “does not have enough control of those eastern borders near Afghanistan to be able go after the terrorists.” Those borders are on the western side of Pakistan, not the eastern side.

Further, he offered an Orlando crowd his “apologies for what has happened in Pakistan.” His aides said later that he meant to say “sympathies.”

He also said he was worried about martial law “continuing” in Pakistan, although Mr. Musharraf lifted the state of emergency on Dec. 15. Mr. Huckabee later said that he was referring to a renewal of full martial law and said that some elements, including restrictions on judges and the news media, had continued.

Mr. Huckabee’s comments on the situation in Pakistan were not the first time he has been caught unprepared on foreign policy matters. Early this month, after the release of a National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Mr. Huckabee said that he was not familiar with the report, even though it had been widely reported in the news for more than 30 hours.

Read more!

Thursday, December 27

:: Juno

So have any of you seen Juno yet? I'm dying to discuss it with some like-minded souls. I went to see it with my mother, which was interesting in itself. And then my father said later on that he hadn't wanted to see it because he didn't like the premise, i.e. a pregnant 16-year-old. To which I responded that there are about 750,000 teen pregnancies each year in the U.S. so it's not like one movie makes that more or less a reality. (This also seems strange seeing as I work on precisely this issue, but I guess it's okay because I work on the prevention aspect, and of course, prevention always works...)

I don't have to go on about the fact that there are barely any pop culture examples where women actually make the choice to have an abortion. And while I will give the movie props for the fact that she at least goes to an abortion clinic, it was not a great portrayal. (Plus, to be technical, the movie takes place in Minnesota, and they make reference to having to involve your parents at one clinic but not another, which doesn't make sense unless she's going to another state without a parental notification law like Minnesota has. Also, Minnesota has a 24-hour waiting period law, and they make it seem like she just went to the clinic and could have had the abortion immediately and been on her way, and it wouldn't have been that easy.) Even without all the technicalities, they did make it seem like you can just pop in for an abortion after school and be home for dinner, and it is a little bit more complicated than that. I could almost understand if you were a concerned state legislator watching this that you would think there need to be some more procedures in place to make sure women are making informed choices when she barely got past the waiting room. That being said, I also could see how being 16 and alone in that waiting room might be enough to make you decide against the whole thing without having had any more information than she had at that moment. And as my mother said, she did make her own choice even if she didn't have all the information and support that I wish she would have had.

Overall, though, the movie did a good job at showing why adoption is not the be all and end all solution to the problem of unintended teen pregnancies - it's complicated and messy and has lots of unintended consequences that spill out all over the place in ways that 16-year-olds can't foresee. And the movie does a great job of portraying that messiness. I won't give away too much of the plot, but I also felt an enormous amount of empathy for the prospective adoptive couple and how much they were so dependent on the whims of this 16-year-old to give them the thing they want most of all because of their inability to conceive on their own. But they are also lucky because they have the resources to actually be able to do something about their situation. (I am forever haunted by this story I read in the Washington Post magazine several years ago about infertile couples who don't have the resources to invest in adoption and infertility treatments and how few options are available to them for having children, although I guess becoming a foster parent is always one option.)

In the end, reproduction can be quite complicated when it doesn't take place within certain boundaries, and the movie portrays the messiness and complexity quite well. While I may quibble with certain parts of the movie, this larger point remains true. And it's definitely thought-provoking - I've been thinking about it for hours, and I hope it's generating discussion among people seeing it about some issues that often times people would rather not discuss. But we love to discuss thing so I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've seen it. And if you haven't, I recommend it because I want to talk about it with someone... Read more!

Saturday, December 22

:: Girl Power

Why we say women don't vote -
and why we may not want to talk about it

There is another great post by Margie Omero at
“Why Women (Are Assumed to) Fail to Vote" looks back at a number of media stories that claim (a) women are less likely to vote than men, and (b) the reason they vote less is gender-specific.

Of course we know by now that women are more likely to vote than men, and that this gap increases in each subsequent presidential election - a fact that makes me do a happy dance if I think no one is watching.

Omero doesn’t suggest reasons why the media likes this storyline, and writes “It's unclear to me why it helps women to suggest they are uniquely challenged by voting.” I have great respect for her restraint: a less scrupulous writer could have indulged in any number of unfounded hypotheses.

I, however, am a stranger to concepts like restraint and scruples, and thus will offer a hypothesis of my own. (And sorry, Buffy, Ladybec, and Zippy - I'm going to give the drawn-out version of a story you know quite well, just in case someone other than us four are paying attention. Unlikely, I know, but possible).

We all know that there are 501(c)(3) organizations and foundations with charitable, social missions who see, clear as day, that the lions-share of Republican elected officials hurt the most vulnerable members of society. They spend a lot of their resources trying to mend the damage caused by the GOP after the fact. Obviously they know that it is ethically preferable as well as more efficient to prevent the damage from occurring in the first place – and the most expedient way to do that is to prevent these sociopaths from being elected in the first place.

However, we also know that partisan electoral involvement is proscribed for 501(c)(3)s and foundations. This leaves a lot of caring, thinking people with a conundrum: they are charged with improving the lives of the most vulnerable, but prevented by law from using one of the most expedient strategies to do so.

What to do? Well, 501(c)(3)s and foundations are permitted to engage in a very, very limited range of election related activities designed to increase voter participation. Encouraging the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups such as minorities and women fits within those parameters.

We also know that minority and women voters tend to oppose candidates who model themselves after the God of the Old Testament. But you don’t need to say that. Instead, you just need to make the case that women are under-performing and that it’s in the general social interest to promote the engagement of this traditionally disenfranchised group in the political process. Thus, the impetus is created for the storyline that women don’t vote as often as men for a range of gender-specific reasons.

There. I've spilled the beans. Beans: everywhere.

Of course, when it comes to media coverage, this storyline depends on the reporter’s perception that women lag behind men in all things – education, income, and so on. The reality is changing, but not all of us are keeping up. Some of us have lost the thread.

My question is: do we want reporters who easily lose the thread when it comes to gender filing more stories on women voters – or are we better off just keeping on keeping on, until the day comes when America wakes up to find that women hold more top leadership positions, earn more and are better educated than men? I mean, do we really want to tip our hand this soon?

I jest, of course. Really, I just don’t want to read any more Robin Givhan-esque style-section pieces on the new woman voter. I don’t want to hear any more Chris Matthews tirades about which candidate women should be voting for. And I sure has hell don’t want to hear about any more cocktail / yoga / Pilates parties designed to lure giggly gals into the twisted labyrinth known as voter education. Please, anything but that. Read more!

Tuesday, December 18

:: I Don't <3 Huckabee

I just don't feel I can point out often enough what a yahoo Huckabee is. But today, the lovely and talented Ann Telnaes did my job for me!

And please, can someone please explain and real, substantive difference between Hilary and Obama, besides style? Anyone? Buffy?

P.S. You are not allowed to use universal (or nearly) health care as an example. Read more!

:: Damnation Through Praise

As a fervent Hillary supporter, my heart sunk when I saw the title of David Brooks' New York Times column this morning: The Obama-Clinton Issue. God, no, I thought. I am just not equipped to handle a Brooks pro-Hillary column.

Luckily I could breathe a sigh of relief - the column is actually pro-Obama. But just as I feared would be the case for Hillary, Brooks' words are a classic example of the "with friends like these" principle. While I think Obama's campaign rhetoric leaves him open to this kind of, um, love letter, this is too much - the campaign version of cruel-and-unusual punishment.

Brooks praises Obama for his consistent, pensive, docile demeanor:

But Obama does not ratchet up hostilities; he restrains them. He does not lash out at perceived enemies, but is aloof from them… This is a worldview that detests anger as a motivating force, that distrusts easy dichotomies between the parties of good and evil, believing instead that the crucial dichotomy runs between the good and bad within each individual.

