Politics Feed

Stones Left Unturned in the BVCSD Futuring Process

Regarding the matter of the future of the Boquet Valley Central School District, I think I have found a serious methodological problem. Section 6 in the Environmental Impact Statement superficially seemed to address the impact on the towns of Westport and Elizabethtown, but seemed like early draft or placeholder text. I have asked a few people about that, and the answer to what's wrong there seems to be that they only attempted to describe the impacts on the actual sites of the existing schools, not the communities of Westport and Elizabethtown. The plan BVCSD put up for a vote is a redesign of three communities, not just a facilities plan for educating the children of the newly formed district, since adding and subtracting schools can significantly change towns. The answer to my question about the missing Impact analysis appears to be that they did not study the impacts on the towns.

I did a brief literature search last night to see if I could get a sense of what the academic literature on closing rural schools has to say. Three possible effects seem to emerge from my quick skim:

  1. Closing the last school in a community is known to depress real estate values.
  2. Closing rural schools is known to cause families with children to move away (potentially leading to declining enrollment).
  3. Closing schools is also known to decrease trust in leadership and elected officials. I think we saw this in action.

Never mind the ethical question of whether the Board of Education needs to take into consideration the health of communities, I think this means that the numbers put forward to the voters are wrong because they failed to study the effects of school closures on factors that affect tax revenues.

Also, modelling the effects of disrupting three towns simultaneously is mathematically difficult, and involves the kind of math that you don’t ever want to see in something involving accounting.

I am beginning to compose a bibliography of the literature for this problem area and would like to form a discussion group to see what we can understand about the stones left unturned in the five year process that led to the recent vote.

I have written to Josh Meyer asking for whatever they have on impacts on towns. But it appears that they mostly didn’t go there.

Christopher Nolan's TENET:
3D Time & a Utopian Longing for Normalcy

I saw Tenet in a theater in Toronto with fancy seats that vibrate and tilt along with the action. I don’t think the seat’s enthusiasm contributed much, but I did enjoy the show. I went to see it for two reasons: One is that science fiction films flood the cultural discourse and change narratives, and this one is playing partly in what I consider my space, so I felt like I needed to know what is in it. The second is that I just finished writing something long and my brain needs a break from rehearsing and reworking my own prose; it helped to clear my head.

Screen Shot 2020-09-07 at 2.36.32 PM

Before I went, I read reviews and internet takes. Most people who had seen it were concerned with trying to figure out what is going on in the film, because it has scenes in which time flows both forwards and backwards. After reading the article in the Washington Post about their decision not to review the film because Christopher Nolan gave reviewers no choice except to see it in a theater with other people, I considered whether to skip it. But in the end, I went. I would not make the same decision two weeks from now, because I expect the incidence of the virus to spike up once schools are open. Having seen it as the director intended, unless you are really excited by watching stuff blow up, there is no particular reason to see it in a theater. Inasmuch as the film is good, it won’t lose much if seen instead on a big screen TV.

Continue reading "Christopher Nolan's TENET:
3D Time & a Utopian Longing for Normalcy" »

On the Question of Trump's Legitimacy as President-Elect

I hope -- if you are eligible to vote in the US Presidential Election -- that you voted.

If you cast a vote that you now feel called upon to defend, I hope you think deeply about your civic responsibilities as a voter. A ballot is something much more serious than a Like button. But that is all water under the bridge now.

What sane and rational plans the US political class seems to have had are shattered on the ground. And although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, garnering about 2 million votes more than her opponent, the geographical distribution of the votes has placed on the track to assume power in January Donald Trump, a man incapable of running a country in such a way that we would recognize it as the United States of America we thought we knew. His incoming cabinet is a motley crew, intent more on vandalizing government than running it.

They say hindsight is 20/20. I don’t think we have achieved that clarity of vision yet. However, one thing that is clear is that Obama’s election made many people overly optimistic. Obama himself allowed and cultivated a real death star of a national security apparatus, the NSA, to which he will, apparently, be handing Trump the keys on January 20th.

Did it not occur to Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton or to any of the architects of this system that their panopticon and their assassination drones might, one day, be in the hands of a vindictive narcissist with an enemies list? And that that day might be January 20th, 2017?

As for the rest of us, we squandered a lot of time that might have been used securing the social progress reflected by the election of America’s first black president.

In 2012, for example, Brian Stephenson gave an impassioned TED talk about ending mass incarceration. Mass incarceration is one of the most effective and permanent methods of voter suppression. The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any major country in the world. How can that be, in the land of the free?

There are three factors driving this: 1) The effectiveness of mass incarceration at suppressing the black and other minority vote; 2) the availability of prison labor; 3) the profits to be made by private prisons.

Obama did, by executive order, discontinue the federal use of private prisons.

The 13th amendment ending slavery has a loophole for the use of prison labor. Closing this loophole allowing slavery provided that the slaves are prisoners would reduce another economic incentive that drives mass incarceration.

But laws allowing prisoners to vote and restoring voting rights to those convicted of felonies would eliminate what may be the strongest factor driving mass incarceration: suppression of the vote.

For those not familiar with the timeline, the era of mass incarceration begins shortly after the passage of federal civil rights laws.

