Thursday, June 29, 2006

In which I praise every member of parliament

Don't worry it won't happen often.

Yesterday parliament voted unanimously to send Sue Bradford's Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Bill to the select committee. At the moment women in prison are able to keep their babies with them until they are six months old; this bill would make it possible for a baby to stay with its mother until they were two years old.

It should suprise no-one that I think this is a good idea (and that it doesn't go far enough since I'm generally against almost everything to do with the 'justice' system) - I'm impressed . A lot of people are calling for 'more information and research'. I can't imagine what research you'd need. All this bill does is mean that the corrections department can allow a seven month old baby to still breast-feed. If you believe that there's even a tiny fraction of situations where the child would be better off with their mother in jail, than with other people outside - you should support the bill.

Talking of private members bills, NZ First, Maori Party and United Future appear to be responding to the union movement's organising against the 90 day bill. Isn't it a shame that the union movement doesn't mobilise similar pressure to actually advance workers rights, even in a relatively minor way such as abolishing youth rates.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I don't even know who's on the team

Trevor Loundon has new 'joke':

Heard about the new "Doggie Style" for married couples?

Hubby kneels and begs. Wife rolls over and plays dead.
Reminds me of a 'joke' David Farrar posted a few months back:
Q: Why did the man have sex with a mannequin?

A: He just thought she was British :-)
Aren't they just hilarious? Aren't you rolling on the floor splitting your sides with laughter? Isn't the idea that sex is something men do to women just that funny? Don't you find the idea of women having sex they don't want just the most amusing thing ever?

We're told that our bodies are disgusting; we're told to shave, pluck and starve if we're have any hope of anyone ever desiring us; we're told that our desirability is the most important quality we posessess; we're told that having sex makes us a 'slut'; we're told the things we must do to avoid rape; we're told we asked for it; we're told that contraception is our responsibility; we're told it doesn't matter if the pill kills our libido; we're told 1,500 different ways to make sure he enjoys himself; we're told to ignore our desires; and we're told what sex positions will stop us from looking fat.

Then we're laughed at for not wanting sex enough.

In his speech to Equality Now Joss Whedon said that the misogyny of our culture was sucking something from the soul of every man and woman on the planet. I certainly feel like that today. I'm glad the women involved in the fascinating discussion of sex at Bitch Phd are collectively demonstrating that women are people, even during sex, but unfortunately those discussions don't have the same impact as the 'jokes'.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Motherhood Wage

There's been another big kerfuffle about Linda Hirschman - an American philosopher who I called capitalist radical feminism last time round. She's defended herself, and in doing so says "I said that the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings."

This pisses me off on so many levels and I'm not going to dignify most of them with a response. But in this world there is shit that needs to be cleaned, food that needs to be provided, clothes that need to be sewn. Every single thing in your house was made by people, and most of it involves repetitive work that is not enough for the full-time and talents of any human being.

I believe that we should each do a bit of that work. We should each do some of the repetitive work that is required to make and maintain things, and we should certainly all do some of the incredibly varied and important work that is required to make and care for people.* I believe that we should all do our share these forms of work, and that if we did we would also all have the opportunity to develop our skills, interests and passions, and that wouldn't be limited to a few.

For me, part of changing that is make sure the work that has traditionally done by women, the work of reproduction is recognised and respected not just with words but with resources. So I'm going to talk about a motherhood wage. I'll start with South America. Article 88 of the Venezualan constitution says

The State guarantees equality and equity between men and women in the exercise of their right to work. The State recognizes work in the home as an economic activity that creates added values and produces social welfare and wealth. Housewives are entitled to Social Security.**
Hugo Chavez has just increased the resources Venezuala provide to single mothers, and other women who do caring work (via Super Baby Mama). I think this is an important, feminist, step in the right direction.

New Zealand came reasonably close to introducing a motherhood wage in the early 1970s. A motherhood wage was one of the central demands of the early women's liberation movement. When the Kirk government came in they thought they'd give it a go, but the amount they offered was so low that they were basically laughed at and they backed away.

There are all sorts of problems with demanding a parenting wage under our capitalism. Unless wages were paid as part of a package that also included free child-care it would make returning to other forms of work really financially difficult and any money offered would be a complete pittance compared to what the work actually required.

But I believe that raising children should not be treated as a hobby. People who are raising children are doing incredibly important work, they shouldn't have to do it in isolation, and they should be provided resources, just like the people who do other important work in society - like advertising executives.

* I have a friend who believes that after we over-throw capitalism all the work will be done by robots, and all we'll have to do is watch the robots every so often. I replied that he's ignoring all the work that involves caring for people and so would not be able to be done by robots (so he doesn't do that any more) - other friends threaten to form a robot liberation front - this is what happens when Marxists and Anarchists argue.

** Thanks to Ampersand for explaining to me how awful America's social security system is. Social democracy may have some serious flaws, but the united states definately missed out on all the good bits.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Green and pleasant land

I'd like to apologise to English Marxists - I'm officially supporting England in the soccer world cup, England and the runner up of Group H (either Ukraine or Tunisia). We had our soccer world cup pool at work today (we didn't have enough people to do the full 32 teams), and if England wins I get $50. Which seems like the best reason to support a team that I've ever heard.

The politics of Firefly and Serenity

Think of your favourite political movement, right now think of your favourite television executive producer.

See given the subject of this blog means that I'm guessing a fair number of people came up with feminism and Joss Whedon. Well guess what? You can combine the two in special fundraising screenings of Serenity for Equality Now. Go see if there's one near you. You can also combine the two by watching Joss's speech to Equality Now, where he answers the question he gets asked most often half a dozen different ways. Go watch it now (or if you're on dial-up like me - start down-loading it) - I'll wait.

I thought I'd honour these events by writing about the politics (OK I'm a geek and I have many different theories about the politics of Joss Whedon shows and I'll go into them at a moments notice).

I think the politics of the television show are quite distinct from the politics of the movie. The movie says something - and we can argue about what that is, but it's message is in the plot of the movie. The politics of the television show are less direct, they're more about the world that was created, and less about the narrative of the individual episodes.

Live Free or Die

I first got involved with activism in university when I was 19. It was 1997 and the National government was looking to corporatise university education. A whole bunch of other people got involved with me - it was new and exciting. I was young, innocent and inexperienced. I remember having a conversation about politics with a Marxist, who seemed very grown-up to me, but now I think about it he was probably only 22. Anyway we were talking about our local social democractic party of the time the Alliance* social democracy and he said something like this:

In a way we agree with the National party - the country couldn't afford free education and free health care, and all the rest of the Alliance's policies [the Alliance was NZ's social democratic party for a while there]. If the government introduced policies that radical then the capitalists would disinvest. Government's have to run the country in the interests of capital.
Only he said it a little bit more annoyingly because he was a member of the International Bolshevik Tendency. Now I'm a little bit older now, and basically agree with what he said.

What does this have to do with Firefly? Well I think the politics of Firefly are a little bit like that - I think the Firefly can sustain either a libertarian or an anti-capitalist reading relatively easy - but I'm not sure the world they portray is particularly consistent with social democracy (or liberalism - if the term means much to you).

Now obviously I prefer the anti-capitalist reading, but I'll go briefly into the libertarian reading, which I think is pretty self-explanatory. On Firefly the government is generally portrayed as the bad guy. The basic aim of the captain of the ship is to stay away from the government and stop them meddling in his life. I'm not at all surprised that libertarians can find the show appealling. I strongly suspect that Tim Minear leans towards libertarian politics, and that doesn't surprise me (Tim Minear is the show-runner of Firefly who is not my secret tv boyfriend).

