seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy


Real Men Don't Blame Women

When I think about what defines a real man, or the qualities that I think men should aspire to, self-control is toward the top of the list. So when I am reminded that many, often religiously inspired, view the ideal man as not needing self-control, I am unimpressed.

I was reminded of this in recent articles both about many who call themselves Muslims and also many who call themselves Christians. Both are quick to blame women for various forms of sexual assault and harassment. It is the women who are blamed, often for dressing indecently and tempting men - who are therefore acknowledged to be weak and unable to demonstrate self-control.

When I lived in the Middle East for four months, it was impossible to escape these beliefs. The most religious Jewish neighborhoods had instances of men throwing things at women (often tourists) believed to be dressed too immodestly for their streets.

If I were to subscribe to a religion, it would have to be on that requires adherents to take responsibility for their actions. However, I suspect that for a religion to survive for more than 100 years, it may be necessary for it to place blame on others rather than elevating self-control. We have tribal brains - some things are very difficult to overcome (and there I go, placing blame?).

The article that really got thinking along these lines outlines cases of rape or sexual harassment at a well-regarded Christian school near DC. It is "Sexual Assault at Patrick Henry College."

It is a disgusting story - a reminder of how the world really works.

Reading these quotes, I find it amazing that any man would be proud of believing that he would be powerless in the face of bare female shoulders or ankles. But then, they really don't believe that, do they? Perhaps superficially at best. Rather, they recognize it as a convenient excuse to do whatever the hell they want without having to take responsibility for it. It is the woman's fault, or maybe the devil's.

The self-policing that courtship culture requires, however, is not egalitarian. Responsibility falls disproportionately to women, who are taught to protect their “purity” and to never “tempt” their brothers in Christ to “stumble” with immodest behavior. “The lack of men’s responsibility or culpability for their own actions and the acceptance of male ‘urges’ as irresistible forces of nature is the understructure of Christian modesty movements and their secular counterpart,” the journalist Kathryn Joyce wrote in Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. These movements, she noted, see “women’s bodies as almost supernaturally perverse and corrupting.”


In 2012, Representative Todd Akin, running for Senate in Missouri, sparked a national outrage by speaking of what he called “legitimate rape”—a category, he implied, that did not actually apply to many rape cases. Patrick Henry College has sponsored similar ideas on sexual assault. Last September, the school chose Dr. Stephen Baskerville, a professor of government, to deliver a speech that the entire student body was required to attend. He argued that feminism and liberalism have transformed the government into “a matriarchal leviathan.” The result, he said, according to a copy of the speech, was a society plagued by politically motivated “witch hunts” against men—while “the seductress who lures men into a ‘honeytrap’ ” was really to blame.


Afterward, Claire agonized over why she hadn’t “fought him” off. “I was afraid that it had something to do with my sinful nature,” she says. In the Christian world Claire had been brought up in, men only do bad things to impure women who have tempted them. She blamed herself, tried to act normal, and told no one.


When she met with Corbitt to show her the e-mail, the student remembers the dean saying, “The choices you make and the people you choose to associate with, the way you try to portray yourself, will affect how people treat you.” In subsequent meetings, the student says Corbitt told her to think about her clothing and “the kinds of ideas it puts in men’s minds.”

I would be embarrassed to believe men should be this weak. Pathetic.

Why Wall Street Got a Pass from Democrats

Very good article from The New Republic: "A Wasted Crisis?" by Paul Starr. The subtitle is "Why Democrats did so little to change Wall Street.

He reviews several books discussing the Democratic Party response to the economic crisis and Wall Street, each of which I put on my reading list. All of it reinforces my very strong belief that if we do not reform the campaign finance system, our Republic will remain beyond our reach. Support the Rootstrikers!

From the Paul Starr piece:

Finance-friendly government has also resulted from the industry’s increased lobbying and political contributions in an environment where countervailing pressure from consumer groups is negligible. Even in the latest battle, the imbalance has been staggering. According to Kaiser, a consumer coalition in 2009 announced it would raise $5 million to support financial reform; in comparison, the lobbying expenditures by the finance industry in 2009 and 2010 totaled around $750 million. Wall Street political contributions, McCarty and his co-authors point out, have gone to both Democrats and Republicans, though not indiscriminately. “The more conservative wing of each party (moderate Democrats and conservative Republicans) garners substantially more contributions than the more liberal factions.” The finance industry is bipartisan in the sense that it pushes both parties to the right.

