Monday, March 31, 2008

Dividing Lines

A lot of things going on at the moment on the theme of race. Things of importance. That I will tackle here, maybe, but I can't help thinking I need to think more first.

And here is a list of what's making me think (yes, most from NYT, but give me a break - tired, just got back from bachelorette party...):
  • A profile of Anthony L. Ricco, the black lawyer from Harlem defending the detectives in the Sean Bell case. The community pressure on him is enormous, and really gets to the heart not just of racial issues, but of the defence lawyer - the question is almost always "How could you?" How, against that animal, that pig, that rapist/monster/murderer? But given how often that divide falls to have a black defendant, the legal divide is at the heart of racial issues. And how a black lawyer really is forced to make political choices and stands in a way that a white defence attorney doesn't really have to. It's really interesting from whatever viewpoint you read it.
  • Why don't Americans like welfare? Well, the question developed here really is Why don't White Americans like welfare? According to some deeply depressing research, it's due to dislike of redistribution of wealth to other races. Which is why the US spends the least money on public spending while paying some of the highest tax burden in the world.
  • A blog I've started reading, Racialicious, has a great but deeply troubling post about reactions to racism. It's something I struggle with - how do you confront people that are saying things you don't agree with? I have a theory for action on it, which I'll talk about later (again, when fully formed). The author is suffering such a burden, it is abominable, and unfair that she feels the burden to answer for her race. Of particular interest is the fact that the burden comes reversed, in a weird way - instead of burden of representation as non-white, her problem (here, at least) is that she appears white and so hears bigoted, disgusting things that most non-whites don't normally have to hear, and then feels responsible for correcting those evils.
  • And this post on biracial identity is extremely interesting. Particularly having read Dreams of My Father, which is beautiful, and also features a really moving afterword about his mother and her influence on Barack and role in shaping his identity.

Random Generator: Mar '08

Well, this was supposed to be a thoughtful post about race, given that I have seen a million different articles that are interesting, provocative and sad. Instead, I'm going to point you to them and instead write about something far more suited to my shallow talents - random generator!
  1. I Want Your Love - Kelis. My love for Kelis diminished after reading her enlightened take on feminism (and yes, she reframed the term, but too late. Seriously, lady, just say YES I am and then say WHY).
  2. Assault on Babylon - Thievery Corporation. Love it, love it. Just love everything about TC - I just wish they'd come back for live stuff - the concert I went to the first time I was in NYC was one of the best things I've ever seen.
  3. Rodney Yates - David Holmes. How apt, having just watched the start of Ocean's Eleven last night, and also talking about that first trip to NYC - we listened to this non-stop in the apartment we rented. Weird how an album can capture both Las Vegas and New York so well, and come from an Irishman. I love that about music, its ability to transcend where you come from.
  4. Red Velvet - OutKast. Outkast I have tons of, should listen to more - it's like Prince doing Hip Hop - both in terms of inventiveness and sound and on all albums, not just The Love Below / Speakerboxxx, but this, Stankonia, too - yet I don't, not enough, anyway. Stupid. But I like this.
  5. On the Block - R.A. The Ruggedman. I quite like R.A. the Ruggedman, who can't quite seem to get over the success of Eminem as being the preeminent white rapper, poor dear. A couple of tunes on this album (Die, Rugged Man, Die) are excellent. Still, not desperately overexcited about him.
  6. To the Sky - Maps. Recommended by a friend, painfully not yet listened to, but I like this. I think I shall try more. Dancey, electronica-influenced rock of a type that I am not yet sick of.
  7. Acid Lab - Alex Reece. I've been getting back into my old school DnB, and jungle and this is from one of my favourite albums of the period, So Far.
  8. Star Me Kitten - R.E.M. Hot damn, remember when the release of a new R.E.M. album was a big deal? Does anyone buy their albums anymore? They have a new one out, and I heard a single (on the guardian's music weekly podcast reviews section), and it was so... underwhelming. Same old, same old. Yet I loved this album. I saw them live on my 16th birthday - although I'd chosen that gig because Blur were supporting. I ate a very disgustingly melted Whole Nut from the machine at the tube station on the way home. It was a good day.
  9. Pump Me Up - Trouble Funk. Off a compilation. I do like me some funk occasionally. And this is funky. When you listen to it it's utterly recognisable, because it's been sampled a great number of times by early 80s hip hop.
  10. Sleep Well Tonight (live) - Gene. I used to love Gene, dammit, their melodramatic posturings and Smiths-lite angst-ridden tunes (and Martin Rossiter's wonderful floppy hair) playing to my teenaged heart. Still, their first album (and this song in particular) still frequent my iPod, and I love it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Listening to Washington Week - a great, wonderful, intelligent programme - I am bothered yet again by certain journalists repeatedly referring to her as "Mrs. Clinton," whereas Obama is "Senator Obama" or "Barack Obama." It's not the first time I've heard it, so I finally looked up the transcript to find out who's doing it. Step forward Todd S. Purdum of Vanity Fair and Michael Duffy of TIME.

