« February 2010 | Main | April 2010 »

March 31, 2010

Are Left/Right Wingers Prone to Violent Extremism?

I looked at that question twice a few months back. The results may surprise you.

Post #1 looked only at terrorist attacks committed during the last decade.

Post #2 looked at major terrorist attacks going all the way back to the 1960s. That's about half a century's worth of attacks, and you need to look at several decades to get a grasp of just how many different kinds of movements have risen and fallen over time:

Last night, egged on by [TPM Cafe blogger Josh] Marshall's steadfastly non-divisive, non-fear mongering divisive fear mongering, the Editorial Staff opted to take a more comprehensive look at terrorist attacks over the last 50 years. Aided by our trusty staff of itinerant Eskimo typists, we went back to 1960 and categorized terrorist attacks and failed attacks. The first thing we found (quelle surprise!) is that it's not always easy to neatly categorize the motivations of murderous whack jobs.

Since, unlike Josh Marshall, we didn't engage in this little exercise to confirm our pre-existing fear and loathing of the Left, this wasn't exactly a shocker. A few observations before presenting our results:

Terrorism data is both incomplete and heavily dependent on the bins one puts an attack into. For instance, how do you categorize a righty terrorist who kills from some twisted notion that he's protecting the unborn by murdering abortionists? Is he still a right winger if it turns out he also violently opposes mainstream Republican doctrine? Come to think of it, is it really surprising that if you're crazy enough to kill folks for the crime of disagreeing with you, there just might be a few screws loose in the old brain housing group? Likewise, Lefties are supposed to hate war and eschew violence. Isn't there a conflict, then, in dubbing someone who uses organized violence to protest organized violence, "Left Wing"?

Hey - no one ever said these folks make sense. That's why they call them criminals.

It feels good to play the "us vs. them" game and conclude that "we" are the good ones and "they" are the bad ones. There's just one problem with this. The facts don't support it, whether you're Josh Marshall or someone who finds folks like Marshall unbelievably tiresome. People on both sides really need to calm the Hell down. Using a target or a bulls' eye on a map does not an incitement to murderous rage make.

People who are whacked enough to believe that violence is going to win hearts and minds generally don't need a whole lot of encouragement. They're already getting all they need from those little helium-sniffing voices inside their heads. The rhetorical trick lefty bloggers have adopted is daft enough to take on a downright spherical quality: if you define "violence" as a right wing trait, then every murderous whack job out there must be a right winger! And there's more of this "logic": if you can find one or two "violent" right wingers at a Tea Party rally (conveniently, you don't need actual violent acts here - just find a couple of scary signs and repeat your hysterical accusations over and over while sobbing into your chai soy latte) then the Tea Party must be inciting those awful 'wingers to acts of violence!

Such incandescent stupidity ought not to require a rebuttal. But then this is the Internet:

Of all the asinine sentences in Frank Rich's latest people-who-disagree-with-me-are-neo-Klansmen column, this one jumped out:

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn't recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht.

Kristallnacht, you will recall, was a spasm of anti-Jewish-property violence suggested, orchestrated, and largely perpetrated by the leaders and organs of a sitting federal government, run by a guy named Hitler, who had been systematically trampling on Germany's Jewish minority for years. Two hundred synagogues and more than 7,000 other Jewish properties were destroyed, and 91 Jews lost their lives. Tea Party protesters, meanwhile...wait, what?

This isn't the first time Frank Rich has pivoted from anti-totalitarian-hyperbole to totalitarian accusations in THE EXACT SAME SENTENCE; here he is from five months ago:

Though they constantly liken the president to various totalitarian dictators, it is they who are re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode.

Dear God. Stalin killed millions of people.

And criticizing Barack Obama is just like genocide.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:17 PM | Comments (137) | TrackBack

The Big, Scary Democrats and Their Evil "Map of Death"....

Wow. This really crosses a line… Targeted Republicans! Bull's eye graphics! All this verbal violence is making me positively tingly you-know-where.

With all the overheated partisan rhetoric flying around these days, it's reckless and irresponsible to use violent gun metaphors to rally your [Ed. note: violent military term coming up. To avoid contamination and palpitations, small children should be removed from the room immediately.] foot soldiers. Some people take that sort of thing seriously, you know:

In last Thursday’s column, Paul Krugman admitted to having fun watching “right-wingers go wild.” One of the things that apparently delighted him was this map which Sarah Palin posted on her Facebook page:

Each of the cross-hairs represents a Democrat from a conservative district who voted in favor of health reform. Immediately after highlighting the map, Krugman wrote:

All of this goes far beyond politics as usual…you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials….to find anything like what we’re seeing now you have to go back to the last time a Democrat was president.

From the comments section, "Wally" sets us all straight:

So, a bullseye during 2004 when there was little politically inspired violence is, according to Verum, the same thing as a RIFLE scope during a time when death threats, window breaking and murders by deranged right wing nuts are prevalent. These include: Plans to kill police officers by right wingers. Murder of an abortion doctor by a right winger. Murder of a Jewish museum guard by a right winger. Threats and racial slurs against Congressmen for voting a certain way on an economic/entitlement/regulatory reform bill by right wingers. Racial slurs against the President by right wingers. And then you have the Limbaughs and McCains encouraging it.

Come to think of it, Wally has a point. When you type RIFLE in all caps, that makes it a much scarier word. The hypocrisy is almost too delicious for words:

“If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said at a Philadelphia fundraiser Friday night. “Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl. ” I’ve seen Eagles fans.

No wonder no one takes the Dems seriously on national security - Somehow I suspect that "Talk smack, but cower at .jpegs", would have earned Teddy Roosevelt a far less impressive place in the pantheon of American Presidents.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:40 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Shocking, I Know

Bet you didn't see this one coming:

Lourdes, Madonna's 13-year-old daughter from her relationship with personal trainer Carlos Leon, has regularly been seen in unusual outfits.

And that has not gone down well with the Material Girl, whose own creations include revealing stage outfits, leotards and - perhaps most infamously - her Jean Paul Gaultierdesigned conical bra costume from her 1990 world tour.

Speaking of her daughter, Madonna said: 'If anything, I wish she'd dress more conservatively. How's that for irony?

'[Lourdes' style is] inspired by kids she sees in hip-hop and ballet classes, European influences, bands she listens to. You could say it's in the DNA - but I could never tell her how to dress.

Kids these days.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:51 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Coffee Snorters, "Bombs Away!" Edition

A sad day for women everywhere:

The man who put the dude in prostidude has left the brothel business, but the Shady Lady Ranch vows to press on without him.

Though the Nye County bordello 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas has temporarily stopped servicing women, owner Bobbi Davis said she isn't ready to give up on her groundbreaking foray into legal male prostitution.

"We're just taking a little break," she said.

Markus, the Shady Lady's first stud for hire, called it quits a few weeks ago after drawing fewer than 10 customers. Since then, the workload has been shouldered by a Las Vegas man in his mid-30s who -- Davis swears she's not making this up -- performs under the name "Y. Not."

I am sure some of you insensitive knuckle draggers will try to say this is no big deal but so long as this kind of shameless gender inequality exists, men in this so-called "Land of the Free" cannot consider themselves truly liberated.

Thank God the "smart people" are in charge...

"I cannot say for sure" that DNCers haven't gone to strip clubs in an official capacity, Kaine said, but "you can be darn sure no one's going to write down the name of a strip club" on an FEC report without serious questions being asked.
You have to love Kaine's nimble rejoinder: "I can't say for certain that we haven't done exactly the same thing but what I can tell you is that if we did, there would be... err... questions!!!! Lots of questions:"
A good point of reference is the scandal that brought down Republican U.S. senatorial candidate Jack Ryan in 2004. Unlike the RNC scandal, that one actually involved a sex club. Unlike Steele, Ryan actually went to the club. Unlike the RNC staffers who partied at Voyeur, Ryan actually engaged in skeevy behavior while there. (His wife said he encouraged her to perform sex acts.) And, unlike anyone so far involved in the current scandal, Ryan was actually running for office.

Consider, too, all the bona fide sex scandals that have failed to get officials removed from office. A 1990 GQ profile of Sen. Edward Kennedy described him sexually assaulting a waitress and having sex with a congressional lobbyist on the floor of a private room at a D.C. restaurant. David Vitter remains a U.S. senator after his number showed up on the phone list of the "D.C. Madam." Sen. Larry Craig served out his term after getting caught soliciting sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.

The only way bondage-gate becomes a real scandal is if it turns out the RNC tried to cover up details. So far, it's fired the staffer responsible and promised donors it won't happen again. But a drip-drip of new information would turn the story from "RNC pays embarrassing nightclub tab" to "RNC lies about it." The latter is much worse. So short of video evidence that Steele himself was gyrating in a glass case, this scandal has no legs.

On the other hand, it's encouraging to know that our Congressional overlords up on Capitol Hill aren't hoarding the nation's supply of stupid.

D'oh! My bad. Spoke too soon:

Question: On March 22, 2010, millions of Americans are covered under the Medicare Part D Retiree Drug Subsidy Program. On March 23, 2030, President Barack Obama signs Obamacare into law. On March 24, 2010, millions of Americans find out they may end up losing their Medicare Part D Retiree Drug Subsidy Program benefits because Obamacare taxes the subsidy that enables companies to offer the benefit cost effectively. Do you think that those millions of Americans who are now staring at a loss of a meaningful benefit are going to...

* Thank Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi for Obamacare?
* Thank their Democratic Representative and/or Senator for voting "for" Obamacare?
* Blame the nihilistic and obstructionist Republicans? Or,
* Curse the Cruel Hand of Fate?

Think real hard before answering.

Remember when Obama wore a flight jacket and the media vigorously condemned him for being a poseur who never served? Yeah, me neither:

bamber_jacket.jpeg

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

"Use by...": the Expired Obama Promises list. Heh.

And After Just Two Hours Volunteering in a Chicago Soup Kitchen in 2003, He Developed the Weathered, Empathetic Eyes of a Mother Theresa...

Graphic of the Day, served up with extra snark.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:48 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Today's Babies Will Live to 100 Years of Age

"We are within five to 10 years of a watershed event where there will be more people on earth over 65 than there under five," he said. "Those extra years need to be financed somehow and we need to start thinking about it now."

- Richard Suzman, U.S. National Institute on Aging

Posted by Cassandra at 07:44 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 29, 2010

Manly vs. Girly Men: What Do Women Want, Anyway?

Fausta brought a rather sensationalistic WSJ article to my attention:

New research suggests that women from countries with healthier populations prefer more feminine-looking men. Jena Pincott on the science behind attraction and masculinity, and the future for manly men.

After crunching the data—including the women’s facial preferences, their country of origin and that country’s national health index—the Face Lab researchers proved something remarkable. They could predict how masculine a woman likes her men based on her nation’s World Health Organization statistics for mortality rates, life expectancy and the impact of communicable disease. In countries where poor health is particularly a threat to survival, women leaned toward “manlier” men. That is, they preferred their males to have shorter, broader faces and stronger eyebrows, cheekbones and jaw lines. The researchers went on to publish the study in this month’s issue of the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences.

manly.jpgI took a similar test on the BBC web site a few weeks ago. It wasn't immediately apparent to me which faces were supposed to be more manly - in most cases the differences were quite subtle. But my results indicated a strong preference for the more "manly" (broader face, heavier browbone and jaw) face. The BBC test didn't seek to make any political points with the results but in reading the WSJ article, a few things jumped out at me.

1. I question the link between an online "which of these photos do you find more attractive" selection process and the mating preferences of actual women choosing living, breathing men. Ask most women whether Brad Pitt is physically attractive and they'll probably say yes. But attractiveness isn't the only factor in selecting a mate.

Several studies have shown that men find big busted blondes the most attractive of all female "types". Yet studies also show that when marriage is the goal, brunettes are preferred. We are not slaves to our endocrine glands.

2. Age is another factor: most of the women in the study were in their early to mid 20s. Young women are more attracted to young men (i.e., men who look like boys). As we mature, our tastes change. Mine did.

3. Regarding the "trust factor" and high testosterone men, some research suggests there may be good reason to prefer more androgenous men:

... experiments have shown that men with wider faces tend to be more aggressive — broad-faced hockey players spend more time in the penalty box, for example — and are perhaps more dominant. They are also more likely to use aggression for altruistic means by, say, attempting to punish people who steal or break other societal rules.

Here's how the researchers figure the link between facial width and trustworthiness might work: During male adolescence, a surge in testosterone prompts bone growth not only in the spine and limbs, but also in the face. Therefore, a wide face may be a sign of an overall bigger man, one who can get away with being more aggressive and less cooperative. Slighter men might act in a more civilized, and trustworthy, way — out of necessity.

Women are multitasking more than ever these days: balancing home and family life with careers, school, and other interests. Where once women managed their personal relationships, we now juggle them just like we juggle everything else. Our attention is divided. We spend less time with extended family (which may mean that time tested advice about the care and nurturing of husbands doesn't get passed on from generation to generation to the extent it once did). All of these factors may make a more aggressive, less cooperative man seem less desirable - especially to young women who lack the time and coping skills to keep the relationship on an even keel. Too high maintenance. Add the decline of traditional morality to the mix and there's even less reason to want a man who constantly pushes the envelope.

4. I doubt that health care factors into even unconscious risk assessment, especially for young women (most of whom are healthy). This looks like a value statement in search of "proof":

After crunching the data—including the women's facial preferences, their country of origin and that country's national health index—the Face Lab researchers proved something remarkable. They could predict how masculine a woman likes her men based on her nation's World Health Organization statistics for mortality rates, life expectancy and the impact of communicable disease. In countries where poor health is particularly a threat to survival, women leaned toward "manlier" men. That is, they preferred their males to have shorter, broader faces and stronger eyebrows, cheekbones and jaw lines.

Lots of things are threats to survival. I'd hardly put the availability of government health care at the top of the list. In some societies - and arguably in most societies outside of Western Europe - the biggest threat to survival is the threat of violence and aggression from fellow citizens. Highly industrialized societies are generally pretty peaceful, which would logically tend to make the potential for aggression in men seem less useful and more threatening.

5. Finally, I found this observation intriguing. It also appeared in my BBC test results but I can't find that page:

"Facial types indicate how a particular person might behave in a relationship and the potential benefits they could give to offspring," said Dr Tony Little, from the University of Liverpool's School of Biological Sciences.

"A masculine face is linked to high testosterone levels, which demonstrates good genetic qualities.