There are some serious problems with the libertarian reading - most importantly because no-one in the 'verse takes private property particularly seriously.

The Materialist 'verse

I think (and I don't think this is particularly controversial) that the 'verse is a capitalist one. I also think that capitalism doesn't work for poor people in the 'verse (just like it doesn't work for poor people in the real world). We see people dying from work in the mines, because they're not safe, we see the desperation of unemployment and we see capitalists using indentured labour owning a company town. These are real world problems, caused by real world capitalism. Joss set it up this way describing it as a world where there were laser guns, but not everyone could afford them.

This is more important than it should be. Most television denies any material reality for its characters. Grace Paley said that when you're writing you should remember that all your characters have blood and money. For most TV characters money isn't a reality, they have a bigger apartment and wardrobe than someone on their salary could ever afford, and whenever the writers get bored and decide to introduce a money based plot it is ridiculously unrealistic. On Firefly money, and class were real - they affected people's lives and were the driving force in much of the plot.

This isn't particularly radical (in the real world, it's possibly quite radical on television). But I do think it makes an anti-capitalist reading consistent with the text. It'd be radical if it offered a solution, and it does - for a second - from Jaynestown (my favourite episode):
If the mudders are together on a thing, there's too many of us to be put down...
It's not quite a call to the barricades, but it's a sign that at least some of the writers of Firefly live in the same world I do.

The Alliance

That's the radical left reading and the radical right reading - it's the social democrat reading that is most problematic. The Alliance, the government in the 'verse, is not neutral - it maintains the power structures, and fights imperialist wars. Now this makes perfect sense to libertarians, because they believe that governments suck (although I've no idea what they think about imperialism, because litertarianism never made any sense to me - the only libertarian I've ever liked was Laura Ingalls Wilder). It makes sense to most left-wing radicals because we believe that the state tends to work in the interests of people with power, particularly the ruling class. It's problematics for liberals and social democrats, because at best they have to believe that the state can be neutral.

Big Damn Movie

Serenity is slightly different. Not because the state is presented any more positively - poisoning people and creating unimaginable horrors is hardly neutral. In our comments someone described it as an 'anarcho-libertarian' - and I might agree, but I don't consider that a compliment. The show has become about the small guys beating the big guys, not by building their strength through numbers, but by being smart and lucky. I enjoyed it, but it didn't ring particularly true to me.

I prefer the indirect, realistic, politics of the show, to the straight-up, fantastic, politics of the movie. Give me Jaynestown over Serenity - I think I would have preferred Serenity if it had been told over a season - I think it would probably have been less fantastic that way (or maybe I just prefer TV to movies).

Also published on Alas

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Women are really neat people

The head-line comes from Carol Hanisch's brilliant article 'The Personal is Political'. If you haven't it read it yet I recommend that you do that now, because I'm going to be talking about it. One of the themes for the latest feminist carnival at Bitch|Lab (which this post is probably too late for) is Carol Hanisch's article:

Given what Carol Hanisch originally meant by the phrase, “the personal is political,” how do you see your work as a continuation of what Hanisch and some of our early second wave foremothers envisioned?
There has been a bit of a bit of a debate among feminists blog-writers, about blow-jobs. I don't want to write about that, but I do want to write about the way in which feminist analysis looks at women's lives, both individually and collectively, and what relationship that has to the sort of action we take.

The first thing I want to say, the first thing I always want to say. Is that 'the personal is political' doesn't mean what so many people seem to think it means. In fact, that wasn't exactly what Carol Hanisch was saying. What she was saying was:
One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.
If I start posting that every-day and twice on Sundays it's only because I agree with every word. So now I've got my regular rant about collective action (or actually got Carol Hanisch to do it for me), I want to talk about some of the other things Carol Hanisch had to say. The pro-woman line
This is part of one of the most important theories we are beginning to articulate. We call it “the prowoman line.” What it says basically is that women are really neat people. The bad things that are said
about us as women are either myths (women are stupid), tactics women use to struggle individually (women are bitches), or are actually things that we want to carry into the new society and want men to share too (women are sensitive, emotional). Women
as oppressed people act out of necessity (act dumb in the presence of men), not out of choice. Women have developed great shuffling techniques for their own survival (look pretty and giggle to get or keep a job or man) which should be used when necessary until such time as the power of unity can take its place.
To me there are two really important points here the first is the usefulness of looking at many of the things women do in our society as survivial strategies, and the other is the futility of giving up those survival strategies without having something to replace them with.*

I think it's probably easiest to explain what I think Carol Hanisch means if I talk specifics - so I'm going to look at women's relationship with food and their bodies, and how that is, so often, a survival strategy.

Sometime in the late 1990s a Wellington feminist group organised an eat-in picnic in the waiting room of a local Jenny Craig on international no-diet day. I didn't know about it, so I didn't go, but I'm really glad that I didn't. I think it crosses the line between blaming structures and blaming people. I'm not prepared to participate feminist action that implies that feminists are different and better from most poor deluded women.

In Travelling Mercies Anne Lamott talks about being bullimic. She was very hostile when she first started talking about this with her therapist, and her therapist told her - "I'm not going to take your bulimia away from you." Eating disorders, eating disordered behaviour, and the many different meanings we give to food are all survival strategies.** Sometimes these strategies are really simple. If you're an actress in a TV series and you want to get a film role the more weight you drop the more likely you are to get the role. Most of them are a lot more complicated - this post is already to long for me to go into a detailed analysis of food and having or losing control, but for most women I know it's about far more than just the fact that we live in a culture has a problem with us taking up space(and quite frankly that's hard enough to deal with).

Anyway my point is that blaming individual women for the role they play in conforming to and maintaining all this is next to useless. It's no good trying to take people's eating disordered behaviour away from them, unless we have something better to offer.

I don't want to pretend that it's easy. The way most women talk about food upsets and depresses me. I've seen the domino effect of serious eating disordered behaviour first hand. I'm pretty sure that discussions with other women about food that assign it moralistic qualities play an important role in maintaining eating disorder behaviours among groups of women. I hate it when I see it happening around me - and it does every day. I make snippy comments, I make direct comments, I roll my eyes, I silently fume - I do completely unhelpful things in many different situations. I don't mean to blame women, and intellectually I know not to, but sometimes I get overwhelmed with the awfulness of the role women play in upholding this system.

But I've had discussions that I think are useful. I've had discussions with other women that make us feel that we were building something that might offer an alternative. Not now, obviously, now it's just a handful of women, but we're trying to take these conversations wide, we're trying to write about what we're saying. I don't see this as action in the form of protest - but I do see it as the beginning of organising. If we're going to organise, we need to be able to make ourselves strong.

I don't think building our strength is enough, but it's a necessary precondition for making any sort of change. There are many, many institutions that uphold , and we can attack them and we should attack them (Dove beauty products - you're first up against the wall). But if what we do has any meaning, we have to be strong enough that we offer another survival strategy to women.

That's the role that I see Carol Hanisch's ideas play in the work that I do. That my starting point is not blame women, but trying to build alternatives, and acknowledge that we can only struggle meaninfully once we have built strength. Whenever I think of any of the issues that seem most problematic within feminism, this approach makes things easier.

I think there is some danger that this sort of analysis leads to the sort of paralysis that comes when feminists talk as if 'choice' was the most important thing for women. I used the word 'actions' rather than 'choices' in this post, and I've did that deliberately. To me the point of feminism isn't to give women choices, but to make sure that we don't have to make them. We don't have to be virgins or whores, or career women or housewives. We have to make shitty choices every single day - for me the point of feminism isn't to celebrate shitty choices, but make sure we don't have to choose.

