Monday, March 31, 2008


History of U.S. Military Interventions since 1890
This guide does not include:
  • mobilizations of the National Guard
  • offshore shows of naval strength
  • reinforcements of embassy personnel
  • the use of non-Defense Department personnel (such as the Drug Enforcement Administration)
  • military exercises
  • non-combat mobilizations (such as replacing postal strikers)
  • the permanent stationing of armed forces
  • covert actions where the U.S. did not play a command and control role
  • the use of small hostage rescue units
  • most uses of proxy troops
  • U.S. piloting of foreign warplanes
  • foreign or domestic disaster assistance
  • military training and advisory programs not involving direct combat
  • civic action programs
  • and many other military activities.
And yet it is still 134 entries long...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Reasons to vote, or not

I have said many times that I don't think that elections (and mainstream politics in general) are the way to get meaningful change. There are reasons to vote for one candidate over another, but I maintain that even the most progressive public policy proposed by the most progressive candidate in a capitalist state cannot solve the problems that are inherent in a capitalist state, but only prevent some of the worst effects of those problems.

But like I said, there are some reasons to vote for one candidate over another, and I'd like to discuss them here. First we have the standard liberal causes:

Minimum Wage. If the market could simply enslave workers, it would. Since it cannot, it will instead pay them as little as it can (while extracting as much profit as it can from their work) without them leaving. A capitalist market will never pay people fairly for their labor. It will always underpay those who are employed and overpay those who employ. Minimum wage laws cannot eliminate this imbalance, but if the minimum is set high enough they can ensure basic living conditions are met for workers.

Social Welfare. Capitalism relies on unemployment, and underemployment, to keep a competitive job market and maintain low wages so that the owners can make larger profits. The only force comparable in power to the market economy is the state, and having profit redistributed through taxation to prevent homelessness and starvation is one of he few antagonisms between those entities that we can exploit. Normally the state and the economy are in lockstep; despite their taxation complaints, the wealthy rely on the state to protect their "right" to their wealth. Any wedge that can be driven between them weakens both, and in this case also prevents real suffering for those harmed by both.

Abortion. The government does not recognize all of our rights, but we do not need them to take away those that they presently do. Whether legally justified on grounds of medical privacy or not, women have a right not to have their bodies used as incubators for fetuses without their consent. The right to abortion is not a special right, but the same right to liberty and personal security that freed the slaves. It is a right worth fighting for.

Affirmative Action. To reject affirmative action is to reject basic equality. We live in a society still deeply scarred by racism and sexism, and until those scars heal it takes systemic measures to cancel out the privilege white male people continue to enjoy in educational and occupational opportunities.

Anti-This-War. I have been critical of this position, and I do think that it is one often taken for selfish reasons. All major party candidates believe in the desireability of a strong military and periodic interventions (perhaps labeled "humanitarian") to make sure the world knows that if they don't go our way we can destroy them. Bill Clinton did it in Bosnia while ignoring East Timor. George W. Bush did it in Iraq while ignoring Darfur. But the opposition party must oppose something, and to the extent that at this particular moment the primary show of force the United States is involved in concerns Iraq, a candidate who would take soldiers out of Iraq is preferable to one who would not.

Then we have the handful of things that are unlikely to be rallying cries for a major party, but that if they were on the table, would be worth supporting:

Recall, Initiative, and Referendum. If we must live in an ostensibly representative oligarchy, the best we can hope for is to have more oversight on what the decision-makers decide. As it stands, there is very little pressure for elected officials to act in their constituency's interest, except to the extent that they can be elected. Because elections are relatively infrequent, the people have no means of putting pressure on an official over any given issue save letter-writing. But if elected officials at all levels of government could be recalled at any time by their constituents, it would go a long way toward shifting power into the hands of the people. By the same token, any measures which increase participation by the people in the actual decision-making process, such as initiative and referendum, are beneficial to strengthening the popular voice and weakening that of the ruling class.

Maximum Wage. Having a legal maximum wage tied to the lowest paid at a company acts to mitigate the injustice of capitalism in one major way. Because those in decision-making positions have no choice but to raise the wages for their employees any time they themselves wanted a raise, it prevents pay gaps from increasing any further than legal ratio. Every time the CEO gets a raise, the janitor gets one, too.

Beyond those issues, and perhaps a few others, there is no compelling reason to spend more than a moment organizing and supporting mainstream political figures. It's a simple matter of opportunity cost. Every minute (and dollar) spent supporting a status quo centrist like Barack Obama is a minute (and dollar!) not spent actually building a better world through democratic organizing and education, cooperative businesses, unions, and direct action.