Two things: first, Washington Week, you may put in the transcript "Ms. Clinton," but what they said was "Mrs.", whether you want to acknowledge it or not. Second, four times might not seem much, but it's infinitely more than "Mr. Obama" or "Mr. McCain."

Just a thought.

ps I still want BO to win, I think, but am repeatedly confronted with examples, as above, of differentiation in journalistic treatment of the MEN versus the WOMAN.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Think I'm Going To Be Sad...

... I think it's today. And yesterday. And every other day in which I remember the abomination that I saw last night.

I went to a really interesting theatre, saw a couple of one act plays, one directed by a dear friend of mine (with, btw, one of the best names EVER, ever, ever). That wasn't the abomination.

That came after.

I have never watched American Idol, nor the British original. I just haven't got room for that sort of reality show despite my utter incapability of switching off an episode of crap like Charmed* or You Are What You Eat.

Last night, in the bar chosen for the after-play gathering, I unfortunately happened upon Top 12 Do Beatles - so long as you substitute "Do" with any of the following more apt verbs: Massacre, Slaughter, Abominate. There were screens everywhere - it couldn't be escaped. It was honestly one of the most embarrassingly dreadful things I have ever seen - these brats with pretty but bland, vacant and soulless voices annihilating some of the greatest pop and rock songs ever written. It was also insulting to anyone who vaguely appreciates the Beatles. The only kid who did the songs anywhere near justice was the one who rocked out to She's A Woman (one of my favourite tunes and I think criminally underrated). The most awful moments are so hard to choose between: The countrified version of Eight Days a Week; the "soulful" troubadour (he can play! a guitar! wow, he must be awesome! he's a MUSICIAN!) trying to do You've Got To Hide Your Love Away; and the idiot who didn't realise that if you're going to cover Across the Universe, you really should be Rufus Wainwright.

Therefore, to cleanse the dirty feelings of shame and disgust from my system, here's my fave ten Beatles songs of the moment - please, comment in with yours! Also, what are the greatest covers of Beatles songs? Obviously Rufus does a good job, but I'm struggling to think of others right now...
  1. She's a Woman - Paul's voice is so, so, so great on this. And the next two...
  2. Get Back (favourite of ALL TIME)
  3. The Night Before
  4. Ticket to Ride
  5. Norwegian Wood
  6. Carry That Weight
  7. I'll Cry Instead
  8. Blackbird
  9. Twist & Shout (yeah, a cover, but recently saw Ferris again- how can you mess with that?)
  10. I Saw Her Standing There