But I don't think it has to - I think we can see actions women take as survival strategies - as long as we acknowledge that our eventual goal is to be organised enough to challenge these things that women need to survive from.

My point in making this discussion isn't to say I think I have all the answers - I don't. But if I'm going to talk about feminist analyses of our lives with other women I need to know that we're starting at the same place. I need to know that they believe that women are neat people.

It's fine that other feminists disagree with me, it's fine that other feminists think that some women are dupes of the patriarchy - but if I'm going to have conversations with people that think like that I need to talk directly about our differences towards the meaning of indivdiual women's actions in our society - not about blow-jobs.

* In this discussion I'm talking entirely about situations where women don't have power. In a situation where women have power, over other women or over men, I think we need a totally different sort of analysis. I used to wear a t-shirt saying "Jenny Shipley is not my sister" back when Jenny Shipley was prime minister - and if only I had one I'd wear a similar t-shirt now. But that's a discussion for a different post.

** I've written before about why I find the idea of privilege problematic when talking about thin women - for most women I've known - of any size - food and their bodies, and the relationship between the two hasn't got much to do with power or privilege.

Monday, June 19, 2006

I don't understand why anyone cares about the Democrats: Post #1 in an occasional series

There are a lot of strange things about reading political blogs of another country. But for me the weirdest is that I'll be reading a really interesting new blog that seems to have a reasonable analysis and then, out of nowhere, they'll mention the US Democrat party in vaguely complimentary way. Now I will make clear that I believe that talking about the US Democrat party without swearing is too complimenary. But I don't understand why sensible intelligent people who seem to have some analysis engage with the Democrat party at all.*

So I thought I'd start an occasional series where I talked about how much the Democrats sucked, and put forward reasons why people might still pay them attention (I know the general population doesn't - the general population have realised that the Democrats aren't worth voting for and so generally don't vote - but people on the left).

I'm going to start by looking at a myth I find quite common among any discussion of the Democrats - the myth of the good old days. Apparently there was some time in the past where Democrats were better than they are today, where they stood for something. I just don't buy it, and so I'm going to have a quick jaunt through the history of recent Democrat US Presidents in an effort to find out when this golden age could have occured. Now I'll be clear that I'm no expert in American political history (Carter in particular I don't know much about, but to be fair I don't think a lot of other people do either). Most of what I know about presidents I know because I've read about people protesting against them, but it's a starting point.

Clinton: Now I realise that at the time everyone on the left hated him - and welfare reform would be more than enough reason. Possibly his slogan to go down in history as a good president could be: "I just bombed and starved Iraq." But I won't spend too much time on him, because most people acknowledge how right-wing he is.

Carter: He was the one who signed the Hyde Ammendment into law. American's haven't had any right to abortion since that happened. I believe that if Roe vs. Wade gets over-turned it will not be as big a shift in the abortion landscape as the Hyde Ammendment. When 'women have a right to an abortion' became 'women with money have a right to an abortion', then any further differences such as 'women with money to travel to states where abortion is legal have a right to abortion' are just differences in scale, not a difference in kind.

LBJ: "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" and if that didn't instantly disqualify him from being a candidate for a good president, then the fact that he choose the segreationists over the freedom fighters at the 1964 convention should be more than enough.

At the SNCC national headquarters they had a poster that said "There's a town in Mississippi called Freedom, there's a street in Birmingham called Equality, there's a department in Washington called Justice." (well I may have got the towns and the street wrong but you get the idea). They were talking about LBJ's and Bobby Kennedy's justice department.

JFK: Like LBJ only prettier, creating more problems with Cuba, and without the commitment to social justice.

Truman: Hiroshima and Nagasaki

(also a lot of red-baiting and life-ruining was as much the result of Truman's policy as it was McCarthy's personal vendetta).

Roosevelt: I think, generally, Roosevelt is what people are talking about when they idealise the Democrats. But the first thing people must remember that until the 1960s the Democrats were the party of segregation. Roosevelt's party was the party that enforced Jim Crow. Roosevelt's policies - such as the New Deal or desegregating the army were the bare minimum to dampen resistence.

But it's not just the many things he didn't do that make Roosevelt a bad president. He was the man who ordered that Japanese-Americans be rounded up and put into camps.

Bombing the shit out of a number of places, starting a land-war in Asia, making life worse for women, poor people, and those who weren't white, these are not the actions of people we call friends. Those are not actions that can be forgiven. If these were the actions of the good old days of the Democratic party god help us now if we depend on them in any way.

* I'm not talking about voting for them - I take a very calculating approach to voting and can imagine situations where I might think of voting for a Democrat candidate. I mean paying them any attention, and talking about them as if they were part of the left or particular campaigning for them.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A borning movement

JoAnn Robinson, Ella Baker, Fanny Lou Hamner, Diane Nash, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, David Richmand, Michael Schwerner, Andy Goodman, James Chaney, Julian Bond, Ruby Doris Robinson, Mary King, Casey Hayden, John Lewis, James Farmer and Bob Moses.

Those are just some of the names that I remember. There were so many more people involved in the civil rights movement than Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.*

There was an interesting discussion on Alas about animal rights protesters, and the appropriateness of comparing them to the civil rights movement. My feelings about this were made clear when Hugo Schwyzer compared something (I'm still not sure what) to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

I consider my knowledge of the civil rights movement barely adequate to write something about that movement on my blog. But I have decided to try because those with power, from the president of the united states down, have co-opted the Civil Rights movement - and what it stood for. Part of that is presenting a wartered down, simplified version of its history, and concentrating a few leaders, rather than the people who actually did the work.

For me the hope that I need to continue fighting comes from realising that people have fought and won before - that I am just one link in an incredibly long chain. We can't maintain that chain unless we know, preserve and fight for our own history.

So when Hugo talks about every movement needing it's Malcolm Xs and it's Martin Luther Kings. I just despair. The two myths of the civil rights movement that deradicalise it the most are the idea that Rosa Parks was just tired that day, and the idea that the movement was some sort of spectrum between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. This just isn't true, in the 1950s and 1960s there was a much more complicated range of views about America's racist society and what to do about it than the popular image of these two men.

But it's more than that, I believe that political movements can survive without Martin Luther Kings and Malcolm Xs. A movement does not stand or fall on charasmatic speakers, and leaders. The most important people in the civil rights movement were not the people you've heard of, but the people who haven't.

By focusing on the leaders and the speeches, the work those in the movement did is forgotten. It was door knocking, and organising, not great speeches, that created a movement. It was tiring, dangerous, hard work, that many people subsumed their life to.

On Alas people were talking about the lessons of the civil rights movement. I'm sure there are many different lessons, but for me the most obvious one, is the one that official history tries to hide. The Civil Rights movement was founded on collective action and understood that the only power we have is when we work together. That's why I think it's important that we stop repeating the myths about the civil rights movement.

If you don't know anything more about the civil rights movement than what you've picked up by osmosis, then then do some reading, before you write about it. Civil Rights Movement Veterans is an amazing starting point. Hundreds of people who were involved in the movement have started to write about their experiences on the site itself, and it has a huge bibliography and set of links for people who want to know more (if you can beg, borrow or steal a copy of SNCC: The New Abolotionists by Howard Zinn then I would highly recommend doing so).

If you do know something about the civil rights movement (and I would expect that both Hugo Schwyzer and Vegankid do) then act like it. Stop making it the cliche to which everything else is compared, instead talk about the movement when you have something of substance to say.