So what did my progressive friends talk about for most of the last eight years? There was a lot of talk about micro-aggressions, how nuances of phrase by otherwise well-meaning people might give offence. This gave way to discussions of the political battle over the Hugo Awards, this incursion being led by the writer Vox Day, a notorious racist. Eventually, awareness of micro-aggressions and awards gave way to discussion of macro-aggressions, the frequent shooting of unarmed black men by police, Black Lives Matter.

We had gone from discussing things like the nuances of who might be called a Person of Color and the relative merits of 2nd wave vs. 3rd wave feminism to whether it was OK to shoot unarmed people in the street. Perhaps we should have started with the matter of the shooting of unarmed people and worked in the other direction.

(Parenthetically: I remember -- some time between the micro-aggression era and the Hugo stuff -- trying to engage people I thought would be interested, who had been discussing on Facebook the abstract problem of mass incarceration, with the matter of the use of prison labor in my own community. Upon seeing the discussion, I went down the street with my camera and took pictures of actual prisoners tearing down a structure on the Essex County Fairgrounds three blocks from my house, and I posted this to the discussion. I really don’t know why no one much reacted on the occasions when I have raised this issue.)

I should have said more. We should have said more. But, in retrospect, I think we were worried about yet another member of the Bush family becoming president and had not imagined, instead, the rise to power of fascism. There were overtones of fascism in the GWB administration, but not like Trump.

Obstructionist Republicans have gamed the system so as to mostly immobilize the Obama presidency in his second term culminating in their refusal to hold hearings for his Supreme Court nominee no matter who he nominated. And the Democratic party offered no real solution to obstructionism except loyalty to the Democratic party in the next election. And I/we (or some large portion of us) trusted them, more or less.

So here we are. We are asked to recognize Trump’s election as “legitimate” and to acquiesce to some kind of “unity.” Trump himself claimed repeatedly and emphatically that the election was “rigged.” Week by week, during the election, more hacked information in the service of Trump was released to the public. So. If I understand this correctly we are to believe the proposition that Trump told lies about the integrity of the voting process as a condition of accepting the proposition that he will be the legitimate President of the United States. (This reminds me of the logical problem of judging the truth of the statement “I am lying.”) Why not just take him at his word?

Why should we recognize Trump’s legitimacy before Obama—whose legitimacy has constantly denied by the GOP despite his being democratically elected twice—is allowed to appoint Scalia’s replacement to the Supreme Court? Otherwise it would seem the legitimacy of a president entails being white.

And then there is the matter of the FBI’s interference with the democratic process, interceding on Trump’s behalf at the 11th hour. . . .

Recapping: we are asked by a political party that refuses to recognize the current sitting President as legitimate to accept the legitimacy of a President-Elect who claimed the election was rigged, who was helped extensively by hackers (possibly in the employ of a foreign government), who lost the popular vote, and whose dishonesty we are asked to take as a given.

Why would I do that? Why should any of us do that?

I think, instead, we should start securing voting rights, and agreement by all that it is not OK to shoot unarmed people in the street, and that the FBI has no place intervening in the Presidential election, and so on. And once all of this is accomplished, if the matter of Trump’s legitimacy is still on the table, we can take it up then.

Further reading: "Am I Free to Go?" by Kathryn Cramer on Tor.com, December, 2012.

Asking the Wrong Question

Oppressive governments often lock up writers, artists, intellectuals. They lock them up because such people are dangerous to those in power. In the United States, we mostly don't have that problem. This is partly because of the first amendment, but also because American writers, artist, and intellectuals are mostly tame.
The lack of politics in art and literature is seen as a virtue as though there were a pure aesthetics that could only be tainted by the addition of politics. In the US, this is partly the legacy of McCarthism. While our arts are sometime offensive, they do little to change the structure of power.
And so it comes to me as a shock that in Paris there is a terror attack on cartoonists. Cartoonists? Really? Cartoonists.
Many of my friends and many people I admire seem to feel that is this is a good moment to engage their critical skills, to evaluate the worth of the long and successful careers of the recently deceased cartoonists. In other words, what did these artists do wrong that made people want to kill them? I don't think that's the right question.

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Vote today, but first check out soft money spending in Congressional elections

Please remember to vote today.

Before you vote, entertain yourself with a look at OpenSecrets.org to see who spent what to buy your vote in this election, especially in races for the House and Senate. Here, for example, is New York's 21st district, where the Conservative soft money in play totals more than either candidate raised individually and soft money has been spent 85:1 to defeat Democrat Aaron Woolf.

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Conservative outside organizations are spending 85 times more than liberal organizations in NY-21.

NY21I live in New York's 21st Congressional District, currently represented by Democrat Bill Owens, who is retiring. It was the 23rd District when Owens was elected, by there has been redistricting since then. Three candidates are running for Owens' seat. Aaron Woolf, the Democratic candidate, is endorsed by Bill Owens and also by Charles Schumer. Elise Stefanik is the Republican candidate. And there is also a Green Party candidate, Matt Funicello.

NY-21 congressional district has an adult population of under 600,000. When Bill Owens was first elected, there were about 150,000 votes cast. I don't know what the expected voter turnout is, now that we are the 21st District.

A lot of PAC money is being spent on this election. I looked at OpenSecrets.org to have a look at how much.

The candidates themselves have raised about 3.7 million dollars, with Woolf a bit ahead of Stefanick, and Funciello having raised about enough to buy a car.


Outside spending on the race is huge. 

