Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Please Excuse BionOc's Absence...

I'm afraid transmission will be spotty for a bit, friends, as I am abruptly moving to Providence, Rhode Island (this is actually a very good thing, trust me) and will be deracinated and house-hunting for the next week. Will dispatch from the field as I can. I trust you will all get on without me. Do try.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It's All In The Timing

Man, the Irony Factory, Armed Forces Division, is just pumping on all pistons lately. I am this morning in receipt of an email from the U.S. Army Health Professions Scholarship Program, sent by one (and you know I would not make this up) Brandon Butcher, LPN, Staff Sergeant.

See the strange, stilted Armyspeak deployed by (I can't even type this with a straight face) Sgt. Butcher:
I am certain you will have questions and I look forward to answering them as well as helping you achieve your goals whether or not you choose pursue the scholarship with our organization. I must reiterate, I am not a salesman, nor is this a ruse to get you to join the Army. This program has a very long and prosperous history of success; I must also reiterate that is a scholarship not to be confused with the ever popular and oft advertised, GI Bill and Army College Fund.
I confess I'm a bit confused as to why he must reiterate that he is not a salesman, given that he had never iterated it at any point previously. Also, 'ruse' it may not be, but I would certainly feel safe in describing it at least as a ploy to get me to join the Army. I mean, they're not offering me a scholarship to not join the Army. That kind of thing would be frowned upon, I'm fairly sure, the taking the scholarship and then not joining the Army. I'm sure they've got fine print about that somewhere.

The good Sarge provides this handy formula to illustrate the criteria by which selection of candidates will be conducted:

Application (MCAT and transcripts)+ Physically qualified+ favorable background check + board selection + acceptance of scholarship (commission) = Scholarship + obligation

See? 'obligation'--I knew it. Man's trying to get me to join the Army.

He also hastens to inform me that he 'look[s] forward to a meeting of the minds with you to ascertain if you are a match for our organization and we are a match for you.' A 'meeting of the minds', you know. A 'match' for their 'organization'. Ain't it just like a business or something?

I can't help wondering what kind of 'motivation letter' would be most likely to impress their selection board (which, I am assured, 'does not take this matter lightly').

'All my life I've known it was my destiny to grow up and become a doctor, so I could help my fellow man get back onto the field to kick some more towelhead ass'?

'My highest ambition, as a woman and a member of the human race, is to assist in the psychological preparation of detainees for interrogation'?

'For many years I've been torn between two seemingly conflicting ambitions: to cure people, on the one hand, and to kill people, on the other. As an Army physician, I feel confident that I can combine these two goals into one fulfilling career'?

&c. But far and away my favorite thing about this letter is the Scholarship Eligibility requirements, where tucked in at number three, just behind 'U.S. citizen' and 'Enrolled in or have received a letter of acceptance from/to an accredited graduate program in the United States or Puerto Rico', we find the kicker: 'Of good moral character.'

One presumes that the good moral characters are easier to amputate without leaving a scar.

Whereas THIS clearly the right way to deploy military psychologists.

Poor, poor IDF. The trauma, it must be so intense. We must all keep them in our hearts and minds throughout this difficult and emotional period.

Monday, June 27, 2005

U.S. Army In Self-Exculpation Shock

Boy, the Gitmo Good News Express just keeps on rollin' lately. Hard on the heels of widespread report of ethical concerns over military physician involvement in detainee interrogations, it emerges that there's really nothing to worry about at all. (I think that link requires [free] registration; sorry.)

The surgeon-general of the U.S. Army has apparently conducted an investigation (because really, who better to conduct an investigation into the Army's unethical use of its doctors than the Army?), and 'found no evidence of ethical misconduct at Guantánamo Bay,' according to testimony before the American Medical Association:
Dr. Kiley told the AMA meeting he had delivered to top officials at the Pentagon an "assessment" of allegations about military physicians' involvement in torture or abuse of prisoners of war and detainees.

The contents of that assessment, an Army term used to describe an investigation not handled by military lawyers, have not been made public. But Dr. Kiley told a military colleague that the assessment will find no wrong-doing by military doctors, and the colleague passed that on to the AMA meeting.
[The colleague] added that 'to my knowledge, not a single case of misconduct has been verified. Not a single one.'
I'd be very interested to know what it is they think they're looking for. Since it's public record that they're using military psychiatrists and psychologists, in the guise of 'behavorial science consultants', on their 'Biscuit teams', it's hard not to conclude that the jig is more than a little bit up. To my knowledge, nobody's claiming these docs actually wielded the pliers themselves, so looking for 'cases of misconduct' is radically beside the point.

The 'misconduct' inheres in military doctors' presence on these teams, and in their participation in the teams' purpose: the softening up of prisoners for interrogation. Call them Behavioral Science Consultants, call them Mental Susceptibility Engineers, call them fucking banana splits with whipped cream for all I care, they're doctors. And by participating in the brutal interrogation of unlawful detainees, they're doing harm.

Of course, ultimately responsibility for this deployment of medical personnel lies with the U.S. military. Then again, calling the U.S. military on the carpet for ethical misconduct is like standing in a rainstorm and shouting that it's ruining your new suede Manolos: unsurprising, undeniable, and unlikely to make it stop.

The truth is that everyone involved in this disgraceful business is culpable: the docs who followed orders that violated their professional ethics as well as the authorities who issued them. Don't be holding your breath for the day we get an 'assessment' from those authorities acknowledging that truth.

When Did Quirky Dethrone Slutty, And Why Did No One Ask Me?

Audrey Tautou is the Hello Kitty of French actresses. You get tooth decay just looking at her. Look at her! Whatever she's thinking she might get up to with that spoon, I guaranfuckingtee you it involves nothing naughtier than hot fudge smears in her dimples.

Whatever happened to the great, smoldering, adult French actresses? La Tautou couldn't smolder if you held a match to her. She's too fucking damp to smolder. She simpers, she saunters, she whimses, she goggles out of those saucer-sized ingenue eyes of hers with that air of Quirky(tm) ironclad innocence that makes me want to take a hammer to her temple.

She is a perma-virgin, Our Lady of Perpetual Adorableness, hell-bent on sucking you into her whimsical candy-colored world where Magic Really Happens and men and women shyly hold hands as they stroll (or wheelchair, in Mathilde's case) along the Seine. And I'm not just talking about 'Amélie' here, though that's certainly the locus classicus insufferabilis. This is her schtick. And it is not what French actresses are for.

And yet she is everywhere. She is shaping up to be the Oughts' answer to Gérard Depardieu; apparently it is some secret policy of the French government to have a state-mandated actor on hand at all times and in all films. How did this happen? How did we get from Emmanuelle Béart to this? What did we do wrong?

The Tautou is a cloying, noxious child-woman, and Catherine Deneuve could do worse than to take her over her knee and give her a good lesson in what it means to be a French female icon.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


OK, let's do this thing.

Number of books I own: Oh jeez. This is like those guess-how-many-jelly-beans-in-the-jar contests. In which I was invariably off by several orders of magnitude. 500? A million? More than 20, I know that.

At this peripatetic stage of my life, I'm accustomed to count books in units of boxes. Maybe 30, 40 boxes? If I get it right, do I win my own library?

Last book I bought: Myths of the Near Future, by J.G. Ballard, along with The Best of Myles by Flann O'Brien.

Last book I read: the Ballard. Working my way bits-wise through the O'Brien; not the kind of book you read in one go.

Books that mean a lot to me: Oy. This one's kind of in flux; the books that historically meant things to me I find I'm increasingly alienated from. In the process of replacing them:

The Gun and the Olive Branch by David Hirst; which gave me all the ammunition I could ever want for opposing Zionism

Bleeding the Patient: The Consequences of Corporate Healthcare, by David Himmelstein, Steffie Woolhandler and Ida Hellander; ditto for supporting single-payer healthcare in America

Norman Finkelstein's
The Holocaust Industry; ditto for opposing the commodification and exploitation of Jewish suffering in the nazi holocaust

The Scar, by China Miéville, for all kinds of reasons, literary and personal

A Very Long Engagement, by Sébastien Japrisot; now unforgivably made into a film starring the in-all-circumstances-inexcusable Audrey Tautou. A lovely, sensitive and strange novel about World War I, my personal locus of irresistible battlefield-porn. I'm just endlessly susceptible to the mud-drowned trenchpoppies, what can I say.