"Those women who prefer masculine men are selecting genetic benefits for their children, despite the fact that high testosterone levels can also increase the likelihood that the male will have an affair.

"Those men with a feminine face tend to be associated with stability and caring," he added.

Women who considered themselves highly attractive were more willing to take a risk with a highly testosterone-charged male, and were less likely to fear such a man straying.

When reading my test results I thought, "Well, I certainly don't consider myself beautiful, but I am very confident about my ability to get along with men and very comfortable with them". I've never worried much about affairs, for instance. It makes sense that a more confident woman (whether that confidence comes from the awareness of beauty or from some other source) would find overt masculinity less threatening.

Richard Fernandez, in a must read essay, has a lot of insightful things to say on the whole girly man phenomenon, but I have to disagree with him here:

One Valentine’s Day I saw what must have been a retarded man buying a box of chocolates in a supermarket. Later, I saw the same man at the bus stop, wearing a clean shirt and tie holding hands with a mentally handicapped woman of his own age. John Buchan asked whether the lasting things in God’s sight were not the oceans nor the lofty mountains, but the love of fragile creatures for each other. Maybe the real explanation for the apparent preference for androgyny is a desire not to fall in love with someone else, but to fall in love with ourselves. In that case feminism is neither the liberation of the feminine in the man nor the masculine in the woman, but the denial of both.

The urge to blame feminism for the fact that the world is changing is common enough, but I think it's misguided. When I was a young girl I used to go to bars on the weekends. My friends and I tended to avoid the ones that had a reputation for being "meat markets" but in many ways that's an apt description for the search for a mate: it's a market in which persons with varying attributes are sized up, compared, desired or found wanting.

As with any market, buyers in the mating market respond to their environment. Demand isn't a constant - it's always in flux. It stands to reason that in a highly regulated society where traditional gender roles are giving way to a more blended environment that demand will shift in favor of a man who can adapt to changing circumstances. Men themselves, for the first time in recent history, say they value a woman's earning power. So clearly our desires are not carved in stone; the weighting scheme changes in response to our options and perceived risk.

Despite all of this, I confess to an enduring fondness for the old fashioned man: strong, often silent, sometimes stubborn and unyielding but as strong as a rock. But there is no denying that living with such a man is hard work, and it's harder work when both husband and wife face a constantly shifting tangle of conflicting priorities.

What this means is that the successful man (like the successful woman) must be flexible. He must adapt and overcome. The good news is that even the manliest of manly men can do this. It's just that, in order to compete in a changing world, he may have to develop skills that don't come naturally to him if he wants to win the girl of his dreams.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:22 PM | Comments (55) | TrackBack

A Few Good Reads

No posting until I have a chance to take a lunch break today. Too much to do.

Meanwhile, here are a few links to keep you all busy.

Attila and Retriever both have interesting thoughts on the whole "gender wars" issue. Both well worth reading.

John Hawkins has another poll up - sort of a popularity contest for extremist, reich wing whack jobs and detestable RINO cheese eating surrender monkeys :p I'd tell you what my responses were but then I'd have to kill you.

Grim links to an interesting survey of another kind.

Fausta links to a piece from the WSJ about women supposedly preferring men with more feminine features. Wanted to comment over the weekend but it took me a while to sort out my thoughts. Will weigh in later.

My heart goes out to the families and victims of the Moscow bombing, but I can't help wondering whether the perps were breast bombers?

I have a few posts percolating around the old brain housing group but need to get some work done first.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:36 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 28, 2010

The Agony and the Irony

In hatred as in love, we grow like the thing we brood upon. What we loathe, we graft into our very soul.

- Mary Renault

Posted by Cassandra at 07:37 AM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

Obama's Ocean of Red Ink

"I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless.

"This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth."

- Barack Obama

Yessir! This is the moment all right:


It's been a banner week for Democrats: ObamaCare passed Congress in its final form on Thursday night, and the returns are already rolling in. Yesterday AT&T announced that it will be forced to make a $1 billion writedown due solely to the health bill, in what has become a wave of such corporate losses.

This wholesale destruction of wealth and capital came with more than ample warning. Turning over every couch cushion to make their new entitlement look affordable under Beltway accounting rules, Democrats decided to raise taxes on companies that do the public service of offering prescription drug benefits to their retirees instead of dumping them into Medicare. We and others warned this would lead to AT&T-like results, but like so many other ObamaCare objections Democrats waved them off as self-serving or "political."

... On top of AT&T's $1 billion, the writedown wave so far includes Deere & Co., $150 million; Caterpillar, $100 million; AK Steel, $31 million; 3M, $90 million; and Valero Energy, up to $20 million. Verizon has also warned its employees about its new higher health-care costs, and there will be many more in the coming days and weeks.

As Joe Biden might put it, this is a big, er, deal for shareholders and the economy. The consulting firm Towers Watson estimates that the total hit this year will reach nearly $14 billion, unless corporations cut retiree drug benefits when their labor contracts let them.

Meanwhile, John DiStaso of the New Hampshire Union Leader reported this week that ObamaCare could cost the Granite State's major ski resorts as much as $1 million in fines, because they hire large numbers of seasonal workers without offering health benefits. "The choices are pretty clear, either increase prices or cut costs, which could mean hiring fewer workers next winter," he wrote.

Is anyone really surprised... other than the smart people who are finally in charge lackwits who rushed passage of a bill they hadn't bothered to read and then when the public dared to question them, haughtily informed the peasants they'd see what was in the bill after it became law?

And is anyone really surprised that the "let them eat cake" party's response to their own incompetence is to blame the victims?

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke took to the White House blog to write that while ObamaCare is great for business, "In the last few days, though, we have seen a couple of companies imply that reform will raise costs for them." In a Thursday interview on CNBC, Mr. Locke said "for them to come out, I think is premature and irresponsible."

Meanwhile, Henry Waxman and House Democrats announced yesterday that they will haul these companies in for an April 21 hearing because their judgment "appears to conflict with independent analyses, which show that the new law will expand coverage and bring down costs."

In other words, shoot the messenger. Black-letter financial accounting rules require that corporations immediately restate their earnings to reflect the present value of their long-term health liabilities, including a higher tax burden. Should these companies have played chicken with the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid this politically inconvenient reality? Democrats don't like what their bill is doing in the real world, so they now want to intimidate CEOs into keeping quiet.

We've seen this pattern of behavior over and over again from this administration: boast about openness, transparency and ethics while making deals with special interests behind closed doors. And should anyone take an interest in what their elected representatives are up to, attack the messenger.

Is anyone really surprised? After all, it's the Chicago Way.

Mobster wisdom tells us never to bring a knife to a gun fight. But what does political wisdom say about bringing a gun to a knife fight?

That’s exactly what Barack Obama said he would do to counter Republican attacks “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said at a Philadelphia fundraiser Friday night. “Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”

Gosh, that sounds kind of... angry. If a Tea Partier had said something like that, we'd be awash in hysterical articles about racism and incitements to violence.

But hey, rules are for the little people.

Link via Glenn Reynolds.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:50 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

March 27, 2010

"Pennsylvania: a caring state"...

...so sayeth the Spousal Unit in response to this story:

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (AP) - Police say they charged a Pennsylvania man with public drunkenness after he was seen trying to resuscitate a long-dead opossum along a highway. State police Trooper Jamie Levier says several witnesses saw 55-year-old Donald Wolfe, of Brookville, near the animal Thursday along Route 36 in Oliver Township, about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

The trooper says one person saw Wolfe kneeling before the animal and gesturing as though he were conducting a seance. He says another saw Wolfe attempting to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Levier says the animal already had been dead a while.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:00 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

*sigh*

The "Are Men Better Bloggers?" post has provoked some interesting responses. Smitty's is fairly typical, so I'll pick on him (and isn't that just like a woman?). Heh... :)

Given that we’re all looking at a browser, the gender of the author seems tangential at best. Either the post triggers thought, or it does not. WTF chromosomes? And does the typical male blogger ever consider this question?

I found that kind of funny because over the last 6 years, most of the posts I've seen on this topic were written by male bloggers. So I think the answer to that one is fairly clear: yes, men do consider the question. And so do women. But I want to address another refrain I saw repeatedly in the comments: the idea that one shouldn't worry about classifications or about what other people think. That interested me because, tongue firmly in cheek, I thought I'd been fairly clear about my opinion of such distinctions:

All of which has me in a lather. Do I blog more like a man? Or a woman? Am I a Wendy or a Peter Pan? A Scarlett O'Hara or a Melanie Wilkes? Spiderman or the Incredible Hulk? I like Breslin's writing. That's all I've ever cared about when deciding whether or not a blogger is worth my limited time. And I get very annoyed when men tell me I "think like a man".

I don't think like a man. I think like a woman. I *am* a woman. And yes, I understand what they're trying to say. I even understand that telling me I write like a man is supposed to be some sort of compliment. The thing is, though, that it's not really. I'm a woman. I cry when I see cute babies on TV. I cry when my readers hurt my feelings without meaning to. I cried all the way through The Sound of Music the other night.

That doesn't mean that my brain doesn't work or that I'm not interested in plate tectonics, public choice theory or biological determinism.

I don't think that being interested in, or wanting to comment upon, the fact that people do like to classify and compare things amounts to worrying about them. Perceptions are interesting things. I think I used the metaphor of a lens earlier in the comments but a prism works equally well. That's probably why it's used so often in the gender wars. A prism distorts or bends light that passes through it, and when we interpret what others say and do through the prism of our own experiences or outlook the output has little resemblance to what went in on the input side.

I rarely bother to address gender and blogging when it comes up because as Attila points out, the topic never seems to go away. Consequently, I can't think of any startlingly unoriginal insights to stun you all senseless with. I responded this time for two reasons:

1. Breslin's post did a good job of highlighting the "the male way is good, the female way is inferior" meme most of us grew up with. For years when I was growing up this notion was everywhere, usually accompanied by competing choruses who defended the tried-and-truism or attempted to put a steak (pun fully intended) through it's foul heart. Both sides were prone to saying things like, "Men ALWAYS...." or "Women ALWAYS...." or "Society ALWAYS...".

What a load of crap. Men, women, and society don't always do anything. At any given point in time, certain ideas gain what I'd call traction or popular currency. But there is always (there's that word again!) a vocal opposing viewpoint.

Gradually the "man good or superior/woman bad or inferior" fell out of favor and was replaced by an equally ill thought out meme: the "woman innately good or superior/man innately bad or inferior". Like its predecessor, it evoked the same tired cries of "x, y, or z ALWAYS does this...". Lately, it is my perception that at least in the conservative blogosphere, the old "men awesome/women suckitudinous" meme seems to be gaining traction again. I get it. I understand that it represents pushback against some of the excesses of radical feminism. It's just that I've never thought either extreme made any sense in light of a reality that is far more complicated than that.

I'm far more in favor of something like, "Men and women both have their strengths and weaknesses, and both have their uses. As the world changes, it seems more helpful to figure out the best uses for male and female traits than to bitch and moan about how everyone who doesn't happen to think as you do, sucks."

2. A common response to the attempt to classify and compare types of people is that people who don't conveniently fit any particular mold often feel the need to apologize for being atypical. A frequent consequence of the ubiquitous "More men blog and more big bloggers are male. Therefore male bloggers must be superior to female bloggers", or "Why, o why can't female bloggers be more like men???" meme is that female bloggers seem to feel the need to apologize for being the way they are or distance themselves from the notion that they are female. I rather liked Dr. Helen's take:

Hmm, not sure which one I am. I'm a mom but don't blog about kids much, unless they are violent and I want to discuss their psychology. I blog about relationships and misandry, not about misogyny. I like blogging about politics but am not sure I "blog like a man" whatever that means. According to Breslin, blogging like a man has something to do with blogging on current events, heated debates, racy subjects, and avoiding feelings and relationships. I hope/think this blog blends both of these topics. We discuss relationships and feelings, but often in relation to justice, the law or politics. And yes, there are often heated debates, which I enjoy.

The best part of her post was, "I blog about relationships and misandry, but not about misogyny". I liked it because every good blogger has what I'd call a sweet spot. Dr. Helen's is that she is a passionate advocate for men and she's devoted to highlighting instances of misandry. Doing this has earned her a large and faithful following. I'm not a big fan of the notion that failing to discuss or denounce a topic denotes tacit approval of same. She is under no obligation to devote equal time to pointing out misogyny because that's not a topic that interests her.

If I had to name my "sweet spot", I think it would be that I'm interested in placing things into context (historical or societal) and in critical examination of whatever I perceive to be the conventional wisdom or the prevailing sentiment of the day. I suppose that could make me a bit of a contrarian, but contrarianism isn't an end unto itself. What interests me is the notion that we don't see things clearly when we're in the midst of events.

That's why I tend to question whatever I perceive to be the prevailing meme. I think that current events influence the natural ebb and flow of opinion and so I try to examine current conventional wisdom in a larger or different context than that offered by current events. Sometimes that examination takes me someplace I never thought I'd end up.

In summmation, I believe gender does matter because it is part of what makes us who and what we are. I can't set aside my experiences as a woman. They inform - but don't determine - everything I write. I also think there are certain eternal truths that transcend the back and forth tug of every day life. One of these is that men and women need each other. We are - truly - made for one another, and to the extent that we allow our differences to pit us against each other, we are hurting ourselves.

I think that often the whole "men vs. women" thing makes both men and women defensive about our own character traits where we ought to be appreciative of the many ways our differences make life a richer and more wondrous experience. Why not embrace our differences?

Posted by Cassandra at 10:10 AM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

March 26, 2010

Why I Blog Like a Woman

Via Glenn Reynolds, some fascinating observations by Susannah Breslin who asks, "Are Men Better Bloggers Than Women?":

For the most part, I’ve found, women bloggers fall into three categories: “mommybloggers,” “ladybloggers,” and “women who blog like men.” The first category includes those who have made careers out of writing about the perils of raising a family, being married, and getting stuff off the kitchen floor. The second category includes the group of blogs that self-describe as “feminist” and which seem to have decided that blogging about purportedly widespread sexism and instances of misogyny in our pop culture a neo-feminist movement makes (NB: it doesn’t). The third category includes those few women who blog about politics, technology, and other more “male” topics with a scathing wit and piercing gaze that put their male blogger rivals to shame.