Obama did not respond to his fatherlessness or his racial predicament with anger and rage, but as questions for investigation, conversation and synthesis. He approaches politics the same way. […] He pursues liberal ends in gradualist, temperamentally conservative ways.

Oy. Brooks, short version: I'm for Obama because he seems unlikely to push back hard against conservatives.

As usual, I don't agree. I think Obama would push back hard against a number of conservative demands. Whether or not he has the ability to do so effectively - and more effectively than any other candidate - is in question.

Brooks, a compulsive science-molester, adds a note of wackiness to the procedings with one of his weird analogies:

The presidency is a bacterium.

It finds the open wounds in the people who hold it. It infects them, and the resulting scandals infect the presidency and the country.

Okay, big guy. Keep hitting that 'nog.

Happily, the column ends with a short, simple sentence that makes sense of it all:
"Bob Herbert is off today."
Read more!

Monday, December 17

:: Lost and Found

Some recommended reading…
There are two fascinating items at about the preferences and performance of female voters. The first is “Anxious About ‘Single Anxious Women.’” Here’s the topic sentence:

It's almost official. Single women are poised to be the "Security Mom" or "Soccer mom" of the 2008 election. They even have their own easy to remember moniker: the "Single Anxious Female." At first blush, it seems like a good thing for women. A woman top-tier candidate, a focus on women's issues and women's voters - it must be a good thing, right?
It alludes to a stumper of a forced-choice question: do we want more coverage of women’s issues, knowing that the coverage will play to outrageous stereotypes – or, given the numbskull pundits we have to deal with, should we consider the less said, the better?

The second item is “The Gender Gap in Turnout is Likely to Widen.”
[With] women across marital status groups voting at a higher rate than men, this gender gap in turnout has existed for years, and is poised to widen further.
Not only does this article have charts, beautiful charts, but it is also the best news I’ve read in a long, long time.

These items bring me back to a much-discussed article in Salon called “So Long, White Boy.” It discusses the gender gap in a less rigorous way, but does articulate an interesting question: should the Democratic party give up on targeting white independent male voters? This topic is also discussed in "HuffPost Forum: Should the Dems Love White Guys, or Dump Them"

The idea, in sum, is that black male voters are solidly in the base; a good chunk of white male labor voters are in the base; white gay, jewish, enviro and/or committed progressive male voters are in the base – so does the party really need to waste time trying to persuade the remaining male voters (straight, white, Christian or atheist men for whom progressive issues are not salient)?

I think of these guys as Howard Stern voters. They are conceivably, and temptingly, persuadable. They self-identify as rebels, iconoclasts, mavericks or libertarians, though they think "civil liberties" boils down to their right to gamble, listen to Howard Stern and consume as much porn as they can manage. They hate conservative evangelical candidates, for the evangelicals are the enemy of gambling and Howard Stern and porn. And the enemy of our enemy is our friend, no?

No. For one thing, they love macho foreign policy and posturing in general (Dennis Miller and Bill Maher are their patron saints; Rudy would be their ideal candidate if not for that Times Square thing) and they will never let go of the notion that the GOP is the party of kicking ass and taking names. The Dems could distance themselves from "mommy" issues, keep feminists and gays at arm's length, bray about the rich screwing the working man and stomp their feet about being pro-gun and pro-NASCAR all they want, but these guys will always see the Dems as the catcher to the GOP's pitcher.
Besides, theirs is the politics of selfishness, and it is fundamentally incompatible with the New Deal / Great Society spirit that animates the Democratic party’s progressive agenda. We’re much better off trying to persuade an ever-larger share of female independent and Republican voters with choice, health care and the environment– a goal that can be accomplished without stooping to the buffoonery of macho chickenhawks who live in a cocoon padded by sports, misogyny and sycophantic media.

Moving right along, the National Conference of State Legislators devotes a section of its website to the analysis of electoral system issues, including proposals to move to a national popular vote, districting reform, the initiative process (with database of initiatives by state) and so on. Talk about feeling like a kid in a candy shop.

A very interesting article in the LA Times captures the complexity of the debate surrounding the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and TB and GAVI. It has the unfortunate title “The Unintended Victims of Gates’ Generosity”but don’t let that stop you. It’s filled with interesting facts related to evidence-based benchmarking of success, the interconnectedness of causes of mortality, and the pros and cons of different types of aid. One interesting quote:
Pregnancy-related deaths often have been the highest in nations where most aid has gone to treat AIDS, TB and malaria, said Dr. Francis Omaswa, special advisor for human resources at the WHO. "People find it easier to talk about AIDS, about malaria."
To end on a positive note, this is from National Journal's Hotline "On Call" blog:
Hillary Clinton took to the streets of Manchester Saturday,seeking to seal the deal with some local voters during the last weekend before the holiday season. She found a mostly supportive group of voters, as well as a few rambunctious canines.

En route between homes, Clinton stopped to greet the Roukey family, who was enjoying a walk with their brand new dog, Samantha. "I get to meet Samantha on the very first day!" Clinton said as the excited pooch jumped up to greet her.

"Samantha, I will be a good president for dogs," she told the animal.

Read more!

Thursday, December 13

:: Former Head of Feminist Organization Admits Life is More Important Than Privacy

Why, people?
Why must we offer bad soundbites like so much leftover Halloween candy?

"Let's face it: Weigh the moral scales of privacy against life and there is no contest."

Well, read the column. Yes, the human rights argument is valuable and effective elsewhere around the world. Unfortunately the last time Americans cared about "human rights" as defined by international norms was... was... when was that, exactly? Last time I checked, we're still the country happy to take a long, leisurely piss on the Geneva Convention if Jack Bauer thinks its a good idea. Besides, you get into "whose human rights?" and all that.

The next person who knocks privacy (aka "the right for you to keep your goddamn hands to yourself") and Roe in my presence is going to get a special knock of their own.

Just sayin'. Read more!

:: "Someone" is Frustrated...

"Someone" sent us an unapproved phone script, hot off the campaign press.

Hi may I please speak with______?

Hello! This is ["Someone"]. I am calling on behalf of [Candidate X]. How are you doing this evening?


Have you decided who you are supporting in the presidential primary?

Still “undecided”?


Have there not been enough TV and radio ads, phone calls, mail and debates for you?

Is there a certain issue of concern to you? “None in particular”? Really? Are you totally apathetic?


Will you be voting for the last name you hear before walking into the room?

I see!

What would it take to make you decide right now?

Money? A gun?

I am taking away your voter registration.

You can not be trusted to use it wisely.

Thank you and have a good evening.


I think someone needs to send "Someone" a care package....

Read more!

Tuesday, December 11

:: There's Conservative, and Then There's Just Plain Dumb, and Then There is Evil - and Sometimes All Three"

Zippy’s post below "There’s conservative, and then there’s just plain dumb" describes Mike Huckabees weird-ass answer to a softball question about the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and TB.

[And really, who doesn’t support the Global Fund? No one, that’s who. The Global Fund has so much support that they're richer than many countries; hell, they're probably richer than Jesus. Of course you say you support the Global Fund, you nitwit, and then talk about the great work they are doing to prevent malaria and tuberculosis. Or you say you support the Global Fund, and add something about how America needs to use its moral influence to ensure their policies don’t do harm along with good. For the love of Rhoda, is it that hard?]

Not surprisingly, I had what you might call “a reaction” of my own to the news about Huckabee. It seems that not only did he support quarantines back in the day --
he continues to support them now. (Yes. Still. Now. I’m not making this up. To paraphrase the best line in Blair Witch Project– I’m not that fucking creative.) That Huckabee doesn't do the obvious thing and say "yeah, changed my mind about the whole quarantine thing - a bit too Castro, IMHO" is really just so fucking typical of these people. (And by “these people” I mean our homegrown corn-fed proto-fascists).

