Archive for June, 2008

June 8th 2008
Some good political advice from the non peer-reviewed internets

Posted under American history

nast-donkey.jpgHow to talk to non-supporters about Obama” is an excellent primer that explains very effectively how to get other Democrats on board for November.  The author, demoinesdem, was a precinct captain for Kerry in 2003-04 and for Edwards in 2007-08 (in Iowa), so this wasn’t her first rodeo, and it sounds like she’s a very patient, practised, and effective campaigner.  (Her website is Bleeding Heartland.)  She’s got a lot of great scripts for comments that people who didn’t vote for Obama in the primary might throw at you, and examples of both ineffective and effective replies. 

Much of her advice boils down to this:  “Remember that voter contacts are not about winning an argument. They are about finding ways to get on the same side as the person you are talking to.”  In other words, you don’t have to bring people to a Road to Damascus moment about Obama so that you can bask in the warmth of your shared enlightenment.  You just need their votes.  Some people will never warm to Obama or see him as the Democrats’ best bet, and it’s not prima facie evidence of a character flaw that they won’t, so don’t annoy people with your Testimony.  (Do you really want to be like the Jehovah’s Witnesses?  Think about it.)  She’s got some great anecdotes about how some Obama supporters lectured her when she was an Edwards supporter.  One person actually wrote her an e-mail that started, “I actually feel bad for you, I really do, and I do NOT mean to be even the least bit demeaning, or snooty (no matter how it may sound — I really don’t.)  Because I think you are missing out on a unique time in US political history…”  What can you say about a guy like that?  (That reminds me of an anonymous note left on someone’s windshield, which was equally ineffective in its evangelizing.)

There are only two major points in her essay that I’d quarrel with.  One is a simple factual error.  About Clinton supporters, she writes: 

These people are just as disappointed by the way things turned out as you would be if the superdelegates had handed the nomination to Clinton after Obama earned it. They liked Bill, they like Hillary, and they thought she would do a great job. They are frustrated that millions of voters picked the hot shot over the smart, hard-working woman. In their minds, Hillary deserved the nomination, but voters picked someone less prepared for the job.

No, the voters didn’t pick Obama by “millions.”  (I know she’s not claiming that his victory margin was in the millions, but her phrasing here obscures the millions of votes that Clinton won.)  This race was a photo finish to the end.  Even the most generous interpretation of the popular vote totals for Obama (and the least generous for Michigan!) puts him ahead by only about 151,000.  And other entirely reasonable ways of counting up the popular vote put Clinton ahead by 48,000 to 287,000 votes.  That’s something that Clinton voters may still be sore about–because it clearly wasn’t “voters” who “picked someone less prepared for the job,” it was the Superdelegates who picked Obama.  Addressing people still unsettled about the popular vote is the one major omission in demoinesdem’s excellent scripts.  (Perhaps acknowledging that the popular vote was indeed essentially a tie, and expressing regret that only one candidate could emerge the victor would be the way to go with this one?) 

Secondly, demoinesdem’s frequently suggested tactic for getting Democrats on board with Obama is to invoke the spectre of a Supreme Court with two, three, or four new Associate Justices appointed by John McCain.  This strikes me as a little weak and a little desperate–if you’re canvassing for Obama, you should give people reasons to vote for Obama, not reasons to vote against McCain.  It may come down to that for many loyal Dems, but that should be a reason of last resort.  At this point (June, people!), citizens who didn’t vote for Obama may not be familiar with his overall record–try to surprise them with an impressive detail or clear policy position that will make them feel better about their vote. 

All in all, however, demoinesdem is on the money in acknowledging the power of emotions in this primary, and in suggesting some ways to find common ground. 

9 Comments »

June 8th 2008
Thanks, Grandma–but I wanted Grand Theft Auto!

Posted under American history & women's history

Via TalkLeft, we read that retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is involved in developing an educational video game that aims to teach young people about the judicial system.

[O'Connor] said she got involved with developing the project called “Our Courts” out of concern over public ignorance about the judiciary and partisan attacks on what should be an independent institution.

“In recent years I’ve become increasingly concerned about vitriolic attacks by some members of Congress, some members of state legislatures and various private interest groups … on judges,” O’Connor told the Games For Change conference on using gaming technology for social improvement and education. 

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matthew-broderick.jpgShe said the only way to preserve an independent judiciary was through public education, which she said was failing to produce citizens with enough knowledge about the three branches of U.S. government — legislative, executive and judicial.