Not something you see everyday

I don't know what it is, or where it came from:

Give it a second to load.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spectator sport

As I watch what is described by various pundits as one of the most fiercely fought presidential election campaigns in memory, I can't help but be reminded of something Noam Chomsky wrote:
In totalitarian societies where there's a Ministry of Truth, propaganda doesn't really try to control your thoughts. It just gives you the party line. It says, "Here's the official doctrine; don't disobey and you won't get in trouble. What you think is not of great importance to anyone. If you get out of line we'll do something to you because we have force." Democratic societies can't work like that, because the state is much more limited in its capacity to control behavior by force. Since the voice of the people is allowed to speak out, those in power better control what that voice says — in other words, control what people think. One of the ways to do this is to create political debate that appears to embrace many opinions, but actually stays within very narrow margins. You have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions — and that those assumptions are the basis of the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, the debate is permissible.
How anyone can look at the candidates from the major parties and honestly pretend there are heavily contested issues in play here is something I am incapable of understanding. The permitted debate is over things that are ultimately rather superficial, but they all accept the limits imposed by the system. None says war is bad, they say, "War is bad, but..." and vow to strengthen America's killing power. They don't even get that far in criticizing the economic system that is presently causing financial strife for millions of people — within the propaganda system, it is only the failure of "firms" or "businesses" or "executives," never the failure of the market itself.

To be sure, I am free to make these arguments here. But then I am not running for office. If I were, I would be treated like Dennis Kucinich, or Raplph Nader, or (heaven forbid) a candidate from the Green, Libertarian, or Socialist Parties. I, and anyone else who strays too far from the conservative corporate core of American politics, could never hope to play in the game, we must be content to yell in the stands.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Liberalism: treating the symptoms, ignoring the disease

Imagine you break your leg. You go to the emergency room and the doctor gives you an examination. "Well, you're clearly in pain," she says, "so let me take care of that for you." She gives you a couple Vicodin and goes off to treat the next patient. Do you take the drugs and happily limp home, pleased that your condition has been treated? Or do you yell after the departing doctor, "Hey, I'm glad it doesn't hurt anymore, but what about that broken bone in my leg?"

Liberal democrats (a group that is largely synonymous with capital-d Democrats of the party) are doctors that prescribe Vicodin but ignore fractures. They look at the country, or the world, and they clearly see there are problems. The liberals want to do something about them.

So what do they do? Well, consider war. There is a war going on in Iraq, if you hadn't noticed, that has killed more than a million people. Most liberals oppose the war, and rightfully. They want the troops brought home. But then the liberal Barack Obama's platform says this:
Barack Obama will work to solve the military's recruitment and retention crisis by asking Americans to serve in the military, increasing the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and the Marines by 27,000 troops, and properly training and equipping our troops to face the battles of the 21st Century.
Obama, and the liberals in general, are not anti-war, they are anti-this war. He actually wants to increase the killing power of the military. Liberals proudly oppose the Iraq War without recognizing that it is only a symptom of the militarized warfare disease. To treat the disease would mean not just bringing home combat troops from Iraq, but closing all of the nearly one thousand military bases we have in over a hundred countries worldwide. It would mean reducing the size of the Army and Marines. But liberals are only concerned with the symptoms, not the disease.

Or look at the ongoing economic crisis. Following the Federal Reserve's support of corporations, Hillary Clinton quipped:
If the Fed can extend $30 billion to help Bear Stearns address their financial crisis, the federal government should provide at least that much emergency help to families and communities to address theirs.
Families and communities are suffering under profit-driven investment capitalism and the liberal solution is, of course, to help them get through it. And we all want for people who are being hurt to get better. But once again, Clinton wants to treat the symptom of the the disease that is capitalism. Families and communities have a financial crisis because the system worked as it is supposed to: people with money using any means possible to try to make as much more money as they can. Profit motive, the driving force of capitalism, caused the crisis. But there will never be a word spoken about, say, the entire concepts of profit, interest, and rent being nothing more than means of the already rich getting richer by exploiting poor people without actually doing any work. This is because liberals aren't interested in curing the disease, if they even know it exists, because they are busy relieving the symptoms.

The dichotomy between liberals (who treat symptoms) and radicals (who treat diseases) is stark, but it is not too stark. There would be no problem if the doctor set the broken bone and gave you Vicodin for your pain. But we can't confuse the latter for the former, or pretend that somehow treating the pain over and over again will eventually heal the bone.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Business of Being Born

I've never mentioned it on this blog since I don't often use it for personal posting, so for those who are unaware: my wife is pregnant and I'll be a father on April 25. We're both terribly excited — me foolishly confident, her nervously thrilled — and it is particularly fun because we don't know the baby's sex, so there will be a bit of a surprise at the end. Or should I say the beginning? Or something. In any case, the entire experience so far has been awesome, though I'm not the one with a creature in my belly.