Been up all night cleaning to earn her daily bread

The Clean-start for cleaners campaign has caused quite a debate on indymedia and I agree with most of the criticisms. I absolutely support the cleaners in organising for better wages and conditions. I also think targeting building owners is an excellent idea, because subcontracting is the scourge of cleaning, and other sorts of low-paid work. But, as well as the reservations already expressed on indymedia, I'm not convinced by the clean start campaign's rhetoric around 'raising cleaning standards'.

I understand where the union's demand comes from . It's often incredibly frustrating to people who are trying to do a job well that the boss won't roster on enough people, or provide enough equipment. I've been in many meetings in many different sorts of jobs where people have complained about how they can't do their job properly, because of the policy of the bosses. Cleaning contractors are a classic example of this, because they are always trying to cut costs and win the contract so they'll have fewer and fewer workers covering more and more work area. This means that buildings don't get cleaned properly, and the cleaners are often blamed, although it is the fault of the companies.

But I think cleaners should assert their visibility by basing the campaign around their needs, not on the needs of buildings.

In other industrial news I have this to say about the DHB's who are refusing to meet the junior doctor's demand for safer working hours:

It's a sad day when people with a duty of care to save lives feel its necessary to hold thousands of patients to ransom
It turns out that the DHBs said it first, and they were talking about the junior doctors, but I know who I think it most applies to.

Edited to add: Kevin a junior doctor from the Waikato has an excellent blog that explains many of the important issues that the media can't (or won't).

Friday, June 16, 2006

Equality Now

The regular reader of this blog might be aware that I'm a feminist and like Joss Whedon. Well you wouldn't have to be that frequent a reader, since the first three things you learn about this blog are that I don't like capitalism, I do like feminism, and I'm inclined to quote Joss Whedon without any provocation. I'm also fairly sure that there are people who read my my blog who like both Joss Whedon and feminism.

You might be interested to know that fundraising showings of Serenity are being held in Auckland (e-mail, Wellington and a few other cities.

I don't know anything about the charity involved - Equality Now (except that I think it was formed by a former pupil of Joss's mother - it is possible that I should have used the part of my brain where I stored that information for something a tad more practical) - but it's got to be better than giving money to Universal. If you haven't already seen Serenity don't you want to watch it again? If you haven't seen it, then doesn't my overanalysis make you kind of wish you had?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Worker-friendly government?

At the last election the union movement put a lot of energy promoting voting for a worker-friendly government after the election. Yesterday Michael Cullen had this to say:

We cannot afford large wage and salary increases across the board. Equally we can't afford to lose highly skilled staff which are necessary for the maintenance of economic development. Unfortunately that does mean you can't expect wage and salaries to compensate you for what are major shifts in relative prices over which we ourselves have no control.
Idiot/Savant points out the sheer hypocrisy of Michael Cullen accepting an 8.1% pay-rise. That's not my main objection, my main objection is that Michael Cullen claimed that the government was doing its part by holding firm against the demands of the junior doctors and the radiographers (and the junior doctors aren't even striking over wage claims so he's factually incorrect on top of everything else).

This is not a worker friendly government, it never has been, and it was never going to be.

Edited to add: The Council of Trade Unions is taking exactly the sort of hard-line stance you would expect them to take - Unions React to Wage Restraint Call. I bet business is quailing in their shoes at the thought that the unions are reacting.

The most offensive plot-line in Grey's Anatomy 2:19

This may become a regular feature. It almost certainly is if this show is the best TV has to offer right now, and I keep on watching it. Tonight's episode was called Yesterday

Given that every single relationship plot-line pissed me off and offended me, you'd think it'd be a hard decision. Am I most pissed off about the way Burke's condescending speech to Cristina was supposed to be attractive? Or possibly the idea that you can tell much a guy likes you by whether or not he punches out another guy for talking to you? Or just the existence of McDreamy?

Luckily the writers spared me having to choose, by concocting the most offensive B-plots that I have ever watched (and I have watched a whole bunch of television). I hated the plot from the first moment it was on screen, and it just went down-hill from there. A young male patient called Jake had craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, or lionitis, which is a disease where you get tumors on your face. Cristina, despite being a fucking health care profession stares at him because he looks funny. He replies in a sassy but wise way, because disabled people's rolein this world is to teach people that they're human, and there's no reason they'd resent this, instead they endlessly give out joy and specialness into the world.

As if his illness wasn't enough Jake then has the unfortune to get involved in the great McDreamy plot, and even worse McDreamy's pissing contest with McSteamy (if you don't watch the show - all you need to know is that both these men are dicks). McSteamy is a plastic surgeon who offers to fix his face. But then in order to prove that McDreamy is better than McSteamy they kill off the guy with lionitis on the operating table.

So this disabled character was created to maintain stereotypes, and then killed to service the most annoying love triangle ever created. He never got to be a person, he was just his disability and the lessons that his disability could teach us all.

That's not even the worst of it - after Jake dies they perform the plastic surgery anyway on his dead body, in order so that he can look 'normal'. Because obviously that's worth dying for.

So just in case any of my readers are as stupid as the Grey's anatomy writers - disabled people are people. If you're incapable of treating those who look different from you as people - then that's something you're going to have to deal with. There are no plot-devices to teach you lessons in real life. So don't expect people you can't be bothered to treat as people to give you little lessons, expect them to hate you.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


When I wrote a throw-away post about the soccer world cup I didn't realise that there was a debate raging on English Socialist blogs about the political implications of supporting England. They seem to be arguing as if there was a correct dialectic materialist analysis of what team to support.

Some people think that the correct line is to support the English team:

The gist of our argument was that football is followed by millions of people, who follow the players in the premiership, and want to follow those same players at the highest international level. It should also be remembered that interest in the World Cup is also huge even when England don’t qualify.

The English national team (in 1990 as today) is multi-racial, with talented black players, and the team celebrates the multi-cultural nature of England today. In 1998 when France won the World Cup, the face of North African Arab, Zinadine Zidane was projected onto the Arc d’Triumphe, and the racist FN who had denounced the national team as mongrels had ash in their mouths.
Others disagree:
Personally, I think every English socialist who supports England when they play teams like Trinidad - former colonies of Britain - or say Iran - which we are gearing up to attack - deserves ridicule if not utter contempt. The position of 'Anyone But England' is only 'laughable' if one thinks that the English ruling class are somehow too 'backward' or 'ill-educated' to make a socialist revolution here. In fact it is the only principled position one can have - the colour of the socialist flag is red - or, for the next month or so, perhaps red and black
I have to say that I find this whole debate a little odd. I don't think there's anything wrong with supporting a team for political reasons - as I said I supported Senegal for beating France, and Ireland because one of the guys did back-flips, but I don't think it's mandatory. There are many reasons for people on the New Zealand left to hate the All Blacks, and that's certainly my view. But if someone I knew loved rugby and wanted the All Blacks to win whenever they're playing, then I don't think that's a problem with their politics.

Not supporting a particular sports team for political reasons seems a little like boycotting a particular petrol station, without even the possibility of economic effects of a boycott (in case you can't tell from my sarcastic voice, I think boycotting a particular brand of petrol is a spectacular waste of time). It's exactly the sorts of individualistic, ineffective, faux-political action that I ususally join with Marxists in mocking.

But that's not even my main problem. I've never been a sports fan, I've never followed a team. I've always done what middle class white-girls are supposed to do instead, and got those kicks from television (I think everything I say about the power of serial storytelling is true of sports teams - even though there's no actual story involved). But I can see the appeal, I can see it wouldn't take much for me to follow a sports team obsessively.

