Tuesday, September 28, 2010

You don't get to redefine words just to make a political point

Ever so often you come across some book, article, or blogpost where people try to redefine a word so it means something else than it originally did - e.g. Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. This can be done either to taint someone by associating them with something bad (as in the example I just mentioned) or in order to take credit for other peoples' hard work.

An example of the later is Danielle Bean's column Sarah Palin does feminism better

Or maybe it is really an attempt to taint feminism by associating it with Palin. No, probably not. Oh, well, let's wade into the drivel, shall we?

Who gets to decide what a feminist is? Does one need a license to use the word or to wear the label?

Generally speaking, any group gets to decide who is part of their group. This means that feminists get to decide what a feminist is. There are many groupings within feminism, but they share some fundamental similar views which one should share in order to be considered part of the broader movement (and dissimilar views which one should share in order to be considered part of specific groupings).

Failing the ability or opportunity to engage with feminists about what one should believe in order to be considered part of the movement, one could of course start out by looking at the dictionary definition: the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.

An interesting consequence of Sarah Palin's enduring popularity has been the fact that liberal feminists have become increasingly irritated by her use of the word "feminist" to describe herself. She shouldn't be allowed to do that, they say.

Yes, it interesting that the fact that people who belong to a movement get increasingly annoyed when someone, who goes against what that movement stands for, claims membership of said movement. No, not really. It's quite understandable.

What exactly is it that disqualifies Palin as a feminist? Why, it's her stubborn insistence that women deserve better than abortion, of course.

If she was really insisting that women deserve better than abortion, that would be fine. That would indicate that she believed that abortion was the bare minimum of rights that women should have. No, the fact is that Palin insists on much less than abortion - she insists that women shouldn't have control over their own bodies, and that they should be reduced to being breeding machines.

Much to old school feminists' dismay, Palin's brand of "new feminism" -- one that truly respects women and celebrates the differences and equality between the sexes -- appears to be catching on. Especially in politics.

It's to the dismay of all feminists, not just "old school feminists", whatever that might mean.

Trying to take away women's right to their own bodies does not in a way respect women, and while it is true that Palin probably celebrates the fact that women are still suffering from systematic sexism, it's hardly something to brag about.

Though there are currently no pro-life women in the Senate, the recent primaries produced no fewer than four pro-life female nominees: California's Carly Fiorina, Nevada's Sharron Angle, New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, and Delaware's Christine O'Donnell, all endorsed by Sarah Palin.

There are many pro-life women in the Senate. There are just no anti-choice women. The current women in the Senate understands that the right to choose is a fundamental right, while at the same time, they often also work for making life better for children living below the poverty line. A much more pro-life stance than the politics espoused by Palin and her irk.

While the rise of pro-life women in politics and Sarah Palin's popularity in particular have left some scratching their heads and others donning bear costumes and acting out their frustrations on camera (see video below), this trend doesn't surprise the rest of us at all.

Palin's popularity among the demented right (such as the tea-party morons) doesn't surprise me. So far, her ideological allies have scored some victories, but only among the Republicans - judging from the up-tick for the Democratic side recently, Palin is actually doing more harm to the Republican party in the long run. Something I, personally, is quite happy about.

Palin is both widely popular and widely despised for the same reasons. Those of us who recognize, respect, and celebrate the unique God-given strengths of women -- as nurturers, as relationship-builders, and as fierce protectors of children and other vulnerable human beings -- find an inspiring role model in Sarah Palin. She is a strong woman who finds joy in motherhood and a traditional family life, and yet she has managed to achieve professional success in the traditionally male-dominated field of American politics.

First of all, it's good that she acknowledges the inherent sexism in her religious view. Most people try to hide it, but Danielle Bean doesn't.

Second of all, there are so many things wrong with the paragraph that it's amazing.

Basically, it's a load of bunk. Women have traditionally been nurturers, but as we have progressed (say within the last couple of thousands of years), there are many of possibilities for women, so there is no need for them to be only nurturers (or for men not to be).

And seriously, where and when has Palin managed to achieve professional success? She was a failure as a vice presidential candidate (doing more damage than good), and she gave up midway through her governorship. Not exactly an impressive resume.

It is these same things that make old school feminists want to spit nails. They've spent lifetimes fighting nature's plan for their bodies and standing strong for every woman's right to destroy any human life that threatens to grow within her. Traditional family life? Why they've fought long and hard to deny the differences between men and women and to afford every woman the "right" to separate sex from the natural consequences of bringing forth new life.