Conservative organizations are spending nearly 2.4 million dollars, more than either major candidate individually. $2,317,000 of that comes from just four organizations: American Crossroads associated with Karl Rove and Ed Gillespe (see donors), the National Republican Congressional Committee, New York 2014 (see donors; note that their donor list has a lot of the same names on it as American Crossroads), and the US Chamber of Commerce, which does not disclose donors.


Conservative outside organizations are spending 85 times more than liberal outside organizations in NY-21.

Major players in this race seem to be hedge funds such as the Elliot Management Group. Much of the money seems to be traceable to billionairs on this list published by the Huffington Post.

Outside organizations are spending about $4 per adult (not per voter) in the New Yor State North Country to pay for this election. And that's not including whatever the rich may have donated to individual candidates. In total, more than $10 per adult is being spent here.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars of PAC money were spent on the primary to knock Matt Doheny out of the way to make Stefanik her place on the ballot. He has since been nominated for a judgeship and so is not elligible to run against Stefanik as an independent.

Whatever political will either major party might have had in the North Country, it has apparently been strangled by billionaires. Were this not ordinary it would be shocking.

Offensive GOP Mailer Attacks Localovore Movement

I just got a really offensive GOP attack direct mail piece aimed at Aaron Woolf who is running for Bill Owens' House seat againt Karl Rove-backed Elise Stefanik.

Their point of attack is Woolf's association with organic food through his ownership of a grocery store in Brooklyn. It looks like a nice place, the kind of place that our local farmers have been selling their producrs through as the North Country's farming economy makes a comeback.

ApplesauceThe authors of the mailer seem unaware of the resurgence of small farms in the North Country, many of which are organic or feature naturally grown food. I myself grew (uncertified) organic apples last season and through the Grange Co-packers in Whallonsburg put up apple sauce for commercial sale. The packaging was somewhat like the GOP's imagining of what "Woolf's Pickles" might look like.

His other main sin, in addition to peddling organic food, is that he is, gasp, a filmmaker. Perhaps the GOP doesn't know this, but we have filmmakers here too. Much of Kathy Leichter's Here Today was filmed in Wadhams. There are a number of other small films being produced locally. I just spent the morning finishing a screenplay.

Last fall's I Love NY commerical featuring an orchard was even filmed here. At my orchard.


That's my barn. And those are my apples on the trees. (We had already harvested in that area, so the film company had people in the previous day wiring the apples back on the trees.)

Dear NYGOP: 

Here in the North Country, not only do we care how our food is grown and value small scale agriculture and organic food, but we also have a thriving arts culture. Perhaps some of you might come for a visit before you write your next attack ad.

And you know what the North Country really can't afford? Last winter's heating bills, and the House GOP's plan to roll back the clock on health coverage.


Driving around Vermont, Thinking


photo by Tony Hisgett

Friday and Saturday, I spent a lot of time driving around Vermont. I also spent a lot of time thinking while driving. I was thinking about whether to expand on my most recent blog post and what it is safe to say. These were the most beautiful drives I have ever taken in Vermont.

The leaves were at peak and the air was still, so there were many reflections. (Unfortunatly, I didn't stop to take pictures.)

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Give Peace a Chance: My Return to Blogging

I have decided to come back to blogging. I am returning at a point of happiness and strength with a new book out which is successful in ways I had never imagined an anthology could be. I have been having an amazing time these past few weeks.

I find that I have made my decision to resume just at the moment when Kathy Sierra's blog post Why the Trolls Will Always Win, commemorating ten years of over-the-top harassment, is published in Wired

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Handmade #Occupy the Adirondacks Christmas Wreath

Occupy the Adirondacks & Have a Merry Christmas! #occupy

This handmade wreath was made out of chicken wire and pine cones by one of my children as a 4-H project this past weekend. The Guy Fawkes mask was added this morning: the handmade wreath was a little oblong from the weight of the pinecones, and the opening in the middle seemed just right for the mask on my bedroom wall. It hangs on our front door which is right next to our bookstore, Dragon Press Bookstore, a science fiction specialty shop in Westport, New York.


Oppression, Feminism, & Motherhood

I was on several excellent panels at Anticipation which I hope to write about later, and on one panel that was hopelessly ill-construed. It was a panel on which four white people were assigned the task of discussing whether ethnic and sexual minorities ought to write for the mainstream sf audience or whether they could or should write for more specialized audiences more connected to their concerns, and if they were to do that, how would they make it into the SF canon (this last point was illustrated by a quote from Joanna Russ.).

One of the designated panelists did not attend the convention, one overslept and missed the panel by accident, so it was me and this white guy who later remarked online that he has clearly been assigned to the wrong panel. 

This was not THE most socially awkward panel assignment I've ever been given. That would be the panel entitled "Politics & Bad Manners" at a Minnicon many years ago, where as I recall one of my fellow panelists was dressed in a monk's habit, and everyone but me had known in advance that this was the annual Libertarian revival panel. I  spent the panel defending things like the existence of public sidewalks. But this pannel at Anticipation was certainly up there.