In a related vein, The Complete Poems of Keith Douglas, who should have been a WWI poet but fetched up in WWII, probably through a clerical error.

The French Lieutentant's Woman
, by John Fowles, whose prose style completely captivated me at 16; I have no idea if it would hold up now, but it was a touchstone for many years.

Others, others, others
. I'll remember a dozen more as soon as I'm in bed tonight.

Tag: Ooh, is there anyone left who hasn't done this? OK, for starters I'll smack my new Carnival-mates Charles, at Freiheit und Wissen, and Gretchen at Green Lantern. Walky Talky could bring a nice artistic perspective. I promised WIIIAI I wouldn't tag it, but guess what? I lied. And for completeness, let's have The Continental Op, whose tastes (outside politics) appear to form a cosmically-decreed yin to my yang, or vice versa.

That Old Zionist Sleight Of Hand

They're at it again. Diaspora Jewish organizations deliberately conflating anti-Zionism with anti-semitism. Or in this case, not even anti-Zionism but mere criticism of Israel.

In response to the Anglican Consultative Council's statements commending 'the resolve of the Episcopal Church (USA) to take appropriate action where it finds that its corporate investments support the occupation of Palestinian lands or violence against innocent Israelis' and urging 'investment strategies that support the infrastructure of a future Palestinian State' as well as 'peace, justice and co-existence in the Holy Land', the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews had this to say:
That Israel alone should be singled out for such treatment, particularly at a time when dialogue is beginning to prevail, shows an inequality in the treatment of the Jewish state which must raise concerns about the Church's relationship with our community.
Must it, in fact? No. No, it mustn't. The only way the Anglican Church's policies regarding the Israeli Occupation can have anything to do with its relationship with British Jewry is if British Jewry are actively involved in the Israeli Occupation. Which I would venture to say most are not.

Listen to me very carefully. This is very important. 'Israel' and 'the Jews' are not the same thing. Criticism of Israeli policy and actions cannot be logically interpreted as criticism of 'the Jews', let alone as anti-semitism. Zionists pull this gambit all the time, and we must not let them get away with it. It is a blind constructed specifically to shelter Israel from opprobrium by preemptively tarring any critic, of whatever stripe, an anti-semite.

Among other things, this construction would make every Jew in the world complicit with the crimes of Israel against Palestinians. That too is in Zionism's interest, but it is not in the interest of Diaspora Jews: this conflation actually fosters anti-semitic sentiment and actions. If all Jews are considered complicit with Israeli policies, then all Jews are potential targets of vengeance against those policies. A rise in anti-semitic violence against Diaspora Jews is of course not at all counter to Zionist interests; quite the opposite. But it is dead counter to the interests of Jews who would prefer to remain peaceful citizens of the Diaspora.

There's a ton of lit about disentangling anti-Zionism from anti-semitism. Here's a good short piece by Tariq Ali, and another by Uri Avnery, to start.

Vegetal Torture At Tropical Resort Paradise

Great news, guys, we can all calm down about conditions at Gitmo. The House of Representatives has paid a call, and they say things are much better now.

I mean, they watched the interrogation of three whole prisoners, and '[n]one of the detainees was physically touched'!

On the other hand, one of those interrogations consisted of the detainee being 'read a Harry Potter book aloud for hours,' about which surely Amnesty would have something sharp to say. The most sophisticated tortures require no laying on of hands.

Much more damningly, disturbing intelligence from the legislators revealed that the inmates are being fed okra. Comrades, to arms! For god's sake, get those poor helpless victims out of there!

Canny Bulgarians Hedge Bets, Elect Mutant Government

The Socialists have won a plurality in the Bulgarian elections. This is not, however, as exciting as it sounds, since they didn't win enough votes to form a government and will have to create a coalition cabinet with two other parties, including that of the 2nd-place candidate, whose last name is (get ready for this) Saxe-Coburg Gotha, and whose first name is, well, King.

Yes, the Bulgarians are going to have a government composed of Socialists and a hereditary monarch. Which is not going to lead to any friction at all.

Evidence suggests the Bulgarians may not actually be terribly bothered, as no less an enticement than a voter lottery promising prizes like 'a car, TVs, DVD players and mobile phones' failed to draw out even 50% of them to the polls.

See where voter apathy gets you? Vive la République Socialiste de Saxe-Coburg Gotha!

Note: Yeah, I know King Simeon was already Prime Minister. It was just more fun if I didn't mention it. But now certain people are implying certain things, so I'm just gonna put it out there. I already knew that. So there.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Everyone's Favorite Psycho-Zionist Posterboy, At It Again

Via jews sans frontieres, a delightful new installment in the Alan Dershowitz Cavalcade of Barefaced Mendacity. Further to his clawing, biting, hair-pulling campaign to prevent the publication of Norm Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah, (a blazing and much-anticipated indictment of Dershowitz's despicable, unscholarly and, of course, utterly dishonest writings in defense of Israel), it appears Dershowitz has taken the imaginative step of appealing to Gov. Schwarzenegger to intervene with the University of California press and make them yank the book.

Surprise! Even Arnie had no stomach for Dershowitz's idea of appropriate academic intervention (can one help picturing Dersh as the hysterical John Connor, tearfully shrieking 'I order you to make them pull it! I order yoo-hoo-hoooo!' and pounding his little fists on Arnie's chest?); his office responded that the Gov 'is not inclined to otherwise exert influence in this case because of the clear, academic freedom issue it presents.' So then what? Questioned, Dersh
unequivocally denies having written the letter! Pressed, he is forced to admit that, yeah ok, he did write it, but 'It was not a letter. It was a polite note'!

And on, and on, and on. Man just lies, all the goddamn livelong day. He lies, he gets caught lying, he is forced to amend lies, he lies again. I don't know how he has time to breathe, in between all that lying. Honestly, lying on that scale becomes a kind of spectator sport. You almost find yourself rooting for him to hit a really major grand-slam whopper right out of the park.

The Nation article goes on to provide a very favorable review of Beyond Chutzpah, which I'm personally gagging to read when it comes out in August. Even besides my boundless admiration for Finkelstein's scholarship and bravery, I just can't stop loving the fact that a world-class liar like Dershowitz has his own personal Fury dogging his heels, and no amount of outrageous shenanigans can kick him off.

Wet Dirt Does Not Revolution Make

My 'friend' Whatever It Is I'm Against It had the dubious kindness to grace my breakfast with this delightful representation of primal humanity at its skivviest.

You might think these children were indulging in a soothing and rejuvenating mud-and-seaweed wrap (a pursuit which, while not exactly calculated to shake the very foundations of society, would at least have the next-best-thing effect of exfoliating their skins to a healthy glow).

Nay, friends, I am saddened to report these children are at Glastonbury, partaking of the twice-removed ersatz plastihedonism of the Modern Rock Festival.

When, I ask you, will the children learn that Glasto is not Woodstock, that Lollapalooza is not Woodstock, that even fucking Woodstock was not Woodstock (and it certainly isn't now, I can tell you that, patchouli-stinking ultratwee overpriced-pottery-flogging hippiepit that it is)?

What makes me sad about this, aside from the obvious of course, (also the perhaps slightly-less-obvious: a baseball cap with a bikini?), is how much these kids who go to these things looking for the Sixties are missing the only still-relevant point of the Sixties. All that nudity and mud and sexual liberation business was necessary, at the time. It responded to, corrected for something retrograde in society, and we're living the benefits (as well as some of the more toxic fallout) every day. We don't need to act out those rebellions anymore; they're meaningless.