This sounds like a pretty good idea–but is anyone else thinking what I’m thinking?  Matthew Broderick saying tonelessly, over and over, “executive, legislative, judicial…executive, legistlative, judicial?”  (On the right, you can just make out one of the corners of the triangle he used to illustrate the U.S. Constitution’s tripartite government, and perhaps the “d” in judicial just over his shoulder to the left.)

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June 7th 2008
This is the end, beautiful friend.

Posted under American history & women's history

For Senator Clinton’s speech today, see Roxie’s World for on-the-scene reportage, including some really nice photos of their very own.  I don’t have anything to add to Roxie’s nice overview and commentary, so go there and enjoy.  Thanks, Roxie, for your intrepid on-the-scene activism, reporting, and photography these past two weekends. 

Please try to avoid the patronizing commentary about the speech.  (And is anyone else tired of hearing the word “graceful,” with its obviously gendered connotations?  Why not just cut to the chase and say “ladylike?”  Jerkoffs.)  UPDATERead Digby instead.

See you at the next rodeo, Roxie.

8 Comments »

June 7th 2008
OB/GYNs, Ourselves

Posted under book reviews & Gender & the body & women's history

eucharius-roesslin-1545.jpgEarlier this week, faithful reader, commenter, and sister blogger Knitting Clio and I got into a tussle over Cesarean Sections, and the feminist critique of the overuse of the procedure canonized in women’s health books like Our Bodies, Ourselves.  (She is a historian of medicine as well as a women’s historian, with a specific interest in women’s reproductive health issues, so this is right up her alley.)  She noted the overuse of this procedure and argued (along the lines of the traditional feminist critique of allopathic obstetrics) against the medicalization of childbirth.  Here’s KC:

Short version — the enormous rise in C-sections over the past half-century has really not improved maternal/child health and is really more a product of malpractice litigation than medical science. Also, it’s a lot easier for a doc to make his/her tee time if s/he schedules a C-section rather than a vaginal delivery.

And, she is right about that (although perhaps a little flip about the convenience for doctors–I don’t know any OB/GYNs who golf, but wev.)  For those of you who are interested in the history of the standardization of practices in obstetrics (and who isn’t?) see this article by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker from October, 2006.  He writes about how the C-section rose in popularity among a subset of physicians who needed to improve their results and teach large numbers of students a standardized procedure for childbirth, and multiple artful uses of forceps–while elegant–are difficult to teach and standardize:

But if medicine is an industry, responsible for the safest possible delivery of millions of babies each year, then the focus shifts. You seek reliability. You begin to wonder whether forty-two thousand obstetricians in the U.S. could really master all these [specialized forceps delivery] techniques. You notice the steady reports of terrible forceps injuries to babies and mothers, despite the training that clinicians have received. After [the] Apgar [test], obstetricians decided that they needed a simpler, more predictable way to intervene when a laboring mother ran into trouble. They found it in the Cesarean section.

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This procedure, once a rarity, is now commonplace. Whereas before obstetricians learned one technique for a foot dangling out, another for a breech with its arms above its head, yet another for a baby with its head jammed inside the pelvis, all tricky in their own individual ways, now the solution is the same almost regardless of the problem: the C-section. Every obstetrician today is comfortable doing a C-section. The procedure is performed with impressive consistency.

However, I argued that the traditional feminist critique goes too far in pathologizing C-sections, and that it makes the same mistake that OB/GYNs did in the bad old days of pushing one rigid model of a “good” childbirth (i.e. no anaesthetics, no cutting, “all natural,” midwives and doulas only, etc.)  Aside from the fact that many–if not most–C-sections are medically necessary, I argued that

Women are all different, and for some, it’s important to push a baby out the old-fashioned way. For others, it’s not an option unless they’re OK with mutilation and/or delivering a blue baby. For still others, “natural” is not an option they would consider in the first place. So, clearly, it’s too rigid to insist that there’s only one “correct” or “authentic” or “feminist” way to give birth.

The woman whose torturous labor supplied the plot line for Gawande’s article, Dr. Elizabeth Rourke, wanted to do it the all-natural way, without anaesthesia or serious medical or surgical intervention.  Although an allopathic physician herself, like many women who read up on childbirth and plan to take an active role in directing it, she was whipsawed by the pressure she put on herself to have the “ideal” birth, a pressure I think is exacerbated by the Our Bodies, Ourselves depiction of the wonders of so-called “natural” childbirth.  At the conclusion of the article, she said of her childbirth experience,

“I felt like a complete failure, like everything I had set out to do I failed to do,” Rourke says. “I didn’t want the epidural and then I begged for the epidural. I didn’t want a C-section, and I consented to a C-section. I wanted to breast-feed the baby, and I utterly failed to breast-feed.”