I can see why sports teams could give people joy. I can see how following England could give people joy, even English Marxists, and I think people should take that joy when it's available.

I have found joy in the strangest places, and I'm going to confess one of them tonight, to explain I think English Marxists should support whoever they damn well want to in the soccer world cup.

I imagine most left-wing activists can remember what they were doing in early 2003. For those of us who were against the war in Iraq it was a combination of meetings and protests and banner paintings, and more meetings, and more protests, and discussions on e-mail lists (I was also trying to finish my thesis).

We had our meetings on Monday nights and they were huge long affairs, when they were done I'd walk home up the hill, turn on the television, and watch the episode of American Idol that I'd missed because I was at the meeting. America was about to invade another country and I got great pleasure from watching one of the worst and most nationalistic American reality TV shows.

I'm glad I watched American Idol, I'm glad it gave me some joy (god knows I needed some back then). I'd accept every criticism people made of it, and I made a fair few myself, but I still enjoyed watching it.

Everything produced under capitalism is corrupted, sports, music, films, television, literature, art - it's all got a role to play in maintaining our economic system, and it's all created as part of our economic system.

But there has to be room for us to love these things, because loving media, loving stories, loving suspence, even caring for people we don't know, that's all part of humanity. When we have won in the past it's because we manage to harness the part of us that loves, with the part of us that thinks, and fight together. I think mocking people for getting joy from a sports team denies a part of us that we're going to need.

What happens after

Idiot/Savant sent me a link from the Sydney Morning Herald:

SOME Aboriginal victims of assault are locked up for outstanding minor charges after reporting domestic and sexual assault to police, discouraging women from reporting offences.

In one case last year, a woman went to a Sydney police station after being raped, only to be held in a cell overnight on an outstanding warrant, the Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre, in Marrickville, reported.
This sort of stuff shouldn't surprise me. Intellectually I know that it happens, I know that women get treated like shit, I know that black poor women get treated most shittily. But whenver I hear a story like this it really does shock me. I think it's because the individual stories make things real to me. I imagine her life, I imagine what that night in jail would have been like.

But Australia isn't the only country fucking over rape survivors. They've released new sentancing guidelines for convicted rapists in Britain.
The council advises judges that “date rape” or “acquaintance rape” is as serious as “stranger rape”. An offender who ignores a victim’s wishes is guilty of rape, it says. But judges are then told that where consensual sexual activity takes place before the rape, it “must have some relevance for sentencing purposes” — although this is not defined.
Are we supposed to be grateful? A committee (headed by a man) has told judges (mostly men) has decided that rape (a crime mostly committed by men to women) doesn't become less serious because the woman in question already knew the man. Isn't that a great step forward that the judges have acknowledged that knowing a man isn't, in and of itself, a form of consent?

As for the rest, the idea that prior relationships between the rapists and the woman he raped have any bearing at all, shows how fucking far we have to go to be treated like human beings.

The awfulness doesn't end there:
Yesterday Professor Martin Wasik, chairman of the Sentencing Advisory Panel, said the guidelines were “simply stating accepted case law.” The breach of trust involved in a rape by someone known to the victim could make it as serious an offence as a “stranger” rape. But the more difficult area involved rapes where the couple had sexual familiarity.

The panel took the view that there was a difference between someone who set out to rape a person he knew; and “a situation where rape occurs after sexual familiarity, up to and perhaps very close to, actual intercourse — and then the victim said ‘no’.”
I hope that my readers know that there isn't actually a difference - rape is sex without consent - no matter what had happened. Even if you'd been playing kinky games from the rafters

Again it shouldn't surprise me that judges think differently and it doesn't (I don't put myself in their shoes either), it just makes me angry.

When addressing the behaviour of the police, the attitudes of the courts, we're not even fighting rape itself. We're just fighting about what happens after; we're fighting to make it a little less worse for women who have been raped.

I can understand the desire to blame the police and court system for this failure. They're agents of the state, I'm not particularly fond of them.

But I've seen enough to know that making things worse for rape survivors isn't limited to those with state-power. I know that there are many people out there who can treat rape-survivors like shit. I know that groups that talk about changing the world don't necessarily care if the men in them are rapists.

I know that in left-wing circles if a woman says she was abused or raped, by people within the circle, then she'll be put on trial, just as surely as women who go to the justice system are. And if she doesn't say anything then no-one will call unecessary attention to bruises, or black-eyes.

For most rapists, there are no consequences, formal or informal. There are consequences for all too many women out there who try and pursue justice and safety.

So any men out there, know you can rape women with impunity, know that there is no need to treat women as human beings. I don't know if you can imagine what it's like to live as a woman knowing that, maybe you could try.

I've talked with some of the women who were involved in the New Zealand women's liberation movement about that time, and there's one idea in particular that's stuck with me. A really great woman was telling me about the discussions they'd had and she said - "but then we reached a brick wall, because we realised that we couldn't change men."

My great grandmother was involved in the temperance movement; she was a Welsh Presbytarian Minister's wife - that's what they did. I find the temperance movement fascinating from a feminist perspective, particularly in New Zealand (and Australia, and some of the Western states in America) where it was successfully linked with winning women the vote. Obviously I don't think their goals would have achieved their aims. We actually have hard evidence of that, to say that prohibition in America didn't end violence against women is a ridiculous under-statement. As a feminist any analysis that holds alcohol responsible for male violence offends me. Although there's enough alcoholism in my family that I understand hating the stuff, I do know that ultimately it's not alcohol that's the problem

And yet I think that in some ways my great-grandmother had a better analysis than I did, at least she had an idea.

I believe in collective action. History, particularly the way I read it, shows the power that people can have when they work together. I've got some experience of that, experience on a very small scale, but I have an idea of how to organise. Sometimes I get arrogant about it - I tell people how I'd organise campaigns if I cared about the issue (and I think it more often than I say it).

But when it comes to rape I just don't have any idea where to start. Even if we're not talking about how to end rape, even if we're just talking about how to deliver women who have been raped some safety and justice, even on that smaller project I just draw a blank. I don't know where I'd begin. I'm not even sure our society could even manage any steps towards what I want.

We're so far away from a world where women's bodies are our own that I don't even know which direction to face.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Support striking doctors

It should come to the surprise of nobody that I support both the radiotherapy strike, and the upcoming young doctors strike. I was particularly disgusted with the Sunday Star Times article on the strike today:

A confidential discussion document written by the DHB negotiating team said the contract fixed staffing levels, meaning hospitals were hamstrung in their efforts to change rosters and move staff across different areas of the hospital when needed. "Essentially, this union manages the staffing levels of this country's hospitals and health services on behalf of its members - a situation intolerable to senior clinicians and managers as demand on the health system continues to increase," the document said.
First of all: confidential my ass - sounds like a document written to be leaked.

But more importantly why shouldn't junior doctors have control over their working conditions? The union isn't some random outside group - it is made up of the people who know the job best, who do the job. The Junior doctors are demanding to reduce the maximum consecutive night shifts a they can work from seven to four and the number of consecutive day shifts from 12 to 10.

Even if I didn't think that was a really good idea from a health and safety point of view, and as a potential patient, I'd still support their demands. I support workers organising not just for better wages, but for control over the working conditions.