The rebellions that aren't meaningless are the ones that happen at Seattle, at Genoa, at Gleneagles (gods willing, if Gordon-Bob-n-Bono don't succeed in hijacking it). I want to see these kids there, not living out some nostalgia-laundered ecstasy-fuelled safe-sex-in to the strains of Coldplay. Go to fucking Gleneagles, and if while there you still feel the need to get covered in mud, I may perhaps be inclined to view it more leniently.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Doctor Gulago

Both the NYT and the New England Journal of Medicine have come out with convincing evidence that military doctors and psychologists have actively participated in the abusive interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, advising interrogators on how to maximize stress levels and fears, in some cases volunteering clinical data to provide leverage over individual detainees.

The Times interviewed former interrogators, who revealed that 'the military doctors' role was to advise them and their fellow interrogators on ways of increasing psychological duress on detainees, sometimes by exploiting their fears, in the hopes of making them more cooperative and willing to provide information.' Such advice included revelations of one patient's severe phobia of the dark, and another's longing for his mother, along with suggestions for exploiting these vulnerabilities in interrogation.

As one interrogator baldly put it, 'Their purpose was to help us break them.'

The prerequisite for this strategy, as a report in the NEJM documents, is the wholesale abrogation of internationally-recognized standards of patient confidentiality. Although the Pentagon, in the loathsome-yet-liberally-alliterative person of Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., Asst. Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, claims that no ethical guidelines have been violated by military doctors and further, that 'limits on detainees’ medical privacy are “analogous to legal standards applicable to U.S. citizens,"' the authors make clear that this is simply a lie:
Health information has been routinely available to behavioral science consultants and others who are responsible for crafting and carrying out interrogation strategies. Through early 2003 (and possibly later), interrogators themselves had access to medical records. And since late 2002, psychiatrists and psychologists have been part of a strategy that employs extreme stress, combined with behavior-shaping rewards, to extract actionable intelligence from resistant captives.
As founding members of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (or 'Biscuit'; doesn't it just make you want to sit down with them for a nice civilized cup of tea?), a psychiatrist and a psychologist were detailed to 'engineer the camp experiences of "priority" detainees to make interrogation more productive.' This included preparing psychological profiles of detainees for interrogators' use, as well as sitting in on some interrogations, observing others through one-way mirrors and offering feedback to interrogators.

Upshot: these docs were neck-deep in detainee interrogations which have been widely evaluated as constituting torture. And yet somehow, according to the Times article, there's debate as to whether they've violated professional ethics.

The chair of the American Psychiatric Association's ethics committee said in an interview that there was 'no way that psychiatrists at Guantanamo could ethically counsel interrogators on ways to increase distress on detainees.' Correct.

However, the American Psychological Association is making no such definitive statements, allowing only that 'the issue of involvement of its members in "national security endeavors" was new', and that a members' committee, including military personnel, will meet this weekend to discuss it. The 'issue' may be new, but the involvement sure ain't. The first Biscuit was baked in 2002, complete with Crispy Psychologist Goodness.

According to The Tool Winkenwerder, 'the new [issued last week] Pentagon guidelines made clear that doctors might not engage in unethical conduct.' Always with the 'mights' and 'coulds', these people. Is that meant to reassure us? Besides, do these new guidelines have special retromojo power to undo the violations military docs have been ordered to commit, and have compliantly committed, up to now?

According to Dr. Stephen Behnke, head of the American Psychological Association's (clearly rather somnolent) ethics committee, 'A question has arisen that we in the profession have to address and that is where we are now: is it ethical or is it not ethical?'

Drop me a line, Dr. Behnke, and I'll make it real simple for you.

Falluj Me Baby One More Time

Lenin's got hardhitting intel today on how the animals occupying Iraq are busy safeguarding the lives and health of their civilian charges, and how, funny, we never seem to hear about what they're up to:
“Near the city of Buhrez, 5 kilometers south of Baquba, two Humvess of American soldiers were destroyed recently. American and Iraqi soldiers came to the city afterwards and cut all the phones, cut the water, cut medicine from arriving in the city and told them that until the people of the city bring the “terrorists” to them, the embargo will continue.”

The embargo has been in place now for one week now, and he continued:

“The Americans still won’t anyone or any medicines and supplies into Buhrez, nor will they allow any people in or out. Even the Al-Sadr followers who organized some help for the people in the city (water, food, medicine) are not being allowed into the city. Even journalists cannot enter to publish the news, and the situation there is so bad. The Americans keep asking for the people in the city to bring them the persons who were in charge of destroying the two Humvees on the other side of the city, but of course the people in the city don’t know who carried out the attack.”
Read the rest to find out how this kind of information is getting out at all, despite the best efforts of the occupiers to stifle it.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Hoods Up! ASBOs Down

Dead Men Left's got the skinny on a RESPECT protest this Saturday against the hoody ban, ASBOs, and the criminalization of the young. Check it, yo.

Why New York Really Doesn't Count As America

The Republican-led State Senate, following the Democrat-controlled Assembly last January, yesterday approved a bill to make emergency contraception available over the counter without restrictions. Even to teenagers, even without parental consent.

While it's true that New York State Governor Pataki is described as a 'pro-choice Republican', this is more a reflection of what New Yorkers will tolerate than of any particular softening of GOP policy:
Nick Spano relies on the support of the pro-choice community for his margin of victory, and it's clear he needed this bill," said [Democratic Senator Eric] Schneiderman, who sponsored the bill first, but couldn't pass it due to his minority status. "This is an indication that the Republicans will do whatever they have to to try to protect their marginal seat."
New York politics are strange and anomalous. The Dems ballsed up New York City governance so badly for so long, culminating in the apocalyptically inept Dinkins regime, that it seems New Yorkers simply won't tolerate an unencrypted Democrat anymore.

Thus after the seemingly endless, despotic Republican term of Rudy 'You Will Have Quality Of Life, Even If I Have To Kill You' Giuliani, they elected bizarre opportuno-Repub Michael Bloomberg, knowing full well (because he basically said so out loud) that he was really a Democrat who only ran Republican because there was space on the ticket, but seemingly willing to nod and wink and play along to get the 'progressive' social values they require without having to support the rotten useless local Democratic party machine.

Resourceful people, New Yorkers. Hey ho, this is a palpable victory and celebration is in order.

No Don't EVEN

Targeted assassinations, people. Targeted. Fucking. Assassinations.

And may I add: 'If pinpoint response proves insufficient, we may have to use weaponry that causes major collateral damage, including helicopters and planes, with mounting danger to surrounding people.'

Don't any one of you ever, ever, EVER try to tell me again that Israel isn't a special case.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I'm It

I see, belatedly (dozy moo), that Zwichenzug, aka The Bellman, has tagged me with the dreaded Book Meme. I shall duly comply, but I fear it will have to be tomorrow. And I fear it will be unpretty; my books have been in diasporated storage for so long (too many moves, too many countries) that I'm not sure we're even on speaking terms anymore, let alone reading ones. But I'll give it a go soonest, I promise.

Romney To Uninsured: Stop Crying Poor And Pay Up

I couldn't put it more succinctly than the man did himself: 'It's the ultimate conservative idea'. Mormon Massachusetts governor and, utterly uncoincidentally, just-acknowledged 2008 presidential hopeful Mitt Romney (and may I say, what kind of name is 'Mitt'? Was it a toss-up between that and 'Glove'? I hear tell his mother was all for 'Flowerpot', but was overruled for fear it would make him grow up gay) is proposing to solve the state's underinsurance woes by means of an 'individual mandate', whereby all Mass residents would be required to get health insurance, and face penalties if they didn't. Penalties including wage garnishing. (Presumably if the reason you have no insurance is because you have no wages, they would garnish your, er, food?)

The reasoning behind this humane strategy? 'No more "free riding," if you will, where an individual says: "I'm not going to pay, even though I can afford it. I'm not going to get insurance, even though I can afford it. I'm instead going to just show up and make the taxpayers pay for me"'. And isn't that so what the uninsured are saying? Aren't they all just sitting around in their palaces, going 'Well, I could get health insurance, or I could get another 72" plasma-screen TV to fill that gap on the rec-room wall. So what if the kids get meningitis this year? Surely The State Will Provide'?