What the blogosphere needs is fewer Martha Stewarts and more Danica Patricks, more real debate and less positing women as the victims of a patriarchal society gone bloggy-wild, more men that blog like women and more women who blog like men.

All of which has me in a lather. Do I blog more like a man? Or a woman? Am I a Wendy or a Peter Pan? A Scarlett O'Hara or a Melanie Wilkes? Spiderman or the Incredible Hulk? I like Breslin's writing. That's all I've ever cared about when deciding whether or not a blogger is worth my limited time. And I get very annoyed when men tell me I "think like a man".

I don't think like a man. I think like a woman. I *am* a woman. And yes, I understand what they're trying to say. I even understand that telling me I write like a man is supposed to be some sort of compliment. The thing is, though, that it's not really. I'm a woman. I cry when I see cute babies on TV. I cry when my readers hurt my feelings without meaning to. I cried all the way through The Sound of Music the other night.

That doesn't mean that my brain doesn't work or that I'm not interested in plate tectonics, public choice theory or biological determinism.

And unlike Ms. Breslin I don't regret the sex and relationship posts. I do - often - feel like an outsider when writing about relationships between men and women. I don't understand why it's so hard to see both sides. The anger and the defensiveness my posts so often provoke are physically, viscerally painful to me. They've often caused me to rant and rave to my husband or poor Carrie.

I will never understand why it's OK for men to say certain things but if a woman says exactly the same thing, she's either insecure or controlling. Why the presumption of bad faith? I wish more people would attempt to take a giant step back from their feelings and look at arguments on the merits. That's not an easy thing to do. On more than one occasion it has caused me to write things I'm not entirely comfortable with from a personal perspective. But when I examined the same issue from a variety of angles, dispassion won out.

What does "blogging like a man" mean, anyway? I see a lot of differences between male and female bloggers. For one thing, men seem more competitive. I think they invest a lot more of their ego in their blogs. Since they're more competitive, they tend to be more prolific. Currency is the currency of the blogosphere but it's often inimical to thoughtful writing. Not always though, thank God. There are many bloggers who churn out reams of material and still manage to make sense.

I can remember when I was prolific, but it had nothing to do with being competitive. I wrote a lot because I was passionate about certain subjects and because I enjoyed it. When I quit blogging and created a tiny site no one knew about, I wrote just as much as I did when I had thousands of visits per day. Either way writing, to me, has always been the reward. But I'd be lying if I said the contentiousness of the blogosphere doesn't get to me. It has caused me to quit several times. The thing is, it's not enough to make me back down if a topic is truly important to me.

I don't think I blog like a man at all. I write about whatever I'm interested in at the moment, whether or not it's topical. Whether or not it makes me popular. That's why I'll always be a 3rd tier blogger: I know what I should do if I want lots of traffic but for me, doing those things takes all the fun out of blogging.

Lastly, I think I blog like a woman because in all these years I've never been able to screen people out; to be indifferent to them. My husband has often said to me, "Why do you care so much what so-and-so says? You've never even met these people."

That doesn't matter to me. Behind each comment there will always be a living, breathing person whose life and perspective I can only guess about. In this respect, being online is no different from real life. We may fool ourselves from time to time when technology's insulating effects shield us from sympathy, antipathy, anger, delight.

Fear. Revulsion. Wonder. But to me the most wonderful and the most frightening thing about the Internet is that there are literally millions of real people out there reading blogs like mine. Perhaps even mine.

Does anything we write make a difference? I have no idea. I only know that every now and then I stumble onto things that make me think, make me wonder, make me love, hate, scream, laugh, cry. And so, not knowing if any of this matters or if it's only so much hot air - the vain ramblings of a pretentious and self absorbed soul - I write.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:22 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Why America Must Cut or Eliminate Entitlements Programs

The debate over health care reform is now officially approaching the surreal. Unfazed by dangerously extremist questions like, "Can we actually pay for these programs?", our President and Congress have just "solved" the problem of three massive (and massively insolvent) entitlement programs - Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid - by (pick one):

a. Assessing the shortfall and raising taxes to make these programs solvent.
b. Assessing the shortfall and combining tax increases with spending cuts to make these programs solvent.
c. Ignoring the shortfall and passing a fourth massive entitlement program.
d. Ignoring the shortfall, passing a fourth massive entitlement program, and calling anyone who dares to point out the risk a dangerous right wingnut extremist.

If you answered "a" or "b", congratulations. Your ability to ignore what happens in the real world is exceeded only by that of our President and Democratic members of Congress. When ordinary Americans buy things we can't pay for, we're irresponsible deadbeats who get reported to collection agencies. When Congress buys things it can't pay for, it's called "progress". Historic progress. Yesterday we were reminded that even "progress" sometimes has unpleasant consequences:

This is the canary in the coal mine; if Social Security's finances are in trouble, Medicare's will also be looking worse. While I was at the Kauffman Foundation's economics blogger forum last Friday, a show of hands indicated that about 80% of the people there thought America would have a serious fiscal crisis in the next two decades.

As this chart suggests, econobloggers are right to be concerned. Both Medicare and Social Security are already in the red. But more importantly, Medicare and Social Security went into the red sooner than the "experts" predicted:

Medicare_&_Social_Security_Deficits_Chart.png

That's not surprising. Historically, estimates of entitlement spending have a poor track record for accuracy. Not only have the "experts" been wrong repeatedly. They've repeatedly been wrong by several orders of magnitude:

cost_overruns.jpg

The chart above is based upon figures from this article. It shows the huge discrepancy between CBO estimates of the cost of new entitlement programs (the red line at 100% on the chart) and their actual costs as implemented (the blue bars). Note that with the sole exception of the Prescription Drug bill, every single health care entitlement passed by Congress has grossly exceeded its original estimated cost.

Every single one. This sobering fact hasn't stopped Barack Obama from astounding feats of chicanery with regard to the estimated (read "before reality proves us wrong") cost of reform:

In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion.

Gimmick No. 1 is the way the bill front-loads revenues and backloads spending. That is, the taxes and fees it calls for are set to begin immediately, but its new subsidies would be deferred so that the first 10 years of revenue would be used to pay for only 6 years of spending.

Even worse, some costs are left out entirely. To operate the new programs over the first 10 years, future Congresses would need to vote for $114 billion in additional annual spending. But this so-called discretionary spending is excluded from the Congressional Budget Office’s tabulation.

Consider, too, the fate of the $70 billion in premiums expected to be raised in the first 10 years for the legislation’s new long-term health care insurance program. This money is counted as deficit reduction, but the benefits it is intended to finance are assumed not to materialize in the first 10 years, so they appear nowhere in the cost of the legislation.


Only in Washington could $70 billion dollars worth of premiums that will have to be paid out be counted as "deficit reduction".

When confronted with the astonishing disconnect between what our government has promised us and their actual ability to pay for it, supporters of health care reform offer one of two replies:

1. "If we got rid of the Defense Department, the problem would go away."
2. "Don't be silly. Europe has offered its citizens health care for decades and they're not in trouble."

The facts don't support either argument.

DEFENSE SPENDING

The "Ooh! Let's cut defense spending" argument is convincing only to those who never bother to ask whether the proposed cuts would solve the problem of insolvent entitlement programs? What would happen if we completely eliminated the Department of Defense? This is a proposal so extreme as to be ludicrous, but let's examine it anyway as a "best case scenario". First, let's look at changes in defense spending over the past 70 years as a percentage of GDP:

Defense_hist.jpg

Now let's look at entitlement spending:

entitlement_history.jpg

Can you identify the difference between these two historic trends? Congress can't either - and apparently neither can supporters of health care reform. The difference in funding is no accident, though. Defense spending is responsive to national priorities because it is discretionary spending subject to annual review by Congress. Unlike mandatory spending items like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Pentagon must justify itself each year if it wishes to receive funding. Social Security, on the other hand, was designed to be permanent from the get go. It was also designed to pay for itself:

The old-age insurance system introduced in the Social Security Act was designed, at a public policy level, to be a contributory social insurance program in which contributions were made by workers to what was called the "old age reserve account," with the clear idea that this account would then be the source of monies to fund the workers' retirement. Actuarial studies were done to determine what the contribution rate would need to be in order to have sufficient reserves in the account to pay anticipated benefits. In the popular understanding of the program, the contributions established an "earned right" to the eventual benefits. President Roosevelt strenuously objected to any attempt to introduce general revenue funding into the program. His famous quote on the importance of the payroll taxes was: "We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program."

With Social Security in the red, it's clear that once again the best projections of the "experts" have proved overly optimistic. Still, let's consider just the best case scenario and ignore those annoying consequences. If we were to disarm tomorrow, would the threat of armed conflict disappear? These countries clearly don't think so:

defense_spending_global.jpg

How many democracies do you see on that list? How many nations that have even the most rudimentary respect for human rights? Still, let's say we completely eliminated our military from the budget. How much of the current budget (FY 2010) goes to defense vs. entitlements?

federalpie.jpg

The takeaways:

1. Defense spending is only half of entitlement spending.
2. Entitlement spending - before a 4th health care entitlement is added - already costs as much as "Everything Else" the federal government does.

"Solutions" like eliminating the most trusted institution in America regardless of whether doing so would make entitlements solvent ignore the vital humanitarian relief provided by the United States military during Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, and the recent earthquake in Haiti. If DoD were eliminated tomorrow, who or what would replace it? Would the services they provide be free? What real "savings" would be achieved by doing away with the only American government program that actually works as advertised and which - despite dramatic reductions in equipment, budget, and personnel over the last 70 years - has retained the trust and confidence of the American people for over 4 decades?

"BUT EUROPE HAS HEALTH CARE AND THEY'RE FINE"

Not according to John Lipsky of the International Monetary Fund. In a speech delivered to the China Development Forum this week, Lipsky warned the world's "advanced economies" that escalating debt directly attributable to runaway entitlement programs poses an urgent threat to the fiscal health of the entire world. The solution, he says, is deep cuts to social welfare programs:

We project that gross general government debt in the advanced economies will rise from an average of about 75 percent of GDP at end-2007 to about 110 percent of GDP at end- 2014, even assuming that the temporary, crisis-related stimulus measures are withdrawn in the next few years. Indeed, we expect that all G7 countries except Canada and Germany will have debt-to-GDP ratios close to or exceeding 100 percent by 2014. Already in 2010, the average debt-to-GDP ratio in advanced economies is projected to reach the level prevailing in 1950, in the aftermath of World War II. Moreover, this surge in government debt is occurring at a time when pressure from rising health and pension spending is building up.

...As I noted earlier, the projected government debt increase in the advanced economies is only partly due to discretionary fiscal stimulus. In fact, such measures has accounted for only about one-tenth of the projected debt increase. Thus, merely winding down the stimulus will not come close to bringing deficits and debt ratios back to prudent levels, considering the projected increases in health care of other entitlement spending.

As a gauge of the potential magnitude of effort that will be required ... bringing general government debt ratios in advanced economies back to the pre-crisis average of 60 percent by 2030 would require steadily raising the structural primary balance from a deficit of about 4 percent of GDP in 2010 to a surplus of about 4 percent of GDP in 2020—an 8 percentage point swing—and keeping it at that level for the following decade. ... any primary surplus improvement in the coming years will have to be accomplished while swimming against the already rising tide of entitlement expenditures on health care and retirement.

... the bulk of the required progress will have to reflect reforms of pension and health entitlements, containment of other primary spending, and increased tax revenues -- possibly through the implementation of both tax policy and tax administration measures.

Of course the CBO estimates are more optimistic. I leave it to you to decide whether this optimism is warranted in light of Congress's habit of piling on additional expenses after a bill is passed. But regardless of whose warnings you choose to heed - the optimistic ones that have repeatedly been trumped by reality or Lipsky's warning, there's a sobering truth here: unlike the soaring debts of the 1940s (which were a function of temporary military spending related to WWII), the deficits carried by the G7 nations are a function of permanent social welfare programs.

The implication is clear: we cannot continue to kick the can down the road and we cannot ignore trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities. We cannot ignore that promising benefits we can't pay for is not only a self serving, cynical lie but a sure fire recipe for fiscal disaster.

The problem is real. It is growing. And instead of addressing the situation right now, today, we have made it worse by loading more debt to an already dangerously overloaded system. Keep in mind that the following chart does not include the costs of health care reform:

debtload.jpg

The consequences of a government default on its obligations would be catastrophic. The number of Americans who are dependent upon revenue from the federal government is at an all time high:

CDA1001_chart12.ashx.gif

The solution will not be easy, but it is no less necessary. Now is not the time to argue over who is responsible for the predicament we're in. The sad truth is that we are all responsible. For too many years we have all - all of us - allowed public servants to spend money they don't have and placate us with empty promises of illusory benefits they can't pay for.

We need leadership, and most importantly the federal government must stop lying to us, face reality, and change course. We were once a great - and a self reliant - country. The envy of the free world. We must stop waiting around for someone else to fix our problems and rediscover the spirit that made America the world's largest and richest superpower:

We search the house the three of us. The Deputy shakes our hands.

But as he gets in his car and drives beside Tom and I as we walk to Toms house, he remarks “I envy ya’ll.”

“How so?” Says I.

“You guy seem to be self sufficient. Every storm we come up here and ya’ll have already cleared your roads. We hardly ever get calls up here. It’s always quiet, and peaceful. Now I come up here and you two are doing house by house searches practically. ” he laughs and starts to pull away.

“I wish had more neighborhoods where neighbors took care of neighbors.”

Or we can continue to kick the can down the road and hope that our children and grandchildren will rescue us from our own fecklessness.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:23 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

March 25, 2010

Coffee Snorters: Test Your Beer Fu Edition

Here.

Smile for the Day.

Thought for the Day:

The only way to influence the other fellow is to talk about what he wants and show him how to get it. If, for example, you don't want your son to smoke, don't preach at him, and don't talk about what you want; but show him that cigarette's may keep him from making the baseball team or winning the hundred-yard dash.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and his son one day tried to get a calf into the barn, but they made the common mistake of thinking only of what they wanted. Emerson pushed and his son pulled. But the calf did just what they did; he thought only of what he wanted; so he stiffened his legs and stubbornly refused to leave the pasture. The Irish housemaid saw their predicament. She thought of what the calf wanted; so she put her maternal finger in the calf's mouth, and let the calf suck her finger as she gently led him into the barn.