However, Historiann must admit to KC and the entire world that she was mistaken about her memory of her edition of OBOS (1984).  Its treatment of C-sections was pretty even-handed, and starts with a quotation that calls them “a sometimes useful and needed technique presently utilized in an undocumented, unclarified and uncontrolled manner,” p. 384.  (A little heavy-handed at the end there, but the editors then immediately describe the operation as “life-saving,” p. 384, so no harm, no foul.)  Where Historiann’s memory was correct was the dim view OBOS takes of anaesthetics and other pain-killing drugs taken in labor and delivery.  That section (on p. 387) starts with the sentence–italicized for urgency–that “every single drug given to the mother during labor crosses the placenta and reaches her baby,” and goes on to say that “no drug has been proven safe for mothers and babies,” p. 387.  (By the way, the two studies they cite as proof of this are dated 1966 and 1970.  I’m pretty sure that things had changed a lot in anaesthesia by 1984, let alone 2008!)  But–guess what?  No drugs have been proven unsafe either!  But they don’t tell you that–they go on to warn grimly that “some infants whose mothers received analgesia and anesthesia during labor and delivery have had retarded muscular, visual and neural development in the first four weeks of life.”  So have a lot of other kids whose mothers had the ideologically correct birth too–because some kids just turn out that way anyway.

This was the crux of my critique of the dominant feminist vision for childbirth:  why does it have to hurt?  Childbirth is the only major (or minor) medical event in the life of the human body where we shoo people (all women, natch!) away from anaesthesia and analgesia.  What’s up with that?  Shouldn’t feminists open up to the ways in which medicine has improved childbirth since Eve bore Cain and Abel?  If you wouldn’t think of getting your teeth drilled or stitches on a cut without at least a little lidocane, why would you think that attempting drug-free childbirth is a really great plan?  Why is it only this medical event, and not the routine minor surgery on men’s genitals, the vasectomy?  Why isn’t there a cult of masculinity built up around having that done “naturally,” without pain relief?  Why is it only women who are asked to prove their womanhood by suffering extreme, incredible, sometimes days-long pain?  (Let me tell you a little about something they don’t tell you about in “prepared childbirth” classes, called “latent labor.”  I call it “all of the pain, none of the progress!”  Dr. Rourke’s latent labor lasted only two days–but I know someone who was in latent labor for five days!  And man, was she pissed off that they didn’t just cut her on day one!)

So, my apologies to KC, and to the editors of my now ready-for-the-rare-books-room copy of OBOS.  The treatment of C-sections was much fairer than I remembered, although the presentation of pain relief during labor was rather one-sided.  But, I’m going to get the newest revision of OBOS–1984?  That was a long time ago.

22 Comments »

June 6th 2008
Bye, Mike!

Posted under jobs & nepotism & wankers

On May 19, Historiann asked about unscrupulous pol and President of West Virginia University Mike Garrison:  “How long will this guy be permitted to circle the drain at WVU?

Well, the answer is about 17 days.  This morning, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that Garrison has announced his resignation, effective September 1.  Why September 1, instead of June 6?  (6/6 is a nice, round date.  It’s the anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, after all.)  Those long, drawn-out good-byes have never made sense to me.  Usually, the Provost steps in as the Acting President.  But–oops!  The Provost resigned in April over scandalous revelation that the university had awarded an unearned M.B.A. to the Governor’s daughter.  So did the Dean of the business school!  So did the university’s general counsel!  So did Garrison’s communications chief!  If anyone is left in the administration at WVU at the end of August, please turn the lights out on your way out the door.

Congratulations to the faculty and alumni at WVU, who really hung together in recognizing that Garrison had to go.  West Virginia is a small state, and they don’t need to buy this kind of trouble.  From the Post-Gazette story:

Since the panel’s report, the faculty has voted twice for his resignation by landslide margins, alumni have called for his ouster, and donors have said their checkbooks are closed until Mr. Garrison leaves. Yesterday, a majority of the tenured faculty of WVU’s law school, where Mr. Garrison earned his law degree, asked him to step down.

Here’s some free advice from Historiann for all of my readers who are administrators, or aspire to university administration:  you really should lead the parade of resignations, not be fifth in line.  Now you’re just prolonging your jerkitude.  Nice job, Mike.