Even 'Let 'Em Eat Lipitor' Romney can't avoid acknowledging that the actual cost of health insurance might just be a factor in people's not being able to have it, but don't worry, he's got an answer for that: 'Romney said he wants to make healthcare coverage less expensive by permitting private insurers to offer low-cost policies with scaled-back benefits.'

See how easy? If you've got inconvenient people with not-enough-money, just force them to spend some of that on not-enough-coverage! That way, you get to strike them off the official 'uninsured' count, making your governorship look like a model of public health efficiency and you a shinybright tough-love Presidential candidate. Never mind that insufficient coverage is pretty much guaranteed, given any major medical complication whatsoever, to drive them into bankruptcy. Personal bankruptcy isn't on this year's list of political hot issues, so who's going to look at those stats?

While Romney's claims that he can implement this plan without additional spending are already being questioned (a Blue Cross-Blue Shield Foundation study put the tariff for a similar plan at an additional $700 mil), our old friends the Repub-lickin' Dems are falling over themselves to endorse it. Senator Ted 'Huh-wha? What? Did Somebody Say Something? I Was Having Such A Nice Dream' Kennedy called it, without apparent irony, 'a healthy step forward', while one Phillip W. Johnston, chairman of both the state Democratic party and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Foundation, enthused, 'I am delighted that Governor Mitt Romney is serious about providing affordable healthcare to all citizens of this state.' I just fucking bet you are, Insurance-Company-Chair-Boy.

The interesting thing about a plan like this is that it up-hackles both ends of the political spectrum. The people with consciences are, of course, up in arms at the grotesquely unfair assumptions and draconian consequences of a plan to require poor people to buy private health insurance or face even further economic hardship. At the other, brimstonier, end of the scale, the libertarians are asquawk over the coercive element. No less august a satanist body than the Cato Institute has already made a statement against it. It's only our dedicated public servants in the 'middle' who are going to line up behind such a patently abusive, hateful and doomed-to-fiery-failure proposal as this one.

As a colleague once said in a listserv debate over a similar proposal, you can outlaw starving, but is that really going to make people have enough food?

I Am So Far Ahead Of The Fashion Curve I'm Almost Behind It Again

See as Go Fug Yourself, my new gods of scalpel-edged couturial invective, jump on my months-old bandwagon to diss the relentless imperialism of boho. See!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

AMA Accidentally Promotes Good Social Policy

How do you get the American Medical Association off their fat reactionary asses to support progressive patients' rights? Poach on their territory, that's how.

The AMA has finally taken action against the unspeakably eville and frightening trend of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for drugs they morally oppose (originally emergency contraception, then birth control pills, now apparently also psychotropics and pain meds), a trend which, btw, is given strong implicit support by the Clinton-and-Kerry-sponsored Workplace Religious Freedom Act.

[On a side note, it appears that not only are pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions, they're also refusing to return them to the patients so they can have them filled elsewhere. I am so filled with bile my fingers are digesting the keys as I type.]

The AMA voted yesterday to lobby for state laws allowing docs to dispense medications themselves if no pharmacist within 30 miles is willing to fill a prescription. The beauty of this, of course, is that it's blatantly a pissing contest: how dare those insignificant little pill-pushers countermand my orders! If I say a patient will have psychotropic drugs, He Will By God Have Psychotropic Drugs, if I have to bottle them up for him myself!

Whatever. I don't give a fuck, in this instance, why they're doing it. This is a rapidly snowballing crisis: 14 states are considering conscientious-objection legislation for pharmacists, and 9 others are already passing legislation to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill scripts 'for any reason.' That should scare the piss out of anyone who values their freedom not to have their pharmaceutical life arbitrarily dictated by some psychotic stranger, which rubric should, I would imagine, cover most of humanity. Apparently barring the legislatures of those 23 states, that is.

Wait, How Is That Democracy?!

In a completely unexpected failure to suck, the Dems have somehow managed to override their deep, yearning cave-instinct, and have maintained their opposition to a vote on John Bolton's confirmation.

However, it appears this unwonted spine-location may in fact accomplish sweet F.A., as we are informed that Bush 'has the power to appoint his man over the heads of the senators during their recess for the 4 July holiday - an appointment which would last until 2007.'

Hwhaa? Who made that rule? Why didn't anyone ever mention that rule before? If Congress goes on vaca, the President gets to appoint whoever he wants for two years? You can't tell me the Founding Fathers put that in the Constitution. The Hamptons weren't even invented back then!

The Beeb labels this 'a tough political choice':
Would that look like a bold move overcoming petty partisan politics, or the desperate strategy of a lame-duck second-term president?

Mr Bush's advisors must decide.
Decide precisely how much less than two shits they give, that is.

House of Sad, More Like

Things had been going so well in AnaCondi's Big Mid-East Slither. She got to do prodigious amounts of urging, not to mention a bit of badass demanding, and generally played nicely with the other despots. And then mean old Crown Prince Abdullah had to go and ruin everything.

Outrage! He called the criticisms she raised 'really meaningless'! He said the political reform of a country should be subject to ' the judgment of its own people'! Now them is fightin' words if ever I heard them.

Analysts now confidently predict that, in keeping with U.S. policy in the region, we'll surely be seeing American forces mobilized to invade Saudi Arabia in a democracy-fostering intervention, on or around the Nonth of Never.

Of Pots, Kettles and Shot-Out Ambulances

A 21-year-old Palestinian woman is accused by the IDF of planning to blow herself up at Beersheba Hospital, where she was receiving burn treatment 'on humanitarian grounds'.

The inhumanity! I mean, what kind of animals would target hospitals and health personnel? Deny civilians access to medical treatment? What kind of animals?

Monday, June 20, 2005

For A Change, Some Upbeat Sartorial Intel

I wish it to be known that this morning on the downtown 2 train I saw a man wearing an outfit of which I unreservedly, head-to-toe approved. This happens infrequently enough (roughly nonece a day, or even a week) that it merits a minor hosanna.

Said outfit consisted of a beautiful black suit with thin, closely-spaced chalkstripes, a dark crimson shirt, a tie with a baroque-yet-tasteful crimson victorian-rose pattern on black, and nice, masculine, square-toed black laceups of sensible British lineaments. (None of these horrid, horrid, horrid Italianoid slipper-shoes, which are in themselves enough to make me write the wearer off as an overoiled low-rent cruiseship con-operator-cum-gigolo.) All in all, a bold, stylish and well-conceived ensemble, and a highlight of my morning.

Man undoubtedly earns his crust skinning babies or steam-heating sweatshops, but at least he does so with a modicum of aesthetic seriousness. And that's something.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Er, Darling? That's Not Me You're Kissing, It's NanoMe

Is there anything creepier than ‘claymation’? (Or, as certain people will have tantrums if I don’t hasten to call it, ‘stop-motion animation’?) I had always confidently believed not.

Reader, I was wrong. Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University are developing a system, inspired by, of all the profoundly regrettable things in the world, Wallace & Gromit, whereby people can ‘teleport’ solid 3D replicas of themselves across the internet. Though currently made of ping-pong-ball-sized objects, these replicas will eventually be composed of self-binding, motile ‘nano-dust’, and will replicate the actual person’s movements via a motion-capture suit like that used by Andy ‘Gollum’ Serkis.

According to one of the scientists, ‘"It's very artificial to talk to somebody through a glass wall, which is effectively what you have when you have a screen," he added.

Whereas talking to somebody through a walking, self-organizing nanomatter avatar? Most natural thing in the goddamn world.

More Bile For Pabs

So there’s the Secretary of Snake in Jerusalem, fresh from her love-in with Arik, promising that the Israelis are going to demolish 1,200 settler homes in Gaza when they pull out. She also ‘said the pull-out would be an "historic" step which could lead to a Palestinian state.’ Such a delightfully noncommittal word, ‘could’. So many things ‘could’ happen, on a sunshiny day in this best of all possible worlds. Leaping off tall buildings could lead to unassisted flight. Usually doesn’t, though.