Huckabee refuses to recant his position, but has indicated he would like to lie about it now.

As a Senate candidate in 1992, Huckabee told the AP in a questionnaire that "we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague" if the federal government was going to deal with the spread of the disease effectively. "It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents," he said then.

In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Huckabee denied that those words were a call to quarantine the AIDS population, although he did not explain how else isolation would be achieved. "I didn't say we should quarantine," he said. The idea was not to "lock people up."

Huckabee acknowledged the prevailing scientific view then, and since, that the virus that causes AIDS is not spread through casual contact, but said that was not certain.

"I still believe this today," Huckabee said Sunday, that "we were acting more out of political correctness" in responding to the AIDS crisis. "I don't run from it, I don't recant it," he said of his position in 1992. Yet he said he would state his view differently in retrospect.

Huckabee also stated in 1992 that HIV/AIDS research was receiving too much federal funding.

Now, even the most obtuse moral relativist – someone who would just as soon see male hairdressers and florists burnt at the stake so long as it was approved by a local majority vote - could see how Huckabee’s ideological take on this issue ran counter to our interest in public health. If a quarantine were justified because AIDS, like “plague,” could be spread by casual contact, thereby causing mass fatalities – wouldn’t you want to spend more on research, not less? I mean, who says we have an epidemic of deadly plague sweeping through America’s cities, and we’re spending way too much on stopping it”? That is not a rhetorical question, by the way. For real – you only say that if you have no problem with the impact of the plague on the afflicted population. Or if you are a moron. Or if you are a complete sociopath.

From the sound of things, Huckabee may well be all three. So I guess that’s my answer to your question, Zippy.

The Washington Post has a good editorial about Huck and the plague, thereby illustrating the “broken clock is right twice a day” principle. Shockingly, its worth a read.

My prediction – which I shared with Scientist-at-Large before I saw this article, thank you very much –is Huckabee will meet with Ryan White's mom for a mushy photo op and it will be "no harm, no foul" according to the MSM. (And if Mom White says something negative about Huck, or refuses to meet with him at all, watch for the obligatory “Cindy Sheehan” hatchet job). Meanwhile the base will get the message, sub rosa, that should the opportunity arise he’ll be first in line to stick it to the homos.

Read more!

:: There's conservative, and then there's just plain dumb

This is priceless. In a house stop in New Hampshire, Mike Huckabee is asked whether is "Christian beliefs" would keep him from supporting prevention programs advocated by the Global AIDS Fund. While he never actually says no, he does spend a great deal of time talking about how asking someone who is HIV+ to have safer sex is like asking someone to drive not as drunk as they would otherwise. Or to please not be quite so violent with their partners.

Well, gosh, that sure cleared it up for me.

Our friends at Pandagon and Pam's House Blend had fun with Huckabee's '92 statement that AIDS patients should be quarantined. I was willing to knock that up to being an ignorant redneck -- I mean, we were already well into the epidemic, but frankly, a lot of poor Southern states were totally behind the ball then and now.

And it's not like I was cheering for Huckabee either -- sure, he's a charming, rock-music-loving Baptist preacher man, but I'm pretty sure he's well convinced that I'm going to hell for any number of factors of my lifestyle (the drinking, the sex, the belief in a woman's autonomy).

But now I'm quite quite he's truly evil. Let's sum up, shall we?

Oh, and he's willing to admit evolution into the classroom as "the prevailing scientific theory" but he thinks students should be exposed to others.


So tell me, do any of the other Republican candidates rival this one for the Ignorant Redneck award? Read more!

Wednesday, December 5

:: Ladies, This Is Serious

The New York Times' John Tierney has gone too far.
We know people: let's get them to contact the Times.

Long story short - John Tierney, now posting in the New York Times' science section since he was demoted from the op-ed page, has written a lot of stupid things. But the latest drives right past stupid all the way to evil.

Tierney has posted TWO items defending "female circumcision."

I really didn't think such a thing would be possible in the New York Times, but yes, Tierney has twice devoted his column space to defending "female circumcision" (according to Tierney, "female genital mutilation" is a deliberately inflammatory term dreamed up by radical feminists to "subvert debate").

I'll give you the details in a moment. But first - my point. We know people. These people need to write the New York Times to (1) set the record straight, and (2) ask them what the fuck they're thinking allowing this sort of trash into print.

Now, the details: Tierney's first post appeared on November 30. He called it "A New Debate on Female Circumcision." [I know; don't even get me started with the "new."] It begins:
"Should African women be allowed to engage in the practice sometimes called female circumcision? Are critics of this practice, who call it female genital mutilation, justified in trying to outlaw it, or are they guilty of ignorance and cultural imperialism?"
The impetus for Tierney's post was a panel discussion held at the American Anthopological Society's annual meeting. Tierney approvingly cites one panelist, who is described thusly:
"Dr. Ahmadu, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, was raised in America and then went back to Sierra Leone as an adult to undergo the procedure along with fellow members of the Kono ethnic group. She has argued that the critics of the procedure exaggerate the medical dangers, misunderstand the effect on sexual pleasure, and mistakenly view the removal of parts of the clitoris as a practice that oppresses women. She has lamented that her Westernized 'feminist sisters insist on denying us this critical aspect of becoming a woman in accordance with our unique and powerful cultural heritage.'"
He also quotes some freakshow, Richard Shweder, from the University of Chicago:
"Dr. Shweder says that many Westerners trying to impose a “zero tolerance” policy don’t realize that these initiation rites are generally controlled not by men but by women who believe it is a cosmetic procedure with aesthetic benefits. He criticizes Americans and Europeans for outlawing it at the same they endorse their own forms of genital modification, like the circumcision of boys or the cosmetic surgery for women called “vaginal rejuvenation.” After surveying studies of female circumcision and comparing the data with the rhetoric about its harmfulness, Dr. Shweder concludes that '‘First World’ feminist issues and political correctness and activism have triumphed over the critical assessment of evidence.'"
Oh yes, Richard, please tell us ignorant, hysterical feminists the truth about this minor cosmetic procedure. [I can't wait to look up what else this creep has written].

Tierney concludes with the following:
"If I were asked to make a decision about my own daughter, I wouldn’t choose circumcision for her. But what about the question raised by these anthropologists: Should outsiders be telling African women what initiation practices are acceptable?"
I'm going to keep my critique to a minimum. Beyond the horrible misogyny (I'm not even going to start) there's the horrible racism: Tierney never mentions the African and Arab women and men who oppose FGM, and frames the question as whether the "enlightened" west should be telling the "ignorant savages" what to do.

Then, to my utter disgust and amazement, Tierney excreted a second post on the topic. "'Circumcision' or 'Mutilation'? And Other Questions About a Rite in Africa" appeared today. Tierney makes like he's going to address the critics of his previous post, then pulls a bait and switch and repeats the same argument he made before, but with more detail.

Here's the gist of it:
"My conclusion... is that the harmful practice claim has been highly exaggerated and that many of the representations in the advocacy literature and the popular press are nearly as fanciful as they are nightmarish. A close and critical reading of the much publicized 2006 Lancet publication of the “WHO Study Group on Female Genital Mutilation,” which received widespread, immediate and sensationalize coverage in the press because of its purported claims about infant and maternal mortality during the hospital birth process, suggests to me that again there is not very much to write home about." [....]

"The best evidence available at the moment suggests to me that the anthropologist Robert Edgerton basically had it right when he wrote about the Kenyan practice in the 1920s and 1930s as a crucible in which it is not just the courage of males but also the courage of females that gets tested: “…most girls bore it bravely and few suffered serious infection or injury as a result. Circumcised women did not lose their ability to enjoy sexual relations, nor was their child-bearing capacity diminished. Nevertheless the practice offended Christian sensibilities”. As Charles put it in his comment: 'Personal revulsion is not a good basis for making general policy.'"
In case you didn't catch that - Tierney is saying that (1) FGM is really not that bad, and (2) we shouldn't oppose it. While this "initiation rite" may offend our delicate sensibilities, its not our place to question a practice that most African girls think is just hunky dory.