Several audience members seemed to have a lot to say on the actual topic assigned, so I invited "Ide Cyan" and a woman whose name badge said "Isobel" to join me as panelists. "Isobel" declined, but made many productive comments from the audience. "Ide Cyan" joined me on the panel, but only after anxiously showing me her name badge so I would know who I was tangling with. She tried hard as a panelist, but also was extremely tense and trembling and talking very fast, as though frightened of me. (I think that is the first time I've ever been on a panel with someone who appeared physically frighten of me.)

The panel went how it went, which is as well as could be expected given both the panelist problem and an oddly constructed mandate. (Canonicty is a completely separate issue from the economic and artistic viability of subgenres with specialized audiences.) I'm told that Jo Walton had written beautiful and lucid panel descriptions that were then mercilessly pruned by a clumsy editorial hand. I think this panel description was one of the victims.

"Ide Cyan" argued that the central issue was oppression. I attempted to get her to unpack her argument, and asked interview style questions about what she meant by oppression. Another blogger has described her as becoming "tongue-tied" when presented with this line of inquiry.

After the panel, I invited her to join me for a cup of tea for further discussion, but she declined; she and a group of other audience members, who seemed to be a portion of Fail Fandom, left as a group. According to their blogs this group went off and discussed how appalling it is that I claim to be oppressed because I am a parent and because of where I live.

Before departing, "Ide Cyan" instructed me to read Joanna Russ's book What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism, a book which as it happened was sitting on my night table. A while back I blogged my dismay with the opening chapter. It is a book that Joanna worked long and hard on, the book in which she intended to reconcile socialism and feminism, and which was published too late to have the impact it might have had because it took her so long to write. (Our collective recollection is that she was already working on that book when I attended the Seattle Clarion in 1984; its copyright date is 1998.)

Joanna Russ was my first science fiction mentor. She was my professor at the University of Washington for two years. I spent many happy hours taking up her office hours when everyone else was scared to talk to her. A few decades ago, I knew her pretty well. She was in chronic pain. She was on heavy-duty anti-depressants that messed up her short-term memory in ways that were sometimes comical. She is also a genius, and I treasure the time I spent sitting at her feet (sometimes literally) listening to her hold forth.

That having been said, I don't think What We Are Fighting For? works in the way she intended. In trying to reconcile socialism & feminism, she has for the most part left out the problem of motherhood and the relationship between the parent and the State. Her discussion of motherhood is extremely slight. The most extensive passage I was able to find, via index and skimming, is a mother-blaming section on the role of families in perpetuating oppression and sexism. (p. 347) Clearly, something had to go or this book never would have got finished, but I think it is unfortunate that the oppression of mothers by the State was omitted from discussion.

So what is oppression? Its definition is not one of Joanna's central concerns in this book; she is writing for an audience that thinks it already knows what oppression is. Oppression is depression — "a feeling of being oppressed"; persecution —"the act of subjugating by cruelty";  and subjugation — "the state of being kept down by unjust use of force or authority." In my daily life, I have experienced all three in connection with being a mother and it is not a minor thing. It is a major force in my life.

I seriously doubt that Joanna Russ I know would argue that I and other American mothers are not oppressed. And I wonder by what right self-described feminists discard out-of-hand claims by individual mothers that they suffer oppression.

Is 21st century feminism really feminism at all? If it has abandonded mothers as such, it has abandoned its task of advocating the liberation of women. 

Cynthia Burack: "A Note about Politics"

Burack.healing I picked up Cynthia Burack's Healing Identities: Black Feminist Thought and the Politics of Groups (Cornell University Press, 2004) on our book shopping trip to Maryland a month or so ago when we collected a debt I was owed in books.

IMG_4251.JPGI have just started reading it this morning while snapping occasional shots of this morning's Lake Champlain sunrise -- it's a cloudy day, so the good shots only happen every couple of minutes.

The book's introduction begins with "A Note about Politics," which is a cool little piece all by itself.

No less a political observer than Henry Adams remarked in the early twentieth century that politics can be understood as the "systematic organization of hatreds."1 In face, hatreds are not always terribly well organized, but Adams's comment nonetheless captures a key reality of political life. Group hatred is "like a sturdy weed: you can weed several times a day and, in the morning, there it is again."2 Groups matter in part because of the vast harm those motivated by group identifications can do.

. . . Feminists tend to stress the coalitional political and social justice opportunities created by groups, while mainstream political thinkers tend to stress violent, dangerous, and unstable aspects of groups. All are right, of course: in group relations people can exhibit both extraordinary forms of cooperation and seemingly irrational forms of contentiousness. (p. 1)

1. Henry Adams. The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography, vol. 1 (New York: Time, 1964), 6.
2. Andrei Codrescu, The Devil Never Sleeps, and Other Essays (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000), 129.

This passage is particularly interesting to me in that I am coming to believe that one of the primary usages of the Web 2.0-style Internet is various forms of scapegoating, in which individuals or groups are named as the cause of the problems of and as a threat to other group.  I find the emerging situation very worrisome.

SHOCK: Michelle Malkin helps Bill Ayers sell books!

Malkin writes:

God damn America . . .
and lets her readers know where to meet Bill Ayers and where to buy his book and get it signed:
He’ll be at Georgetown Law School on Monday and at a book-signing at Busboys & Poets at 14th and V St in Washington DC on Monday night at 6:30PM.
Is Malkin palling around?

Any why does Michelle Malkin hate America?

GOP Vocabulary Word of the Day: to nationalize, "To convert from private to governmental ownership and control."