No word on the success of her death-defyingly bold Initiative of Urging; she probably just doesn't want to spoil the surprise.

Now then, lest anyone persist in being in any way hopeful about this ‘historic’ ‘concession’ on the verklemptifyingly generous part of Ariel ‘Shirt Off His Back’ Sharon—who made sure to snivel that the pullout is ‘a very difficult step for Israel’, poor lambs—do let’s remember that ‘Israel will continue to control Gaza's external borders, coastline and airspace.’ Think ‘giant, filthy, parched, packed cage’.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Snakelady To Middle East In Mission Of Epic Effectiveness

Condi's off to tea with Abu Mazen, 'to see if he can provide the security guarantees Israel demands as it withdraws from the Gaza Strip.' Also expected to attend the meeting is Ahmed Qureia from the neck down.

Once she's done clusterfucking with the PA, Her Hissiness 'is also expected to urge Israel to stop constructing more settlements.' You know what's brilliant about that? How incredibly much it's going to work.

When that all collapses in an inferno of conflagratory uselessness, perhaps they should send in Nicholas 'White Christ of Cambodia' Kristof to blubber at them. No wait, they're all men, and even Abu Mazen would probably cost more than $150, despite being the official Miss Cheapest Whore of an International Leader 2005. WCoC wouldn't be into it.

Exactly How Much Is Half of Fuck-All?

The House of Representatives voted yesterday to withhold half of the US's imaginary UN dues, as a crowbar to push through a shopping list of reforms, 'including cost cuts and the introduction of an independent watchdog to investigate allegations of wrongdoing'.

Now, it could of course be argued (from the left as well as the right) that a cut in imaginary funding is not inappropriate to the UN's imaginary benefit to the world. But given how sedulously Congress pursues its own investigations of wrongdoing, did e'er pot call kettle blacker?

Friday, June 17, 2005

I Live In New York City

You meet a truly democratic sampling of humanity on the line for the bathroom at Starbuck's. (That's queue to you, Anglomates.) And, even more fascinatingly, they talk to you while you all stand there waiting to evacuate waste.

Moments ago the woman ahead of me regaled me at length with a description of why she can't drink coffee (she did not scruple to employ the word 'laxative'), under what circumstances she will, notwithstanding, drink coffee, what kind of coffee she prefers when such circumstances obtain, and where she is accustomed to purchase said coffee. All while assiduously cleaning her ears with Q-Tips (= cotton buds, dears) from a huge box she had just purchased at the pharmacy next door.

At one point she turned her head to look out the window and gesture for emphasis, and then kept on talking, leaving the Q-Tip sticking unsupported out of her ear.

Goes On...And The Pique Goes On

Now Palestinian lawyers and judges are demonstrating in Ramallah, calling for Ahmed Qureia's resignation.

'One lawyer told the BBC that the PM's threat to resign if security chiefs did not contain the violence was meaningless if he didn't carry it out.' I would venture to add that his threat is meaningless whether or not he carries it out, as measures of coercing the violent into containing violence go.

Abu Alaa's response was well in keeping with his newly adopted Sandward-Facing Ostrich pose: he just refused to meet with the protestors' representatives. He honestly seems to believe that if he ignores them all hard enough they'll just go away.

Gunmen, judges, useless security chiefs, murdered citizens; when will you people stop hounding me?

What, And Give Up All That Bling?

Irineos doesn't care if you don't like him. Just because the Orthodox Church has voted to bust him down from Patriarch of Jerusalem to the rank of Sorry-Ass Monk for the measly little infraction of selling off hunks of the Arab Old City to Jewish investors doesn't mean he has to step down.

In a statement, Irineos indicated, 'Lalalalalalalalala! I can't hear you, my big fly ecclesiastical hat is covering my ears! Anyway, don't monks just get to wear those dowdy-ass brown robes? Fuck that shit. Amen.'

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Against Politeness In Debate

Politeness: it is nice, in general life. It makes things run fairly smoothly in daily interaction, and I mostly approve of it. I was raised to practice it like a nice boojy Jewish girl from the suburbs, and overall I like my days much better with it than without.

In political debate, however, I think politeness merits a bit more skepticism. In debate politeness functions as a weapon of power. It's no coincidence that the conservative trolls who haunt our comments boxes trying to bog us down in fruitless wheel-spinning debate are, for the most part, scrupulously and explicitly polite. They make a big point of how polite they are, and how we are failing in our argumentative duty when we act otherwise. (NB: this doesn't apply to the mutant muscular-liberal
Harry's-Place-type thugs; they have no more truck with politesse than with reasoned argument or intellectual rigor.)

The thing to be aware of about politeness in debate is that it operates down a power gradient. Politeness is a behavioral discipline required of people without power, by the people who have power over them. That's how your parents taught you to be polite in the first place: they were in a position to require you to say 'please' before you got what you wanted. Only later does it get rationalized as a social-contract-among-equals form of social lubricant. That's a gloss. The functional reality of politeness is that it is optional for those with the power to take what they want, while
for those without that power it is frequently the only hope. Ask nicely.

Thus the conservatives who practice politeness
in political debate do so from a position of rather languid noblesse oblige; they have nothing to lose by maintaining civility, because things are already as they would have them be. They're not fighting, they're--duh--conserving. Indeed, imposing politeness on their opponents is very much in their interests, in precisely the same way that outlawing various forms of resistance is in the interest of any hegemonic power. It's a way of keeping us docile, and a remarkably efficient way to boot, because it self-polices by reference to our ingrained notions of proper behavior.

This self-policing function is particularly obvious
these days among the American supposed left. The latest Howard Dean reprimand-fest is a classic example of Democratic self-defeating schoolmarmish fingerwaggery. For various reasons, I don't generally have the time of day for Howard Dean, but he's certainly had a fit of telling it like it is lately, and the ensuing shitstorm is fully bipartisan. From Nancy 'Only Isaiah Can Adequately Express The Fervor Of Her Support For Israel' Pelosi, we have the stinging support-groupesque admonition: 'I don't think the statement [Dean] made was a helpful statement'.

From a Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), we get a much more telling formulation: 'I've always been very cautious and careful to deal with my Democratic friends, my independent friends, my enlightened Republican friends, so I'm very concerned about anything that is unnecessarily divisive.' The NYT goes on to note that 'Mr. Nelson was among those who admonished Dr. Dean, a former governor of Vermont, in private, cautioning him not to risk alienating Republicans with personal insults of the kind he delivered last week, when he said that many "of them have not made an honest living in their lives."' Yes, heaven forfend we alienate the Republicans! Otherwise they, find some superhuman way of doing
even more of exactly whatever the fuck they want than they do now?

Don't risk alienating them OR WHAT? Newt Gingrich won't invite Hillary 'I Can't Help Noticing She Still Has Her Skin' Clinton over for playdates anymore? The Dems won't be allowed to gratefully decline to use their supposed right to filibuster anymore? If the Republicans actually possessed a thematically appropriate ability to deliver physical venomous bites from well-concealed fangs, I could understand this policy of caution. As it stands, there's fuck-all they could be provoked into doing by rudeness that they're not already being allowed to do by politeness.

I'm on several health policy listservs at the American Medical Students' Association. Most of the contributors, as you might imagine, are earnest young liberals who support universal health care (UHC) and are in agonies over violence towards women and Darfur and HIV and all manner of other good things. A few, though, are ignorant intellectually-risible trolls. There is a more or less perpetual, tidal debate cycling about how to achieve UHC, and like clockwork every week or so a new troll pops up and shouts, 'Socialized medicine! Nooooo! Socialism bad! Nationalization double bad! Poor people don't work hard, so they shouldn't be allowed to STEAL the hard-earned money of rich people who do!' And every damn time, all the earnest little listies muck in, go back to first principles, and try to engage these troglodytes in debate. Try to change their 'minds' by politely reasoning with them. It simply could not be more futile, time-wasting and counterproductive. In a discussion ostensibly dedicated to developing viable models for covering the uninsured, about 5% of posts actually make some stab at that, with the remaining 95% devoted to 'UHC is socialism! It's BAAAAAAAD!' followed by 'Not it's not, and here are nine pages of closely reasoned argumentation to back me up,' followed by 'YES IT IS!'