* Yeah, I said it, outed myself. It can't be helped. I am aware it's not a reality show, by the way. Sort of.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I am somewhat fascinated with the power of names - something my Philosophy prof would have disputed and mocked, having read my essay on Kripke's Naming and Necessity, but that has manifested itself here with my posts on first and sur and awesome combinations (see entry 84). Therefore this article called A Boy Named Sue - and Other Bad Names - in the NY Times caught my eye (on a day when I'm trying to ignore Spitzergate). It details studies on the effects of naming children certain things.
“Names only have a significant influence when that is the only thing you know about the person,” said Dr. Ford, a developmental psychologist at George Mason University. “Add a picture, and the impact of the name recedes. Add information about personality, motivation and ability, and the impact of the name shrinks to minimal significance.”
But the most interesting bit was yet to come:
“Researchers have studied men with cross-gender names like Leslie,” Dr. Evans explained. “They haven’t found anything negative — no psychological or social problems — or any correlations with either masculinity or effeminacy. But they have found one major positive factor: a better sense of self-control. It’s not that you fight more, but that you learn how to let stuff roll off your back.”
So what this study really implies is that calling a boy a more feminine name still means he gets insults, because it's bad to be a girl. Still, at least they're not fighting back. Whereas there are studies showing that women with more "masculine" names - end and possibly start with a consonant sound - do better at science, physics, that ones with "girlier" names - that end and maybe start with a vowel sound.

Also interesting is the behaviour of fathers, indicating that people really should get this out of their system by having pets before children:
[Mr Sherrod, the study director] said the waning influence of fathers might explain why there are no longer so many names like Nice Deal, Butcher Baker, Lotta Beers and Good Bye, although some dads still try.

“I can’t tell you,” Mr. Sherrod said, “how often I’ve heard guys who wanted their kid to be able to say truthfully, ‘Danger is my middle name.’ But their wives absolutely refused.”

But my favourite bit, of course, because I'm juvenile - the listing of unbelievable names that people really, genuinely, think are cool for their children:
even if a bad name doesn’t doom a child, why would any parent christen an infant Ogre? Mr. Sherrod found several of them, along with children named Ghoul, Gorgon, Medusa, Hades, Lucifer and every deadly sin except Gluttony (his favorite was Wrath Gordon).

On the to read list, therefore:

"Bad Baby Names." Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback. Ancestry Publishing, 2008.

"First Names and First Impressions: A Fragile Relationship." K.M. Steele, L.E. Smithwick. Sex Roles, 1989. (PDF)

Effects of Social Stimulus Value on Academic Achievement and Social Competence. M.E. Ford, I. Miura, J.C. Masters. Journal of Educational Psychology, Dec. 1984. (PDF)

"The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names." R.G. Fryer Jr., S.D. Levitt. Quarterly Journal of Economics, Aug. 2004. (PDF)

"The Effect of First Names on Perceptions of Female Attractiveness." W.E. Hensley, B.A. Spencer. Sex Roles, 1985.

"The Psychological impact of names."R.L. Zweigenhaft, K.N. Hayes, C.H. Haagen. Journal of Social Psychology, 1980.

"A Boy Named Sue." Shel Silverstein.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Magic Eight - Balls

Ye gods. The president of Turkmenistan is trying to overcome the decline in population growth from his predecessor's years - due, apparently to increased child mortality - by offering a stipend to the women who bear eight or more children. It doesn't say whether or not they have to bring them up to be adults, or whether, due to that high risk of child mortality, dead under fives are ok. Things that are appalling about this - just in case you needed them pointing out, which I'm sure you don't, but still:
  • Practically, this is an unbelievable risk for women to be put through in a country with high maternal mortality anyway - to ask them to do it eight times is dangerous, when you consider:
    • there are 130 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. To give you an comparison:
      • Ireland - 1;
      • UK - 8;
      • USA - 11.
    • A woman's lifetime risk of maternal mortality is 1 in 290. That's all. Again, in:
      • Ireland 1 in 47,600;
      • UK - 1 in 8,200;
      • USA - 1 in 4,400.
  • Further, you are asking these women to risk the heartbreak of dead children, given that 80 children per 100,000 die. Although, note that more women die from maternity in Turkmenistan than children.
  • Philosophically: women are again required to be subservient to the "needs" of the nation - as they were in the Soviet Union post-World War II - because that is where their true value lies, as baby factories. Never mind that perhaps development of women might lead to a stronger economy? Women earn $3,000 less per year - in Turkmenistan, that amounts to a THIRD less than men.
Free health care, bus travel are also offered if you hit the magic eight. Lucky you, ladies!