Andrew Carnegie's sister-in-law was worried sick over her two boys. They were at Yale, and they were so busy with their own affairs that they neglected to write home and paid no attention whatever to their mother's frantic letters. Carnegie offered to wager a hundred dollars that he could get an answer by return mail, without even asking for it! Someone called his bet; so he wrote his nephews a chatty letter, mentioning casually in a postscript that he was sending each one a five-dollar bill. He neglected, however, to enclose the money. That did the trick. Back came the replies by return mail thanking "Dear Uncle Andrew" for his kind note and ...you can finish the sentence yourself.

The next time you want to persuade someone to do something, before you speak, pause and ask, "How can I make him want to do it?" Get the other man's point of view and see things from his angle as well as from his own.

- Dale Carnegie



Confounding the conventional wisdom,
part 1:

While male victims sometimes experience behavior like groping and unwanted sexual advances, employment lawyers say increasingly "locker room" type behavior like vulgar talk and horseplay with sexual connotations have been the subject of claims.

Ron Chapman, an attorney with employment law firm Ogletree Deakins in Dallas, says in most cases the man suing is someone who has been fired or laid off.

...The EEOC doesn't track the sex of the alleged harasser, but Ms. Lisser says the EEOC has observed an increasing number of men alleging sexual harassment from other male co-workers—and not as many cases of men accusing female bosses or co-workers of sexual harassment. Employment attorneys have also seen an increase in man-on-man harassment complaints.

...Companies have educated employees about sexual harassment for years, but some are making their messages more male-focused to safeguard themselves from potential litigation. Freada Klein, a workplace bias expert in San Francisco, has been advising companies to add examples of sexual harassment levied against men to their training and education programs. She encourages clients to bring up scenarios like public humiliation, bullying and inappropriate banter. "More types of behaviors are put in the sexual harassment bucket when men are the victims," she says.

Question for the day: do you think it's harder for males who are sexually harassed to come forward when their harasser is male or female?

Confounding the conventional wisdom, part 2:

Young women and teenage girls often face efforts by male partners to sabotage birth control or coerce pregnancy — including damaging condoms and destroying contraceptives — and these efforts, defined as "reproductive coercion," frequently are associated with physical or sexual violence, a study by a team of researchers led by UC Davis has found.

Published online today in the January issue of the journal Contraception, the study, "Pregnancy Coercion, Intimate Partner Violence and Unintended Pregnancy," also found that among women who experienced both reproductive coercion and partner violence, the risk of unintended pregnancy doubled. The study is the first quantitative examination of the relationship between intimate partner violence, reproductive coercion and unintended pregnancy, the authors say.

Interesting counterpart to the last time this subject came up, and just another reason why I've always argued that responsibility is a two way street.

Perfect man lists:

... must-haves are not the shallow things a lot of women choose, like height, car choice and salary. Must-haves, to me, are things that have to do with someone's character, like spirituality, relationships with his family, or how he handled a previous breakup.

Too often, women create an image in their heads of what this man should look like, sound like and be like, and get so obsessed with it that when the person you need is standing there, he gets sidelined because of this insatiable desire to check items off the list.

If I ever had a perfect man list, I'm not aware of it. On the other hand, the guys I dated all had certain character traits in common. If I had to sum them all up, I think my primary requirement was that a man had to be able to pull his own weight in the relationship. Not more than his weight or all the weight: just his half.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:16 AM | Comments (55) | TrackBack

March 23, 2010

Without Pain, No Gain?

Robert Samuelson offers an interesting insight into the causes of the financial crisis:

Greenspan's complicity in the financial crisis stemmed from succeeding too much, not doing too little. Recessions were infrequent and mild. The 1987 stock market crash, the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and the burst "tech bubble" did not lead to deep slumps. The notion spread that the Fed could counteract almost any economic upset. Greenspan, once a critic of "fine-tuning" the business cycle, effectively became a convert. The world seemed less risky. The problem of "moral hazard" -- meaning that if people think they're insulated from risk, they'll take more chances -- applied not just to banks but to all of society: bankers, regulators, economists, ordinary borrowers and consumers.

"We had been lulled into a state of complacency," Greenspan writes in passing, failing to draw the full implication. Which is: Too much economic success creates the seeds of its undoing. Extended prosperity bred overconfidence that led to self-defeating behavior. Neither Greenspan nor any other major economist has yet wrestled with this daunting contradiction.

This is the problem I've had all along with those who worship at the altar of Our Lady of the Perpetually Expanding Business Cycle: sooner or later, every business cycle goes bust. We can kick the can down the road a bit, but we can't prevent the inevitable from happening.

That being the case, is it good public policy to regulate away the pain for so long that people become overconfident and behave as though the "bust" part of the boom and bust cycle will never happen? Does too much government tinkering with the economy lull the public into a false sense of confidence? Several months ago I asked that question with regard to unemployment:

The more common shape is a sharp increase in unemployment that bottoms out and then is followed by a sharp rise in employment. I couldn't help but think of homeopathy here (OK - try not to let your heads explode here - I'm not trying to score partisan points or prove anything. I'm just exploring ideas.) Maybe when things get bad enough in the economy, an equally strong response is stimulated that triggers recovery - sort of a 'no pain, no gain'?

Over at QandO, Lance Paddock pursues the same line of thinking:

EmploymentRecessionsFeb2010-e1268022068212.jpg

I employed my madly crappy graphic editing skillz to eliminate all but the last three recessions from this graph:

justthree.jpg

Not only have the last three recessions lasted longer than any other post-WWII recession, but they seem to be growing progressively (there's a daft pun in there somewhere) more severe. Lance comments:

The change that we began to see in the 1990 recession is partly structural. The layoffs associated with the much larger manufacturing sector in recessions of the past were associated with a rundown in inventories which then snapped back once the inventories were depleted.

Something else is going on here as well in my own opinion. As the eighties gave way to the nineties the US was in the early stages of an experiment in monetary and economic policy. Monetary policy was explicitly geared to reduce economic volatility. This led to attempts to reduce the severity of recessions, and also led to a reduction in upside volatility as well. This was (at least for a while) somewhat successful, resulting in what became known as “The Great Moderation.” The recession of 1990 was the first crack in that system. Attempts to limit volatility not only reduced the violence of the recession, but the explosive growth typical after recessions previously. It also was a recession which was a result of a financial crisis (the S&L’s) and the real estate boom of the late eighties. The deleveraging of the finance and debt recession (what we are going through now, only in miniature) was sluggish. It took a good while for the adjustment to occur.

We followed a familiar script of lowering interest rates and encouraging credit expansion. Constant expansions of credit whenever things slowed kept the engine running until a bigger crisis hit with the bursting of the tech and telecom bubble. Once again we applied even more credit easing to soften the blow, and the attempt to avoid wringing the excesses of credit from the system led to another sluggish recovery with anemic job growth. Profits however were large and the return for the steadily growing financial sector was immense. If the economy was going to be stabilized by constant applications of credit expansion, then the financial sector was the main beneficiary. Finally we have the latest crisis, one where the financial system itself was the most important bubble.

What we can now see is that the types of recessions we have been experiencing are successive deleveraging cycles, each “solved” by releveraging the economy and leading to a bigger crisis down the road. Sadly deleveraging processes, especially if drawn out by keeping them from running their course, result in tepid job growth. We are now in a massive deleveraging cycle which we are once again trying to solve by adding massive debt to the system. Once again job growth and recovery is slower. Unless we break this cycle (which would be very painful) we should expect nothing different in the outcome, except that the problem is bigger and will last longer.

The nanny state operates much like an overprotective parent, constantly trying to "fix" every problem that crops up. Unfortunately, the end result is a child who rarely has to face truly tough challenges and - as a consequence - doesn't develop adequate coping skills.

That's straightforward enough. The more disturbing implication is that too much government meddling doesn't just weaken our ability to respond to bust cycles once they occur. It may actually promote behaviors that cause recessions.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:26 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Coffee Snorters:

Because the Princess is bored, she is toying with the idea of bringing back daily Coffee Snorters posts. Please try to control your excitement....

Le Whif. Les snorts.

The Science of love at first sight:

According to new research, that head-over-heels feeling we’ve all been swept up by at one time or another is likely to lead us seriously astray. Instead, say recent findings in the field of dating and mating, it’s the slow-burn attraction that builds over time—your growing crush on a slightly goofy coworker, not the instant lust you feel for that Johnny Depp look-alike across the room—that will lead you to true and lasting love.

Even more surprisingly, says Robert Epstein, PhD, author of the new book Making Love: How People Learn to Love and How You Can Too, having the sort of bond you see (and envy) in couples married half a century can actually be learned, whether you fell head over stilettos at the start of the relationship or felt merely lukewarm.

From a statistical standpoint it makes sense that couples whose relationship started off with fireworks would be more likely to gloss over major incompatibilities than those whose attraction grew over time. But in the end, what matters is commitment.

Just say no to pyramids. Remember:

Edward-Tufte-Kills-A-Kitten.png

CWCID

Every office should have one.

OK, guys... the jig is up. We see how you are...

Turns out, the vasectomy isn't just the official procedure of March Madness. It also supports a Tradition Unlike Any Other.

Utz's schedule before the Masters golf tournament has been booked for weeks.

"You're having a vasectomy because you don't want to have more young kids," Utz said, "so you're at that age when you're expected to help out around the house. (Right after a vasectomy) you really can't."

How conveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeenient....

Who's looking out for your naughty bits? James Lipton's Beard, that's who:

LG and Young & Rubicam have enlisted James Lipton, and his great and powerful beard, for some amusing PSAs urging young texters to "give it a ponder" before sending pics of their junk across the interwebs

Common sense alert:

Robert Weis and Brittany C. Cerankosky... surveyed families with boys between the ages of 6 and 9 who were considering buying videogame consoles for their kids. Half of the kids got machines, and the other half didn’t.

The study showed that videogames became an immediate distraction, with the gamers spending less time studying and more time playing games. The gamer kids scored significantly lower on reading and writing tests after only four months.

Hint: it isn't videogames that are causing the problem. It's the parents.

Ding, dong - the witch is dead.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:50 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

March 22, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors

Only in Obama's America could a bill that adds hundreds of billions of net spending to the deficit be called "deficit neutral":

ON Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office reported that, if enacted, the latest health care reform legislation would, over the next 10 years, cost about $950 billion, but because it would raise some revenues and lower some costs, it would also lower federal deficits by $138 billion. In other words, a bill that would set up two new entitlement spending programs — health insurance subsidies and long-term health care benefits — would actually improve the nation’s bottom line.

Could this really be true? How can the budget office give a green light to a bill that commits the federal government to spending nearly $1 trillion more over the next 10 years?

The answer, unfortunately, is that the budget office is required to take written legislation at face value and not second-guess the plausibility of what it is handed. So fantasy in, fantasy out.

In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion.

Gimmick No. 1 is the way the bill front-loads revenues and backloads spending. That is, the taxes and fees it calls for are set to begin immediately, but its new subsidies would be deferred so that the first 10 years of revenue would be used to pay for only 6 years of spending.

Even worse, some costs are left out entirely. To operate the new programs over the first 10 years, future Congresses would need to vote for $114 billion in additional annual spending. But this so-called discretionary spending is excluded from the Congressional Budget Office’s tabulation.

Consider, too, the fate of the $70 billion in premiums expected to be raised in the first 10 years for the legislation’s new long-term health care insurance program. This money is counted as deficit reduction, but the benefits it is intended to finance are assumed not to materialize in the first 10 years, so they appear nowhere in the cost of the legislation.

Another vivid example of how the legislation manipulates revenues is the provision to have corporations deposit $8 billion in higher estimated tax payments in 2014, thereby meeting fiscal targets for the first five years. But since the corporations’ actual taxes would be unchanged, the money would need to be refunded the next year. The net effect is simply to shift dollars from 2015 to 2014.

Of course, such dizzying displays of prestidigitation should be left to the pros. Those of us less well versed in the ancient art of obfuscation should not try this sort of thing at home:

What troubles me is the substantive precedent of using future cuts in Medicare benefits as a funding source. This is really weird, if you think about it.

Imagine that your crazy uncle Fred had bought a dozen cars on credit. As a result, he faces car payments far in excess of what he can afford. He comes to you and says he has a plan that in a couple of years will reduce his car payments by a few thousand dollars. "Now I have the money for a down payment on a boat!" he exclaims, as he runs off to the boat dealer.

The equivalent is for Congress to treat future cuts in Medicare as if they were a newfound source of wealth to be tapped. Once they adopt this precedent, they can increase spending on whatever they want, in unlimited amounts, while claiming deficit neutrality. Future Medicare spending is so high that you can always come up with cuts, as long as they deferred.

Years ago, I thought a balanced budget amendment was misguided. Now, I'm convinced that our Congressional overlords are so deficient in integrity that we need to require them to disclose exactly how every bill they pass will be paid for out of current (not future) funding. We can only kick the can down the road so far.

Sooner or later, someone's going to have to figure out how to pay for it.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:39 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Caption This

hopeisontheway.jpg

Posted by Cassandra at 02:00 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

A Strong Dose of Reality

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around what just happened.

I haven't written a lot about health care reform because it my gut feeling was that it was going to happen no matter how compelling the arguments against it and no matter whether or not it increased the deficit to the point where government debt eclipses our ability to create wealth:

... "at all levels, federal, state, local and GSEs, the total public debt is now at 141% of GDP. That puts the United States in some elite company--only Japan, Lebanon and Zimbabwe are higher. That's only the start. Add household debt (highest in the world at 99% of GDP) and corporate debt (highest in the world at 317% of GDP, not even counting off-balance-sheet swaps and derivatives) and our total debt is 557% of GDP. Less than three years ago our total indebtedness crossed 500% of GDP for the first time."

Add the unfunded portion of entitlement programs and we're at 840% of GDP.

The world has not seen such debt levels in modern history. This debt is not serviceable. Imagine that total debt is 557% of GDP, without considering entitlements. The interest on the debt will consume all the tax revenues of the country in the not-too-distant future. Then there will be no way out but to create more debt in order to finance the old debt.

These two charts, both created before yesterday's health care reform bill dramatically increased our debt load, say all that needs to be said. Over the years mandatory spending has increased to nearly 70% of total outlays:

mandatory.jpg

What this means, quite simply, is that Congress is asking a shrinking number of tax payers to fund an ever growing package of taxpayer funded government benefits that are not subject to annual review and debate. Mandatory entitlements are crowding out discretionary spending. Even before the passage of HCR, entitlement spending was projected to exceed tax revenue sometime between 2030 and 2040:

entitlement_spending.png

I can't help but agree with Grim that this bill has merely hastened the inevitable:

The fact is that, pre-HCR, we had somewhere around $100 Trillion in unfunded liabilities. We've been a train racing down the mountain to Insolvency Gorge; all the HCR bill does is tear off what were already stressed and failing brakes.