Providing further evidence that the Republicans have run out of the conservative solutions generally associated with their party and are now borrowing from the far left, the US government has nationalized AIG. From Floyd Norris, writing in the Business Section of The New York Times:

Socialism, 21st Century Style
The government tonight nationalized the American International Group, the financial giant that could not find anyone else willing to lend it the billions of dollars it needed to stay afloat.

That is not the official version. Fed staffers, who briefed reporters at 9:15 tonight, don’t even want us to say the government will control A.I.G. The government will name new management, and will have veto power over all important decisions. And it will have a warrant allowing it to take 79.9 percent of the stock whenever it wants. But they contend there is no control until the warrant is exercised.

President Truman once tried to nationalize the steel industry, arguing that a strike that halted production in wartime created a national emergency. The Supreme Court ruled that was illegal. This time, however, the company agreed to the nationalization. It was the only way to get the cash it desperately needs.

And from The Washington Post:

Invoking extraordinary powers granted after the 1929 stock market crash, the government seized control of the insurance giant American International Group to preserve a crucial bulwark of the global financial system.

The move to lend the Wall Street giant up to $85 billion in exchange for nearly 80 percent of its stock effectively nationalizes one of the central institutions in the crisis that has swept through markets this month.

Not long ago, the Republican party was associated with the notion of "privatization" and in the last eight years, many formerly governmental function were privatized.

Today's question for John McCain: what else would he nationalize if elected President? Or is he still in favor of privatization?

My reading of McCain's position in Social Security as described on his campaign website is that he still favors a partial privatization.

Reform Social Security: John McCain will fight to save the future of Social Security and believes that we may meet our obligations to the retirees of today and the future without raising taxes. John McCain supports supplementing the current Social Security system with personal accounts -- but not as a substitute for addressing benefit promises that cannot be kept. John McCain will reach across the aisle, but if the Democrats do not act, he will. No problem is in more need of honesty than the looming financial challenges of entitlement programs. Americans have the right to know the truth and John McCain will not leave office without fixing the problems that threatens our future prosperity and power.

A week or so ago after the government -- as Forbes put it -- "effectively nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," DialyKos summed up the new GOP position as Privatize Profits, Socialize Losses.

See also CNNMoney's video Government's growth spurt.

McPalin Culture Wars Round-Up

A couple of favorite pieces:

First, there's the New York Times op-ed Running Against Themselves:

The difficulty for the Republican ticket in talking about change and reform and acting like insurgents is that they have been running Washington — the White House and Congress — for most of the last eight years.

Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News: Palin isn't making this easy
I don't think John McCain understood exactly what he was doing picking Palin. He was looking for a new face in a party dominated by old faces, a Republican who wasn't tied to the rest of the Republicans (read: George W. Bush). But what he also got was another battle in the culture wars.

I leave it to Rudy Giuliani, of all people, to give us the lesson.

It's Giuliani - not your typical Republican on issues such as abortion and gay rights and wearing dresses at New York balls - who was Palin's warmup act. And in fact, he did about 20 minutes of standup, mostly mocking - and that's the right word - Barack Obama to the delight of the crowd, but in way that had to be cringe-making for much of the rest of America watching at home on TV.

Indeed, I don't think the political strategist who have brought us to this point understand how complex and unpredictable the politics of mommyhood are. (And no, Sarah, your family doesn't have "the same ups and downs as any other.") To work full or part time or to stay home with ones kids are complex decisions about which American women pronounce judgement upon each other every day. Every school PTA is split between the stay-at-home and part-timer moms who do most of the PTA work, and the full-time working moms who (despite Palin's PTA credentials) mostly don't.

Every employed mother has decisions to make about when to work and when to drop everything and take care of the needs of a child, and mothers pass judgement on each others' choices every day. New baby, special needs child, pregnant teenage daughter, five kids -- each of these individually might cause even a suburban upper-middle class mother in a left-leaning community to be subjected to peer pressure to surrender her ambitions in favor of taking care of her family. How can this fly?

Are questions about whether Sarah Palin should be spending more time taking care of her family fair? Perhaps not, but our culture isn't fair to mothers, and worse, mothers are not fair to other mothers.

Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail has an interesting piece entitled The culture wars are baaack!:

For a while back there, I thought the culture wars would not be a big deal in this election. We had two serious men of substance who had vowed to grapple with the serious issues of the day - the staggering economy, America's shattered moral leadership in the world, the health-care mess, loose nukes, stuff like that. Silly me! It turns out the real issues are abortion, evolution v. creationism, the role of God in public life, why Sarah tried to get her no-good ex-brother-in-law fired, what's up with her mother-in-law, and whether she herself was pregnant when she got married.
In it she quotes a McCain adviser:
"Frankly, I can't imagine that question being asked of a man," snapped John McCain's campaign manager, Steve Schmidt. "A lot of women will find it offensive."
Oh, were Sisterhood that power! Wouldn't it be nice if women didn't say terrible things about other women's mothering choices all the time?

In his speech last night Rudy Guiliani asked, "How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her child and be vice president?" They dare, Rudy. They dare. They dare all the time.