I'm obviously paying some above-average level of attention to pregnancy and childbirth-related material when I come across it, and in particular I noticed a post on Science-Based Medicine by Harriet Hall reviewing the documentary The Business of Being Born. If you haven't heard of this film, it is critical of the alleged medicalization of childbirth, and promotes unmedicated home birthing rather than what is at this point the traditional hospital birth.

I don't have a horse in the "natural" versus "medical" race. What my wife is doing or not doing is her own business for her own reasons, and I honestly support anyone in any choice they make regarding that topic. I neither think anesthesia and c-sections are destroying lives and families, nor that doing it the old-fashioned way is stupid and reckless. Your body, your choice. There are benefits and risks all around, and one person may place a higher premium on one benefit than another places on the risk associated with it.

First, I saw this:
They kept harping on empowerment, and made it seem like a woman had to endure great pain so she could feel she’d accomplished something so wonderful that now she knew she could do anything. This is unnecessary. We can provide good pain relief during labor with minimal risk to the baby, and I see no reason to have women screaming “I can’t stand this!” with a midwife telling her she has to tough it out. Despite their protestations, I wasn’t convinced that the midwives’ attitude was kinder to their patients than my obstetricians who made my labors and deliveries almost pain-free.
Again, whether or not some women find pain empowering is their own business. What struck me was the comparison between midwife and doctor being made not as one of natural versus medical, but of kindness. One area that I find myself disagreeing with the pro-natural faction on is the idea that giving unnecessary anesthetic, with admittedly minimal risks, is somehow inherently bad. While I am generally sympathetic to the spirit of the homebirth cause, it is never because of any perceived superiority of the "natural" way. Fetishization of nature just doesn't appeal to me. The impulse to "medicalize" birth, for good or ill, is based on the perfectly reasonable goal of reducing suffering. If that impulse is too often acted on, well, that is the unfortunate result of a capitalist economy that treats healthcare (and adjudication) like a business. Any business, including that of being born, must have insurance, and lawsuits drive insurance rates so high that, as Hall puts it, "No doctor wants to be on that witness stand explaining why he didn’t do an ultrasound or use a fetal monitor."

Ultimately, though, I wanted to point to this:
The movie dealt more with feelings and opinions, and didn’t talk much about evidence from controlled studies. There are many unanswered questions about how to achieve the best outcomes for babies and mothers. If you don’t think doctors are constantly trying to reassess and improve their methods, just read any obstetric journal. When I was an intern, episiotomies were standard practice. I was chastised for not doing an episiotomy on one patient, a multigravida who begged me not to do one and who really didn’t need one. Now routine episiotomies are no longer recommended. Not because women complained, but because controlled scientific studies re-examined the outcomes. We stopped shaving the perineum and giving enemas a long time ago. Maybe we will stop delivering our patients in a supine position – but only when evidence clearly shows a safer option.
What's important here is not the frequency of medical intervention, which Hall admits is inflated. What this paragraph exemplifies is the importance of science doing what science does best. When literally dealing with matters of life and death, the default course of action must be based on what will most likely result in the best outcome for those involved. People are autonomous, and may surely reject the default course of action. But any critique of that course of action itself, rather than one's personal decision to follow it, has to be mounted on the basis that there is a flaw in the reasoning that led to it. Even if it were the case that most women choose to reject them, if the evidence suggests certain procedures be followed, those should be the procedures that are recommended. Research can be wrong, but that is how science works: by continuously challenging theories and seeking to disprove them. Ironically, in the New York Times review of the film (I haven't seen it myself) it mentions that a history of now-abandoned medical interventions that proved harmful is described, presented as an argument against them in general. But that is in fact an argument for how science is self-correcting: when things don't work, they are discarded or replace by things that work better. The chief difference between "natural" and "medical" is that "medical" has the potential to improve with time as new things are learned.

The opposition to medical birth is like most oppositions to technological developments in that there are legitimate causes for concern and education (if not necessarily for full-blown opposition), but the majority of the opposition that I've been exposed to don't challenge the developments on those terms. If there are statistically significant reasons to suppose that routine medical interventions are dangerous enough for them to be made non-routine, present those reasons. But arguments based on subjective emotions like empowerment, or even on the attitude of the professionals involved, are ones that by nature can only appeal to individuals. They cannot be the basis for altering systems in a field that must seek first to maximize health rather than happiness. Ideally the two would go hand in hand, but those are decisions that people must make for themselves.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Radical democracy

Anyone who knows me knows I spend a lot of time thinking about words and labels. I'm not one for pigeonholing — I certainly don't think that what I call myself defines me — but I do think that it is important to say what we mean and mean what we say. And so while I am comfortable referring to myself as an anarchist or a socialist, depending on the company I'm in, I wouldn't necessarily say that either of those labels is a perfect fit. They all give someone an idea of what I stand for, but not much more than that.