8 Comments »

June 5th 2008
Sorry–no “Women” allowed. Just two implants on stick.

Posted under Bodily modification & fluff & Gender

For a topical follow-up to last night’s review of Anthony Lane’s review of Sex and the City:  The Movie, via Feminist Law Profs, see this story about a remake of The Women starring mostly over-40 actresses.  Apparently, the all-male studio execs at Warner Brothers don’t want to release it.  Surprise!  It’s so much easier for them when the movies star only men, and women play subordinate roles that serve the male characters. 

Maybe Warner Brothers should just make their own digital fembots with big boobies that won’t even need a screen credit, let alone millions of dollars and a cut of the box office!  Real women, with their wrinkly faces, saggy imperfect bodies, and demands to be paid for their work are just too much of a hassle.  (I bet every workplace in America would love to replace their women workers with fembots!) 

 

4 Comments »

June 4th 2008
He no likee

Posted under fluff & Gender & wankers

When last we heard from choad-about-town Anthony Lane, he was writing badly about Tina Fey’s supposed chunkitude.  Now, he hacks up his latest furball on the subject of Sex and the City:  The Movie in the current New Yorker.  Let’s not even mention the hideous caricature of the movie’s main characters (see right.  That’s right, ladies!  If you’re over 40, sign up for Night of the Living Dead!  Anthony Lane can’t believe you were permitted to play anything but the crazy cat-lady who lives downstairs from some fat guy in a Judd Apatow movie!)  This review is fairly dripping with condescension and misogynist bile.  (Hint:  count how many times the word “superannuated” comes up in this review.  He thinks the characters in this movie are disgusting and ridiculous because they’re too old!)

Now, I’m not complaining that Lane didn’t like the movie.  I certainly took issue with the movie’s main plot and resolution, and he’s right about the materialism on display  (but that’s hardly a novel observation.)  I’m complaining about the following displays of contempt for women, like for example:

  1. The review is headlined simply “Carrie,” as in Stephen King’s Carrie.  Oh, ha-ha.  You think you’re the first ones to think of that one?  Terribly clever.
  2. Language like this:  “there are four of them—banded together, like hormonal hobbits, and all obsessed with a ring.”
  3. Or like this:  “I was never sure how funny the TV series was meant to be. It kept lapsing into a straight face, even a weepy one, as the characters’ contentment came under serious threat.”  Yeah, and you feminists need to decide what it is you want.  And, try to get a sense of humor, too!  Imagine that–a TV show (and perhaps one movie, too) that shows women experiencing more than one emotion!  I guess that’s pretty confusing, when women in the movies these days usually have just one of two emotions:  “wife” or “girlfriend.”
  4. Or like this:  “The women in “Sex and the City,” by that standard, are little better than also-rans,” compared to Audrey Hepburn, who was always teeny-tiny, non-threatening, and didn’t do many movies beyond age 40.
  5. Reductive and incorrect assertions like this:  “In short, to anyone facing the quandaries of being a working mother, the movie sends a vicious memo: Don’t be a mother. And don’t work. Is this really where we have ended up—with this superannuated fantasy posing as a slice of modern life?”  Um, well, no.  First of all, the preschoolers in this movie are about as absurdly well-behaved as any fantasy children ever are in the movies.  And secondly–don’t work?  No one quits her job in this movie–I don’t get where that one is coming from.  Finally:  whose fantasy was it in all those movies last year (Juno and Knocked Up) in which a pregnant girl or woman gave birth to children fathered by totally inappropriate losers?  D’you really think that’s every girl’s dream, Anthony?
  6. Insulting and demeaning “quips” like this:  “All the film lacks is a subtitle: ‘The Lying, the Bitch, and the Wardrobe.’”

This from a man who regularly reviews movies that feature–shall we say?–highly idealized masculine fantasies (because that’s all Hollywood has to offer us these days.)  When do we hear about how unrealistic, shallow, or violent characters like James Bond, Indiana Jones, or the Ocean’s Whatever gang are?  Of course they are–but it’s too much to ask any man to watch a movie that might speak to some women’s fantasies and conflicting desires. 

