Thursday, March 20, 2008

Retail Politics 

New New York Governor David Paterson has an interesting definition of "constituent services":

Gov. Paterson admitted Wednesday he may have improperly billed his campaign for at least one hotel tryst with a girlfriend.

The hotel tryst was apparently listed as "constituent services."

Even more ambiguous is this one:
A campaign payment to Lila Kirton, a high-ranking state employee who was one of his paramours, was listed as "professional services" - which is supposed to refer to legal advice, accounting or speechwriting.
The article doesn't reveal whether Kirton was in fact providing legitimate services to the campaign. Under the circumstances, I hope so.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I've been meaning to post since Friday on the fact that Barack Obama's defensiveness about Jeremiah Wright -- that he was like a "crazy uncle" and that Obama had not personally heard him say exactly the things he was recorded saying -- was not working, and that he needed to change the dynamic by giving a serious, thoughtful speech about race in America. The kind of "JFK" speech Mitt Romney promised, but failed to deliver, about religion. It couldn't just be a speech denouncing what Wright said, as Obama had been doing already in response to questions, or even denouncing Wright himself, which would hardly have been credible given their close personal relationship. Obama needed to give a speech that acknowledged America's racist past, and continuing racism today -- i.e., he needed to honestly acknowledge that Wright's statements, however objectionable to most Americans, were born of frustration with true injustice, because to do otherwise would not have been credible -- but at the same time he needed to explain why, even with that acknowledgment, his views were not Wright's. The explanation, quite naturally, and in keeping with the theme of the campaign, would be generational -- that there has been progress, progress that Barack Obama has quite obviously been a beneficiary of. (That does not mean, of course, that we can pat ourselves on the back and say racism is gone, but it does mean that Barack Obama can credibly say he approaches the issue of race from a perspective that is very different than that of black men and women of Jeremiah Wright's generation, even as he honors their experience.)

Well, it's been nearly a month in blog years since Friday, so fortunately the Obama campaign didn't wait for me. Obama gave the speech he had to give today.


Friday, March 14, 2008

... And Now Jane Won't Wear Anything But Pink ... 

Baby Girl Garth doesn't wear a lot of pink. There's nothing wrong with pink in the abstract -- I have a pink shirt that I'm rather fond of -- but in my view there is no doubt that in our society pink is used to put girls (and sometimes men) "in their place". It's not an outright boycott, mind you, but Mary and I do prefer that Baby be able to live even a few months without being aggressively gendered by society.

And that bugs people.

Yesterday, the owner of Baby's day care, with whom we have become very friendly, bought Baby some clothes and shoes. This was very kind and appreciated. But everything was pink, a circumstance she mentioned. (I think she even said, "pretty in pink".) Implication: That baby doesn't wear enough pink.

I have heard literally hundreds of times the following story. Baby girl's parents didn't dress her in pink. Now she's old enough to decide for herself and wants to wear nothing but pink. I've heard it as a parable in reference to our baby. I've heard it independently of our baby, from bemused or disappointed parents of the child in question, or from self-satisfied friends of the aforementioned parents. (I've also heard variations of the same tale involving Barbies, princesses, etc.)

In all cases, the moral is: You will get your comeuppance for daring to challenge gender orthodoxy. Your daughter will "act like a girl" no matter what you do, because that is her true nature, and it is only your own hubris that makes you act otherwise. The moral, of course, makes no sense. People can argue nature vs. nurture about a lot of things. But choice of clothing is clearly socially constructed, and the custom of dressing girls in pink is less than a century old and, apparently, used to be reversed (pink for boys).

It may be that Baby Girl Garth decides some day she loves pink, but if she does, it will not be because she suddenly discovers her "true nature", but rather because a lot of people are very threatened by the idea that one might treat a baby girl the same as one would treat a baby boy.

Related Posts: Pink; You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Pink Edition


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bed Rest and Authority 

David Cohen has up an interesting post on bed rest, which is widely prescribed for a variety of pregnancy ailments.

Cohen's wife, who is 33 weeks pregnant, has been prescribed bed rest for preeclampsia, even though, he notes, "studies indicate that bedrest for preeclampsia does not actually improve pregnancy outcomes". Cohen rightly identifies an important feminist issue here:
So why do doctors put women through the dreadful and draining experience of bed rest? Medical intuition, risk aversion, the intransigence of inertia — all these are certainly factors here. But, behind all of this, is there something else going on? Are doctors subconsciously acting on age-old stereotypes about what women should be doing during pregnancy? Are they putting women on bed rest because, when anything in life presents a difficulty to a pregnancy, the response is to make women stop whatever it is that they are doing in their lives and focus solely on being the babymakers that they biologically should be?