I'm particularly impressed that they're not accepting a partnership for crap approach of sending it to a working group. The General Secretary of the Resident Doctors Association rightly points out that these issues should be discussed at the negotiating table - that's where conditions are set, and it's in that forum that members get a vote.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Soccer World Cup

My little brothers and sisters played soccer; I played a game of my own devising called sit-on-ball (yeah it's what it sounds like - if people were going to drag me into organised team-sport I'd take the passive resistance approach). My opinion on soccer was always pretty much at least it's not rugby (I'll reconsider my opinion on rugby when there's no-one involved in the NZRFU who supported the tour, and when this pinnacle of masculinity takes a stand against violence against women - rather than just seeking name suppression for All Blacks who get charged).

But then four years ago I turned on the Soccer world cup and Senegal was playing France, and Senegal won. Soccer is a fun sport to watch - it's easy to pick up and the top teams are really good at it (that sounds dumb - but the way somone would pass the ball to where his team-mate would be was really elegant and impressive). I developed a rather idiosyncratic set of teams to support, mostly under-dogs (I think I supported Ireland on the ground that I liked the backflips one of the team did whenever he scored a goal). I had lost interest by the final - I complained that I didn't watch Senegal to see a Germany vs Brazil final.

I'm not going to be able to watch the soccer world cup this year (it's going to be on at 3.30am or some ridiculous time in New Zealand) and I'm a little sad about this. But Senegal didn't qualify about the cup this time round, and it sounds like the fact that the World Cup is being held in Germany has already brought out the worst in the English fans, so it's probably all for the best.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Idiot/Savant has done a better job of covering the Sedition trial than I have ever hope to.

So I will just say that I call upon all like-minded New Zealanders to take illegal action to send a clear message that such a gross, blatantly racist injustice to the Maori people as the foreshore and seabed legislation will never be accepted.

In Memorium: Ernie Abbott

Ernie Abbott was the caretaker at Trades Hall, the Wellington Trade Union building. This picture of him was taken for the Evening post. The price of cauliflowers had leaped from 50c to $1.40, and as a member of the caretakers and cleaners union Ernie Abbott was protesting this increase. This was the time of wage and price controls and a government spokesperson had described cauliflowers as a luxury.

He died on 27 March 1984 when someone left a bomb in a suitcase at Trades Hall.

It was a bomb for the unions, no doubt about that. There was a Wellington Trades Council meeting that day to plan a campaign against Muldoon. The police never found the person who left that bomb.

I didn't know Ernie Abbott, but I know people who were at Trades Hall that day, people I wouldn't know if they'd been the ones who picked up the suitcase.

Today someone left an empty suitcase outside Trades Hall - it got blown up by the bomb squad. I've no idea why someone would do something like that, do they think it's funny to remind people of times a comrade was blown to smithereens? But what got me was the media coverage.

No-one called it terrorism. The caretaker of a building was blown up by a bomb planted against a political movement - and they didn't call it terrorism.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Ode to television (or possibly my dorkitude - probably both)

I love television. Well I actually don't love any particular form of television at the moment because it's all crap, but I love the format. In particular I love scripted single-camera 22-episode season television (half-hour or hour doesn't really matter as long as it's not a sitcom). I think I prefer television to movies. At least if I was going to a desert island and told I could have 5 hours of moviing pictures then I think it'd be mostly TV (off the top of my head - Buffy, more Buffy, probably Freaks and Geeks and possibly Dick).

So I'm a philistine and no-one needs to take me at all seriously, but I have my reasons - I love serial storytelling. We don't do much serial storytelling in print anymore, well we do, but it's not very satisfying. We have novels series, but you either have to wait an inordinate time between installments, or the books really suck (although I do think the serial storytelling is a huge part of the appeal of Harry Potter). Unfortunately the only place where writing is serialised more often than yearly is in the women's magazines (oh and the babysitters club). I may not like Dickens or Thackery, but I'll concede they're probably better writers than most of the people who write for women's magazines.

All this means if you want real serialised story-telling, where the updates come regularly you have to go to television. And I do want serialised storytelling, because it has the most amazing potential for emotional resonance.

Once I get about half-way through I finish books all in one go (if it's a good book). I stayed up till 5am a couple of weeks ago finishing David Hilliard's autobiography (I do this thing where I refuse to look at the clock, on the grounds that if I don't know how late it's getting it won't count). Most forms of media are either designed to be absorbed in a single session (like a movie or an album) or the author really has no control over how they will be absorbed, but are generally designed to be absorbed as one piece (like a novel).

Television, and other forms of serial story-telling, isn't like that. You already know the characters and you already care about the characters. It gives everything that much more meaning, that much more power.

The last episode of Freaks and Geeks is an excellent example of that. Lindsay goes off to chase the dead, Nick dances disco and Daniel plays Dungeons and Dragons. The reason this gave me a feeling of such hope was that I knew these characters.

To use a smaller example at the end of the Prom on Buffy - where Jonathon gives her the umbrella, and Angel comes and dances with her. Those moments work because you know what she's been through the last three years - you know what this means, you know who Jonathon is (although not what he will be - but telvision shows turning to custard is not the current topic).

It's a hard medium to write, and sometimes the plot suffers, as the writers lose track of where they are or it just doesn't work. But for me, what it can do for resonance and characters means that I'm OK with some of the plot problems (although not the Initiative - that was never going to be good). The characters grow and change over time with you. I think that's probably most powerful when you're watching high-school shows, either in high-school or soon after. Because then the resonance with your own life is really immediate (and I may have been 22 when Freaks and Geeks came out - but Lindsay was way smarter than me when it came to her life). But I've loved characters who were 5 years younger than me or 25 years older.

When it works, when an episode of television is acutally saying something, and it also tells you new things about these characters you care about, and funny it's and exciting and well constructed it just feels so right, so satisfying. That's my favourite sort of story-telling.

The other thing I love about serial storytelling is that it is a very social art-form from the viewing end. Part of the whole episodic nature means that you share it with other people - you talk about it with other people, because you're waiting for what is going to happen next.

Which is all just a long way of saying I don't think anything ever put to film will ever mean as much to me as this:Makes me cry every single time, and I couldn't tell you why without talking for about fifteen minutes about my life, Buffy, my feelings about feminism and how those three subjects have over-lapped over the 6 or so years I watched that show.

But the problem is that just as I think episodic television has such great potential, I also know that there is no other medium where it's more unlikely that any show will fulfill that potential.

In some ways it's partly because episodic story-telling is hard, particularly because there are so many people involved in a television show, that's so many different places where things can go wrong. 22 episodes of TV a year is a lot of writing - too much for one person without burning out, so you need a staff of writers, and some of them aren't going to be that good. Then even the best showrunner gets caught in how much they like the sound of their own voice and get over-important(I'm looking at you miracle snow).

But mostly the problem with episodic television is money. There is no medium where money is more important, and more corruptive. Partly this is because TV is really expensive and so there are all sorts of restrictions, and heaps of people put their oars in. The production company and the network all have notes.

The major problem is that television isn't made for viewers, it's made for advertisers. Which makes it the most compromised medium, in terms of what people can say. It makes it a conservative, and reactionary medium.

Which is why it's the place where people have miscarriages rather than abortion, where you can build a whole show around jokes that go: "men are like this; women are like this", why Kaylee is their idea of a larger woman, why everyone, even the poor people, seems to have enough money, why cops are glorified and why David E Kelley, king of misogyny gets hundreds of thousands of shows to spurt his hatred.