From my perspective, then, all this means is that we get to the crash faster. The important questions have always been what we'd do after the crash, since it was clear these last few years that neither party in Washington intended to be the ones who avoided the crash.

Unlike some, I don't hold out much hope that SCOTUS will strike down the bill on constitutional grounds. I very much fear that history is about to repeat itself:

Even though the Social Security Act was enacted into law on August 14, 1935, the country still had to hear from the Supreme Court. This was a new untested area of federal authority and it was inevitable that it would be challenged in the courts, and until the Supreme Court ruled, no one could be sure that the nascent Social Security Act would survive its infancy.

The constitutional basis of the Social Security Act was uncertain. The basic problem is that under the "reserve clause" of the Constitution (the 10th Amendment) powers not specifically granted to the federal government are reserved for the States or the people. When the federal government seeks to expand its influence in new areas it must find some basis in the Constitution to justify its action. Obviously, the Constitution did not specifically mention the operation of a social insurance system as a power granted to the federal government!

And indeed, SCOTUS seemed determined to uphold the Constitution... at first:

Federal judges are appointed for life. The Supreme Court of the 1930s was the most elderly in the history of the Republic, with an average age of over 71. President Roosevelt would derisively refer to them as "those nine old men." Actually, he only had four of them in mind. The Court was split down the middle in political terms. On the liberal side were three justices sympathetic to the New Deal programs (Brandeis, Stone and Cardozo); on the conservative side were four justices who voted against everything the Congress and the Administration tried to do (McReynolds, Butler, Van Devanter and Sutherland). In the middle were Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and Justice Owen Roberts, who were often "swing votes" on many issues. In the spring of 1935 Justice Roberts joined with the conservatives to invalidate the Railroad Retirement Act. In May, the Court threw out a centerpiece of the New Deal, the National Industrial Recovery Act. In January 1936 a passionately split Court ruled the Agricultural Adjustment Act unconstitutional. In another case from 1936 the Court ruled New York state's minimum wage law unconstitutional. The upshot was that major social and political reforms, including social insurance programs, appeared headed for defeat.

Then came FDR's historic (and failed) attempt to pack the courts. To be more precise, the court packing attempt failed. But a message had been delivered to conservative opponents of the New Deal:

...The practical effect of this proposal was that the President would get to appoint six new Justices to the Supreme Court (and 44 judges to lower federal courts) thus instantly tipping the political balance on the Court dramatically in his favor. The debate on this proposal was heated, widespread and over in six months. The President would be decisively rebuffed, his reputation in history tarnished for all time. But the Court, it seemed, got the message and suddenly shifted its course. Beginning with a set of decisions in March, April and May 1937 (including the Social Security Act cases) the Court would sustain a series of New Deal legislation, producing a "constitutional revolution in the age of Roosevelt."

SCOTUS has not exactly established a track record for upholding the Constitution, nor has it been willing to issue clear, definitive rulings even when the language of the Constitution has been clear and unambiguous. As much as I'd love to believe that our big, gay judge will come riding in on a white horse to rescue the Constitution from the Camembert-and-Derrida crowd, frankly I'm not sanguine about our prospects. Even if challenges to the individual mandate succeed, the Court is unlikely to strike down the entire bill. More likely, only the objectionable provisions would be ruled unconstitutional and the court would send the mess back to an already broken Congress to "fix".

So where does that leave us? The good news is that if the GOP has been looking for a simple message, "Don't pass bills you can't pay for" is about as simple as it gets. As Grim points out, the Balanced Budget amendment garnered 32 of the 34 required votes last time around. I have a feeling we're about to see something momentous happen: an amendment to the Constitution passed by the states. The question is: how do we force Congress and the Courts to uphold even such an historic development?

Sooner or later even our free spending Congress is going to run out of other people's money to buy votes with. And when that happens, our government will begin to default on its obligations. When the gusher of federal tax dollars dries up, arguments that have been easy to ignore or dismiss as "cynical" or alarmist will no longer be theoretical. Even the thickest headed voter will realize that the cash cow just died.

The passage of ObamaCare means that moment will now come sooner instead of later. And when government itself becomes undependable, dependence upon government will no longer be such an attractive option.

Update: Welcome, Michelle Malkin readers!

Posted by Cassandra at 04:11 AM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

March 21, 2010

Phew!

22 bags of leaves raked up
Gutters cleaned out
2 trees limbed
Utility enclosure painted, inside and out

Am I going to feel like a bus hit me tomorrow or what?

Posted by Cassandra at 04:18 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

March 19, 2010

Friday Morning Update

Just shoot me now.

Really. You will be doing me a favor.

Update:

h/t: Grim

OMG. One of my all time faves:

Posted by Cassandra at 09:42 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

March 18, 2010

Go. Now.

Must read post from Dymphna. One gifted writer remembers another.

Know, all who see these lines
That this man, by his appetite for honor,
By his steadfastness,
By his love for his country
By his courage
Was one of the miracles of the Gods.

- Guy Gavriel Kay

Never forget.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:43 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

March 17, 2010

It's a Jungle Out There

You know, it was bad enough when we only had to contend with hang gliding, GWOT Bears:

Getting back to the bear thing, there actually is a history of Bear-on-Terrorist activity. Jihadilocks and the GWOT Bear:

Don’t worry, it has a happy ending. Bear vs. AK-toting muj in a Kashmiri cave, bear wins. Scratch two jihadis. BBC report suggests a sort of Islamic extremist take on the Goldilocks story. Jihadilocks occupy the bear’s den, are making pudding when GWOT Bear comes home. “Who’s been making pudding in MY cave.”

Two other militants escaped, one of them badly wounded, after the attack in Kulgam district, south of Srinagar.

The militants had assault rifles but were taken by surprise – police found the remains of pudding they had made to eat when the bear attacked.

More bears like this, please.

Yeah, but this is the age of Obama. He has to go stare at his navel for three months just to decide whether to deploy humans vs. jihadis, let alone wildlife. The Caliphate will be restored, inshallah, before you’ll see any ursine operations.

I dunno. I'm telling ya, this war has gone to the dogs.

wolf.jpg

Posted by Cassandra at 04:03 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Rorschach Test

Via Glenn Reynolds, it's interesting what people see in this:

Today, my friend Xeni Jardin, co-editor of Boing Boing, forwarded me an email from Orna Pickens, a senior publicist at Warner Bros. The subject header read, “One, Two…. Freddy’s Coming for You.” The body of the email was short: “Caffeine pills, self mutilation, a cold shower — what will you do to keep her awake?” And then there was a link.

The link is keepherawake.com, and it takes you to a website, where you will find an attractive, young blond waiting for you to keep her awake. How’re you going to do that? She keeps yawning. She’s sooo sleepy.

Go over and check it out. I'll wait. Now tell me what you see.

I saw an extremely attractive blonde, very amply endowed, that the "user" (boy is that an apt term) can force to inflict pain on herself. I couldn't help but be reminded of this frankly creepy Superbowl ad from a few years ago:

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see too many women getting their kicks from torturing a sexy blonde. If there's a theme here, it seems pretty straightforward: sexual arousal through inflicting pain.

Hmmm.... now where on earth have I seen that sort of thing before? (link decidedly NSFW)

She’s a little nervous,” the first considers. “I’m a little nervous, too,” he mock-confesses. “I don’t even want to hurt you,” he tells her. “But I have to—because my friends are here.”

Over the next ten minutes, he threatens to beat her, threatens to torture her, pulls up her shirt, pulls up her skirt, hits her breasts, hits her thighs, throttles her by the neck with both hands, humiliates her, degrades her, makes her cry, chokes her until she is gasping for air. He gets her to tell the camera she is 27 years old and the only reason she’s here doing this particular job on this particularly day in this particular hotel room in the Valley is for the money, and the fact of the matter is she has two young children to support, of whom the man asks rhetorically, and seemingly for the sole purpose of screwing with her head, “They’re going to grow up to be proud of her, right?”

The woman is becoming unmoored. He orders her on her hands and knees, and begins beating her with a leather strap that cracks! across the bared skin of her backside every time he hits her, leaving angry pink welts, until, finally, in a futile attempt to protect herself, the woman reaches her arm around herself, her hand turned upwards, her palm facing outwards, and the man stops.

The camera pans to the side to find her face buried in the sofa cushions.

“Can I ask you a question?”

She doesn’t move or respond.

“Could you look at the camera, please?”

He repeats himself. Eventually, she turns her head and faces the camera. There are tears tracking down her flush cheeks. Her body is shaking uncontrollably, and her breath is hitching with every intake.

“To steal a Quentin Tarantino line,” he muses, mockingly, “‘Was that as good for you as it was for me?’”

There can be no mistake. This is when he breaks her. Her expression flattens. Her eyes go blank. She appears to be dissociating. Slowly, she turns from the camera, going somewhere else, inside herself, anywhere but here.

“OK, I’m going to bring the guys in here,” the man announces to no one in particular. “Because you’ve just gone to pieces on me.”

And, with that, the real scene begins.

No, wait! That wasn't it! There's a political statement to be made here, albeit a tortured one:

New Freddy Krueger movie promo seems to take notes from War on Terror

Interactive marketing, in this case, means a Flash website where you get to make a young woman cut or burn herself. It's like the studio marketing team is either trying to make Freddy Krueger more Saw or more Xe. Maybe they picked up tips from American black ops torturers, waterboarding detainees and forcing "stress positions" to "keep them awake" in the name of liberty. It's odd that some producers of material intended to ring this particular psychological bell get federal obsenity [sp], while others get theatrical distribution. The intersection of porn, torture, and horrorshow: this is America.

I guess I missed the part where those fiends at the Pentagon forced busty blonde nymphettes to cut and burn themselves.

If these folks weren't so obliging, I'd have to make stuff like this up. Fortunately, the comedy pretty much writes itself. Strangely enough, though, I can't quite force myself to laugh.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:36 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Poll of the Week

Ladies, take note:

Men do help in the home (say men)

Men say they do far more housework than they are given credit for - but women don't notice because men "don't make a fuss".

A survey of men said they spent 13 hours a week on household chores including cleaning the lavatory, taking out the rubbish and changing the bed linen.

But 60% of the 1,000 men questioned said their efforts were unnoticed by the woman in their lives because they did not like to make a fuss. Almost half said they felt women were more prone to showing off about the amount of housework they take on, reports the Daily Telegraph.

So, ladies, I do not want to have to bring this to your attention again.

You big show offs.

Update: In addition to being generally more helpful around the house than they are given credit for, men are apparently great lovers of Art as well.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:45 AM | Comments (61) | TrackBack

It's March, So It Must Be Time...

...for The Beer Bracket.

beer.jpg

Background here. Feel free to advocate zealously for the brew of your choice (this week's selections only, please) in the comments section. Other acceptable topics are:

What you're having for St. Paddy's Day dinner.
Your brew of choice.
Any jokes, Irish trivia, or other inane fodder you wish to inflict upon the assembled villainry.

Update: If you (or someone you know) is suspected of having Irish blood, you may look up family names here, here, or here.

Or if you're not Irish, generate an Irish name for yourself!

Camo has the background on St. Patrick, as does Patrick O'Hannigan.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:54 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

March 15, 2010

Winning at all Costs

George Pickett: Colonel, think on it now. Suppose that we all joined a club, a gentlemen's club. After a time, several of the members began to intrude themselves... into our private lives, our home lives. Began telling us what we could and couldn't do. Well, then, wouldn't any one of us have the right to resign? I mean, just resign. That's what we did. That's what I did and now these people are telling us we don't have that right.

Pete Longstreet: I got to hand it to you, General. You certainly do have a talent for trivializing the momentous... and complicating the obvious.

Reading the debate between Jonah Goldberg, Andy McCarthy and Paul Mirengoff, I couldn't help but think of one of my favorite scenes from the movie, Gettysburg. In it, the Confederate army are sitting around a campfire debating the merits of The Cause. In the end, their passionate and heartfelt rhetoric is trumped by the dour practicality of an experienced battle commander:

I don't think on that too much anymore. I guess my only cause is victory. This war comes as a nightmare. You pick your nightmare side. Then you put your head down and win.

I've mostly stopped writing about the war. I won't go into the reasons for that here: I could write a book on that topic and still not begin to cover it well. Let's just say it's a sore subject for this Marine wife. But it strikes me that this issue is being overcomplicated with a lot of talk about Islam and Islamism and treason when in essence the merits of the demand for transparency with regard to the so-called 'al Qaeda 7' are really quite simple.

I don't know - and frankly don't care - what motivated these attorneys to represent accused enemy combatants. Questions of motivation are not only politically charged, but nearly impossible to prove definitively. So far as the merits of the disclosure request go, it doesn't even matter whether some detainees were innocent.

The simple fact of the matter is that if any of the attorneys hired by Eric Holder's Justice department are guilty of offenses like these, they are - by definition - unfit to hold public office. In fact, I'd argue that if they are guilty of such acts, they deserve to be disbarred:

We obtained Justice Department accounts of some of those incidents under a Freedom of Information Act request. Examples included an incident in which a lawyer sent his detainee client the transcript of a virulently anti-American speech that compared military physicians to Joseph Mengele, the Nazi doctor of Auschwitz, called DOJ lawyers "desk torturers" and suggested that the "abuses carried out by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib . . . could involve the President in the commission of war crimes."

Other incidents listed in the FOIA material included: a lawyer who was caught in the act of making a hand-drawn map of a detention camp's layout, including guard towers; a lawyer who sent a letter to his detainee client telling him that "we cannot depend on the military to do the right thing" and conveying his message of support to other detainees who were not his clients; lawyers who posted photos of Guantanamo security badges on the Internet; lawyers who provided news outlets with "interviews" of their clients using questions provided in advance by the news organization; and a lawyer who gave his client a list of all the detainees.