Gee, I wonder:  if Hollywood let women actors work in more than just the “wife” or “girlfriend” mode, and allowed them to play major roles in movies about women’s lives, do you think that we might get a more textured and realistic diversity of women’s lives on the screen?  Just a thought, Anthony.  Haven’t you noticed that no one makes movies any more like the ones you reminisce about in your review–Anna Karenina, All About Eve, and Funny Face–and that it’s hardly all Sarah Jessica Parker’s fault that they don’t.  Those kinds of movies don’t appeal to the 14-24 year old male demographic, maybe because there aren’t enough breast implants and explosions.  Wev.  Back to your regularly scheduled summer movie extravaganza.  (I hear that Speed Racer Kung Fu Panda is so gripping and filled with pathos that it makes Truffaut’s Les Quatres Cent Coups look like Porky’s II!)     

Edited 6/5/08 to include a link to Lane’s review–apologies for the omission!

7 Comments »

June 4th 2008
Wednesday morning quarterbacking–final edition until November!

Posted under American history & Gender & women's history

nast-donkey.jpgMy computer is down for an entirely stupid and preventable reason.  (Hello?  Why haven’t I bought a power cord for both my office and my home office, especially since I live 34 miles from work?  Pretty stupid!)  Historiann reader ej is on the case, and will courier it to me tomorrow.

But, about last night:  Yay, Hillary Clinton won South Dakota!  (South Dakota is taking orders from no one at the DNC apparently.)  Congratulations to Barack Obama for his well-run campaign, and good luck to him as he works on a strategy to unite the party.  As she has said throughout the campaign, Clinton will support the party’s nominee, and she will argue very strongly against any of her supporters who threaten to defect to John McCain.  And as Historiann has said all along, if you don’t vote for the party’s nominee in November, you’re not a Democrat, you’re a cultist.  (But, Democrats don’t take orders happily–they need to be convinced, not ordered around.  Please see the results in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, Puerto Rico, and South Dakota, lest we forget.)

For the record, see Melissa McEwan’s “For the Record.”  (And, then read the sad follow-up she had to post when Obamaniac trolls decided that they couldn’t let feminists have a decent conversation about misogyny in this campaign without showing yet again what’s been wrong all along in this primary season!  Nice work, boys.  Good luck if that’s your strategy for uniting the party!)

UPDATE 6/5/08:  Via Susie at Suburban Guerilla, see this article at RealClearPolitics.  The nut: 

The Clinton people need to recognize that it is not coincidence that Obama’s vote was more efficient. I have discussed this before. Part of this had to do with the fact that the delegate allocation system contains biases that happened to favor Obama. However, part of it had to do with the fact that the Obama campaign had a better understanding of the system. It found the possibilities and made the most of them. What’s more, the Clinton campaign let it do this. Simply put, Obama out-maneuvered Clinton. Clinton supporters need to respect this.

Meanwhile, Obama supporters need to recognize that their candidate is the victor not because he put together a majority coalition, but because he out-maneuvered Clinton. This was a highly intelligent strategy, but it was not a grand feat of majority building. Obama supporters need to recognize that their candidate won not because “the people had their say,” but because his campaign out-smarted her campaign. Accordingly, they need to respect the candidate whom they could not beat in a straight-up fight for votes.

Clintonistas were outmaneuvered by a campaign with a better strategy.  Obamaniacs, don’t act like you won this in a walk.  Don’t act like George W. Bush in 2004 and claim a “mandate” that isn’t yours.

11 Comments »

June 2nd 2008
Historiann.com exclusive: SATCTM, the review!

Posted under fluff & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & race

Well, kids, I finally got away from my endless duties at Historiann.com HQ to see Sex and the City:  The Movie.  And, what can I say?  It was a two-hour-plus excursion to Candy Land for me.  It was also a damn fine character-driven comedy/drama–and how many of those are there out there that don’t star extremely unphotogenic men?  The four main broads in this movie looked like movie stars–and how many movies are there out there that feature adult roles for women in their 40s?  Be warned, if you haven’t seen it yet:  it’s a full three-hanky weeper, much to my surprise.  I’m not sure what the movie would offer someone who’s not already a fan of the show, with an extensive knowledge of each character’s back story, but that viewer is not Historiann.  Anyway, on with the review–spoiler alert!  Don’t click “continue reading” if you don’t want to know!

Continue Reading »

18 Comments »

June 2nd 2008
SATCTM* review: premiering tonight!

Posted under fluff

*Sex and the City:  The Movie

I’ve seen it, and as soon as I instruct the maid in dinner preparations, I’ll be able to let you all know what I think.  I’ll tell all–the fashion, the relationships, the three-hanky weeper scenes!  (But, if you don’t want to know all, I’ll hide the spoilers behind the jump…)

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