Along the way, in neither post does Tierney mention that "female genital mutilation" is the term used by the World Health Organization and the United Nations overall; that a number of African countries already outlaw FGM; that FGM, as a custom, has nothing to do with Islam; that there are strong indigenous movements against FGM; and that there are plenty of facts available from experts working at reputable international agencies.

I know I'm repeating myself, but I really can't believe that we're so uncivilized that the most prestigious newspaper in the country will actually publish a "debate" over whether or not one should oppose the partial or complete amputation of little girls' genitals. Is there anything a person can't say about women? Are there no depths to which we can't sink?

I am so sick of this. Read more!

:: Famous Last Words

This evening, with no sense of irony whatsoever, the Lurking Canary's Scientist-at-Large sent the following e-mail from his laboratory:

"BTW, I probably won't be home before 8. I've run into something that's probably important and very puzzling."


It's like he's never been to the movies. Well, when you get the call to evacuate, just remember you heard it here first. Read more!

Thursday, November 15

:: Word Up

The Center for American Progress has launched a new series of ads "branding" progressive values. I have to say, I love it. Amen, brothers and sisters. They took the most basic progressive values (health, safety, civil rights, a clean environment), and branded them in contrast to conservatives who just want to lower taxes. This (if I've gotten it to work) is my favorite, but you can see them all here.

Read more!

Thursday, November 1

:: Come Out Of the Closet, My Friend AV

A little bird told me that somebody doesn't post here because she supports Obama and.... and.... and what? Does she think she is going to get bit or something?

I have news for you, ladies. If I had the supernatural powers to send lightning bolts to strike people down from a distance I wouldn't be the frustrated, cranky individual I am today. Not only that but there would a lot more crispy people in the world than there are now. I mean seriously, what do you think is going to happen? Sadly, my ability to wreak havoc from a distance is limited. My budget is just too small for that sort of thing.

The Canary sings, not stifles!

Really, people. I'm surprised at you. Read more!

Wednesday, October 31

:: Halloween Scrooge

I'm sorry, but I just can't get into it. I admit it to you now in our secret space: I hate Halloween. Not for others, mind you. Just for me. It brings back years of feelings of inadequacy; I could never come up with a decent costume, and while I had friends whose mothers were hand making their lovely frog costume, with fins and sequins and felt and chicken wire, my mom was rushing home from work to dig through her closet in the desperate hope of finding something that we could cobble together a costume with. Or we were to late to get our costumes from People's drug store, so there I was wearing a Wonder Woman suit with a Super Man mask. Or she was late home from work to take us tricker treating so we missed the crowds of kids on the street.

Not that it's entirely my mother's fault. Ok, maybe this is. Mostly. She has many many fine qualities and I love her dearly. She is one of the nicest people you will ever ever meet. And she throws a great party. But Halloween (like braiding hair) was not one of her fortes.

So there. Now you know. I'm going to throw on a little outrageous makeup and go over to a friend's house and drink champagne. Because really, isn't that how you should mark all holidays? Read more!

Sunday, October 28

:: The Galileo Fallacy in Democratic Politics, Pt. I

Part I. Hero Worship and Persistent Hillaryphobia
Support for Obama in 2007 is like support for W in 1999: dependent on character judgment tied to a caricature of the opponent.

I was browsing Salon the other day and came across a column called “Clinton Goes After Obama on Iraq,” which I read as a prelude to getting at the comments. Throughout the pre-season season I’ve found the blog comments of Obama supporters fascinating.

I came to believe a while ago that there is a parallel between the language Obama supporters use to praise their candidate and the language used by Bush supporters in 1999 – language that we Democrats have derided ever since.

I’m talking about the “good man,” “our values,” "likable," “honest / principled / independent” tropes that dominate Obama praise and were widely used regarding W both before and long after he was elected. Looking back, we refer to this in shorthand as the “candidate I'd like to have a beer with” thing, but its more or less the same. This is a good man. I like him. I agree with what he is saying. I don’t just believe him, I believe in him. I know in my heart/gut that he's not like the other, "typical" politicians. And this is more important than any promise, or track record or any portfolio of experience.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with this approach. I also think that Obama most likely is a good man, whereas W is not. But I do marvel that people don’t see the parallel – and all the more so because the characterization of Obama’s main opponent, Clinton, so closely mirrors that of Gore circa 1999.

Forget the real Gore we know now – the good, honest man; the principled leader; the uber-rationalist and Nobel prize winner. Back then we “knew” he was cold, dry, boring. Programmed like a computer to spit out facts without feeling. A typical corrupt, greedy politician – remember the Buddhist temple “scandal"? A man without a genuine personality – remember the earth tones? A liar – remember love story? Inventing the internet? A consummate insider expecting to glide into office on the nepotism of the Clinton administration and his political family. A DLC “new Democrat” who would be as bad for the left as any Republican. Back then progressive Dems thought Bill Bradley was the authentic, good man whose support was based not in any extraordinary accomplishments but by dint of his virtuous personality.

This all sounds a hell of a lot like what Obama supporters (and the Edwards crowd, and a fair number of reporters too) say about Clinton now. She has no authentic self and will say anything to get elected. She is a corrupt moneygrubber. She is a DLC centrist who will be worse for the left than any Republican. She is a liar who can’t be trusted.

I find these claims inexplicable. To me she seems like the idealistic yet profoundly practical woman she appeared to be as a Wellesley grad. Certain she has “evolved” in style and nuance but in the rational world we call that aging (a fairly common phenomenon, I’m told). You can see in her speeches and her work that she has always been committed to certain principles (Constitutional rule of law, civil liberties). On economic issues, she has always been centrist (she does not appear to have an intrinsic distrust of corporations). She engages in fundraising practices well within the mainstream of campaigning. Far from being a liar or panderer, Clinton is a candidate who confounds by her unwillingness to conform to certain issue positions -lobbyists are evil, business is evil - positions held dear by important constituencies within the Democratic party.

Interestingly, now that Obama is on the ropes – poll numbers, staff leaks, etc. – some pro-Obama commenters have adopted an accusatory, angry tone, directed first and foremost the media (for never reporting anything positive) and Clinton (whose evil campaign machine has hijacked the Democratic process).

Never mind countless glowing puff stories about Obama’s intelligence, good looks and charm vs. the endless Hillary-can’t-win analysis of the past year. And never mind that until recently, Obama was the top money-raising campaign. An analysis of the press coverage of the candidates during the first five months of 2007 conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism / Shorenstein Center at Harvard bears this out. Howard Kurtz puts it thusly in the WaPo: "...17 percent of the stories were about Clinton, followed by Barack Obama (14 percent), Rudy Giuliani (9 percent), John McCain (7 percent) and Mitt Romney (5 percent). Everyone else was a relative blip... Overall, though, the Democratic candidates drew more positive stories (35 percent) than the Republicans (26 percent)... almost entirely due to the friendly coverage accorded Obama (47 percent positive) and the heavily negative treatment of McCain (12 percent positive)." This contrasts to 27 percent positive vs. 37 percent negative during the same time period for Clinton.

Even now, press criticism of Obama strikes me as very light; a good portion of the negativity is of his own (staff’s) making. Take the latest – the homophobe minister the campaign invited to participate in events designed to enhance outreach to black southern voters. Not vetting him properly is the campaign’s own fault. Trying to remedy the situation by adding a counterweight minister to speak in favor of tolerance – a very insulting gesture – is their own fault. Choosing a white rather than African-American minister to be that counterweight is also their fault (see Pam Spaulding here). But according to certain supporters, the whole mess is a big set-up organized by Hillary and promoted by the mainstream media she has in her thrall. The paradigm must persist: its just another skirmish in the virtuous Jedi Obama's underdog crusade against the Clinton Death Star.