She is apparently breastfeeding. Wouldn't it have been fascinating if Sarah Palin gave last night's speech while breastfeeding her infant? (I have nursed an infant from the podium, though out of necessity, not for fun; it's a good way to keep a baby quiet while mommy talks to the audience when the expected convention childcare does not materialize.) Having her pregnant daughter hold the baby doesn't deflect the scrutiny that a new mother out in the world is subject to. And Palin hasn't really explained who is taking care of the kids. The implication of what is left unsaid is partly that the kids will take care of themselves and each other, an impression I wouldn't dare give at the World Science Fiction Convention, let alone the national convention of a political party.

Jonathan Freeland, The Guardian also discusses the culture wars theme: Who knows if Palin will bring victory or defeat? But the culture wars are back

In his stirring speech last week, Obama urged America not to "make a big election about small things". Yet here we are, discussing not Sarah Palin's record or programme but Jesus, guns, and as one feminist blogger put it yesterday, "the uterine activity of her family". This is a setback for women, especially in a year that seemed to promise a breakthrough, but it is also a setback for America itself.
For obvious reasons, conservatives would like to see this mess in a different light. Janice Shaw Crouse of the conservative think-tank Concerened Women for America writes,
The media’s frenzy over the Palin nomination contrasts negatively with the positive way that the Palin family is coping with their daughter’s pregnancy; it shows how out-of-touch the media is with the rest of America and how distorted their view is of pro-life Americans who put feet on their policy stances. . . . The media frenzy also demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of social conservatives and the importance of the social issues for most Americans.
Is the fuss all about whether Palin is alienating the very conservative base she was supposed to lock in? I don't think so.

What Palin and her complications represent is a social conservative running against a broad personalized non-political type of social conservatism concerning childbearing and childrearing; she presents an entirely new model of conservative motherhood that bears a lot of explaining in order to seem like responsible behavior.

UPDATE: See also Nancyy Gibbs in TIME: Can Palin Escape the Parent Trap? and Teresa Nielsen Hayden on Making Light: Pay attention to the little man behind the curtain.

What Were McCain's Advisers Thinking? The Republican Party Just Gets Wilder!

When I was in elementary school (in maybe 1970?), my mother ran for the Washington State Legislature and I door-belled for her campaign. She would take one side of the street and I would take another. I remember distinctly being told by one lady on a front porch that I was a smart and beautiful little girl and that she wasn't going to vote for my mommy because my mommy should be at home with me and that I should tell her so. And so despite the strong odor of Reality Show that Sarah Palin brings to the presidential election, I am deeply uncomfortable with what I see being said about her.

I was particularly uncomfortable about Maureen Dowd's breast pump remark, because there is a significant minority in our country who feel that lactating women should be completely invisible. Women are such easy targets for vicious Internet memes.

Who knew that the news coverage of the Republican National Convention would be all about how McCain's Veep choice is HOT and her daughters are easy? Culminating in the oh-so-tasteful comparison between Britney Spears's little sister Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin?

TeenpregnancyI wonder how the editors of the Christian Science Monitor can with a straight face publish the headline McCain pick of Palin helps win over party's conservative base; it begins:

Moments after Senator John McCain announced his running mate - Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, an outspoken abortion opponent - his campaign sprang into action to fan flames of enthusiasm among his party's demoralized conservative supporters.

At a lunch in Minneapolis, two of his top advisers - Charlie Black, a veteran political operative, and Dan Coates, a former senator from Indiana - were extolling Palin's virtues to about 150 influential evangelicals as evidence of McCain's ideological commitments.

Charlie Black, what were you thinking?

I have a really odd connection to Charlie Black, though we've never actually met or spoken: We were both conned by the professional con artist Joseph A. Cafasso during the same time period during the summer of 2005. There used to be more about this on my blog, but I took it down after legal threats seemingly made on his behalf by one of his close associates who is ironically a former CNN exec. On January 15, 2007, she wrote:

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NON-NEGOTIABLE WITH ME OR CHARLIE OR ANYONE ELSE WHO IS AFFECTED! TAKE THAT STUFF DOWN NOW! . . . Cramer -Take this shit off the Internet! No one wants to have a conversation with you. We would rather you vanish as fast as you invaded our lives! Either take this crap down or you will be sued!

So. All right then. (Quoting from private email? Absolutely. Fair use? Yup.)

In any case, what I wonder -- as I see the Palin PR disaster unfold -- is whether Black was fooled again as he was fooled by Cafasso. Or whether he's just fooling himself.

PalinwatchthumbnailIn February, Firedog Lake's Christy Hardin Smith wrote an interesting profile of Black which mentions his association with international con man Ahmed Chalabi. Yesterday, Firedog Lake posted a "Sarah Palin Goodbye Watch."

Put down your best guesses for when, why, and how Sarah Palin will bail from the GOP ticket.

So far the blog entry has 360 comments. (Their server seems to be having some problems, so be patient if the links don't work.)

Meanwhile, the Financial Times editors, presumably also with a straight face, publish the following headline: McCain counts on character to clinch it while at the same time running an image of McCain with Bristol Palin and her boyfriend, Levi Johnston.

Looks like the Republican Party is in full swing, and the party is getting wilder and wilder. What's next? These are not your daddy's Republicans!

Fortune reports that there is an online prediction market on "whether Palin will be dropped from the ticket": Betting on a Palin withdrawal.