They ought to be disbarred because defense attorneys are bound by the rule of law. In fact, it is arguable that attorneys, by virtue of the legal expertise they possess, should be held to an even higher standard than laypersons. Even the most sincere and zealous advocates cannot pick and choose which laws they will obey, no matter how desirable the end result may seem to them:

At Guantanamo, "legal mail" is strictly limited to correspondence between counsel and a detainee that is related to representation of the detainee, privileged documents and publicly filed legal documents. But even "legal mail," according to the rules mandated by Judge Joyce Hens Green in a 2004 protective order, prohibits lawyers from giving detainees information relating to military operations, intelligence, arrests, political news and current events, and the names of U.S. government personnel. Lawyers are forbidden from discussing other detainee cases not directly related to the representation of their own client.

The real irony here is that these attorneys justify their own malfeasance by claiming their actions were necessary to uphold the rule of law. But one does not defend the rule of law by violating it.

Regardless of the legal merits of their respective positions, a common thread unites Pentagon interrogators, Gitmo personnel and civilian counsel who volunteered to defend the sworn enemies of the United States: exigency. They all claim their acts were necessary to save lives and uphold the rule of law.

The Department of Defense claims it was trying to save the lives of millions of American citizens, the overwhelming majority of whom are innocent. The civilian attorneys, on the other hand, claim they were protecting the lives of a small number of accused enemy combatants (some of whom may be innocent). That's a pretty fundamental difference but in the end it, too, is irrelevant. Arguments can be made regarding the relative weight to be applied to ends and means when protecting millions of innocent lives vs. a few possibly innocent lives. The fact remains, however, that having explicitly rejected exigency as immoral and unethical, these attorneys cannot then claim exigency as a defense for their own actions. They cannot claim to defend the rule of law by violating it. And clearly they cannot be trusted to act on behalf of the U.S. government if they refuse to abide by our laws.

Questions about whether Islam and Islamism are one and the same or whether the acts of detainee counsel rise to the level of treason are interesting questions, but in the end they, too, are beside the point.

We deserve to know if the Eric Holder has nominated attorneys who violated both the law and the code of professional conduct they promised to uphold when they became members of the bar. There is no separate code or set of rules for detainee counsel. One does not prove the end does not justify the means by adopting the very tactic one claims to oppose. If winning at all costs - even in wartime - violates the basic tenets of civil society, one has to ask: how do these men and women sleep at night knowing they have become everything they claim to hate?

Posted by Cassandra at 09:28 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

March 13, 2010

The Black Bra (as told by a woman)

I had lunch with 2 of my unmarried friends.One is engaged, one is a mistress, and I have been married for 20+ years.

We were chatting about our relationships and decided to amaze our men by greeting them at the door wearing a black bra, stiletto heels and a mask over our eyes. We agreed to meet in a few days to exchange notes...

Here's how it all went.

My engaged friend:
The other night when my boyfriend came over he found me with a black leather bodice, tall stilettos and a mask. He saw me and said, 'You are the woman of my dreams. I love you.' Then we made passionate love all night long.

The mistress:
Me too! The other night I met my lover at his office and I was wearing a raincoat, under it only the black bra, heels and Mask over my eyes. When I opened the raincoat he didn't say a word, but he started to tremble and we had wild sex all night.


Then I had to share my story:

When my husband came home I was wearing the black bra,
Black stockings, stilettos and a mask over my eyes.
When he came in the door and saw me he said,


"What's for dinner, Zorro?"

Thanks to Fausta.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:16 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

March 12, 2010

Friday Nite Dedication

For Pile. And Don. And all my dearest, oldest friends.

When the road gets dark
And you can no longer see
Just let my love throw a spark
And have a little faith in me
And when the tears you cry
Are all you can believe
Just give these loving arms a try
And have a little faith in me

This song didn't make a big impression on me the first 35 times I heard it. But it snuck up on me.

...and one to bring y'all up:

Now I'm in my car
Ooh, I got the radio on
Now I'm yellin' at the kids in the back
Cuz they're banging like Charlie Watts

You think you've come so far
In this one horse town
Then she's laughing that crazy laugh
Cuz you haven't left the parkin' lot

Time is short and here's the damn thing about it
You're gonna die, gonna die for sure
And you can learn to LIVE with love or without it
But there ain't no cure

It's just a slow turning
From the inside out
A slow turning
But you come about...

Thanks for being there, all these years.


Posted by Cassandra at 08:19 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

*sigh*

Are these folks out of their minds?

The World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides hosted a no-adults-welcome panel at the United Nations this week where Planned Parenthood was allowed to distribute a brochure entitled "Healthy, Happy and Hot." The event was part of the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) which concludes this week.

Happy, Healthy and Hot The brochure, aimed at young people living with HIV, contains explicit and graphic details on sex, as well as the promotion of casual sex in many forms. The brochure claims, "Many people think sex is just about vaginal or anal intercourse... But, there are lots of different ways to have sex and lots of different types of sex. There is no right or wrong way to have sex. Just have fun, explore and be yourself!" The brochure goes on to encourage young people to "Improve your sex life by getting to know your own body. Play with yourself! Masturbation is a great way to find out more about your body and what you find sexually stimulating. Mix things up by using different kinds of touch from very soft to hard. Talk about or act out your fantasies. Talk dirty to them."

My favorite part: page 8.

Some countries have laws that say people living with HIV must tell their sexual partner(s) about their status before having sex, even if they use condoms or only engage in sexual activity with a low risk of giving HIV to someone else. These laws violate the rights of people living with HIV by forcing them to disclose or face the possibility of criminal charges.

Call me old fashioned, but no one has a "right" to expose a partner to a potentially deadly disease without their knowledge or consent. But then I didn't think a patient's bill of rights included the right to demand sexual services from female health care providers either.

Silly me. No wonder I'm confused.

Posted by Cassandra at 03:22 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Happily Never After

All government —
indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment,
every virtue and every prudent act —
is founded on compromise and barter.

- Edmund Burke

Recently while reading a friend's essay, I found myself pondering the wise words of Edmund Burke, not in their intended sphere, but as applies to men, women, and the holy state of matrimony:

This NSFW "Best Divorce Letter Ever" via the ever-contradictory Gerard, who writes so well at American Digest on more (to me) congenial topics, that one shouldn't get one's knickers in a twist about it.

I have to say, tho, that it left me feeling rather grimy. As all my friends and relatives know, I am the proverbial repressed WASP and proud. The more I read of such points of view (even when just internet froth) the more I appreciate my spouse, and think that it would be better to be celibate or live like a hermit than join the casual sex crowd. I found the letter both funny and appalling. Of course I read on...We are all voyeurs some of the time. It was a bit like reading National Geographic as a child: look at all those naked people, is that what people look like under their clothes?

"Is this how people really think? How awful."

That's a thought I find myself having more and more as I traverse the Internet. But I was bothered by the title of the essay. Since when did it become prissy or prudish to expect people not to behave reprehensibly? Like Retriever I fully realize the letter (along with the one she linked earlier) was meant to be a joke but if so, it's a bitter and barbed one. I've never thought of myself as a prude, but more and more these days those words seem to have become the ne plus ultra of argument enders. No need to acknowledge - much less respond to - the argument being advanced. The speaker can safely be dismissed. After all, he or she is a prude and who pays attention to those people? Their very refusal to acquiesce to your world view makes them - by definition - unreasonable.

But still, I wonder: when did it become unacceptable to have standards? To hold out hope for - to expect - not demand, not compel, but champion what we think is right? Let's face it - we're all adults. Few, if any of us possess the power to force others to our will. So why are we faintly ashamed of the weakly flickering impulse to virtue; as though to walk the walk as confidently as we talk the talk diminishes us in some way? Makes us chumps?

Laughable. Deluded, even. We're like little children afraid of doing something that isn't cool. The other kids might laugh at us.

I have a confession to make. I still cry at weddings. Yes, even at my age. I do so because even in this age of cynicism when the self is elevated over every other consideration, I've seen what can happen when two people willingly harness themselves in service to something larger than themselves. Yes, it's hard sometimes - and frustrating - but when I look at my parents, my in laws, my sons and their wives and my friends' marriages I see a circle of people who are better for having to consider someone other than themselves.

At some point in their lives, they saw a vision and grasped it tightly between their two hands and held on for dear life because that is what you do when you're married. It isn't always easy, nor is it painless. But then most things worth the having aren't easy or painless.

A year or so ago during one of our epic "discussions", my husband said something that really hurt me. Of course that's not why he said it - he didn't mean to hurt me and was taken aback at my reaction. But it did hurt. It hurt in a good way, because I learned I was doing something that bothered him a lot. And if I didn't want him to be unhappy, I'd have to change my behavior in ways I didn't want to.

Most of us, when the narrative of our lives is written, end up playing the starring role. We like feeling good about ourselves, and so somehow when things don't go well there is a tendency to look everywhere but in the mirror for the source of the trouble. What my husband had to say to me, though it made for unpleasant hearing, also made me look long and hard at the glowing self-portrait I'd painted. When I did, my halo looked distinctly dingy. His observation made me feel bad about myself - he spanked my inner child.

But he didn't crush me because human beings are not - or should not be - that emotionally fragile. Yes it hurt a bit, but the hurt prompted a much needed review of my standards. It made me want to change; to become a better person. And it seems to me that having aspirations, wishing to become a better person, is not such a bad thing. It's how great societies are built: as individuals strive to better themselves, they benefit not only themselves but those around them. Self restraint is contagious.

So is its opposite.
And that brings me to the subject that has been worrying me of late. I'm not the only one who has noticed. Tigerhawk dubbed it "the man problem". George Will calls it a refusal to grow up:

Current economic hardships have had what is called in constitutional law a "disparate impact": The crisis has not afflicted everyone equally. Although women are a majority of the workforce, perhaps as many as 80 percent of jobs lost were held by men. This injury to men is particularly unfortunate because it may exacerbate, and be exacerbated by, a culture of immaturity among the many young men who are reluctant to grow up.

Increasingly, they are defecting from the meritocracy. Women now receive almost 58 percent of bachelor's degrees. This is why many colleges admit men with qualifications inferior to those of women applicants—which is one reason men have higher dropout rates. The Pew Research Center reports that 28 percent of wives between ages 30 and 44 have more education than their husbands, whereas only 19 percent of husbands in the same age group have more education than their wives. Twenty-three percent of men with some college education earn less than their wives. In law, medical, and doctoral programs, women are majorities or, if trends continue, will be.

In 1956, the median age of men marrying was 22.5. But between 1980 and 2004, the percentage of men reaching age 40 without marrying increased from 6 to 16.5. A recent study found that 55 percent of men 18 to 24 are living in their parents' homes, as are 13 percent of men 25 to 34, compared to 8 percent of women.

Conservatives, mostly, blame feminism. But as I pointed out in the comments over TH's place, the arguments they put forth - men are fragile hothouse flowers; they are discouraged by misandry, the feminization of culture, female centric schools, a perceived "hostile climate" that makes it impossible for men to succeed - are precisely the same arguments conservatives rightly rejected when feminists advanced them Lo! these many years ago. Women were told, in effect, "So what if it's a man's world? If you want to get ahead, suck it up and compete like a man."

Which prompts the question: whatever happened to all this talk about sucking it up and competing like a man now that the shoe appears to be on the other foot? Certainly, the numbers are daunting. But they are no worse for men now than they were for women decades ago. It's just that now that the situations are reversed, what was once sauce for the goose is most definitely NOT sauce for the gander. Some conservatives are even trying to tell us that it doesn't matter whether boys finish school. Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of boys not finishing school (though that's bad enough). The long term educational trends are disturbing:

Degrees.jpg

They are disturbing because high paying manufacturing jobs have given way to white collar jobs and jobs in the service industries and jobs that require technical expertise. It is disturbing because not only are young men opting out of school - they aren't voting either. The percentage of adult men who vote has declined steadily over the past 4 or 5 decades:

turnout.jpg

In absolute terms that translates to a gap of almost 10 million votes - 10 million fewer men participating in decisions about who will lead this country:

turnout2.jpg

That's not a gender gap. It's a gender schism. Some conservatives and men's rights activists will tell you that the widespread defection of men from the meritocracy is "understandable" because life in an age where men must compete with women is "unfair".

It's too "hard". These are generally the same folks who will tell you that men are stronger than women. And smarter. And harder working. Having raised two sons and lived with a Marine for over three decades, I can tell you that men are not motivated by having excuses made for them, nor by the emasculating bigotry of low expectations.

They are motivated by challenge. And risk. And by older men who will not brook shiftless behavior.

And by women who won't tolerate it either: mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters. We don't need to berate or belittle our sons, but we do need to encourage them to act like men. What we don't need is conservatives who extol traditional masculine virtues but undermine any attempt to encourage responsibility and accountability.

Quite possibly the worst thing about feminism has been the notion that whatever young women do is right and good - that they need act no better than the basest of their instincts directs them to. Why are we repeating a formula we know doesn't work with our sons? Why are we creating victims instead of survivors? As emotionally satisfying as it is to cry "No Fair!", that's not the answer to what ails young men these days. We all - male or female - have a stake in the survival of our way of life. We don't get to take our balls and go home because losing hurts our feelings. The answer - just as it is in marriage - is not a refusal to participate. We need to help young men stay engaged, encourage them to go after what they want, challenge them to become better than they are today.

Anyone who has ever attended a graduation ceremony at Parris Island knows that men thrive on overcoming obstacles - that they need to believe in something greater than themselves. Our sons need the goad of high expectations, not the treacherous lure of inflated self esteem and self serving excuses.

The question is, do we love them enough to do what is right? Blaming feminism doesn't solve anyone's problems. The world has always been a competitive and unfair place, and men have always risen to the challenge. The truth is that it is far easier to survive and prosper now than it was for our parents and grandparents.

I very much fear it is our own softness that is the problem. The question is, will we accept what we see in the mirror and try to change? Will we take responsibility for our own part in this fiasco before it's too late?

Sometimes looking in the mirror is the hardest thing to do. I hope we'll find the courage to do it anyway.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:54 AM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

So, What Are Your Major Turnoffs?

This is something I wrote about 5 years ago during an extended hiatus from blogging. I brought it back here to VC because it bears on something I'm going to write about later today.

Good Lord how do I find this stuff? Not writing about politics is going to be the death of me. There ought to be a 12-step program for former bloggers trying to kick the habit. I don't have time to read literature (what I thought I'd be doing with all this glorious free time I don't have). My work schedule is just too hectic right now and my brain is completely fried from editing. That leaves my other major recreational interest...

Well I suppose there is alcohol too, but I fail to see what there is to write about there and Hubris seems to have the whole drunk-blogging metier pretty well covered. At any rate, muddled in with an inordinate amount of psycho-babble, this woman is exploring her control issues:

I used to be a "frigid" wife.