I am certainly not saying that my wife’s doctor has this motivation or that any particular doctor does. But, when research shows that bed rest does not have benefits but the recommendation still persists, background assumptions about women and pregnancy have to be analyzed.
I would state the case even more strongly. To direct a women to stop working, or doing whatever else she wants to do with her time, when there is no evidence of a resulting medical benefit, shows a reprehensible contempt for the value of women's time. If anything, Cohen is going too easy on the doctor. Did the doctor (a specialist in obstetrics, I assume) tell Cohen's wife that empirical studies don't support the advice being given? Did he or she seriously think through the costs and benefits of following that advice, and counsel Cohen's wife so that she could make an informed decision? Even if the answer is yes, would he or she have done the same for a patient with less income or education? These are exactly the kinds of issues that obstetricians should be expected to give serious thought to, if they are going to properly serve their patients.

Despite all of that, Cohen and his wife have chosen to follow the doctor's advice, even though they are presumably sophisticated people who appreciate the value of controlled empirical studies. That is completely understandable. As expectant parents, we want to protect our children. It is very hard to disregard authority, even in the face of clear empirical evidence, as in the case of alcohol or caffeine consumption by pregnant women. Mary and I knew that Bendectin, which is an effective anti-morning-sickness drug that can be replicated at home with a combination of Vitamin B-6 and Unisom, poses no risk to the fetus, but subjectively it is still a bit scary to take because of past pronouncements as to its dangers. That is why it is incumbent on those in positions of authority, both individual obstetricians and the relevant medical academies, to think rigorously about these issues, and in doing so to recognize that a woman's time does not become valueless merely because she is pregnant.

Related Posts: Throwing Up Is Good For You (Bendectin); Cheers to the New Baby! (Alcohol); Cheers to the New Baby! Part II


Friday, March 07, 2008


Matthew Yglesias is rightly disgusted that Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman is giving a pass to anti-Semite minister John Hagee because Hagee is, in Foxman's view, "an advocate of Israel". (Yglegias points out that being "pro-Israel" is a dubious description of Hagee, as his theology imagines that present support for Israel will lead to Armageddon.)

While it's bad enough that Foxman says Hagee is alright with him, what's worse is that Foxman actually says Hagee is "opposed to antisemitism". How can Foxman square that with this?
It was the disobedience and rebellion of the Jews, God's chosen people, to their covenantal responsibility to serve only the one true God, Jehovah, that gave rise to the opposition and persecution that they experienced beginning in Canaan and continuing to this very day....
Doesn't that say that anti-Semitism was the divinely approved response to what Jews have done? Isn't that the opposite of being "opposed to anti-Semitism"?

It is, frankly, despicable that the head of a leading organization charged with fighting anti-Semitism -- an organization whose charter honorably undertakes "to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people" (emphasis added) -- should so abandon reason and principle in favor of what he supposes (wrongly, but that's another matter) to be in Israel's short-term interest.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Where We Are 

The market still sees Obama as a 3:1 favorite. If you feel like making a few bucks, I have a hunch it will be more like 60:40 within the week, as the market digests the new dynamics of the race. Despite recent emphasis on "delegate math" -- which shows that Obama will almost certainly finish with more pledged delegates -- the working assumption that superdelegates are trending Obama is no longer operative. They could go either way. Especially if Clinton can pull ahead in the popular vote, there will be ample cover for superdelegates to put Clinton over the top if they so choose.

The bad news is that Clinton has already gone on the attack against Obama, and Obama will have to do the same toward Clinton. (Yes, that's the "old politics" Obama derides, but he'll just have to say that new politics doesn't require one to be a punching bag, etc.) In other words, the enthusiasm of Democratic voters, which is giving us record fundraising, will lead to Clinton and Obama together spending something like $75 million -- more than 25% of what John Kerry spent on his entire presidential campaign -- over the next 6 weeks to make the other one look bad, with the principal focus of that activity being in Pennsylvania, a leaning-Dem swing state that the Dems almost certainly cannot win without. Meanwhile, the Bush money machine is going to start cranking for McCain, meaning a window of opportunity where the money is all on our side may be closing. A huge lost opportunity.

The good news, of course, is that if Clinton can win, she will, almost by definition, have established that Obama was not, in fact, ready for prime time. My guess is that doesn't happen -- that he stops playing frontrunner, hits Clinton hard, and gets back on track -- but if he doesn't, that probably tells us he wasn't the right candidate for the general election.

The blame, I am afraid, lies with neither Clinton nor Obama, but with Howard Dean (it pains me to say) and the rest of the party establishment, for creating a primary system that was poorly designed to deal with a contested primary. How, after 2000, could Dems have failed to consider the possibility that an election could be close?

The intrigue, and maybe the solution, is that both Clinton-Obama and an Obama-Clinton tickets are beginning to look like real possibilities. The former has long been considered a possibility, and seemed the more natural fit due to Clinton's seniority, while the assumption has generally been that the reverse wouldn't happen because (a) Clinton wouldn't be interested; and (b) Obama, as the upstart, could lose untarnished, but a loss by Clinton as the early frontrunner would leave her tarnished. But right now neither of those reasons looks so compelling. McCain's nomination makes the possibility of Clinton running again in 2016, at age 68, seem a lot more plausible, and eight years as VP would clearly help her odds of getting the nomination. Moreover, with her latest comeback, Clinton can lose without tarnish (or, of course, she could win). Most important, a Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket could stop the bleeding, and help us focus on defeating McCain. Perhaps the skids will be greased with some kind of power-sharing arrangement where the VP gets a Cheney-like portfolio to act as almost co-President (an arrangement not all that different from the sort of coalition building that happens in parliamentary systems), though of course they'll have to be careful how they sell that. However it happens, Clinton this morning seemed to inch closer to a combined ticket, and left open both versions:
Asked on CBS's "The Early Show" whether she and Obama should be on the same ticket, Clinton said:

"That may be where this is headed, but of course we have to decide who is on the top of ticket. I think the people of Ohio very clearly said that it should be me."