It sucks, because when it's good, it's really good. I haven't watched a good show in a while. Not one that it was worth making an effort to make sure you don't miss it, and unless you're that involved it doesn't really matter. My friend's kind of fond of Grey's anatomy - and I'm warming to it (they had the most sympathetic character refuse to cross a picket line, which made me like it more), but there is a fundamental problem of it not being very good. It treats the audience like they're kind of stupid (there's this whole sequence with a bomb in a body, and the main character is told by the bomb squad guy to imagine he's someone she likes, and rather than just trusting that this woman can act and we'll know that she's think about Dr McDreamy*, they take us to a white lit scene with her talking to the guy she has a crush on - because otherwise we wouldn't have got it.).

So the actual point of this post, besides to give people something to mock me with, and articulate some thoughts I've had for a while (I don't think I've explained it very well - I think only people who know what I mean will understand what I'm saying, but oh well), is that I'm excited.

Aaron Sorkin has a new show called Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, and I'm excited about it. It seems to have a really good cast, it has Bradley Whitford who was easily my favourite thing about the West Wing, and it has Sarah Paulson who was the holograph woman in Serenity and Vicki in Down With Love (or as I described her to my friend 'You know that woman we really like, and whenever we see her we're all - she's really cool')

Now it'll have some problems (starting with the fact that Aaron Sorkin can't write women - a fact that is slightly mitigated by the fact that can cast actresses who can play women - however they're written), but he knows how to write television. Is it dorky that I'm excited about that? (if it is I won't tell you that when my friend and I were imagining things we wanted to have happen in the future "another Joss show on telvision" was quite high up the list).

*I'd just like to point out that I didn't make up that nick-name. The show did. I don't think he's McDreamy - I think both Meredith and his wife should leave him because he's an ass.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


I've written a lot about food, particularly recently. I've written about my problems with the way food is discussed and my problems with the way food is produced. But I haven't talked explicitly about the connection between my analysis of these two things.

I don't think either of my analyses is particularly unusual. Certainly an analysis of the effects of capitalism on nutrition is reasonably common, at least in the sort of cirlces that analyse the effects of capitalism on anything. Most people with a vague understanding that feminism exists have some sort of analysis of society's obsession with thinness. Many feminists who think about it develop this into a more thorough analysis, which includes an understanding of the role food plays in an eating disordered culture, particularly control of food.

And yet...

Most people make no connection between these two analyses, a fact that I find highly frustration. So many people treat them as two different analyses of food, and you pick one or the other, or if you lay one over the other then they cancel each other out, and there's just one bit of the strongest left (this approach seems to be most common in Britain, I was there a couple of years back and read not one but two articles in the Guardian/Independent (just search the Guardian archives for +poverty +obesity for lots of examples of exactly what I'm saying) that basically said "yes, anorexia is bad for middle-class girls, but we need to concentrate on the problem of obesity among those in poverty, size is a class issue not a gender one.")

What this means is that Supersize Me analysis* has become the common response to the 'obesity epidemic'. Fat is bad, and the poor are fat, therefore it's left-wing to criticse fat. If you're really lucky this analysis will then be extended, as Findlay McDonald did the other week, to say that maybe it's poverty we should have a war on, not obesity.

But this gives up ground that I'm not willing to give up. I think it's dangeorus and distracting to substitute discussions about food with discussions about weight. I think that one of the whole points of our fucked up discourse** around food is to distract us from the fact that the real problem with food is the way it is produced.

'Health' has become a commodity and this is most true when it comes to 'healthy' food. Labelling certain foods as 'healthy' or promoting their 'health' benefits has nothing to do with their nutritional value and everything to do with selling stuff. Often what food is portrayed as 'healthy' has nothing to do with promoting longevity and quality of life, and more to do with promoting certain behaviours and ideas. This discourse* has many different roles, but an important part of it is to hide the completely obvious, which is that capitalism is fucking up our food supply.

We don't fix that by having the same conversations as everyone else, and we don't fix that by focusing on individual problems and solutions, and we don't fix it by treating the two problems as if they're unrelated, because they're not.**

*Personally I think 'analysis' is a little bit of an generous word to use in conjunction with Supersize Me, but since I'm determined to scare quote 'healthy' and 'obesity epidemic' every single time I use them I thought it'd come across as a wee bit petty if I did the same to analysis. I'm trying to think of a good synonym for analysis which implies that it's not actually analysis, but my brain isn't finding one. Oh well.

**I'm sorry, but while 'discourse' is kind of a pretentious word, I think it's also useful. Talking about the 'discourse' makes it clear that you believe that public discussions of a subject are constructed, and that analysing how and why is useful.

***Did my rhetoric hide the fact that I don't know how we do fix it? Didn't think so. I have the usual answers their, educate, agitate, organise, but I just don't think we're going to be able to do any of that until change the way we talk about the issue. I guess that's the educate part (hey maybe I do have some ideas).

What she said

The issue about whether or not men can call themselves feminists isn't one I have a lot of energy for. I think both sides make some good points, but ultimately I just don't care (hey there's another issue, maybe I should start collecting them).

What I do care about is men who pretend to care about women's issues, women's lives, and then proceed to treat women like shit. Girl Bomb does an outstanding job of detailing this phenomena in its different forms. The one that I've come across the most is example two:

Edgy sexy artsy bisexual left-wing guy is always suggestive and provocative, always posting impassioned essays on Art and Politics, and especially Feminism. He talks about the pro-choice rallies and political events he's attended, but he doesn't mention that he went for the chicks. He likes to tell people what feminism does and doesn't mean -- to him, feminism is mostly about "women's freedom to express themselves sexually without being shamed or oppressed by other feminists." Id est: porn, threesomes, and you taking the pill. He'll argue for sex-positive feminism all day long, putting down other feminists for being "patronizing, infantilizing, and patriarchal." PS: He's only pretending to be bisexual.
I have known that guy, more than once; I've known people, I've known groups, damaged by that guy. She's right about everything else as well. That calling yourself a feminist of feigning interest in women's issues is no guarantee . It makes being a woman in left-wing circles so hard, because you can't trust men, not based on what they say. You have to wait until you know them, you have to be careful, and they're supposed to be your comrades.

Do read the whole thing, and check out her signs to look for, they're very useful:
3. Is smarter than you, and more "rational" (i.e., not ruled by terrifying and psychotic mood swings), but doesn't hold that against you. Understands that women are more "emotional" than men, and therefore susceptible to "simple misinterpretation." Smirks, smarms, provokes, and blathers until you go crazy, then calls you crazy.

Monday, June 05, 2006

I agree with you, I just don't care

I have a friend whose father is a member of the Green Party, an environmentally focused member of the Green party. Whenever she tries to bring up poverty, capitalism, or any other issue primarily about people he says "I agree with you, I just don't care", which she finds very frustrating.

But we all have them, issues where we intellectually acknowledge that something is wrong and needs to be changed (or maybe even right, and needs to be defended), but we really can't be bothered.

Today we get a public holiday in honour of one of the issues I just can't care about - the Monarchy. In fact the fact that Queen's Birthday is a public holiday may even be enough to tip me to be pro-monarchy, because I'm passionate pro-public-holidays.

I'll agree with every argument you make against the monarchy (unless it's a stupid argument). I'll acknowledge the ridiculousness and the lack of democracy. But I just don't care.

I'd care if I was in Australia, I think. There it'd be 30 years since they over threw a democratically elected government. That's the sort of thing that I get grumpy about. But here the queen hasn't ever done anything.

As far as I can see the only thing the monarchy is good for is surreal protests that get my friends on the Daily Show and condemning Henry IV on National Radio.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Nandor hate

I was mildly pleased to hear that Russell Norman had won co-leadership of the Greens. I don't actually think it matters, and I'm sure there are arguments that says it's advantageous to have the Greens run by someone awful. But I've read Nandor's paper about how the Greens are not a left wing party, and I thought it was ridiculous. So I'm glad he's not getting what he ants.