The chief problem, of course, is that those labels are terribly broad. I'm an anarchist, fine. Am I a mutualist, individualist, syndicalist, anarchist-communist, libertarian municipalist, parecon advocate, Platformist, what? I'm a socialist. Communist, social democrat, Marxist, Marxist-Leninist, Stalinist, Maoist, reformist, revolutionary, what?

I think, though, that the essence of my political and economic beliefs can be pretty well summed up with two words: radical democracy.

Radical means two things, both equally apt. First, something radical deals with the root or basic cause. Second, radical has come to mean "extreme." I believe that the problems with the modern political and economic systems are fundamental to the systems themselves. They are not caused because the system isn't working the way it should. They are caused because they are the inevitable result of the system working precisely as it is meant to. For example, unemployment and drastic disparities of wealth are not malfunctions of capitalism, they are inherent and necessary for capitalism to function.

Democracy is a word that has come to be corrupted almost out of recognition. But democracy is like a light switch, either on or off, either you have it or you don't. In a democracy, people make the decisions that affect them in proportion to how affected they are. Democracy requires participation, not alienation through pulling a lever or pressing a button every few years. We do not live in a democracy, we live in a liberal oligarchy, in which the power that rightfully belongs to every one of us is instead vested in a minority who exercise it, ideally, in our interests. They need only actually act in our interest to the extent that they can stay in office. Given the rampant political apathy that pervades society, that means for the majority of their time they can act in their own interest, or that of whomever they are indebted to.

Radical democracy affirms the revolutionary motto, "Liberty, equality, solidarity!"

Radical democracy requires liberty. All participants in a democratic society must be free to make their own choices, without coercion or compulsion from another party. Associations must be voluntary, and governments must derive any power they are given from the explicit consent of the people.

Radical democracy requires equality. Not only must all have equal opportunity to affect the decisions that affect themselves, people cannot be divided economically by unequal bargaining power concerning work and consumption. A commitment to equality is a commitment to letting people work with other people, but never for them.

Finally, radical democracy requires solidarity. Humans are social animals not just formally, but in every aspect of our lives. We all live together, and we must all get along together. We can best achieve this through cooperation and mutual aid, not through segregation, isolation, and competition.

A society based around liberty, equality, and solidarity — a radically democratic society — is not something that will come about through voting for Obama instead of Clinton, or Obama instead of McCain. There are no political parties that stand for these things, and in fact there cannot be, because radical democracy is incompatible with that form of government known as the state. Radical democracy can only be built as an alternative through local action.

That doesn't mean that we should ignore the modern political system. Not at all. We can, and should, continue to agitate for those minimal reforms that maximize the potential for a radically democratic alternative to grow. Spreading democracy in the workplace, for example, is certainly easier in a world in which unions are legal than one in which they are not. It is hard to imagine people being concerned about changing the system when they are too busy worrying about their basic human rights. But we must retain a sense of proportion about these things. These are prerequisites for action, but they are not the action themselves.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Transmale pregnancy

Labor of Love
Ten years ago, when Nancy and I became a couple, the idea of us having a child was more dream than plan. I always wanted to have children. However, due to severe endometriosis 20 years ago, Nancy had to undergo a hysterectomy and is unable to carry a child. But after the success of our custom screen-printing business and a move from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest two years ago, the timing finally seemed right. I stopped taking my bimonthly testosterone injections. It had been roughly eight years since I had my last menstrual cycle, so this wasn’t a decision that I took lightly. My body regulated itself after about four months, and I didn’t have to take any exogenous estrogen, progesterone, or fertility drugs to aid my pregnancy.
What I love about this story is that it forces people to confront several of their biases (or tolerances) at once. Not only do you have the transgender issue, you have the question of reproductive liberty, and the broader issue of gender roles. On top of that, one inevitably thinks of the potential for cismale pregnancy mediated by biotechnology.

For my part, I think it's really cool. Hope all goes well.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Now that's a mishap

German surgeons operate on woman's bowels instead of leg
When it comes to a surgical mistake, this incident may take the cake: A 78-year-old German woman went into the hospital last month to have surgery on her leg. Because of a mixup, Frankenpost reports that she left the Hochfranken-Klinik in M├╝nchberg, Germany, with an artificial anus.
Did they at least fix the leg, too? I didn't even realize they made artificial anuses, and I'm usually on top of these things...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Creationists are stupid

No, this isn't referring to their Biblical literalism, though that certainly qualifies as stupid. See, they've got this movie they're coming out with about "intelligent" design called Expelled. Ben Stein is in it and everything. By all accounts it's a trainwreck of mindlessness.