Okay, that analogy is a bit goofy, but my underlying point is this: a sizable number of the Democratic faithful crave a certain kind of candidate, and, to paraphrase Dostoyevsky (I think), if the fellow doesn't exist we will have to invent him. Some of us need a Jack Kerouac, James Dean, Jim Morrison, Che Guevara, Bruce Springsteen -esque outsider-rebel. The principled man of the people, hero to the luckless and oppressed, ascetic, pure, beyond corruption. The loner who becomes a leader, fights the good fight, takes it right to the Man, and ultimately (usually) dies for our sins.

Frankly I've never bought into this paradigm - it has more to do with unresolved Oedipal crises than true liberation. Rather than upending the aesthetic, economic or political "system," all too often these figures really just want to take the Man's place. It is significant that no female icons fit this paradigm - a woman outsider/loner is an unlikable, non-nurturing oddity. Nevertheless this figure is as essential to Democratic mythology as the "strong leader" is to that of the Republicans.

Next in Part II: Persistent Hillaryphobia and the Galileo Fallacy. Read more!

:: The One-Month Gap

I have not posted anything for roughly a month for a very good reason. Her name is Coco, the Foster Dog.

Coco entered my life about 45 days ago, fresh from the Baltimore dog pound. She is a lovely beast and a classic bull terrier. She is perfect in every way save one: incredibly bad manners.

Coco is not yet spayed, is a bit of a biter, and likes to play rough. Not being spayed precludes her from doggy daycare, and being a menace precludes her from dog parks and sidewalk interactions. As a result, she bays to go out and get at her peers as though she has the rabies. Keeping her settled down, especially when Dr. Boyfriend, Scientist-at-Large is not home, is near impossible. And the biting... the biting. She loves to play bite. A play-biting bull terrier is a major hazard. Also she has eaten $300 worth of Camper shoes. (Dr. Boyfriend’s butt-ugly sandals she leaves alone. Too ugly to eat, I presume).

Being home with her is like taking care of a fanged, hairy three year old with a talent for the high jump. She needs constant supervision. But she is a good dog and I have high (almost desperate) hopes that she’ll find, in the parlance of Rescue organizations, her “forever home” soon.

Today, though, Coco and I have worked out an arrangement that is allowing me to write. The arrangement is enforced by means of a rolled-up copy of the latest New Yorker. Don’t judge, ladies, until you yourself have experienced a bull terrier springing over the back of your chair on to the top of your head in order to bite your hair. I mean it.

While I don’t know why her original owners surrendered her to the pound, I believe this sort of behavior might have had something to do with it. Read more!

Monday, October 1

:: The Canary Has a Friend

Ladies, we have achieved our first blogroll listing. The website for DC Drinking Liberally now lists us as one of its member's blogs. We are just that much more closer to achieving respectability. And having respectability makes burning your bridges so much more impressive (read: fun).

Amazingly, I managed to get them to list us using my Canary email account, anonymously. It took a long and tortured email explaining that I really was a member, even though I couldn't say who I was, not that they would know anyway, and not that I care that much, but the other bloggers do, so they would have to take my word for it, etc. I'm sure it was a treat for them.

Yay Drinking Liberally! Read more!

:: Sending my donation today!

Mondays are hard. Getting out of bed at an ungodly hour after a lovely weekend. Dashing your recycling to the curb before the truck goes by. And then there is just no decent news in the newspaper.

But this morning, buried in the front section of the Times, I found this tidbit:

Alarmed at the possibility that the Republican Party might pick Rudolph W. Giuliani as its presidential nominee despite his support for abortion rights, a coalition of influential Christian conservatives is threatening to back a third-party candidate.
Oh, please don't tease me! Really? You Promise?? I will send Rudy my $20 today if it will help split that vote! It's as if the Wingnuts were truly trying to prove that they are out of touch and out of step with the real world. Even yahoo Gary L Bauer thinks this is stupid:
“I can’t think of a bigger disaster for social conservatives, defense conservatives and economic conservatives than Hillary Clinton in the White House,” Mr. Bauer said.
Please, my sisters, send your donation to Giuliani today! It will piss off Dobson and Perkins (frankly, worth it in its own right) and you could help split the GOP! Read more!

Thursday, September 27

:: The Ugly, and Non-Naked, American

Sexist is as sexist does - even if you write for Salon's Broadsheet.

Yesterday, a short article appeared in Salon (in the stupidly named "Broadsheet" section on lady issues) about the Women's Party of Poland. Formed about a year ago by a group of electeds, activists and card-carrying members of the intelligentsia, the Women's Party is competing in the October 21 national election. A decent article about them appears here.

But Salon didn't focus on the Women's Party's ideas, nor on their electoral prognosis. Instead, Tracy Clark-Flory, one of Broadsheet's (did I mention how much I hate that name?) resident "feminists," chose to focus - exclusively - on their current ad campaign. Here's a taste:
How best to advertise Poland's newfound Women's Party? Nude chicks, of course! That seems to be the thinking behind the party's latest billboard, which features seven of its candidates in their birthday suits. A handful of the candidates cover their private bits with a sign reading, "The party of women. Poland is a woman." Two other women sit in the forefront, curled up to conceal themselves.

Manuela Gretkowska, founder of the Women's Party, explains: "This poster is intended to shatter stereotypes in the anachronistic world of politics, which is more often dominated by uncommunicative men with their black tie outfits." She continues, "We are beautiful, nude, proud. We are true and sincere, body and soul. This is not pornography, there is nothing to see in terms of sex, our faces are intelligent, concerned, proud."
The Salon piece is titled "Poland's Female Politicos Disrobe" and appears to be based solely on the article "Polish Women Strip Off in Bid to Woo Voters," from the U.K. tabloid The Telegraph. But the "lookit - nude chicks!" attitude is straight outta the frat house. And the rest of the Salon article is even more cringe-worthy. I'll get just get out of the way and quote it in its entirety:
Their decision to publicly disrobe might make more sense in light of the conservative government's tight restrictions on abortion -- the billboard could possibly, by a stretch of the imagination, be seen as a statement that women own their own bodies. But it certainly doesn't seem to "shatter stereotypes"; instead, it seems to bolster them. Is flashing your flesh the only way to be noticed or taken seriously as a woman -- wouldn't refusing such cheap ploys do a better job of seizing power from the "uncommunicative men with their black tie outfits"?

Playing to the lowest common denominator as a means of getting brief, hysterical attention hardly seems any more communicative. In fact, it seems a surefire way of causing anachronistic male politicians to simply shrug and wave off those silly female candidates.
I let my thoughts on this gestate overnight, and this morning birthed a lengthy letter to Salon that I fully realize no one will read. And yet, this seemed like a good way to spend my time. Now I post it here, for only three people to read. Still, I think Zippy especially will have a laugh, so here goes:
Given the choice between trusting the judgment of Clark-Flory versus that of the Women's Party - a group of intelligent and experienced activists, politicians, writers, etc. who live and breathe Polish politics - the smart money's on the Women's Party to know what's what.

Note to Clark-Flory: the next time you're thinking about publicly slagging off a group of accomplished women's rights activists you know nothing about, working in a political environment you know nothing about, consider at least calling one of them (on Salon's dime) to pose your critique and ask for a response rather than judging them by an article in the Telegraph. Or is that too much to ask? Its not for nothing that European feminists criticize their American sisters for being superficial, ignorant of different political cultures and lacking in solidarity.

With regard to the Women's Party's electoral situation: Poland's national elections are scheduled to take place on October 21st. The current ruling party, PiS (Law & Justice - just a hair's breadth from fascist) is polling significantly ahead of their closest competitor, the center-right party Civic Platform. If things go as expected, PiS will have to form a coalition government, which will be difficult because they have alienated most of their former allies. In this equation, the support of even the smallest parties is key. I believe I read that the Women's Party is currently polling at 3 to 5% of the vote, with 5% being the threshhold for joining the Parliament.