Recently I tried to short-circuit this hideous cycle by responding first to one of these idiots, and suggesting that instead of wasting everyone's time spouting unexamined shite based on no information at all, she do some reading and inform herself as to the barest characteristics of the systems in question. I wasn't terribly polite. I didn't call her a fatheaded ignorant fuckpig as I would have liked, but my tone was both stern and dismissive; she in fact merited dismissal.

You can imagine the result. Offended, reprimanding posts from all corners, earnestly invoking the Need To Hear All Sides, Need To Respect Each Other, Need To Maintain Civil Debate, &c. And on they plunged heedless, headlong into a completely fucking useless rondo with this necrotic tart, which has been raging full-on for four days and shows no sign of abating. She posts some indefensible paragraph of stinking, hateful, ignorant shite, and five of them respond with pages-long, fully-documented, achingly Respectful reasoning, repeat to fade.

It makes me want to weep with exhaustion, with the futility and waste. That's energy and time that could be so very much better spent productively furthering our cause, if only they'd take the bit in their teeth enough to recognize that politeness is not a required parameter of progressive political debate, and you don't have to give audience to those who can't be bothered to reason with rigor, information and good will.

We don't owe politeness to those who believe hateful things and want to engage us in fruitless debate about them. By all means, let us practice politeness in our daily interactions with all and sundry. But let us not be constrained by its hegemony in debate, where the really important things go on.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Palestinian Authority In Mystifying Fit Of Pique

OK, I genuinely don't understand this article reporting that Ahmed Qureia has threatened to shut down the government unless security commanders restrain their personnel from lawless violence (apparently against Palestinians).

It may be down to the article itself, which is a ball of pulsating confusion and seemingly unrelated observations, but I am completely flummoxed by this strategy. Abu Alaa is threatening that, unless its own security forces step up and impose order, the PA will stop trying to impose order at all? It will take its ball and go home? Who exactly is that a threat against, besides of course the infinitely beleaguered Palestinian population?

Perhaps I'm being dense, but isn't that kind of throwing the renegades in the briar patch?

Just Nod, And Smile, And Back Very Slowly Away

Clever, clever China has made my morning by pointing out this article from the FT, in which paralytically terrifying, corpse-eyed charcarohuman Vladimir Putin explains to Tony Blair the conditions of Russia's support for the G8 agenda. 'Some day,' he began, 'and this day may never come...'

But the part that caused me to emit an undignified squawk of helpless hilarity in the middle of Starbucks was when
...British journalists asked Mr Putin how he could advocate reforms to governance in Africa, given Russia’s mixed track record on human rights and concerns.... Mr Putin replied by comparing the criticisms to those endured by Britain in relation to Northern Ireland and by accusing Africans of cannibalism. “We know that African countries used to have a tradition of eating their adversaries. We don’t have such a tradition and I believe the comparison of Africa and Russia is not quite just,” the Russian president said.
What? Are you gonna tell him?

A Proposal To Relieve Lexical Tedium In Plural Formation

I am very much taken with the plural ‘kine’ for ‘cow’. I feel that this formulation should be generalized and put into wider circulation. As is only proper for the instigator of a movement, I shall blaze the way.

To begin with, the strict, or traditionalist construction of the word-form would be as follows:

1) Take the consonant preceding the last syllable of the word, and replace it with a homophonous consonant or consonantal group. E.g., ‘k-‘ for ‘c-‘ in ‘kine’.

2) Replace the last syllable of the word with ‘-ine-‘.

Thus, for example, a girl who ran around quite a bit and didn't want to be tied down could be said to keep a stable of ‘boyphrine’. Note 1) consonantal replacement,; and 2) substitution of ultima. Classic, euphonious, altogether satisfying.

If you got a Family Mobile Plan from Sprint, you could have up to three 'cell-fine' on the same account. See how easy?

Going to the gym? Don't forget to take your 'sneaccine'!

One can foresee, however, various circumstances in which the strict construction could well prove problematic, whether from unavailability of a replacement consonant, or due to confusion arising from the switch at either end.

So, for instance, reporting that you recently ran into a polygamist in the company of several of his ‘wine’ could only lead to confusion, possibly leading to resentment, on the part of your interlocutor. In such a case you would do well to put a looser construction on the rules and formulate, perhaps, ‘wiphine’, which faithfully observes the first rule while slightly bending the second.

In the case of an unavailable consonantal replacement, or in extreme situations of compound infraction, one would simply have to improvise and make do. Thus the plural of ‘egg’, a particularly sinister case involving a monosyllable beginning with a vowel and ending with an irreplaceable consonant, would, I’m pretty sure, just have to be ‘eggine’. And then we must be chill, and content ourselves with the not-inconsiderable pleasure of rolling ‘eggine’, both the word and indeed the foodstuff, around savorously on the tongue.

There, you have your instructions. Now go forth, my darline, and propagate.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

In Which We Take Up Our Little Axe Once More

It appears that this is going to be The Week of Mugging Liberal Columnists. An exchange in one of my health policy listservs has roused my latent ire for Nicholas Kristof, and damned if I'm going to sit on it any longer. I know everyone else probably got their mad on over this last January or even the one before, but I didn't have a blog then, so it's just going to have to be now.

Nicholas Kristof is a creepy-ass bleeding-heart patriarchalist with a seriously fucked relationship to women, whose endlessly self-chuffed pseudo-emancipatory adventures in the skin trade are not only inherently offensive but cause more harm than good, on more levels than I have leisure to detail today.

I address myself to the overall arc of his Great Cambodian Prostitute-Buying Adventure, because it illustrates tidily the massive problems both with his gender paradigm and with his approach to social problem-solving. I will, however, note in passing that in general, whenever he goes on a mission to some wrecked and destitute region and drums up a starving denizen to recount a heartrending story, that denizen is always, without fucking fail, a woman. Nicholas Kristof plainly views himself as Savior to the Oppressed Women of the World, bearing manfully up under the weight of a suitably liberalized and updated-for-the-21st-century White Man's Burden. This is deeply, deeply creepy.

As many of you no doubt already know, in January 2004 Kristof published the first of a series of columns in the New York Times (alas, you have to be registered to read these, but it is free if you can be bothered), detailing how he went to Cambodia to investigate child prostitution, and how in Poipet he met and then purchased two girls from brothels, to set them free and turn their lives around. Over the course of five columns, he detailed his exploits in meeting, bargaining for, successfully purchasing and returning the two girls to their families. A year later, he published a second series in which he returned to check up on the progress of his purchases, who obligingly arranged themselves into a tidy one-success-one-lost-cause binary
for his narrative convenience.

Along the way, he missed no opportunity to big up his 'wildly unjournalistic' chutzpah in actually doing this craaaazy thing, and to trumpet his own bona fides and gonzo-humanitarian cred. What comes through loud and clear, however, is his grossly sexist, proprietary and cultural-imperialist attitude to the women he seeks to liberate.

Let me first take a moment to dispatch the merit of his project from the get-go.

From a feminist perspective, and certainly if you're a white western man, buying prostitutes to free them is desperately, fatally not on. However pure the intent, we live in a society deep-structured with sexism, and we don't have the luxury of assuming we can arbitrarily empty these acts of their societal content. The reason this act made so many people squirm at the time, and the reason Kristof won't stop banging on about its unorthodoxy, is down to this. There is a frisson of illicit sexual power there, and it's real, and it's corrupting. It taints the project from word one.

2) As an approach to solving the problem of sex trafficking, it's worse than useless, it's actively harmful. As many people have pointed out, buying prostitutes creates a market in prostitutes. Duh. But beyond that, it generates the illusion that, if enough people were as caring and generous and proactive as Nicholas Kristof, we could *each* buy a woman out of prostitution and then yay! there'd be no more prostitutes!