Intrade, an online prediction market based in Dublin, created a contract Tuesday morning on the likelihood that John McCain will drop Palin as his running mate. After opening at a probability of just 3%, the odds on Palin being cut from the ticket hovered around 14% yesterday. Predictions plateaued today at 10%, perhaps in response to yesterday's speeches by Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman. Both praised the governor for her reformist qualities.

. . . Placing a Palin withdrawal at even 12% seems bullish; no presidential candidate has withdrawn his VP selection since Thomas Eagleton left Democratic candidate George McGovern's ticket in 1972.

See also The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

I am not placing any bets. I am just rubbernecking at how fast Bristol Palin has become an instant Pop Tart and Sarah Palin the new Victoria Principal. One message for the rest of us is, Don't aim too high. Don't let this happen to you.

CNN's current at 7:52 PM 9/3/08: Palin to slam Obama in convention speech. What an awful political spectacle it will be to see if she can conceal her anger at what has happened to her over the past few days. Will she be saccharine or Janis Joplin? Or will she not be able to contain the anger? Can we look away? And don't you feel like a voyeur?

So. Sarah Palin: Victoria Principal, Harriet Miers, or Janis Joplin? What do you bet? Watching this shows just how tough Hillary is.

Press Swarm Forming over at Hillary's in Chappaqua

On my way back from buying some rock garden plants in Mt. Kisco, I passed by Old House Lane in Chappaqua where there is currently a press swarm forming outside the Clinton's house. Presumably they are awaiting some word from Hillary Clinton about the status of her candidacy, or perhaps they are hoping to chat with Bill.

I haven't seen this kind of press swarm over there since Bill Clinton left office.

L. E. Modesitt on the Way Washington Works

I was reading an interview with fantasy and science fiction writer L. E. Modesitt, Jr. and came across a marvelously chilling passage about what he learned from his 17 years working in the belly of the beast that is Washington, DC:

. . . the way Washington works is not the way people really want to think of Washington working. For example, you see movies like No Way Out, you see all these Washington films—people are dying all over the place. In the whole time I worked in Washington, I don't know of a single death that was caused by somebody else. Washington doesn't work that way. Washington is too cruel to kill anybody outright. Now, the number of suicides—that's another question.

"Washington will take away your livelihood. I know people who cannot do what they once did because of Washington. They will alienate your family and your friends; they will destroy your life, and they will destroy your family, but they won't kill you. They leave that up to you.

During his time in DC, he was the Director of Legislation and Congressional Relations for the EPA, and also a staff director for a US Congressman.

The discussion was in the context of his novel The Green Progression, Modesitt's only commercial failure. I read it (maybe 10 years ago?) and thought it was a pretty good book.

(PS: If you hadn't guessed by now, we're working on anthology story notes here in Pleasantville.)

Schaller on Cherry-Picking the Election Results

Thomas_schaller In the NYT Midterm Madness blog, there is an interesting opinion piece by Thomas F. Schaller (yes, I did eventually relent and pay for Times Select) addressing some of the stranger post-election blather: The (Fictional) Triumph of the Conservative Democrats:

Two narratives have begun to emerge from the 2006 Congressional elections. The first is that Democrats didn’t win so much as Republicans lost. The second is that the Republicans who lost were beaten by a bunch of conservative Democrats.

There’s some truth to the first one: The election was a negative referendum on President Bush and the Republican Congress, specifically their mismanagement of Iraq, their ethical problems, and their inability to balance the federal budget or refrain from trying to distract Americans public with noisy wedge issues rather than provide solutions to more pressing problems.

But the second narrative is a fiction. And it is puzzling that Republicans and conservatives are the ones peddling it.

. . . Conservative talking heads usually rush to paint Democrats as a pack of tin-eared, out-of-the-mainstream liberals. That’s why it’s so surprising that some of these same voices are now cherry-picking the results in an effort to perpetuate the fiction that Republicans lost, but conservatives somehow won. It suggests that this year’s defeat so stunned the conservative movement, it lost its messaging mojo, too.

For liberal Democrats, that may be the biggest victory of all.

The Republican spin machine is sounding awfully dizzy these days. Guess they need a little while to re-adjust their political inner ear (or maybe just to get over their hangovers).


Political inner ear collage by Kathryn Cramer using appropriated images.

A Great Press Photo

CowboyBush.jpgThis is my favorite press photo of Bush in quite a while. It sums up a whole lot about what is wrong with this administration, the whole not-too-bright fantasy of cowboy dominion: that every white guy with a gun and an American accent paid by an American company riding off to do whatever is A OK; that the oil industry should have free reign in America's wide-open spaces, and everywhere else, for that matter; that if wire tapping's OK in a Hollywood movie, it's OK for the NSA; that our war in Iraq is faith-based and that what the administration needs to win the war is for us all to just believe.

With apologies to J. M. Barrie:

"Do you believe?" he cried.

The troops and civilian contractors sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to their fate.

They fancied they heard answers in the affirmative, and then again they weren't sure.

"What do you think?" they asked Bush.

"If you believe," he shouted to the American people, "clap your hands; don't let the troops die."

Many clapped.

Some didn't.

The actual news story the images illustrates is: Secret bugging vital to war on terror, Bush says. The real photo-caption reads:

Secretive service: President Bush admits the clandestine wire taps during his radio address. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta

(In fairness to the President, I should say that I think the cowboy art has been in the Whitehouse for a while.)