Monday, March 03, 2008

What Bwings Us Togevva

Mawwage, or, at least, that's what Peter Cook thinks. My own feelings have been discussed here; and yesterday, in the Observer, came a long piece from Hannah Bett about her reasons for rejecting marriage, which she lists as: atheism; feminism; suspicion of the intervention of the state in private matters; and, what seems to be the refusal to close off the possibility of sex and love with other people.

Yet despite the internal recognition I feel on reading this, it appears somewhat... naive? Unrealistic? It's certainly not the full picture. In contrast stands the Guardian article earlier this week which discussed - anecdotally, at least - the large numbers of long-term non-marrying couples who are suddenly tying the knot. While Bett cites, to prove her point, last year having the lowest number of marriages in Britain since 1896, those figures sadly do not cite how long the couple was together before they got married, and there seems to be little empirical data on this. Anecdotally, I suppose my own experiences suggest that people are getting married after building solid platforms - long-term cohabitation, establishing careers. This year alone, of the five weddings of my mates that I know of, three of the couples have been together longer than five years.

Rather than the threshold being the first step, marriage has become the final step to adulthood. And, divorce rates are falling, in my opinion, at least, for the very reasons Bett cites for not getting married - feminism, because women are equals with economic power to such a greater extent that they are entering marriages with equals, and atheism's influence in that people don't think they're going to hell if they try out this relationship before certifying it.

So what to believe? The major problem with long-term cohabitation is the legal architecture that has promoted marriage for centuries - the shoring up of assets, tax breaks, inheritance issues. For centuries, women were utterly unprotected and were not just unable to own property, but were it themselves. Finally, women have some form protection, but the only way to do that would be through marriage. What Bett fails to deal with in her article is the very real worry of what happens to the assets, the children, everything if something goes wrong - be it separation or death. This bizarrely, therefore, reduces marriage to what it always was for many long-term couples - not a proof of romantic love but a pragmatic solution to property. However, I guess the romance for me comes into the notion of protecting your loved ones. So, some progress.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


So, David Cameron wants to have the abortion limit in Britain curtailed to twenty weeks. Last year, there was a medical and scientific hearing in the House of Commons to discuss shortening the limit. Conclusively proved - that there was no need to do this. Yet, he's started spouting it again. Feministe kindly provided a link whereby you could email him to point out your opposition. So I did.

The response from Mr. Cameron? Not that he bothered to do it himself, but I quote his Correspondence Secretary:

Dear Grace,

Many thanks for your email regarding abortion.

David Cameron believes this is an issue of conscience and not one he would ever want to see becoming party political.

David personally believes that we should review the abortion limit in the light of developments in medical science and technology. He would support a modest reduction from 24 weeks.

Of course, this response sums up my two points I made in the original email to him. First, I'm also extremely puzzled how the House of Commons hearing's scientific testimony and conclusions - despite attempts to stuff the Committee with anti-abortion activists - can simply be ignored by Mr. Cameron in this instance. But, I suppose, so long as he personally believes it that's fine. Just like personally believing the sun goes around the earth, I suppose.

Second, and more worryingly, it's a matter of conscience for him because it's women's rights; it doesn't matter what medical or scientific evidence has been presented to show that it is not a necessary reduction. You can screw over women because it's what you think is the right thing to do. Can you imagine ignoring scientific evidence because you thought it was a matter of conscience whether or not you thought you should use synthetic blood, for example. Strange how conscience doesn't mean protecting women and keeping it safe and legal.

When I pointed this out, no one bothered replying. 'Nuff said.

Which is where we come to Bill. Bill, Bill, Bill. I have loved him for many years, but recently been going through a "hmm, maybe Clinton effed up an awful lot more than I believed at the time, and we just idolise him because GWB is such a dreadful person." But this video - described in RH Reality Check's excellent podcast (which I cannot recommend highly enough) - reminded me just why he is loved by us progressives. Sigh.