I knew even before I got married that I wouldn't be able to keep up the "schedule" of sex my husband and I had established during our courtship, and once I even warned him that it was going to have to slow down. But I think that went in one ear and out the other at supersonic speed, touching nothing in between.

Sure enough, not long after we got married sex became a battleground for us, and we struggled with the problem like two fish flopping around next to each other in the bottom of an open boat: gasping for a natural breath and injuring ourselves with every pointless, ineffectual spasm. [Ed. note: Lovely metaphor there]

To me it seemed simple: he wanted me to be his sexual appliance, a handy-dandy love machine that could be switched on and off at his command. I felt no desire, and I didn't want to "submit" to being handled and penetrated when I wasn't in the mood. If he really loved me, this sex thing, this "merely physical" part of our lives, wouldn't be such a big freakin' deal. And his pissy, furious responses to my refusals only made me more sure that he didn't really love me. He just wanted to use my vagina.

To him it seemed simple, too. If I loved him -- as I consistently claimed -- why didn't I want to make love?


Actually there probably aren't too many women who haven't had those thoughts at one time or another, but "I wouldn't be able to keep up the "schedule" of sex my husband and I had established during our courtship..."? Good nightshirt... did she pencil him in on her DayTimer right next to having her teeth cleaned and the every-other-week bang trimming at Chez Kenneth? *Not* a good sign.

I don't know what scares me more here: that she had a "sexual renaissance" or that she felt the need to blog about it. Did she discuss it with her husband first? How does he feel about having their bedroom difficulties aired over the Internet? Seems a rather hostile way of working out your problems. In all fairness, however, I'm not sure the issues were all on her side:

My husband had a bad habit in the first decade of our marriage of going to some routine business function or some minor get-together by himself, or just stopping for some after-work drinks with the boys, and "losing all track of time." Not only would he not come home until hours later, reeling, he wouldn't even call to tell me where he was.

Naturally, in the fullness of time came the day when, realizing at 11 p.m. that he was out on another of these toots, I literally packed my bag, put my infant daughter in her carrier and picked up the phone to call a cab.

So why didn't I?


Good question. The first decade???? I could see the first year or two - that seems like pretty normal growing pains for a marriage, but ten years? Here we have the classic WWE marital death match, complete with body-slamming and overwrought trashtalking. She doesn't want to "give in" in the boudoir, so he gets her back by being inconsiderate and acting like he doesn't care (like he wouldn't be at home in a heartbeat, if he could just get laid in the first place). While there's nothing wrong with a little power struggle in bed (keeps life interesting) it ought to be in the spirit of play and not dragging all sorts of outside issues in that have no place there. No wonder she didn't feel like having sex - I'd be exhausted.

I realized (somehow, in the flame-edged haze of my fury) that for all my fussing and fuming about this issue, I must have somehow not been able to get my husband to really understand how deadly serious it was to me. He still didn't Get It, and there had to be a reason for that, a reason I had to fathom.
Bingo. (A) He'd never experienced what you were feeling and (B) there were no negative consequences, or at least none he wasn't willing to put up with. Did it ever occur to you to quit nagging and get a babysitter? Or just get a grip on "the flame-edged haze of your fury"? For Christ's sake - got melodrama? He's having a few beers, not axe-murdering your mother. Why not go out yourself, without telling him where you were going or bothering to come home at a reasonable hour? Try that 4 or 5 times and odds are the behavior would have come to a screaming halt. I've always been amazed at the illustrative power of an object lesson, as long as you don't ruin it by belaboring the point. Don't waste time getting mad - adjust your behavior.

But on to the fun part. Oooh! this is where she proceeds to tell men what they can "fix" about themselves so their wives will leap into bed like deranged minks and drive them mad with desire 4 to 5 times a week! I couldn't wait to read this part to see how well it matched my own experience. Women love this kind of daft psycho-garbage: it's why we find ourselves thumbing through mind-numbingly idiotic puff-pieces of the sort found in Cosmo Grrrrl as we're waiting in the doctor's office (Oh the horror!) as Grandma in the next chair casts prun-y looks at us from atop her issue of People! Magazine.

250 Ways to Drive Your Man Shudderingly, Gaspingly, Heart-Stoppingly Crazy in the Sack

Yeah. Fine. Whatever.

15 Things Your Man Secretly Wishes You'd Do To Him

Let me guess... serve him beer and nachos dressed in only stilettos, black stockings and a devilish smile while the Redskins are executing that play action pass? Been there, done that. Next...

Fill his car up with gas next time you borrow it? (more likely)


What a disappointment. When I read her "fix-it" list, I couldn't even penetrate(!) the dense fog of follow-your-bliss, archetypal "you-too-can-be-a-manly-man-if-you-just-check-your-cojones-at-the-door" blather to see what the heck she wanted the poor guy to do. And if I couldn't understand it, no man on the face of the earth stood a chance in Hell of ever figuring it out:

To recover his marriage sexually (and every other way) [Ed. note: Huh??? Oh nevermind.], a Man will:

1) Face facts (obviously we're already working on that)

2) Fix "little things" first

3) Understand the emotional calculus of Love and Power in his relationship

4) Return to the basics of his own character and masculinity

5) Create his own solutions in his own context.


O-kaaaay...

In my experience there are only so many reasons a woman is not going to want to have sex:

1. She doesn't love the man. Hopefully if you're married, that's not an issue.

2. She's exhausted from work or taking care of small children. Solution: get help for her, help out more at home, and get her away from the house. Easy, easy, easy.

3. She doesn't feel sexy anymore. Sometimes women get so used to sealing off parts of themselves, just to get through the day, that they "forget" what it was like to be a real person. Every time I see a woman in one of those denim tent dresses with one of those putrid plaid apples appliqued on the front, I wonder if she has even a single negligee in her closet? The nicest thing my husband ever did for me when the kids were 8 or so was to start buying me nice lingerie. My neighbors in base housing teased me unmercifully - called me "Victoria" because of the parade of Victoria's Secret packages that used to show up on my doorstep at regular intervals. He'd go to the field and I'd get a package with something divine inside, wrapped in a black satin bow, and I knew he was thinking of me.

Honestly, I didn't know what to make of it at first - I felt a bit pressured. "I work so hard all day, I can't do anything I want to do with my life, and at night I'm supposed to transmogrify into something out of Odalisque?" But it grew on me. More importantly, it helped me recover a part of who I was before I got married. I just needed to view it the right way - not as an effort to control me, but as a tribute and a way for me to become a bit more adventurous. Now I buy things for myself!

4. Most importantly, she feels disconnected or doesn't feel loved. I don't think men understand this. It used to amuse me somewhat that one of the things that invariably drove me wild when we were first married was watching my husband run the vacuum. But it was because to me, that was a sign that he recognized how tired I was and was willing to help out. It was a sign of commitment, and women are huge on that. Conversely, men always think women "withhold" sex when they're mad at them, but the truth is that when we don't feel emotionally close to a man, sex isn't much fun for us. It's not punishment, it's truly lack of desire. I've never been a big fan of saying 'no' anyway. How much trouble is it to make love, even if you're not particularly in the mood? Even when the earth doesn't move, it's all good. The least that happens is that it brings you closer - at best it's amazing. I've always thought it rather short-sighted when women are always saying "I have a headache". What woman doesn't like to be held in a man's arms? If they weren't so durned touchy, they might find they'd get more affection and attention, which is generally what they really want.

Despite the fact that it failed to inspire me to "drill... down to [my] deeper personal truths, [my] aquifer" (good God - I didn't even know I had an aquifer), I did snort my coffee when she started going on about men finding their "individual masculine mythos...their personal erotic legend, the story of Manhood Your Way". At some point even the author had a glimpse of the very real possibility that she was spouting a bunch of folkloric bullshit, so it was an entertaining read.

It must be hard (no pun intended) to be a man these days. Everyone keeps telling you how to do it, usually by emasculating yourself and becoming more like a woman, which seems somewhat self defeating. Especially in the bedroom. And the thing is, women like men just the way they are. We just want to feel loved and appreciated.

Now is that so hard? Well, maybe the talking part. But there are compensations.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:16 AM | Comments (48) | TrackBack

March 11, 2010

Man...

I have got to get out more.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:31 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Why I Rarely Watch TV News...

...in a nutshell (warning: language NSFW or small children):

Also, this from the folks across the pond. Jeez. Even their parodies sound more intelligent than ours.

via The Other VC

Posted by Cassandra at 08:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 10, 2010

Losing My Battle Buddy

Shortly after The Spousal Unit informed me with his customary elan that there was one last deployment in the offing, my friend Carrie gave me a Battle Buddy necklace. Because it was summer (and because I'm constitutionally incapable of doing the normal thing), I doubled it up and turned it into an anklet.

Military wives talk a lot about the need for a support system when a loved one deploys. We rely on friends, neighbors, family, and most importantly other military wives who've been there and know the drill.

I haven't written much about this deployment. That's fairly typical for me. The more something bothers me, the less likely I am to want to discuss it. I deal with situations I can't control by attempting to ignore them. If I'm lonely, I clean the basement. Again. If I'm feeling sorry for myself, I clam up. I don't really want to talk about my feelings. I don't want other people feeling sorry for me. Like dour Pete Longstreet, I just put my head down and try to bull through it.

That's had a real effect on my writing because all this silence about things I can't control doubles back on itself after a while. It raises a barrier between you and your feelings and in the weeks and months that follow, that wall grows stronger and higher with each stifled thought. The thing is, though, some things can't be put off forever. I'll be muddling along and suddenly up from the graveyard of my subconscious shoots the dreaded zombie hand, fingers twitching menacingly as it thrusts upward through the compost of my soul. And I just know that if I don't deal with it, it will stir up the dust bunnies under the daybed and shrivel the houseplants.

Or the two week old green peppers in my crisper will begin speaking in tongues when I open the refrigerator door. And don't pretend that hasn't happened to every single one of you because I happen to know better. So much for the Super Woman act. When the Dreaded Zombie Hand appears, even the strongest of us know that the jig is up.

There was an omission in my support system. I left out someone who has been there for me through three deployments now: two that lasted a year and one I'm nearly 6 months into. I didn't intend to leave him out. It's just that sometimes you don't fully appreciate how much a loved one means to you until he's no longer there to remind you that you were never alone.

Unlike my other battle buddies, he walked on four feet instead of two. But his ears were always ready to listen and his heart was bigger than one might expect for someone who weighed a whopping 16 pounds soaking wet. As it turned out, it was his mighty little heart that failed him.

sausage2.jpg

Sausage came to live with us 13 years ago. We bought him from a neighbor who had a sign in her yard:

Dachshund pups: 35 bucks

He was the runt of the litter. Originally we had wanted a female and she had another litter coming. Certainly it would have been more convenient to wait. But it was Christmas Eve and all his brothers and sisters had been adopted by loving families. No one wanted him. How could they have known that they'd passed over the best of the bunch?

He came into a home occupied by an aging beagle in the last months of her life. We'd hoped a puppy would perk her up but Sausage quickly became the bane of her existence. Molly had a bad hip and it must have galled her no end to be stalked by a pesky 2 pound bundle of doofyness who thought he was Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Sausage adored Molly. I wish I could say she returned his affection but that would be a lie. Still, she was unfailingly gentle with him no matter how he pestered her. He would take a running start and launch himself through the air, paws spread in all four directions water bug style, eventually making contact with a tiny "plop". After several weeks of this, poor Molly had finally had enough.

I've never forgotten the sight of her gently flipping him on his back and pinning him to the carpet by his outflung ears. An almost imperceptible growl and an extremely severe look were enough to ensure that he never jumped on her again.

mmm_dog.png How do dogs do that? How do they know that babies require different rules? In his final weeks, Molly was amply revenged. My two year old grandson was utterly obsessed with Sausage. At least 10 or 15 times a day he would burst into the room where I was working, grab Grandma's finger, and drag me to wherever poor Sausage was cowering. I would acknowledge that there was indeed a dog in the house and my grandson would toddle off, satisfied. From time to time, he would decide that the dog needed a large object placed on him while he was sleeping. Like Molly had done so many years before, Sausage responded to these assaults with patient resignation.

Unlike our experience with Molly, being around my grandson seemed to perk Sausage up. He did things we hadn't seen him do for months: climb stairs. Run. His little candle burned so brightly that I began to wonder whether part of the ailments he'd been plagued with recently weren't due to loneliness? With the boys and my husband gone, there was only me. Perhaps I had neglected him?

But the improvement in his health and energy was an illusion. One evening as my son and I worked to assemble a china hutch for the kitchen, he began throwing up. Or at least that's what we thought: surely he'd just eaten something disgusting. In the space of a few hours he went from bad to worse and I took him in to the vet around midnight. But I had no idea how bad things had gotten. I thought he'd get some stomach medicine and rally as he always had before.

They gave me a cardboard "casket" to carry him home in. That struck me as funny in a way. The box was many times bigger than he was, and as I dug a hole in my son's back yard on a blustery morning I had spaghetti Western visions of myself in a long calico dress on the prairie, wind blowing my hair into my eyes as I struggled with the frozen sod. Always the drama queen.

Sausage would have understood that I was laughing at myself and my one woman pity party. He understood a lot for such a small beast. He was the one who always saw the worst of me. My irritable flashes when he ceremoniously disgraced himself at the customary place under my dining room table. My shouted, "YOU ATE MY STEAK!!! YOU LITTLE THIEF!" during the last deployment when I put down my grocery bag to answer the phone. All the times when too many weeks of silence came pouring out in a flood of self-pitying tears.

If you want to know what real love is, get a dog. They are always faithful, always kind, and above all always forgiving. Even when you don't deserve it. Especially when you don't deserve it. They will wait up for you after everyone else has gone to bed: tail thumping the carpet madly as you walk inside after a long day at work.

Sausage4.jpg
The stud muffin in his bitchin' ski jacket. Always a hit with the ladies...

The silence in my house reminds me that I was never alone, even though there were times when it felt like it. Not while my battle buddy was there to stick a cold nose on my shins when I least expected it, or snuggle contentedly in my lap as I dozed on the sofa in the evenings.

Or steal my blankets.

There is nothing worse than a cold, wet nose on your shins. Except, perhaps, wishing you could feel that icy cold nose just one more time.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:14 PM | Comments (66) | TrackBack

True Grit

Every time I'm tempted to despair, I read something like this and suddenly America seems a great nation to me once more:

Hanley was leading a squad of 11 Marines on foot patrol in Garmsir City when a tripwire detonated the IED, his mother said.