Under the PiS, Poland has veered sharply right wing, not only defying the European courts with regard to abortion but also cracking down on liberal educators and the rights of gays and lesbians, fomenting anti-semitism, opposing the EU's anti-death penalty consensus, and so on.

It is in this context that the Women's Party is trying to rally support for a different way of life - one in which women (and men) have autonomy, individuality and self-expression are valued, and the culture more closely resembles that of Western and Northern Europe and less so that of Putin's Russia.

I don't think the Women's Party effort has much to do with American-style consumer culture objectification of women. These are strong, intelligent, confident women who are presenting themselves as such.

Among their concerns is the fact that there are some powerful women who hold public office in Poland who don't know or care much about women's rights. The Women's Party is saying that they will do good things politically, and that they won't forget they are women / abandon women's rights once they are elected.

Their makeup and hairstyles - as well as their evident comfort with their own bodies - indicates they are modern rather than traditional, part of the future rather than the past.

In addition, the honesty vs. corruption issue is very, very important in Poland, and the partial nudity (nothing to hide) and accentuation of their "femaleness" (there, as here, women tend to be seen as more trustworthy in politics) get that message across uniquely and powerfully.

Of course, such an ad campaign would be a laughing stock in the United States, where for the most part admitting you are a feminist is still taboo and women in the public eye are viewed first and foremost as sex objects.

And of course, there will be plenty of immature people who will point and snicker. Lowbrow media types will report on the Women’s Party solely because of the nudity, and will denigrate them as nothing more than the empty-headed perpetrators of a “sexy” publicity stunt (recognize yourself, Broadsheet?)

Note to Clark-Flory: its easy to be derisive and shallow. Its more difficult to be insightful and generous. Your job may reward the former, but the latter is good for the soul.

Oh dear. I think I just paraphrased a Smiths song.
Read more!

Sunday, September 23

:: Classy Move

Mayor Jerry Sanders (R) of San Diego announced that he's changed his position. It's a repetitive, rambling announcement, yes, but moving too. On a catty side note, what's up with his wife's plastic posture?

Thanks, Peter, for pointing this out.

P.S. I learned how to post video! I'm so proud...

Read more!

Wednesday, September 19

:: Arrrrh!

Ahoy, lassies! It's International Talk Like a Pirate Day. If ciccina refuses to post any Fred updates, and noone else has anything to add, then I can only say ARRRHHH!! Read more!

Thursday, September 13

:: The Daily Fred, Thursday Edition

Your Fred Thompson gaffe du jour - because with each passing day, it just gets better and better

Okay, this guy is making it just too easy - so easy, in fact, that I can post The Daily Fred and stay true to my lazy nature. He appears to be constitutionally unable to prepare himself for questions. Is there any subject in which he has expertise? Is there any conflict during which he pays attention? He's actually giving Bush a run for his money in the hoof-in-mouth department.

Today's entry is: "Thompson Gives No Opinion on Schiavo" courtesy of the AP. Emphasis added. And this is in Florida, no less.
THE VILLAGES, Fla. - Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson gave no opinion Thursday when asked about efforts by President Bush and Congress to keep Terri Schiavo alive, saying he does not remember details of the right-to-die case that stirred national debate.

Thompson was asked in an interview for Bay News 9's "Political Connections" program whether he thought Congress' intervention to save the life of the brain-damaged woman two years ago was appropriate.

"I can't pass judgment on it. I know that good people were doing what they thought was best," Thompson said. "That's going back in history. I don't remember the details of it."
Tee hee hee! Hee hee! I love it. Read more!

:: The Most Unexpected Places

Today I alert you to a George Will column that is mightily entertaining. In it Will expresses his utter frustration with Fred Thompson, candidate. It is but one of a cluster of pieces by conservative and "non-partisan" pundits rapping Thompson for being sub-par on an ever-growing number of counts. I myself was thinking of posting a daily "Today's Fred" item on whatever new nonsense he was spouting - it occurs that frequently. And then I remembered that I am lazy.

My favorite part of this column is the bit about campaign finance reform... emphasis added.

He also is unfamiliar with the details of his own positions. Consider his confusion the next day when talk radio host Laura Ingraham asked him about something he ardently supported -- the McCain-Feingold expansion of government regulation of political speech. His rambling, incoherent explanation was just clear enough to be alarming about what he believes, misremembers and does not know.

Thompson said he had advocated McCain-Feingold to prevent, among other things, corporations and labor unions from "giving large sums of money to individual politicians." But corporate and union contributions to individual candidates were outlawed in 1907 and 1947, respectively.

Ingraham asked about McCain-Feingold's ban on issue ads that mention a candidate close to an election. He blamed an unidentified "they" who "added on" that provision, which he implied was a hitherto undiscussed surprise. But surely he knows that bills containing the ban had been introduced in previous sessions of Congress before passage in 2002.

In 1997, Thompson chaired a Senate committee investigating 1996 election spending. In its final report, issued in 1998, Thompson's committee recommended a statutory "restriction on issue advocacy" during "a set period prior to an election" when the speech includes "any use of a candidate's name or image." And in 1999, Thompson co-sponsored legislation containing what became, in 2002, the McCain-Feingold blackout periods imposed on any television or radio ad that "refers to" a candidate for federal office -- a portion of which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in June.

Thompson, contrary to his current memories, was deeply involved in expanding government restrictions on political speech generally and the ban on issue ads specifically. Yet he told Ingraham, "I voted for all of it," meaning McCain- Feingold, but said "I don't support that" provision of it.

Oh? Why, then, did he file his own brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold McCain-Feingold, stressing Congress's especially "compelling interest" in squelching issue ads that "influence" elections?

Sweet. Read more!

Wednesday, August 29

:: A Fine Idea

To defeat anti-choice legislation, attach a rider making the state financially responsible to the women who are influenced by it.

By now, all state legislatures have considered bills designed to pressure pregnant women to not have abortions.

I’m not talking about provisions that remove obstacles for women who want to carry a pregnancy to term, such as improved health services, maternity and paternity leave, subsidized child care and other forms of public assistance, and better enforcement of child support orders.

I mean the anti-choice legislation designed to hector, guilt-trip or scare women away from abortion by means of government-scripted lectures, waiting periods, misinformation about physical and psychological consequences (the bogus “abortion causes breast cancer” claim; “post-abortion trauma syndrome”) and tax-payer funding for fake “crisis pregnancy centers.”

The usual strategy for defeating this legislation is to fight it head-on with arguments based in fact and ethical reasoning. Alongside that, I suggest another tactic that I think would be effective. It occurred to me after reading the following article:

Woman awarded damages for pregnancy

28 August 2007

THE HAGUE – The IJsselland Hospital in Capelle aan den IJssel has been ordered to pay damages of EUR 400,000 to a mother who was incorrectly informed about her fertility.

This has emerged from a ruling by the appeal court in The Hague. The court upheld a ruling from a lower court in this case.

The gynaecologist had told the woman she could no longer become pregnant. The woman subsequently became pregnant with twins, who are now 13 years old. The hospital is being required to contribute to the costs of raising the children.

In the early 1990s, the woman, 37 at the time, and her husband asked the now-retired gynaecologist if the woman could still become pregnant. After an examination the woman was assured that she could not become pregnant.

Not long after the woman did in fact conceive. The family already had three children at that point. As a result of the pregnancy the woman had to leave her job.

The hospital and gynaecologist have always denied that they failed to alert the woman to the risks of a pregnancy. The court said that the dossier indicates the opposite.

The court also rejected the hospital's argument that no damage would have been caused had the woman opted for an abortion at the time.