Former Senator and present lobbyist, Chris Dodd was a chief author of the effort to ensure Wall Street didn't once again kill our economy. From the article:

Dodd, whom Connaughton describes as “Machiavellian,” readily made concessions to Republicans who were not going to vote for the bill, while ignoring his own Democratic colleagues. “Dodd and the Treasury Department wanted a squishy bill,” Connaughton writes, “and the Republicans were willing to work with Dodd to weaken it.”

Where have we seen this before with Democrats? The stimulus is the first thing that comes to mind - where the stimulus was watered down and included major non-stimulative tax cuts to woo Republicans than never supported it. The problem is that Democrats can't even count on the middle-of-the-road Democrats to vote for a bill unless they give major concessions to Republicans who will never vote for it anyway.

And why is that? Probably because those Democrats come from districts where Republicans are far better at winning elections with deeply flawed talking points that nonetheless play well on television. So Democrats have to avoid doing anything that Republicans can easily demagogue (often by lying and recognizing no one will call them on it).

Economics of Equality

Published on January 23, 1915, in The New Republic by Walter E. Weyl, an early economist of the 99%.

There can be no equality nor any approach to equality except among men economically independent and economically comparable. You may talk of equality and fraternity of equal civil rights of equal political rights of the brotherhood of man and all the rest but unless your man has a secure economic position a chance to earn his living in dignity and honor he has no rights whatsoever. Political equality is a farce and a peril unless there is at least some measure of economic equality.

Read the full article here.

Our Dumb Selves and Letting Wall Street Off Without Even a Warning

In a few years ... maybe even 10 or more if we are lucky, the economy will crater again. Wall Street will have screwed us again, but we can only blame ourselves.

We are supposed to be in charge of this country but we are not. We're too busy watching "unscripted" television and ignoring very real threats to our well-being because that is inconvenient. Michael Lewis reviewing a supposed exposé of Goldman Sachs:

Stop and think once more about what has just happened on Wall Street: its most admired firm conspired to flood the financial system with worthless securities, then set itself up to profit from betting against those very same securities, and in the bargain helped to precipitate a world historic financial crisis that cost millions of people their jobs and convulsed our political system. In other places, or at other times, the firm would be put out of business, and its leaders shamed and jailed and strung from lampposts. (I am not advocating the latter.) Instead Goldman Sachs, like the other too-big-to-fail firms, has been handed tens of billions in government subsidies, on the theory that we cannot live without them. They were then permitted to pay politicians to prevent laws being passed to change their business, and bribe public officials (with the implicit promise of future employment) to neuter the laws that were passed—so that they might continue to behave in more or less the same way that brought ruin on us all.

Why Do Grandmothers Exist?

I found this way more interesting than I expected on reading the title... From The New Republic...

Stealing Elections

We have seen many Republican-dominated state legislatures passing laws to make it harder to vote -- justified by the claim from Republicans that there is a real threat to the legitimacy of elections by sinister people who may vote multiple times under false identities.

The claim is ludicrous and backed by no real evidence. Given that the punishment for illegally voting is significant and the gain from casting a few extra ballots is minimal, only profoundly stupid people would try to tilt an election by having people vote multiple times.

The real threat to elections comes not from people lacking ID, but rather people that make big donations. Even though we have a system of what amounts to legalized bribery in the form of campaign contributions, some find that those lax rules are still too restricting for their tastes.

Consider a profile of one of the biggest Republican donors, Harold Simmons. What is his punishment for willfully breaking law after law to gain legislative favors? The occasional slap on the wrist.

The saga also unexpectedly brought to light the full scope of Simmons’s political activities. His personal contributions were well-known: Several years earlier, the FEC had fined him for donating more than twice the legal limit in the 1988 election cycle to the campaigns of George H.W. Bush and congressional candidates in positions to influence looming legislation concerning the business tactics favored by corporate raiders. In court filings, however, Patigian alleged that Simmons had contributed far more, “[giving] away millions of dollars of trust assets to right-wing political causes, politicians, and criminal defense funds, some of which contributions were illegal and many of which were designed to avoid federal election laws.” (The FEC did not take action on these allegations.)