That piecemeal liberal-charity approach is actively harmful because it works to obscure the real root causes and material conditions that engender prostitution. So while everyone involved gets to feel that they're doing their bit and making the world better (which, give them credit, they're [mostly] genuinely trying to do), those underlying dynamics, which will continue to throw up prostitutes (and, for that matter, suicide bombers) as fast as we buy them out, go unaddressed.

Generalized, this method siphons people's genuine goodwill and instinct to help others off in completely impotent directions, leaving the underlying problems untouched. And then, corollarily, when one of Kristof's purchases ends up right back in the business a year later, the narrative move is to blame her, as being somehow incorrigible. As not wanting to be saved. As if buying her and dumping her right back in the exact conditions that sent her to the brothel in the first place, the only change being one hundred Kristof-supplied (and undoubtedly Times-reimbursed) dollars in her pocket, had a Sno-Cone's fucking chance in hell of working out.

I want to share a handful of vignettes from the process, as they speak more eloquently than I could to how squirm-makingly the whole thing proceeded, from beginning to end.

Here, Kristof is interviewing one of the girls, Srey Neth, to determine her suitability to receive his emancipatory largesse:

"Do you really want to leave?" I asked. "Are you sure you wouldn't come back to this?"

She had been watching TV and listlessly answering my questions. Now she turned abruptly and snorted. "This is a hell," she said sharply, speaking with passion for the first time. "You think I want to do this?"
What's fascinating here is that, while Kristof is busy plying his irrelevant, meaningless and ahistorical gating standards, she's telling him so. And he doesn't even see it. He thinks he sees passion for escape, and to a certain degree that's there too. But what he misses entirely is this 17-year-old girl telling him not that she doesn't want it, but that 'want' has nothing whatsofuckingever to do with it. It's an extraordinary moment, accidentally reproduced through the idiot lens of Kristof's consciousness. Srey Neth sees herself in her own material context with infinitely greater clarity than her would-be liberator does.

The liberation of the second girl, Srey Mom, turns out to be fraught and bumpy; from the beginning she's being established as the bad girl, the difficult daughter. Kristof haggles over her (a humiliation he neither mitigates nor marks), makes a deal with her owner, and then encounters a hitch:

But at Srey Mom's brothel, her owner announced that the debt was not $70, as the girl had thought, but $400.

"Where are the books?" I asked. A ledger was produced, and it purported to show that Srey Mom owed the equivalent of $337.
But it also revealed that the girls were virtually A.T.M.'s for the brothels, generating large sums of cash that the girls were cheated out of. After some grumpy negotiation, the owner accepted $203 as the price for Srey Mom's freedom. But then Srey Mom told me that she had pawned her cellphone and needed $55 to get it back.

"Forget about your cellphone," I said. "We've got to get out of here."

Srey Mom started crying. I told her that she had to choose her cellphone or her freedom, and she ran back to her tiny room in the brothel and locked the door.


"Grab this chance while you can," the owner begged Srey Mom. But the girl would not give in. After half an hour of hysterics about the cellphone, I felt so manipulated that I almost walked out. But I finally caved.

"O.K., O.K., I'll get back your cellphone," I told her through the door. The tears stopped.

"My jewelry, too?" she asked plaintively. "I also pawned some jewelry."

So we went to get back the phone and the jewelry — which were, I think, never the real concern. Srey Mom later explained that her resistance had nothing to do with wanting the telephone and everything to do with last-minute cold feet about whether her family and village would accept her if she returned.
Do you see? Do you see what he did? Do you see why she had 'cold feet'? She was being sold, not to her freedom, but to a man, a man whose first act of ownership was to tell her she had to choose between her tiny bit of personal property and her freedom. Poor ill-used, well-meaning Nicholas: after a half-hour of 'hysterics' [oh jesus christ there is no single word in the English language better calculated to incite me to homicidal feminist rage], he felt so 'manipulated' he almost packed in his heroic quest to save the ungrateful, irrational Srey Mom. Lucky Srey Mom, he's so soft-hearted he 'caved'.

And when, drawing on her professionally acquired skills at pleasing men, she feeds him the tremulous, emotional explanation he so obviously requires for her recalcitrance, he bites like a fucking large-mouthed bass. Like a john.

At the end of that column, he pauses for self-satisfied rumination:

So now I have purchased the freedom of two human beings so I can return them to their villages. But will emancipation help them? Will their families and villages accept them? Or will they, like some other girls rescued from sexual servitude, find freedom so unsettling that they slink back to slavery in the brothels? We'll see.
'Find freedom so unsettling?' 'Slink back to slavery?' Is he for fucking real? This is analysis of a sophistication roughly equalling that which traces terrorism to people who 'Hate Our Freedom'. It's offensive, and grotesque, and profoundly, bottomlessly ignorant.

In his blog
, Kristof explains how he came to choose these two, and what he was looking for in a rescuee. An afterthought reveals volumes about the character of his gaze:

In Cambodia, there was one teenager, Jen, a shy, sweet farm girl, whose freedom I had intended to purchase. But later, I couldn't find Jen, so she's presumably still in Poipet, slowly dying. [my emphasis]


...I still wonder about Jen and the accidents of fate. If she had just been around when we visited, then I might have tried to buy her freedom and not Srey Mom’s.
Why the thinly-veiled regret at having chosen 'hysterical' Srey Mom instead of demure, pleasing Jen? Flash forward a year: the follow-up series. Having left each girl with her family, each with $100 explicitly given to help them become little entrepreneurs, having treated us in technicolor to the bathetic excesses of Srey Mom's welcome home, Kristof returns now to check on his investments. (Now we get the full interactive treatment, complete with unbelievably prurient 'before' pictures of Srey Neth on display in her brothel bedroom and earnest voiceover from Kristof.)

Surprise! Srey Neth, the Good Grateful Girl, has made it. She has not returned to the brothel. If you look carefully though, you'll find that it wasn't Kristof's entrepreneurial intervention that saved her. She started a little grocery shack with her $100, and for a while she was successful, but then, outrage! Her starving family members, failing to understand the necessity to plow profits back into inventory, kept taking and eating her wares! They ate her out of her store, those greedy, ungrateful, economically-illiterate starving Cambodian villagers. So oops, it was about to be back to the brothel for Srey Neth, when a real aid group (for what that's worth), American Assistance for Cambodia, caught up with her and sent her to beauty school. Now she's a trainee hairdresser, and she cut Kristof's hair, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Except, you'll be exactly none shocked to learn, Srey Mom. In case you missed all that foreshadowing, Srey Mom was the Bad Girl. She didn't really want to stop being a prostitute. Not enough, anyway. Kristof goes back and to his endless, puke-inducingly fatherly disappointment, finds her back in the same brothel:

I hate to write anyone off, but I'm afraid that Srey Mom will remain in the brothel until she is dying of AIDS (36 percent of girls in local brothels have H.I.V., and eventually it catches up with almost all of them). I finally dared tell her my fear. I described some young women I had just seen, gaunt and groaning, dying of AIDS in Poipet, and I told her I feared she would end up the same way.

"I'm afraid of that, too," she replied, her voice breaking. "This is an unhappy life. I don't want to do this."

Maybe that's what I find saddest about Srey Mom: She is a wonderful, good-hearted girl who gives money to beggars, who offers Buddhist prayers for redemption - but who is already so broken that she seems unable to escape a world that she hates and knows is killing her.
Can you fucking gag on the sanctimony? The ultra-thin veneer of sympathy overlaying vicious judgmentalism that 'she was addicted to methamphetamines, and that craving destroyed her will power, sending her fleeing back to the brothel so that she could get her drugs'?

The absolute fucking gall of it. Kristof took a drug-addicted teenage prostitute, bought her, took her back to the home she'd fled because she fought intolerably with her violently abusive mother, and on the strength of a tearful happy-reunion scene left her there with $100 to start a pork stall in the market. And he has the endless seething gall to be Disappointed, to Write Her Off With Sadness In His Heart, when he comes back to find his miracle cure didn't take.