Hospitals have been ordered to pay damages in previous cases involving failed sterilisations. This is the first time that damages have been awarded for the birth of a child after the administration of inaccurate advice on birth control.

There you have it.

Every bill that seeks to impede access to abortion by funding fake crisis pregnancy centers, spreading false information through advertising or state mandated lectures or impeding access through waiting periods should carry a rider making the state financially responsible for any pregnancies brought to term that result from these efforts.

Its only fair, isn’t it? If a woman goes to a taxpayer-supported crisis pregnancy center and they tell her that if she has an abortion she will get breast cancer (false), and she decides not to have an abortion only to find out later that she was lied to, the crisis pregnancy center and the state that funds it should be held accountable for the resulting expense of raising the child.

Physicians who give bad information to their patients are already subject to malpractice lawsuits; if the government wants to play doctor, it should face the same risks. And tobacco companies have been ordered to pay damages to people with lung cancer who claim they were influenced by misleading cigarette advertising. Efforts to penalize the purveyors of junk food for influencing people to become obese are stirring around out there.

Once proposed, the rider could be used in a public relations context to refocus the debate on what it really means for the state to “support life.” If attached, it would be an effective poison pill and would give wavering electeds cover for voting against the legislation.
Read more!

Monday, August 27

:: Amnesty, Aguilera and the Birth of a Hoax

An anti-choice group has duped the press into promoting a hoax
to hurt Amnesty International

This is how a hoax is born. Today’s topic: Christina Aguilera, Amnesty International and the Vatican-sponsored boycott of Amnesty.

[For more about this intensely solipsistic boycott, see Zippy’s post "Oh, I forgot that human rights were only for boys" and "Irish Times Column on Amnesty and Abortion"].

On June 19, 2007, a sad little group called Rock for Life sent out a press release called “Musical heavyweights duped in the name of Darfur; CD raises cash for pro-abortion Amnesty International.”

Washington, D.C. — "The human suffering going on right now in Darfur is horrific," said Erik Whittington, American Life League's youth outreach director and director of Rock for Life. "To add insult to injury, however, using this tragic abuse of human rights to raise money for a pro-abortion organization is hypocritical and beyond belief."

“Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur,” a double-disc CD whose proceeds will support Amnesty International, hit record stores on June 12. Featuring covers of John Lennon tunes, the CD is loaded with music heavyweights including U2, Christina Aguilera, Avril Lavigne, Green Day and many more. As part of the fundraiser, Yoko Ono donated the rights and publishing royalties from Lennon’s songs to Amnesty International as well.

We will be educating not only the youth of America on Amnesty International’s pro-abortion policies,” said Whittington, “but the artists as well. We intend to send information on Amnesty International and its support for abortion to all of the artists participating in this project. Hopefully, they will stop supporting Amnesty International and its advocacy of the greatest human rights abuse of all time – abortion.

The press release appears to serve the dual purpose of threatening Amnesty with repercussions and rewarding them by promoting their fundraising CD. No small feat, that, but despite the creative messaging the story got no traction until Monday, when the Times (UK) ran an article called “Pro-life Rockers Clash with Amnesty.”

The second paragraph of this article is:

The group [Amnesty] has been accused of “duping” the singers Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne, who have both made statements against abortion and are among contributors to an Amnesty CD released to raise money for survivors of the atrocities in Darfur.
Hmmm. It would appear that Rock for Life’s effort has paid off – two of the artists on Amnesty’s CD are pro-life and now feel betrayed because they were tricked into raising money for a pro-abort group. Wow - good work, kids!

But wait a sec – what’s this? Rock for Life’s own website lists Aguilera as “pro abortion” with the mysterious notation “March for Women’s Lives.” So who is right – Rock for Life, or Rock for Life?

Here’s what I think: a reporter asked Rock for Life’s Erik Whittington if any of the musicians on the CD actually felt duped, and Whittington threw out two names. Either he didn't bother to check his own website first, or he gambled on the reporters being too lazy to do any fact-checking. If so, that was a good bet because the reporters didn't check the facts. Way down in paragraphs 11 and 12, we read:

The views of singers who have contributed to the album - who also include George Harrison’s son Dhani - on Amnesty’s change of heart are not yet clear.

But Aguilera, 26, is a devout American Catholic. She is reportedly expecting her first child and has taken part in a television show in which she interviewed a teenager who had kept her baby rather than have an abortion.

The “evidence” that Aguilera is offended is based not on any she has said - instead, it is inferred from the information that she is (1) a "devout" Catholic, (2) a mother, and (3) once talked to teenager who had a baby.

Of course, the reporters don't tell us that:

  1. Aguilera’s videos are not the work of a “devout Catholic” [no link; you know what I'm talking about], nor is there any evidence that she has called herself that; and
  2. Aguilera interviewed the baby-bearing teenager, among others, as part of an MTV special on sexual and reproductive health and rights in advance of the 2004 elections (and you know what a bastion of conservative thinking MTV is, especially on the topic of sex).

The Times interweaves its bit of myth-making with the unfounded claim that Amnesty will face serious repercussions because its policy change has offended the Catholic church. It exaggerates the influence of the church’s directives on ordinary Catholics and, by doing so, actively contributes to the pressure campaign to punish Amnesty. And it allows Rock for Life to claim a wildly popular celebrity as an ally without any evidence and against all probability.

And then, the step that is essential to mythmaking takes place: subsequent news stories quote the incorrect original article, and repeat its claims as if they are factual. Hey, if you attribute a claim to its source, you don’t need to do fact-checking, right? No, you’re off the hook because you’re not reporting on facts; you are reporting on what another reporter said!

The following day WorldNetDaily ran with “Pro-life rock stars 'duped' by Amnesty: Anti-torture group's new support for abortion called betrayal of musicians on fundraising CD.”

The article includes a pic of Aguilera and states:

Amnesty International, which formally announced two weeks ago a new worldwide policy backing women's right to abortion in some cases, is being charged with having "duped" pro-life pop stars who contributed their time and talents to a CD released to raise money by the anti-torture group for victims of violence in Darfur.

"The human suffering going on right now in Darfur is horrific," said Erik Whittington, American Life League's youth outreach director and director of Rock for Life, an organization of anti-abortion musicians.

"To add insult to injury, however, using this tragic abuse of human rights to raise money for a pro-abortion organization is hypocritical and beyond belief," he said.

In particular, Whittington accused Amnesty of deceiving singers Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne, who have both made statements against abortion, according to the London Sunday Times.”

As you can see, the first paragraph uses the passive voice to make it sound as if the singers themselves are angry with Amnesty, and doesn't clarify the matter until paragraph four. And Aguilera's appearance on the MTV special in which she talked to a former teen mother has morphed into "made statements against abortion."

And Rock for Life doesn't need to another thing, because the celebrity factor of the story sells itself. The word is out: organizations that support the right to choose will face serious consequences.

By now the WorldNetDaily story has been picked up by a slew of online publications, and I doubt any of them will do their own fact checking. The claims will be repeated until they become “true” and voila! instant celebrity support for the Amnesty boycott. In fact, I just received my first email from an Aguilera fan (yes, I know an Aguilera fan) who was disappointed that she has taken such a reactionary stand on Amnesty, and I've seen a few blog entries / comments deriding her as a hypocrite for calling herself "devout" when she so manifestly (again, the videos) is not.

I really hope Aguilera is offended by this misuse of her name and makes a statement of support for Amnesty. And I hope she commits to doing a special fundraiser for them, because it would be great if Rock for Life's adventures in mythmaking resulted in more, not less funding for Amnesty - not to mention sending the message to these liars that yes, the truth actually matters.


I was just catching up with The Daily Howler and saw this paragraph, which I think bears repeating given that I ascribe bias to the reporters from the Times and WorldNetDaily.