"He actually was unconscious for a little while. When he woke up, he did not want to be on the gurney when they took him to the bird (the casualty evacuation helicopter). He wanted to walk," Diane Hanley said from her son's bedside yesterday.

"I asked him: 'I heard you walked to the bird.' His eyes were closed but he shook his head yes. I said, 'I bet that was your way of giving your men the thumbs up and the Taliban the middle finger.' He whispered, 'I ran to the bird.' He wanted (Taliban forces) to see him walking away so they didn't think they got the best of him."

Posted by Cassandra at 09:12 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

March 09, 2010

Needed: More Shower Diplomacy?

Kinda gives a whole new meaning to the term, "pressing the flesh", doesn't it?

In Massa’s weekly radio show on New York station WKPQ Power 105 FM, made available via the Web site of local station 13 WHAM-TV, he recounts running into Emanuel in the House gym, where the shower curtains had inexplicably been removed. “I’m ... naked as a jay bird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest, yelling at me because I wasn’t going to vote for the president’s budget,” Massa said. “Do you know how awkward it is to have a political argument with a naked man?”

On the otter heiny, perhaps such unorthodox techniques might have helped old 'Bam win a few hearts and minds in the global community:

I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued.

One official mentioned French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is scheduled to bring his glamorous wife to the White House residence this month for a couples dinner with Barack and Michelle Obama. But in France, Sarkozy's bitterness toward Obama, the product of several perceived snubs, is an open secret, reported widely in the French press. In a speech at the U.N. General Assembly in September Sarkozy appeared to mock Obama's signature disarmament initiative, saying "we are living in a real world, not a virtual world."

Angela Merkel's name also came up: Obama and the German chancellor, I was told, share a down-to-business pragmatism. But Merkel, too, has been conspicuously cool toward Obama ever since he made Berlin a stop on his 2008 election campaign. She stopped him then from appearing at the Brandenburg Gate and was said to be miffed last November when Obama didn't show for ceremonies celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. Anyway, diplomats say that Merkel has a much warmer relationship with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

No one named Gordon Brown. That's fairly remarkable: The relationship between the sitting British prime minister and U.S. president has been consistently close over the past 30 years. Think Reagan and Thatcher, Clinton and Blair, Bush and Blair. But Obama has been portrayed as dissing Brown ever since he presented him with a set of DVDs as a gift during their first meeting in Washington a year ago. Last fall the British press reported that the White House had turned down five requests for Obama to meet Brown one-on-one at the United Nations or the G-20 summit.

Maybe what's needed here is a more personal approach. Then again, getting up close and personal doesn't seem to have worked too well for Rahm Emmanuel:

... [Massa's] naked-truth assessment of the brusque chief of staff: “Rahm Emanuel is [the] son of the devil’s spawn. He is an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote. He would strap his children to the front end of a steam locomotive.”

Meeee-ouch, girlfriend. And these are the smart people who were going to show us all how politics is supposed to be done?

Too funny.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:42 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

I'm Going on a Diet...

So *that's* why the spousal unit is generally preceded through the front door by a bottle of wine. Best line in the whole article:

In the current study, women consuming more alcohol ate less, particularly carbohydrates -- a finding seen in other studies. Moreover, it's been shown that women tend to expend more energy after drinking alcohol -- more so than that contained in the alcohol.

Hmmm. Now what on earth could account for that?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:43 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

March 08, 2010

Missing the Point, Big Time

Honestly, this really is not rocket science.

Our unusually smart commenters need to weigh in on the ageless question.

Age has nothing to do with the question of propriety. A state dinner is not a fashion show.

First of all, the disclaimers: Bruni looks lovely. There is nothing wrong with her breasts. They are lovely too. And I'm not shocked by her nipples, but then as the proud owner of two nipples of my own that's hardly surprising.

These things are all beside the point. If she's at a private function (in other words, any time she and her husband are appearing as Mr. and Mrs. Sarkozy rather than hosting an official state dinner as the President and his First Lady) Carla Bruni can and should dress as she pleases.

When did we lose the notion that heads of state (and when they appear at a state function, their families) represent something larger than themselves? Ms. Bruni's role was not that of a former model, nor was she simply "Carla". She was the hostess of a state dinner; the wife of the French President. There's a reason such affairs are snooze fests: the attendees (to say nothing of the host and hostess)are expected to exercise a little self restraint.

Bralessness and large expanses of cleavage are normal and expected at the beach or at social functions when people are expected to relax and be themselves. At work, however, they are considered inappropriate for a variety of reasons:

1. At work, employees do not act solely as individuals - they act on behalf of (and represent) their employer. Their behavior and appearance reflect upon their employers and it's not unreasonable to expect them to exercise more restraint and decorum than they would at home.

2. It's distracting and inconsiderate to provide that much visual stimulation to men who are trying to concentrate on their work and who are expected to treat women as fellow professionals rather than objects of desire.

As amusing as it is to watch liberated women like Taylor Marsh demand the "right" to expose their mammary glands to public scrutiny express their "sensuality" in the workplace and then shriek like scalded cats when some poor male coworker has the temerity to notice what they plainly want him to notice, I can't help but observe that such behavior is even more inappropriate at a state dinner than it is in the workplace.

It is not at all unusual for state dinners to involve guests from many different cultures, not all of whom are comfortable with scantily dressed or braless women. I have it on good authority that nipples attract a lot of attention from red blooded menfolk. Thus, it shouldn't take a brain surgeon to understand that persons appearing in an official capacity have a role to play that often precludes the full expression of their individual tastes - even though these tastes might be perfectly kosher in a more relaxed setting.

This is why Michelle Obama was widely criticized for being photographed in casual attire while exiting a plane and for wearing a brightly colored, sleeveless dress to a posthumous Medal of Honor ceremony. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her attire, per se, either time. The problem was that we expected more decorum (not to mention a sense of time and place) from the First Lady.

I can do and say things as "Cass" that I'd never dream of doing or saying as "the Colonel's wife" at an official function because whether I like it or not, my behavior does reflect upon both my husband and the Marine Corps. It has never been worth it to me to make a statement by affirming my individuality at such occasions because they're not really about me.

Adults used to understand that. I'm not sure when that changed.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:13 PM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

Much Ado About Sarah

Paul J. of Comic Nut's Jar has posed a question:

Sarah Palin, in my opinion, is a "throwback" type of politician.

It's my belief that in this country's infancy the politicians were
people that led working, middle/middle-upper class lives. They saw a
way to serve their country in some capacity (be it a president, a
mayor, a governor, senator etc) and then they returned to their normal lives as American citizens.

Today, we seem have nothing but career politicians. People born into
political families who seem to know nothing about how the average
American lives on a day to day basis.

Palin reminds me of those politicians of old. She's your next door
neighbor, the other mom at your kid's karate class etc - but with a
keen political view.

So here is my question:

Why did Palin stir up so much emotion? Do you think the reason she is so despised by some is that she threatens "The Elite's" control on
politics?

Is it that the middle class is so disgusting to these people they
couldn't imagine a member of the unwashed mass leading people? Or is
she really just stupid? Or is it something else entirely?

First, let's deal with the factors identified by Paul:

1. Do you think the reason she is so despised by some is that she threatens "The Elite's" control on politics?

I very much doubt the average American harbors deep affection for members of the political elite. I find it even harder to believe the average voter has any real desire to protect or preserve their interests. Voters are more interested in protecting their own interests, however perceived or defined. To the extent a politician succeeds in identifying himself with those interests or in convincing the public he can deliver what they want, he will succeed or fail. This was Obama's greatest strength as a candidate: people heard what they wanted to hear in his speeches. Rightly or wrongly, they were convinced what he was selling was what they wanted.

2. Is it that the middle class is so disgusting to these people they couldn't imagine a member of the unwashed mass leading people?

I'm not sure what class has to do with anything. When Microsoft, Intel, GM or any other large corporation hires a CEO, they're interested in experience and ability, not social class. Being an everyman or woman might help people identify with you, but it isn't any kind of qualification for high office.

Here's a better question: what qualifications is it reasonable to expect in a candidate for the highest (or second highest) office in the land? Before throwing the question out to you all, I'll be happy to proffer my own criteria:

1. Leadership experience. When trying to decide whether a candidate can lead the world's largest superpower it seems reasonable to ask, "How much executive experience do you have, and how applicable is it to the Presidency?" As I noted in an earlier post, the job most like the Presidency is governorship of a large state. By this measure Palin was unarguably the most qualified candidate on the slate. On the other hand, Alaska is not California or Texas and she didn't have the depth of experience of a Ronald Reagan, a Lyndon Johnson, or a George Bush. The question here is, "What have you done in your lifetime that demonstrates you have the ability and experience to lead a country of this size?"

2. Experience on Capitol Hill or a suitable substitute. Many a politician has seen his hopes of reforming Washington sink in the La Brea tar pit of partisan rancor. Therefore, it seems reasonable to ask whether the candidate can demonstrate the ability to build consensus for his platform and effect enough of a compromise to get fence straddlers on board? The question here is, "What have you done that demonstrates the ability to gain the cooperation of disparate factions behind a large scale initiative?

Though compromise has become a dirty word in politics these days, it is more necessary than ever.

3. Rhetorical ability. Preaching to the choir is fine when your choir is large enough to vote you into office, but the true test of political acumen is finding common ground with those who disagree with you: minimizing differences and emphasizing common interests. Presidents must deal with not only competing constituencies at home but with foreign nations whose interests often sharply conflict with our own. The fine art of sticking to ones' guns without arousing unneeded antipathy is rare. Often it involves not only the ability to state your case forcefully and convincingly, but also the ability to smooth the waters and provide enough political cover for at least some of your opponents to support you without alienating their own constituents.

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect the President or Vice President to have more experience and more ability than your next door neighbor. I like most of my neighbors, but I wouldn't vote for any of them for President. This isn't elitism. It's common sense.

3. Or is she really just stupid? Or is it something else entirely?

The over the top rants of her detractors, though highly entertaining, aren't terribly convincing. Palin is clearly not a stupid woman. Being deep selected as the VP candidate presented her with about as difficult a task as any politician has ever faced. To her credit, she performed remarkably well. It was hard enough being catapulted onto the national stage without sufficient prep time, but Palin was further constrained by the knowledge that it wasn't her campaign. She was expected to champion a platform she had no hand in shaping.

Joe Biden, an experienced political hand who faced none of the hostility the press directed at Palin, had a hard time remembering what he was supposed to support. His job wasn't half as difficult as Palin's.

I attribute the strong emotion Palin evokes to three things:

1. Her lifestyle. Palin's image and identity provide constant reminders of divisive social issues like the role of faith in public life, abortion, traditional marriage, and women's liberation.

To traditional conservatives, Palin champions everything they hold dear: family, God, country, traditional morals. But in a society where marriage and childbearing are declining, where many women have abortions from convenience rather than necessity, where women have chosen careers over home and hearth, Palin's life represents an unspoken reproach. The very qualities that endear her to conservatives make progressives and secular voters feel bad about themselves and she hasn't yet found a way to champion traditional values without seeming smug or preachy to those who don't agree with her. In her defense, I think this is a far more formidable task for a female candidate than it would be for a male politician.

2. Her directness, self assurance, and strong beliefs. One of the greatest challenges faced by conservatives is convincing secular America that one can have strong faith and traditional morals without wishing to impose either of these things upon others.

The conviction with which she defends traditional conservative values is music to the ears of her supporters. What they don't seem to realize is that these same qualities grate harshly on the ears of those whose beliefs differ from hers. The qualities that endear her to many conservatives play differently with independents and progressives. This is something Palin will need to address if she wants a place on the national stage.

3. The perception that Palin is underprepared and inarticulate.

Given the right venue and a narrow enough message, Palin can deliver a good speech. But at the risk of stirring up the wrath of you unwashed masses, I've never heard her present a clear and convincing defense of conservative ideas. For an example of what I'm talking about, read one of Reagan's classic speeches:

We have so many people who can't see a fat man standing beside a thin one without coming to the conclusion the fat man got that way by taking advantage of the thin one. So they're going to solve all the problems of human misery through government and government planning. Well, now, if government planning and welfare had the answer—and they've had almost 30 years of it—shouldn't we expect government to read the score to us once in a while? Shouldn't they be telling us about the decline each year in the number of people needing help? The reduction in the need for public housing?

But the reverse is true. Each year the need grows greater; the program grows greater. We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well that was probably true. They were all on a diet. But now we're told that 9.3 million families in this country are poverty-stricken on the basis of earning less than 3,000 dollars a year. Welfare spending [is] 10 times greater than in the dark depths of the Depression. We're spending 45 billion dollars on welfare. Now do a little arithmetic, and you'll find that if we divided the 45 billion dollars up equally among those 9 million poor families, we'd be able to give each family 4,600 dollars a year. And this added to their present income should eliminate poverty. Direct aid to the poor, however, is only running only about 600 dollars per family. It would seem that someplace there must be some overhead.

That speech was made almost half a century ago and it remains a masterpiece. What has Sarah Palin produced that is comparable?

I say this, not to diminish her very real ability but to provide some context for my judgment that she's not ready yet. Ronald Reagan faced vigorous opposition both from within his own party and from his political opponents. But there's a reason he was called the Great Communicator. It probably didn't hurt that Reagan was a former Democrat who voted for FDR 4 times. He had an insider's understanding of liberalism and he used it to forge a concise, coherent conservative vision that attracted conservative and moderate Democrats as well as traditional Republicans and libertarians.

Perhaps some day Palin will be able to do that. She's not able to do it now, or at least she hasn't demonstrated that ability.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:29 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

March 01, 2010

Public Service Announcement

The Editorial Staff interrupts our regularly scheduled blogging hiatus to direct you to John Hawkins' nifty new site.

Since we're on the topic anyway, feel free to contribute your favorite aphorism on self reliance in the comments section. I found this one amusing:

Isn't food important? Why not "universal food coverage"? If politicians and employers had guaranteed us "free" food 50 years ago, today Democrats would be wailing about the "food crisis" in America, and you'd be on the phone with your food care provider arguing about whether or not a Reuben sandwich with fries was covered under your plan.”

—Ann Coulter

Posted by Cassandra at 07:44 AM | Comments (71) | TrackBack