Anyway, PZ Myers (evolutionary biologist and blogger extraordinaire) has been criticizing and otherwise covering this movie for a while now. He just posted about going to the Mall of America to see a screening where was not allowed to enter. In fact, he was barred from the theater by police. The creationists knew better than to let one of their fiercest critics into the movie, and had instructed security before hand to watch for him. Myers was expelled from Expelled.

On the other hand, his family and guest entered with no problem... a guest by the name of Richard Dawkins. Google "god delusion" if you don't see why that is hilariously perfect. Creationists really are stupid.

Gold-plated health care to every person

Via Pandagon, I came across this post on progressive health care by Kevin Drum, and in particular this quote:
As progressives, our goal shouldn’t be to provide gold-plated care to every person in the country, nor should it be to restrict the ability of the rich to get better service if they want to pay for it. Our goal should be to provide decent care to everyone, with the market free to operate on top of that.
I call bullshit.

Anybody with a commitment to upholding basic rights — those conditions that serve as prerequisites for any other activity — has to recognize health as one of those rights. Our goal, as "progressives" of whatever political stripe, should indeed be to provide gold-plated care to every person in the country. Our goal should not be to leave a market in premium services "free" (as if any market is free) to operate on top of "decent" care, because in medicine there ought not be a difference between decent and gold-plated. In medicine, there is only necessary. If a person has a medical condition, they ought to be entitled to have that condition treated through whatever means work to treat it. Period.

I love Fox News

If there's anybody out there who doesn't read News Hounds (tagline: We watch Fox so you don't have to), you really should.

Like when Sean Hannity said that if Barack Obama agrees with his pastor and he wins the presidency, then we'll have a racist and anti-Semite for president. I'm sure not going to sit through Hannity and Colmes to catch that sort of silliness on my own. I would gouge out my eyes and ears before I ever got to the part where he obliquely called Obama a racist anti-Semite without any evidence.

Or when Shepard Smith of Studio B, while covering an exciting story about selling a Frosted Flake on eBay, described the 5th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, in the middle of an unprecedented economic crisis, as a "slow news day." How would I have known this, since I would have slit my wrists when they brought out the cereal?

This shit happens every day, apparently. How do people watch it?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Socialism 101: Exploitation

There are many reasons to oppose capitalism. The most important one to socialists is that it exploits workers. But when we say that capitalism exploits workers, we don't just mean that a lot of them don't get paid enough (which they don't). We don't mean that they often lack health care and other benefits (which they don't). We don't mean that they don't have a fair say in what happens to their jobs and their company (which they don't). These are all of the liberal complaints with capitalism, and they are complaints that socialists share, but they aren't the exploitation that socialism is meant to address.

No, the exploitation socialists refer to can be summed up in two words: surplus value.

A man has money. The man wants more money. His money does nothing by itself, it has to be turned into capital, like an office and computers. The computers do nothing by themselves, either, they require the labor of people to operate them. These people work for the owner, and produce a surplus of goods and services, more than their own wages would buy. The owner takes this surplus value for himself as profit. The owner is taking the product of the labor of others. Profit is the direct result of unpaid labor -- profit is the direct result of exploiting workers.

Here capitalists object that everyone gets their share of the product. The workers get the portion their labor contributed, the owner gets the portion his capital contributed. Fair and square, right?

Wrong. The problem here is that the workers are being rewarded for what they actually do, but the owner is just being rewarded for a relationship: his relationship to the capital. The owner is being rewarded simply for granting permission for other people to produce, not because he contributed to production himself. This is apparent when you consider that if the workers stop working, production necessarily ceases. If the owner stops granting permission, production only ceases if people continue to recognize his authority to control the means of production.

And this is why socialists oppose capitalism and private ownership of the means of production. Socialists do not recognize the authority of some people to profit from the work of others without actually contributing to the creation of that profit. Socialists do not recognize the right of some to exploit others.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's big race speech

Left I on the News posted a nice short response to Barack Obama's speech on race that pretty much covers exactly what I intended to say about it. So rather than say it again, I'll just suggest you go read it there.


I'm going to briefly evangelize.