Neither candidate is my first choice -- my dream VP would be Wes Clark -- but a ticket-sharing deal some time after Pennsylvania may be the way to go.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

On Second Thought, It's the Fickle, Stupid 

Ann Bartow points me to Linda Hirshman's op-ed that appeared on the same page with Charlotte Allen's ridiculous op-ed Sunday.

Google Blog Search (as of this morning around 10 EST) reveals 27 blog entries referring to Hirshman since her piece appeared versus 1,495 for Allen. While not all of the 1,495 references have been negative -- Kathryn Jean Lopez at the Corner has a five-word post (seven with the title) that reads, "Charlotte Allen eviscerates women. I love it." (Seriously, Lopez really wrote that.) -- the vast majority have been throughly and rightly critical.

Perhaps because of the attention received by Allen, Hirshman's op-ed has received little attention. Hirshman purports to explain why Hillary Clinton -- who has received strong support from female primary voters (a 7-point edge according to Hirshman) -- has not received strong enough support from women to be the frontrunner. The title and some of the text suggest that she views the explanation as relating to class (although she also addresses, and then puts aside, the role of race). She suggests that perhaps less educated women (by which she means less educated white women) lean Clinton because they care more about "Clinton's early stand on family leave or her slightly more generous health-care plan" or that more educated (again white) women prefer Obama's "less bellicose" foreign policy. Whether true or not, those seem like plausible, policy-based explanations -- so why does Hirshman turn that into a critique of feminists turning on their "working-class" "sisters" in favor of "solidarity with their own class"? (She acknowledges that there are prominent feminists on both sides of the Clinton-Obama race, but dismisses feminist support of Clinton as "man bites dog".) Betraying working-class women is a pretty strong charge to base on nothing more than voting for the candidate with a better approach to foreign policy approach because he's offering a "slightly [less] generous health-care plan".

If that weren't enough, Hirshman then, without any evidence, turns to explanations that trivialize women (especially, highly-educated women) who support Obama:
Or it could just be that women with more education (and more money) relate on a subconscious level to the young and handsome Barack and Michelle Obama, with their white-porticoed mansion in one of the cooler Chicago neighborhoods and her Jimmy Choo shoes.

Or it's something less analyzable....

Has this rhetorical firestorm had an effect on the political decisions of college-educated white women? I don't know. But I do know that many of these women have succeeded by meeting or exceeding society's expectations. And the movement quality of the Obama campaign has certainly raised expectations of commitment to its candidate well beyond those of a normal political campaign. This has to be generating powerful peer pressure.
So it's undue susceptibility to peer pressure, or just falling for the hunky dude with a nice house.

And in case that weren't trivializing enough, Hirshman says explicitly that it's just because women -- again, here she means "college-educated white women" -- are "fickle":
I can imagine the strategists for the senator from Illinois thinking, "What's that song in Verdi's 'Rigoletto'?" Women are fickle.

Turns out it's true.....

Whatever the explanation, the Clinton campaign could now be stuttering to its close, and Mark Penn has been criticized for everything from short-sightedness about the primary schedule to overspending on sandwich platters. But those failures pale beside the biggest one of all: not recognizing the fickleness of the female voter.
While the editorial decision to publish Allen's piece was dubious on its own, I find it extraordinary that that the Post decided to publish two simultaneous Sunday op-eds devoted to the theme that women's voting -- and only women's voting -- is governed by some unsubstantiated mental failing.

Related Post: It's The Stupidity, Stupid


Monday, March 03, 2008

It's The Stupidity, Stupid 

As virtually everyone has already condemned Charlotte Allen's pathetic WaPo op-ed arguing that women are "the stupid sex", I'll highlight two particularly appropriate responses. Ezra Klein responds that the op-ed's problem is not its ridiculous premise, but its execrable execution:
[I]t's shameful, and the Post owes its readers an apology. Not, I hasten to add, because the thesis was so daring and our tender sensibilities must be soothed. But because the work was so shoddy and the author so poorly chosen.
That's an important point, because it seems that every time the left condemns a conservative columnist, it is accused of intolerance toward opposing viewpoints -- I mean you, Andy Rosenthal -- rather than intolerance for intellectual bankruptcy.

Jill at Feministe makes a similar point even more succinctly:
Shorter Charlotte Allen: I am a paste-eating moron, and so therefore all other women are as shockingly stupid as I am.


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