Pentagon News of the Weird

From the San Jose Mercury News: Sources: Rumsfeld will resign in '06; rumors swirl about Lieberman

WASHINGTON - White House officials are telling associates they expect Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld to quit early next year, once a new government is formed in Iraq, sources said Wednesday.

Rumsfeld's deputy, Gordon England, is the inside contender to replace him, but there's also speculation that Sen. Joe Lieberman - a Democrat who ran against Bush-Cheney in the 2000 election - might become top official at the Pentagon.

That's not as farfetched as it might first appear.

On the one hand, it's way past time Rumsfeld stepped down. But Lieberman? Lieberman? How icky! I mean, that's just gross.

See also The Village Voice.

Somalia & Our Two Party System: "Cut Run" vs. "Finish What We Started"? Or, Bush's Third War

Over the past couple of weeks, the meme of the "Cut & Run" Democrats vs. the "Finish What We Started" Republicans has been a big Republican talking point.

And here's a nice graph from Blogpulse showing how blogs ingested the message:


One of the key examples used in this rhetoric is the US pullout of Somalia in 1993. And there's some very weird stuff going on involving Somalia just now.

Here's Rush Linbaugh a couple of days ago:

Remember the history of bin Laden. Bin Laden only went to places that were stateless. He went to Somalia, a bunch of warlords, he could control them. Somalia. Afghanistan. All stateless. Taliban took over in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda was running Somalia. Still may be.

Is the "Finish What We Started" wing of the Republican party considering going back into Somalia to take on Al Qaeda and the pirates? Mogadishu is the locus of the psychogeography of their rhetoric, after all. What a venue it would be for demonstrating that our president is Man Enough to finish what the Democrats couldn't.

SO, are we headed for Bush's third war?

Freedom of the Press, 21st Century Style: Freedom to Stop the Presses?

From the Christian Science Monitor: British paper: Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera. And just so the press gets the idea of where it stands in the 21st century pecking order, the British government responds by invoking the Official Secrets Act. God, what a mess!

A leaked memo in Britain has once again caused an uproar. This time, the British government has acted to prevent any further publication.

The Times of London reports that the attorney general of Britain has warned British papers that they will be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act if they publish details of a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush in which Mr. Bush is alleged to have suggested bombing Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite TV channel based in Qatar.

Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, informed ... editors including that of The Times that “publication of a document that has been unlawfully disclosed by a Crown servant could be in breach of Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act.”
The Guardian reports that this is the first time the British government has threatened to use the Official Secrets Act to prevent publication of the details of a leaked document. "Though it has obtained court injunctions against newspapers, the government has never prosecuted editors for publishing the contents of leaked documents, including highly sensitive ones about the run-up to the invasion of Iraq."

On Tuesday, the British paper the Daily Mirror published the details of a government memo, marked Top Secret, that recorded a conversation between Bush and Mr. Blair that took place in the White House last April 16. The Daily Mirror's editor said he informed Downing Street that he was going to print details of the memo, but was not told at the time to stop. That order did not come until the day after the first story appeared in the paper.

Operation Iraqi Freedom: Freedom to Stop the Presses?

Iran Nonproliferation Act: the Republican Congress’ $30 Billion Dollar Blunder

Written By Guest Blogger Karen Cramer Shea.

In 2000 the Republican Congress conceived the Iran Nonproliferation Act, which forbids buying anything from the Russians for the Space station unless the President certifies that the Russians aren’t exporting nuclear, chemical or biological weapons technology to Iran. In April our agreement with the Russians ends and we will have to start buying access to the space station. which is now illegal under the ITA.


From the Washington Post

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee on space and aeronautics is a space station advocate and the author of the law's space station restrictions. Lawmakers added the space station clause as a stiffener. "We wanted to put [everyone] on notice that we should not have high-level cooperation, even in space, if the Russians were using their technological skills to help Iran build a nuclear weapon," Rohrabacher said. "It was a very good idea.

"The Iranians have made it clear they are moving forward on the bomb," Rohrabacher said. "Even though I have more focus than most people on making the space station a success, I am not going to do anything that would signal a weakening of our resolve."

The INA is very much like Cleavon Little as Bart in Blazing Saddles saying “Nobody moves or the nigger gets it” while holding the gun to his own head. Since the Russians seem to be selling nuclear technology to the Iranians, WE will no longer have access to the space station in April. The Russians on the other hand will have seats they can sell to tourists.

This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard any politician do. The congress has a choice surrender the space station to the Russians or repeal the Act and yell from the highest peaks that everyone can feel free to sell nuclear technology to the Iranians. With the Iranians part of the axis of evil and the President sounding like he might go to war with Iran, that is the last thing we need. Repealing the act would look treasonous if we actually did go to war with Iran. Imagine the political rhetoric about appeasement of Iran costing US lives.

Now we either lose our $30 Billion space station or we spend more than that in defense costs to make up for looking weak on Nuclear Proliferation. Tails they win, heads we lose. All because the republicans couldn’t keep their mouths shut. Every parent knows you don’t make threats you are unwilling to carry out. In this case the threat is more of a reward. And if when they passed the act the republicans were willing to sacrifice the station to make a minor political point they are guilty of throwing billions of dollars and the lives of the crew of Columbia away.

By passing INA the Republicans seem to have been acting like children who don’t understand the stakes they are playing for. Now, what ever happens we lose.