Remember when you first got on Twitter, and it seemed kind of lame because you were only following two people or something? Sure you do. You couldn't figure out what the point was — it seemed like a waste of time. But now you're following dozens of people, and you get that Twitter groove going where if you want to, you can plug into the stream and ride it. And it's still, in most ways, a waste of time, but it's also a useful way to keep up with friends, a nifty form of asymmetrical communication, and frankly a lot of fun. But you'd never know that for those first few days or weeks when you were getting a tweet a day about someone's cat or what they ate for lunch.

There is a relatively new player in the social networking field called FriendFeed. It is exactly what it sounds like. We're all familiar with the idea of a web feed that updates as new information comes in; Twitter is a feed. What FriendFeed does is aggregate all of your friends' feeds in one place. So if I've got a Twitter account, this blog, Flickr, YouTube,,, LinkedIn, Digg, and Google Reader shared items, rather than having to visit all of those sites to see what's new with me, you could subscribe to my FriendFeed and get them all in one place. It doesn't collect any information that isn't available publicly already, so there's no more or less privacy than you already have.

But FriendFeed is like Twitter in many ways. In fact, since FriendFeed includes Twitter, it's exactly like Twitter in at least one way. But it has that same problem where, if you've only got a handful of people on it, it seems kind of lame. Unlike with Twitter, though, it's easy to see FriendFeed's potential if only people would use it. You can make "imaginary friends" and add their various feeds manually, but that's a lot of work.

So get on there, people. I don't know if its going to catch on, but I like it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ohh, keywords

Bravo to the person who found my blog while googling "see sexsy naked hot chicks bodyparts." Bravo.

16 Military Wives

I don't care what you say, this video is still fucking awesome.

Being a girl is a bad thing

No, of course not. But apparently some women think it is. Several blogs are reacting to Laura Ingraham's commentary regarding Brett Favre crying at his retirement press conference.
All these years, and I didn't know there was a woman quarterback in the NFL.

Brett Favre — we're watching this in the studio — obviously retiring from the NFL, great quarterback, handsome 38-year-old man, he gets up there and he does this press conference that was frankly one of the most embarrassing things I have ever seen.

That's a great message for young boys. "Get up there and act like a girl and start blubbering like a baby."
Only in the fucked-up mind of a conservative could "acting like a girl" be considered an insult. Only in a twisted mind that thinks that being a girl is a bad thing could accusing someone of acting like one be an insult. So what kind of self-esteem can Ingraham have, as a woman herself, to think that being a woman is so abhorrent that it can be used as a derisive comparison?

Of course Ingraham probably doesn't think there is anything wrong with acting like a girl if you happen to have a vagina. This isn't about Brett Favre acting like a girl, it is about Favre not acting like a "man." Because in the world of conservatives, "men" do not have emotions, even after retiring from a celebrated career. Or rather, men do not have sissy emotions like joy and sadness. Righteous indignation and bloodlust are encouraged.

The ongoing masculinity crisis has no end in sight. It's not a crisis of men being "feminized," but one of men fighting the age-old battles between being authentic and whole on the one hand, and conforming to an outdated model of masculinity on the other. The entire idea of "masculinity" and "femininity" is outmoded, based on nothing more than tradition and hocus-pocus. Whatever traits patriarchal custom deemed "male" and "female" are, in actual incidence, only averages and trends at best.

We need to move into a post-gendered world, where people's behavior and roles are defined by nobody but themselves. Maybe men will still be more likely to be stoic or aggressive thanks to testosterone. Maybe not. The only relevant question is, "Why should we care?" People are individuals.

And Laura, a truly great message for young boys would be "be who you are, and don't let conservative assholes tell you not to."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sexuality and politics

I'm having a good time flipping around in The Radical Reader, which is essentially the "best American political writing since ever," from the Revolution to slavery to feminism to civil rights to anarchism/communism/socialism to queer liberation to environmentalism... you get the idea. Anyway, one part of Carl Whittman's Refugees from Amerika: A Gay Manifesto (which I've never seen before) stood out to me as interesting. In discussing orientation, Whittman writes:
Bisexuality: Bisexuality is good; it is the capacity to love people of either sex. The reason so few of us are bisexual is because society made such a big deal about homosexuality that we got forced into seeing ourselves as either straight or non-straight. Also, many gays got turned off to the ways men are supposed to act with women and vice-versa, which is pretty fucked up. Gays will begin to turn on to women when 1) it's something that we do because we want to, not because we should, and 2) when women's liberation changes the nature of heterosexual relationships.