That, that right there, is why for all his desperate bleedinghearted aching for world pain, for all his laudable desire to bring our attention to the suffering of people across the globe, for all his plush $25,000 Michael Kelly Award, that is why Nicholas Kristof is in the end a Really Bad Thing. But hey, at $150 a head, twenty-five G's will buy a fuck of a lot of teenage whores.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Carnival of the Un-Capitalists

Welcome, friends, come on inside where it's cool and dark and creepy, but with a cheerfully radical edge. We have delights aplenty on offer this week, with a certain apparently random emphasis on trade-union politics for your delectation.

Richard at All Spin Zone excoriates the lazy neocon-ventriloquized media and reflects on the grassroots democratic movements that have been growing while 'Latin America has historically been about one blip stronger on the Bush administration's radar screen than Africa.'

Freiheit und Wissen calls attention to the Pakistani telecom workers' strike and what it augurs for developing nations' resistance to the devastating repercussions of accepting strings-attached 'aid' from the IMF and World Bank.

zwichenzug of The Bellman snarks about organizational splits in the US labor movement, and doubts whether rebellions and reconfigurations at the top are likely to remedy the movement's 'failure to challenge the idea that it is right and proper for society to be organized into "top-down, leader-centered groups."'

From the Dark Wraith, intel on the revised US economic growth rate forecast, GM's announced job cuts and operations shift to China, as well as other things to do with international currency exchange and inflation that make me squeak and fidget with economically-induced inadequacy.

In a change from our usual dense, turgid uncapitalist prose, Mad Kane offers whatever is the opposite of an ode (Justin?) on the nomination of Christopher Cox to head the SEC.

Over in the Land of Corn & Soybeans, Doug Smiley wields the scythe against the sellout of membership by union leaders through 'business unionism', and laments the consequent defeats suffered by auto workers across the American industry. That makes two today for union leadership failures (Doug and the Bellman) and two for the GM job cuts (Doug and Dark Wraith). Kids, keep track on your scorecards at home!

On a topic dear to your host's own cephalopodean heart (update: make that one of my three cephalopodean hearts; thx CM), Trickle Down Truth takes a thoughtful look at the Canadian health system and traces its manifest failings not merely to underfunding but also to inattention to social determinants of health like income, housing and social exclusion. Complete with delightful tongue-in-cheek tips for staying healthy, SDOH-style.

Agitprop has a whack at the Gov. Schwarzenegger piñata, excoriating the latter's spectacularly idiotic and malevolent campaign against those notorious 'special interests', California's nurses, teachers and firefighters.

My own festive contribution is but a short scroll down the page, though unlike testy Lenin I will also provide my readers with all the comforts of a direct link.

And finally, Kevin Carson at Mutualist Blog offers this pleasingly hardcore recommendation on strategies to reverse Labor's long retreat. Bonus points to the person who convincingly explains to me what the hell Free Market Anti-Capitalism might be.

That's all she wrote, dears. Thanks for stopping by. Also note that next week's Carnival looks to be brilliantly interesting. Boldly themed 'Science and Markets', it will be hosted by Guerilla Science. I know I'm going to do my best to come up with something suitably scientific, and I suggest you do the same. Go to the Carnival main page for details.

Talkin' About A Rare Abortion...Sounds Like Betrayal

I've been having a delightful correspondence with Whatever It Is I'm Against It, who called my attention to William Saletan's latest prescription for pro-choice strategy in Slate, with the following comment:
Saletan should be read for his attention to the language (or "frame" if you prefer) of the abortion debate, but his conclusions, like Lakoff's, should be rejected. Like Lakoff, he prefers the vocabulary of "values" (which is the word liberals use instead of "morals") to that of rights; he really likes the word "responsibility." He wants abortion legal (phew) but also wants pro-choicers to "admit that... some women take it too lightly". Fine, sure, whatever, but who cares? The point of being pro-choice is that my opinion of how that choice is made is entirely irrelevant. And all Saletan's talk about responsibility falls apart when you ask Responsible to whom?
WIIIAI is absolutely correct to mistrust Saletan's lexical desiderata. As this article and several past pieces make clear, Saletan is an evangelizing proponent of just the kind of muscular-liberal morality-bothering I've been pointing out in the Dems' rolling platform. This position not only treads the shakiest possible moral ground, but embeds a layer of punitive misogyny that should give any feminist serious pause about allying with it. More on these latter points shortly.

The occasion for Saletan's piece is the formulation by NARAL Pro-Choice America of a brand-new, fully-focus-grouped, Now With 50% More Right-Wing Pander messaging platform. The new message is crafted around the kernel 'promote a culture of freedom and responsibility', and as you might imagine, is great on the prevention angle:
'...focusing on preventing unintended pregnancies and reducing the need for abortion through increasing access to family planning services, access to affordable birth control and by providing comprehensive age appropriate sex education in schools.'
Grand, as far as it goes. Anyone else see a lacuna in there? Where's the provision for access to abortion for those who, for a variety of reasons, fall through that preventive safety net? NARAL and Saletan are too busy
preemptively making moral judgments about women who need abortions to expend much energy defending their right to have them.

At least Saletan's open about his untenable moral position:
I've always agreed with pro-choicers that the government is incompetent to regulate abortion. But I've never liked their aversion to moral judgments. If they'd just admit that abortion's legality doesn't make it right, or that some women take it too lightly, or that every abortion is tragic, I'd be so relieved. "Responsibility" gives me something to hold on to. It reassures me that the moral substance of life, which ought to take place in the personal and family spaces where government has no wisdom, really is taking place there—or at least that pro-choicers think it should. It's much easier to say no to legislation when conscience, not complacency, is the alternative.
Wait, what? You're saying that you believe abortion is morally wrong and unavoidably tragic, and yet you support it anyway? How can you possibly justify that? Surely I, who believe that abortion is neither morally wrong nor necessarily tragic, am in a much more morally defensible position. Saletan doesn't even adduce any logical or moral basis for his platform. As WIIIAI put it, 'he tries to build an entire political position around [his own] squeamishness, as if squeamishness were a political philosophy.'

In the event, the recourse to 'responsibility' is what gives the game away here. As even Saletan glancingly nods at, the discourse here framed around the regulation of abortion is riddled with distrust and patronization of women. He presumes to judge that 'some women take it too lightly.' He approvingly cites NARAL's formulations that always couple 'a woman' with 'and her family' or 'and her doctor', on the grounds that '...that's the point: They [the public] want somebody else to be involved. It isn't the "woman" that wins them over. It's the "and."'

If you genuinely believe in the equality and sovereignty of women, if you truly acknowledge that a woman's reproductive life, like her nutritional life or her professional life, is fundamentally hers to administer, then you definitionally forfeit the prerogative to dictate how she conducts that life.

Saletan clearly doesn't want to give up that patriarchal privilege, not one bit. Here's his messaging advice to pro-choice marchers in April: 'The abortion is not the end of the story. Kids and family are the story, "when I'm ready."' If the supposed left has ever produced a more crystalline formulation of the idea that a woman's body is ultimately, teleologically a reproductive vessel, I have yet to see it.

This combination of moral prescriptiveness and deep-structured paternalism is a tailor-made recipe for disempowering women, and it's gaining ground by the day. Unsurprisingly, Saletan came out wildly in favor of She's egregious January speech, singling out for special approbation that passage where she slavers that
Research shows that the primary reason that teenage girls abstain is because of their religious and moral values. We should embrace this—and support programs that reinforce the idea that abstinence at a young age is not just the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do.
Yes, 'pro-choice advocates' focusing not on the need for reproductive choice, but on the need for abstention through religious and moral values. It would be hilarious if I weren't so busy choking on my own vomit.

The pro-choice movement is in the hands of these people. Whether or not Saletan himself has the ear of the movement's leaders, they are absolutely singing from his score. We who believe that abortion is a woman's unconditional right, subject neither to bilateral moral opprobrium nor paternalistic regulation, need to take the movement back now, before we lose any more ground, and we need to send Saletan and his misogynist, moralizing, divisive ilk packing. With friends like that, who needs pro-life?

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