We’re all accustomed to analyzing the press corps’ work in terms of bias. That’s an important type of discussion, but it sometimes obscures the astounding incompetence of this least-capable cohort. And let’s be clear: The mainstream press can survive such blunders because they alone, among American professions, control what is written about themselves. In other professions, clownish incompetence gets discussed in the press. But when the press corps bumbles in its time-honored ways, nary a word is spoken.


Epilogue II

I just contacted the good people at the official Christina Aguilera website - - and asked whether Aguilera has said anything about abortion, Amnesty, etc. So far the replies I have gotten indicate that she hasn't said anything about being anti-abortion, about being displeased with Amnesty, or even about being a devout Catholic. Some of the fans say she even went through a phase where she took to calling herself "Xtina" to emphasize, oh, well, you get the picture. And yes, I had to join the fan club to get access to their fan forums. This is what my life has become.

Epilogue III

Several hours later, a growing number of conservative, pro-life and even completely neutral sites have picked up the Times story and running it as if Aguilera and Lavigne were the ones who said they feel duped by Amnesty. They are also repeating the bit about Aguilera having made anti-abortion statements. And no one is doing their own fact-checking. Of course. These are links to some of the stories.

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:: Oh, what a beautiful MORRRRRNING!

I don't know where to begin. I had tears in my eyes. I ran around in circles. I was 8 in the morning and I just didn't know who to call. Was it the first sonogram of my niece/nephew to be? No, it was not. It was the news of AG Gonzalez' resignation. It was like a gift. I couldn't believe it.

I had hoped and dreamed this day would come (actually, my real dream was that he would be indicted, but as this White House has shown again and again that they are not troubled by such small concepts as "the law" or "ethics").

I also couldn't believe that they released the news first thing Monday morning, allowing evening news broadcasts plenty of time to build their stories.

I realize that there's not much to say here that hasn't already been said. But please. Hold forth. Say it anyway. Read more!

Saturday, August 25

:: Irish Times Column on Amnesty, Abortion

OP ED: Amnesty's policy change on abortion long overdue

Date: Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Source: Irish Times
Author: Joseph Powderly

Amnesty International's decision to support abortion in certain instances is correct and in line with international law, argues Joseph Powderly

Over recent months there has been considerable concern, criticism and controversy surrounding Amnesty International's change of policy relating to the provision of legal abortion services for victims of rape, incest or sexual assault.

Unsurprisingly, the Catholic Church has acted as the driving force behind this criticism. Almost inevitably, the debate has devolved into what is widely perceived as a clash of moralities, and it seems necessary to introduce some clarity to the discussion by redefining it in terms of international law.

Before examining the compatibility of Amnesty's policy change with internationally-recognised norms of international humanitarian and human rights law, let us be absolutely certain of what it actually advocates.

The decision to reform its traditionally neutral attitude to the question of abortion was reached following a period of intense discussion within the organisation. There are four core aspects to the policy change ratified by the global movement at its international council meeting in Mexico last week.

It calls for: (i) the provision of comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health to both women and men; (ii) the provision of legal, safe and accessible abortion in cases of rape, sexual assault or incest, and in cases where there is a risk to a woman's life or a grave risk to her health; (iii) the repeal of laws that permit the imprisonment or imposition of other criminal sanctions on women who have sought to have an abortion or on medical practitioners who provide information or abortion services; and (iv) the provision of quality medical services for the management of complications arising from abortion.

Crucially, the policy does not call for the recognition of a universal right to abortion (a right that simply does not exist in international law), but rather an increased recognition of the right of women to sexual and reproductive integrity in the face of grave human rights abuses.

The move towards reform has been greatly influenced by reports emerging from the conflict in Darfur of the widespread use of rape and forced pregnancy as a weapon of war. Amnesty's long-overdue change of policy is indicative of the international community's evolving recognition of the egregious incidence of sexual and gender-based crimes in conflict situations and the need to address the rights of victims.

While rape has been prohibited by the law of war for centuries, it would appear that until recently history has adopted the deplorable, misogynistic attitude that rape and other forms of sexual violence are an inevitable consequence of war. In many instances prior to and during the second World War rape was given licence as an encouragement to soldiers or even as an instrument of policy (the Japanese retention of "comfort women" is a particularly disturbing example).

There was no explicit reference to sexual or gender-based crimes in the charters establishing either the Nuremberg or Tokyo military tribunals, and no individual was prosecuted specifically for sexual offences.

The conflicts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and the resultant international criminal tribunals have played an enormous part in ending impunity for rape and other serious sexual offences perpetrated in armed conflict. The statutes and jurisprudence of these ad hoc international criminal tribunals have firmly established that rape in time of war may (provided certain criteria are met) be considered a crime against humanity, a war crime, or even an act of genocide. These legal principles have been largely subsumed into the provisions of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which is currently investigating the situation in Darfur. It seems likely that prosecutions for rape and other sexual offences will be placed high on the International Criminal Court's list of priority offences.

However, this offers little recompense to victims of sexual violence in traditional, religious societies. Victims are frequently ostracised from their families and communities, rendered destitute and sometimes imprisoned for what are perceived as criminal sexual acts outside of marriage.

Amnesty International, like all organisations committed to the promotion and preservation of international human rights, has a mandate to protect the most vulnerable. In order to do this effectively it must necessarily be a secular organisation founded on the rule of law rather than any particular code of theology. It is important to note that this change of policy goes no further than to bring the organisation into line with the jurisprudence of the Europe Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which have both held that while a considerable amount of discretion must be afforded to states in deciding the legality of abortion, there are nevertheless certain obligations accruing to the state which require it to positively secure the physical integrity of mothers-to-be.

The comment of Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the pontifical council for justice and peace, that Amnesty had "betrayed its mission" could not be further from the truth. The terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights demands that the preservation of human rights be pursued in a universally secular manner and not be cowed by the dictates of any one established faith.

Abortion is understandably a highly divisive issue. Surely the countless harrowing personal histories emerging from war-torn regions provide an opportunity in which principle and dogma may be set to one side in favour of a truly compassionate appreciation of the circumstances faced by victims of sexual violence.

[Joseph Powderly is case reporter in international criminal law for Oxford University Press and a PhD candidate with the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway] Read more!

Friday, August 24

:: Mean Streets

Walking home the other day I got the feeling I was being followed. I am almost always wrong about this, but not this time. My evasive maneuvers succeeded in keeping a reasonable distance between me and this fellow, who had the classic crackhead appearance (i.e. he looked like Flavor Flav, bless his heart) and was drinking with wicked abandon from a paper bag-clad forty. Unfortunately, while I kept out of range of grabbing, I was not out of range of hearing. So when my future new acquaintance asked me a question, I had to choose whether to ignore him or engage.

I have no problem ignoring people, but the question seemed innocuous and I felt physically secure. “No,” I responded, “this is not the natural color of my hair.”

What ensued was a very disjointed discussion of how long hair dye lasts (“because I can see yours is already growing out”), what products do the job best, and whether or not my now new acquaintance should color all of his hair or just the bit above the ears where grey was showing.

“How much grey do you have?” he asked. Plenty, I replied. “See, I’m 38 and I have just this much. How old are you?” he countered. I gave him a look that indicated he had reached the outer border of my tolerance. “Let me guess,” he said, “ummm… 40?”

40? 40 !? 40 !?!!!??!!!!!!?!!!!!??!!!!!!!!?

I am many things, but 40 is not one of them. I suddenly remembered the old Margaret Cho bit about the pros and cons of having a gay male fanbase. Yes, its great to be sent a fabulous salon product as a token of appreciation - but less so when you realize it is recommended for dry, brittle, listless hair.

It was at that juncture that I parted company with this evil, drunken queen, who headed vaguely in the direction of CVS. I headed home for an appointment with my bathroom mirror, a pair of tweezers, and some doomed newly-sprouted grays. I wasn’t mugged, but I think my hair was. In one of the gayest zip codes in the country, the streets are just not safe for hair. Read more!