We continue to call ourselves homosexual, not bisexual, even if we do make it with the opposite sex also, because saying "Oh, I'm Bi" is a copout for a gay. We get told it's OK to sleep with guys as long as we sleep with women too, and that's still putting homosexuality down. We'll be gay until everyone has forgotten it is an issue. Then we'll begin to be complete.
I thought that was a rather remarkable statement for someone to be writing, particularly for someone to be writing in 1970. It's consistent with my own belief, or philosophy, that everyone is queer. While there are undoubtedly biological factors in sexuality, the recent obsession with "the gay gene(s)" has turned the issue into one of black and white, where it should be a spectrum not only of gray, but of all colors. Who one finds attractive, and who one loves, are issues that are influenced by everything from biology to experience to social expectation to choice. While it is important politically that we don't pretend that one can literally choose to be gay or straight (which is absurd), it is also important that we don't also pretend that sexuality is an on-off switch that is set to one extreme or the other.

I am one of those people who thinks everyone is bisexual to some extent. While I think most people may well be straight-leaning, I think that even in the most rigidly heterosexual mind there is room for growth and change if one admits it as a possibility. And I say this as someone who, personally, has never been anything other than straight himself. It's not that I care whether or not anyone identifies and acts in any particular way; I just think that the only honest and healthy view of sexuality is one of endless opportunity rather than one of limits, whether those limits are imposed personally or socially. I want to live in the world where, as Whittman put it, everyone has forgotten it is an issue, and we can all be complete.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sex and money

I said I wasn't really interested in blogging about the Spitzer scandal, and that's true, but I am interested in blogging about the inevitable corollary to any prostitution scandal: the legalization of prostitution. Or not.

On the face of it, this seems to be a pretty simple equation: sex is legal, selling things is legal, why shouldn't selling sex be legal? And as a starting point, that makes fine sense. Where things get tricky is when we recognize that buying and selling is a social relationship between buyer and seller, and that it entails all of the power dynamics inherent in any social relationship.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, it is said. In many ways, desperation is the force that drives a capitalist economy, the mirror image of profit. Excuse this brief diversion from the salacious sex talk, but I think this is crucial to understand. Those that already own capital (or more broadly, that have money) make money by having other people work for them. Those that don't own capital (or money) make money by working. The workers have no choice but to work for the very means of subsistence. Through the lottery of education, ability, and random chance, they may get better or worse pay for their work, but they must do it. Furthermore, capitalism relies on a certain amount of unemployment to keep up a demand for work. The real reason Republicans and Libertarians are so opposed to social welfare is not the "free rider" problem, but because if people could subsist without being forced to accept low wages, their profits would fall.

I say all this because prostitution is, like many types of work, pyramidal in structure. There are a few high-end call-girls, a few more middle-class college students making quick cash, and then a larger number of poor women whose alternative for money would be a minimum wage job. It can be said that the higher up the prostitution pay scale, the more certain we can be that the people involved are doing it truly consensually. But at the lower end, even leaving aside the actual problem of sexual slavery, how many prostitutes are doing it because that's what they want to do, and how many are doing it because it's one of few jobs they're qualified for, and one that pays relatively well?

Simply legalizing prostitution does little to change this situation. If every streetwalker in the country were plying their trade legally, that would not mean they are doing it because they want to. It might still simply be a convenient job for someone without more marketable skills. So the first problem with prostitution isn't a problem with prostitution at all, but a problem with capitalism. In a competitive market for labor, people are forced by necessity to do things they don't want to do, sometimes even things they are disgusted by.

There is another problem with prostitution, of course: misogyny. This manifests itself in two ways. First, in the social stigma attached to sex workers of all stripes, but especially to whores. Second, in the actual treatment of prostitutes by their johns.

I think the social stigma is a reflection of a rather fucked-up societal view of sex, and women's role in sex, overall. In a society where virginity is considered a virtue, and people with multiple partners are sluts, is it any surprise that people who have the audacity to not only have a lot of sex but to earn a living doing so are thought of negatively?

This is a problem with the view we have developed that sex is special. Don't get me wrong, here. I am not saying that sex isn't different from other bodily functions. But society has decided that that difference entitles everyone to form judgments about people on its basis in a way that doesn't apply to any other activity. We think that having or not having sex says something relevant about the people involved, when in fact, it merely says that they had sex. And why shouldn't they have? Sex is fun.

So I don't think that legalization, or not, has anything to do with the stigma attached to sex work. That stigma can only be combatted by changing our cultural attitudes toward sex in a more healthy direction.

In a similar way, that many prostitutes are subjected to what most people would considered "degrading" treatment, or actual violence, is not something that depends on its legal status per se. Many men get off on treating women badly, or by demonstrating their dominance over them. This is because our social construction of masculinity is built around dominance and competition and hierarchy, and a strict distinction between the agency of men as virile conquerors and the passivity of women as receptacles or mere things. The mistreatment of prostitutes is a uglier version of the same line of reasoning that makes a confrontational man in the office ambitious and a confrontational woman a bitch.