I don't necessarily disagree with the conclusions, the Greens aren't a left wing party (I've got a friend who describes them as one of the few political parties in the world where the representatives are further left than their members). But his arguments are just unbelievably stupid.

Now I don't have a copy so I'm quoting from memory, but the bit that pissed me off the most went like this:

We shouldn't lessen our commitment to social justice, but we should look for green solutions, rather than old left solutions. We could address poverty by increasing people's income, or we could do it by decreasing their expenditure, for example by installing state funded solar panels.
Now I happen to believe that the only way to deal with poverty is to end capitalism, but I think social democrats, socialists, anarchists, and anyone else with a brain can join together and point and laugh at the ridiculousness of that statement.

Decreasing people's expenses is an 'old left' solution. Lets take, for a not particularly radical example, state housing - that's an old left solution , making those houses warm and water heating heap, is just an extension of the same solution. In fact the Greens, with their incessant promoting of consumer taxes (for sugar, oil, and anything else that pisses them off) are about *raising* people's expenses.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Calories have got more cheaper while other nutrients have got more expensive

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about food and capitalism and one of the things I said was:

There have been changes in food over the last 50 years, and those changes have been driven by the food industry's requirement to make a profit. I may be wrong, and I'm happy to discuss this with people who know more (or less) than me, but I think the most important change has been that calories have gotten cheaper, but other nutrition has gotten more expensive.
I wanted to explore what I meant by that.

Now I should make it clear that I have no special qualifications to write about nutrition, quite the lack of it in fact. I'd like to know more about the science of nutrition, what we think we know, what we think we don't know, and how we know what we think we know, but I don't. From what I've read there is pretty universal agreement about what out bodies need to fuel and rebuild themselves (calories, vitamin A, Protein etc.) and reasonable levels of agreement about which foods have which nutrients (with some disagreeements about how much of these nutrients we manage to absorb). There appears to be a huge amount of disagreement about what (if any) negative effects various foods might have* and for this post I'm going to leave that well alone for this post. I'd love it if anyone who knows more about nutrition science and history wanted to post in the comments, but these comments are based on what I know. I also want to say that I'm thinking about changes that have happened in the last 60 years, because nothing pisses me off more than people talking about some vague sort of olden days that never actually existed. I'm talking about the changes that have happened post-World War II.

The basic idea is obvious, most people know what calories are (but often think of them as something to avoid, rather than a measure of energy), and that the other things you need from food are vitamins, minerals, fat, protein and fibre.

The idea that calories has got cheaper has also been relatively widely covered. I'm unsure how much this part of changes in agriculture, and how much is about changes in post harvest food technology, but we can produce calories cheaper than we used to.

Now I want to go on the record and say that I think that cheap calories are a good thing. I believe every person on this planet should have enough food to fuel their body without even thinking about it. It makes me furious when people attack cheap calories as if fuel for our bodies was something that only rich people were entitled to.

To me the problem is that other nutrients have got more expensive. Now I'm not sure if this is true absolutely, it probably depends on which nutrients and where you live. I'd love to see the statistics about average income and price of different sorts of food.

Nutrients can get more expensive while food gets cheaper. Growers that make food for a profit, rather than for nutrients, might prioritise other things besides nutritional value when they select which varieties to grow (or the people who make their seeds might be the people who make the priorities).

It is true that other nutrients have got cheaper relative to calories, and it's even more true if you factor in the time it takes to make the food. One thing that has happened in the last 40 years is that the average number of hours each person works has increased. Mostly that's about increased participation by women in paid employment, it's also about the fact that our labour legislation used to be a lot better than it is now, and so fewer people had more than 1 job.

The market in food that doesn't take much time to prepare has increased. There's no reason that food that is quick to prepare can't have both calories and other nutrients. But when food is made for profit it's easier to make cheap food that is low in nutrients.

The politics of food are incredibly important, but the entire discourse around food is based around fudging the reality of how food is made. The so-called obesity epidemic and the focus on calories ignores what the actual problem is.

* It makes sense to me that possible damaging effects of different foods would be hard to understand for a number of reasons. The first is the individuality of it - some people (say me) can be allergic to dairy products, but it's hard to find someone who doesn't need Protein. The second is the difficulty of studying these sorts of things, since if you base your evidence on studying what people do eat then you run into all sorts of problems around controlling for other factors and cause and effect, and when you try and do it the way they do drug studies then you run into the problem that people won't necessarily eat what you tell them to.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The conservative potential of communist songs

Now I stayed away from the John Miller's list of top 50 conservative rock songs, because it was too dorky to comment on (plus Amanda did a fine job). But he's done a second list of songs and included not just one, but two songs by people who would be on any blacklist you'd care to make. I happen to be quite dorky in my affection for folk style protest music and thems fighting words.

Lets start with the M.T.A. song, this song is a particular favourite of mine, because we sang it at my hippie primary school. In the 1940s an exit fare was introduced in the Boston subway, this meant that you had to pay to get onto the train, but also to get off again afterwards. The song is a story about a man who got on the train without his exist fare, and therefore had to ride forever beneath the streets of Boston and couldn't get off that train.

Now John Miller's reason for couching it as a conservative rock song was that it's "Against “a burdensome tax on the population in the form of a subway fare increase." Which is ridiculous in any case - anyone with any sort of left-wing credentials will oppose consumer taxes because they're regressive, they affect the poor more than the rich. Generally the left-wing is defined by its Robin Hood desire to rob from the rich and give to the poor. So his political analysis is lacking.

But it's also clear he has no idea of the history of the song. It was written in 1948 to support the campaign of Walter O'Brien of the Progressive Party (who was too poor to actually campaign). In 1948 the Progressive Party was endorsed by that well known conservative institution, the American Communist Party.

If that's not bad enough this is what he has to say about Turn! Turn! Turn!:

Originally written by Pete Seeger and sometimes interpreted as anti-war, the words are taken from Ecclesiastes and announce that to everything there is a season, including “A time to cast away stones / A time to gather stones together” and “A time of war, a time of peace / A time of love, a time of hate / A time you may embrace / A time to refrain from embracing.”
Sometimes interpreted as anti-war? I guess that could be considered correct if by sometimes you mean "by the person who wrote, and everyone who has every performed."

OK I'm going to get even dorkier and admit that I'm a big Pete Seeger fan. I have all three volumes of the recent tribute albums, and only wish I had more of his live albums. He's written a protest song for every major political cause for the last 8 decades. He seems to have been really generous with other muscians, and pretty dedicated in the work that he does. If he's earned anything it's the right that no to have upstart right-wing twits claim his songs as their own (plus if they wanted to it'd probably be better to claim some of the actual pro-war songs he wrote after Germany invaded Russia - the Almanac Singers followed the party line).

Just for the record when the bible talks about rich people camels and the eyes of needles, that doesn't make the redistribution of wealth conservative, it makes Jesus a commie.

If John Miller's interested I have another 5 conservative left-wing protest songs:

Love Me I'm A Liberal: The song is criticising liberals therefore it's conservative.

This Land is Your Land: A patriotic classic

The Young Woman Who Swallowed a Lie This song is critical of both artificial birth control and permissive parenting promoter Dr Spock.

Soldiarity Forever: "They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn" - clearly criticising those who claim welfare.

The Internationale The last verse talks about the need of those who work to do their duty, which is clearly a conservative notion.