The trust controlled three political action committees (PACs) and supplied most of the funding for a fourth. Though corporations were barred from donating to political candidates, Simmons had transferred money regularly between his companies and the trust, while also drawing money out of the trust for contributions to individual politicians. When he had hit his own legal limits, Simmons had donated money in his daughters’ names; in court, he admitted to forging their signatures to authorize some of the contributions.

The next time you hear someone claiming that our elections are threatened by allowing people to vote without specific forms of ID, remember the true threat to our democracy -- the rich people and corporations who buy politicians. Buying votes is so 20th century.

Browsing v. Searching

The loss of local bookstores troubles me. Whether it is Amazon or e-books, I fear for local bookstores, particularly used bookstores. A recent commentary by Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic (full article is behind a pay wall) offers a spirited defense of local businesses over online alternatives. A taste:

Browsing is not idleness; or rather, it is active idleness—an exploring capacity, a kind of questing non-instrumental behavior. Browsing is the opposite of “search.” Search is precise, browsing is imprecise. When you search, you find what you were looking for; when you browse, you find what you were not looking for. Search corrects your knowledge, browsing corrects your ignorance. Search narrows, browsing enlarges. It does so by means of accidents, of unexpected adjacencies and improbable associations. On Amazon, by contrast, there are no accidents. Its adjacencies are expected and its associations are probable, because it is programmed for precedents.

Support your local stores.

Get Off Your Knees - Time to Stand

Once again, I am blown away by Leon Wieseltier on the back page of The New Republic. I hadn't read TNR in awhile because they charge so much for the subscription I had let it lapse - but they brought me back with a short term deal.

Good timing - Rick Perry seems to want to turn the US into some form of supposedly Christian Nation - not in the sense of taking care of our neighbors (one of many positive Christian values rarely embraced by those most loudly proclaiming their Christianity) but in the sense of parading faith and using it to beat on anyone who doesn't share it.

Wieseltier has a stunning repudiation of Rick Perry's public pronouncements but it is buried behind a pay wall. Pity. A couple of powerful snippets:

There is a man half-running for president in the United States who has adopted Joel’s plan. He is Rick Perry, the suave and shallow governor of Texas. He has issued “a call to prayer for a nation in crisis,” which he calls The Response. He proposes to fill a stadium in Houston—Reliant Stadium, it is charmingly called—with contrite Americans, and thereby change the course of our country.


"There is hope for America,” Perry preaches. “It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.” He likes the sentence so much that he gives it twice. I dislike it hugely. This country was not built by people on their knees. It was built by people on their feet, with their hands as they were guided by their minds. They acted as if hope for America lay in themselves. There was nothing insolent about this. They were not godless people, except for some in our recent history; but their religion was compatible with, or even inclined them to, the modern concept of historical agency. The United States of America is a monument to that concept. It represents a revolution in human affairs not least because of its faith in the power of human action.

Democratization and Democracy

Leon Wieseltier, a writer that I frequently criticize, penned a prescient piece for The New Republic: "Eyeless in Cairo."

I have long argued that while not everyone in the world wants to vote in a republic or even necessarily be engaged in their own governance, I don't believe there is a person that believes power should be totally unaccountable to citizens. Similarly, I doubt there is a person who yearns to live in a society where there is no redress for injustice. This article covers similar ground - the prospects for democratization in Egypt and whether current US policy will reproduce Iran circa 1979.

This is an incredible passage:

Can one be for democracy in some states and against democracy in other states? As a matter of principle, of course not: democracy is universalism as a political order. It is premised on a certain conception of the individual and society, on an understanding of dignity and freedom that would be meaningless if it did not apply to all people. By bringing all people under a single philosophical description, it ignores, without regret, the social and economic and cultural distinctions among them. It equalizes. But policy, even when it is based in philosophy, is not philosophy; it cannot be indifferent to consequences. And the democratization of undemocratic societies is emphatically a policy of destabilization. In the anarchy of the attempt, all kinds of evils may be loosed. Unfree people dream of more than just freedom; they dream also of power, and vengeance, and exclusiveness, and heaven.

A Very Serious Al Franken

OK, I'm briefly blogging another article from The New Republic, "Franken Sense: The Very Serious Senator from Minnesota."

I opposed Al Franken's run for the Senate because I thought it a poor use of his talents. I was very wrong and I'm glad he won. This article confirmed much of what I have observed and I greatly hope he will be reelected despite what will be undoubtedly very motivated opposition.

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