In other words, we have to change what it means to be a "real man" in our society before we can expect some men to not act as we have trained them to act: like domineering brutes. Whether or not the woman the man wants to brutally dominate is receiving money for the domination is irrelevant.

Ultimately, the question of prostitution is a question of labor. It is a question that asks: are there some things that we do not believe are "jobs?" As long as prostitution is illegal, society is claiming that the women doing sex work are not actually working, and don't deserve the protections of society that workers are entitled to. This is true regardless of the nature of the work in question.

I don't think we can, or should, make that claim. Prostitutes are clearly working, and they should receive all of the same benefits other workers should receive. The legalization of prostitution is ultimately an extension of the same impulses that give rise to minimum wage laws, the right to union organization, and all other labor regulation. Regardless of our comfort with the work in question, there should be no question that prostitutes are working people, and deserve the same treatment as other working people.

The problems of prostitution — coercion, stigma, and abuse — are symptoms of a sick society, not problems inherent in the simple provision of sexual services. They must be overcome not just for the prostitutes, but for women everywhere, and cannot be used as an argument against legalization.

Clearly, legalization has many benefits. The eradication of the private pimp, the recourse to police for abusive clients, and health care are obvious. Whether or not legal prostitution eliminates underground prostitution or sex slavery is beside the point, just as nobody would claim that because one can download illegal music, legal music ought to be outlawed as well. Whether or not legal prostitution eliminates the sexist ethical problems of it is also beside the point.

Workers deserve support and protection, even when their trade is sex.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

They're right, you know

Apparently pro-immigration groups are going to stage another mass protest in May. Good for them. Michelle Malkin, naturally, wants everybody to know how horrible the immigrants are, so she posted three photos as evidence. They're supposed to be controversial and inflammatory, I'm sure. The funny thing is, there is nothing inaccurate about them at all.

Little known fact, Michelle: people lived here before Europeans came and claimed it for themselves. Is this new or shocking information?

This one says the same thing. I know it's hard to believe, but the reason many Mexican people have darker brown skin than Europeans who also speak Spanish is because they are descended from the indigenous people that lived in America before the Spaniards came and stole it from them. It really is their continent.

Does anybody else remember a couple paragraphs in their U.S. History textbooks concerning Andrew Jackson and manifest destiny? How about the Mexican-American War? I am astounded again that the idea that the United States has killed Indians and Mexicans is considered controversial. Oh, nevermind, I get it. Malkin just means that the flag itself, as an inanimate piece of cloth, didn't murder anyone. That must be it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

One good thing to come out of the Spitzer scandal

Paterson Hailed as Staunch LGBT Supporter
Lt. Governor David Paterson, who will assume the responsibilities of governor of New York on Monday, March 17, is viewed by gay and trans activists alike as the staunchest of supporters for the LGBT community.
I'm not incredibly interested in the downfall of Eliot Spitzer, but I was pleased to read this bit about his successor.

Friday, March 7, 2008


On Tuesday, I voted in the Texas Democratic primary.

I almost didn't, and I'll tell you why. It's pretty simple, really: I'm not a Democrat. Sure, Texas has an open primary and I was allowed to vote for a Democrat, but I am not one, and not just in the sense that I am unregistered. The Democrats just plain don't represent me. The Democrats are, at their best, a liberal party, and I am a radical among liberals.

But I did vote. Shortly after I did I ran across a great piece by Howard Zinn in The Progressive and he said something that really explains why I did it.
I'm talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes — the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.
I don't think there is any significant difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, certainly not one to get excited about, and there are only the token hot-button issue differences between either of them and John McCain. I don't "support" Obama, though I voted for him in the primary. But I don't have to spend much time considering about the insignificance of those differences — it is simply a fact that one of them will be the "leader" of the "free world" in January, and there is no real opportunity cost to my preferring one over the other for long enough to vote.

I don't think elections are necessarily ever going to win us the society we deserve. We're going to have to do that ourselves. But elections do have real outcomes for real people, and even minor improvements in outcomes are worth it if you don't lose anything in the process. I lost nothing by voting for Obama, and so I did.

But in November, assuming as seems likely that Obama is the candidate, I won't be voting for him. Unless Texas becomes a hotly contested state, its electoral votes will all go to McCain, so there is no reason for me to even consider voting other than my conscience, which would lead me to a Green or a Socialist before a Democrat. And that's really my general rule for voting: always vote, and always vote for the left-most option available. Then forget about the whole game and go back to making the world a better place your own way, whatever that is.

In other words, vote for Obama in the primary and promptly protest his capitalist, imperialist policies when he's president.