I think she should stick to invoking God, rather than Nature. There is nothing unnatural about women not wanting to be breeding machines, and abortions happen all the time, naturally

Never mind that old feminists' plan for women's liberation, including the right to premarital sex without consequences and easy access to abortion, leaves women in a strikingly vulnerable position -- to be used by men as sexual objects and abandoned when the fun is over.

Because abortions, rape and extra-material affairs didn't happen before abortion became legal. Have she read the Bible? Plenty of examples there.

Never mind that God has specifically designed women to be mothers -- physical or spiritual mothers of all kinds -- and that those of us who reject this notion do so at the peril of our own happiness.

Never mind that you don't have any evidence for this, let alone the existence of any gods.

I find it beyond ironic that after decades of fighting for a woman's right to be heard and to determine her own destiny, pro-abortion rights feminists are now eager to put limits on what pro-life women are allowed to call themselves, the kinds of questions they are allowed to ask, and debate the legitimacy of pro-life women's meaningful participation in politics. All because strong women such as these give voice to the unpopular truth that women deserve better than abortion.

Nobody is, to my knowledge, trying to introduce laws prohibiting people from neither calling themselves feminists nor to not have abortions. So their choices are unaffected. Palin and her irk is, on the other hand, actively trying to remove the choices of others.

And again, they don't think that women "deserve better than abortion" - they think they deserve much less. If they really thought that women deserved better, they would work for helping supporting e.g. single women, so they could afford living a reasonable life with their children.

Palin's detractors are eager to declare that Sarah Palin does not speak for them, but I am proud to stand beside any pro-life woman and say: This woman does speak for me. She speaks for and defends the well-being of all women, whether they want her to or not. She speaks for children too -- both born and unborn. She speaks for true equality between the sexes and every woman's right to dignity and respect.

Well, it's always good when idiots stand up to be counted. So, consider yourself counted. Oh, and there is no such thing as an unborn child. The very definition of a child, is that it is born. Otherwise you might as well call yourself a "pre-dead corpse".

Even if it ruffles some old feminist feathers, it's about time someone said that.

No it was. Really. And it is not like it is something new and original. The anti-choice crowd has been sprouting the same kind of bullshit for decades.

For a more coherent take on Palin's fake feminism, read Jessica Valenti's May 30th column in the Washington Post.

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Lazy linking - catching up edition

Wow. It has been a while since I've last blogged. My excuse is that work is pretty crazy for me right now - as usually is the case when I'm not blogging.

To make up for it, here is a few links that I've come across the last few weeks

First of all, I bring you a letter from Simon Singh, Ben Goldacre and Peter Wilmshurst calling for support for libel reform. All of the letter writers have been targets of lawsuits under English libel laws. Singh and Goldacre have both won theirs, at some personal cost, while Wilmshurst's case is ongoing.

Also from the UK: NHS 'should pull homeopathic hospital cash'

The British Medical Association (BMA) has told a BBC Scotland investigation that NHS Scotland should pull the plug on Glasgow's Homeopathic Hospital.

It's great to see the medical associations around the world starting to come out against wasting money on placebohomeopathy (there is also a facebook group and petition trying to het the NHS to stop funding quackery - details here)

The New Yorker takes on Rhonda Byrne in Power lines

From something much closer to my field of work: Vast Majority Of Software Patents In Lawsuits Lose. I might write more on this at a later stage, but let's just say that I am not surprised.

The Union of Concerned Scientists have a great website on Global warming

Related to this, is the Resource Institute's Summary of Developed Country ‘Fast-Start’ Climate Finance Pledges where one can keep track on how well the developed countries are doing on keeping their pledges from Copenhagen.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why protest votes are counter-productive

Before starting on this post, I should probably make clear that it's only relevant in relation to the US political system, not in relationship with the other, more democratic political systems, which many of us live under (where it is actually possible for more than two parties to exist on a national level).

It is getting close to the midway elections in the US, where a number of members of congress are going to get elected, rather than the president. Still, the president's popularity traditionally has a lot of effect on the midway election, which is often considered a referendum on his (so far, it is always a he) policies.

A lot of people who voted for President Obama has become disillusioned by him and indeed the whole Democratic party, and are now talking about either not voting or to vote for a 3rd party or even for the Republican candidates.

I would strongly recommend against this.

As the current US electional system works, voting for a 3rd party is basically throwing your vote away. Not logging a protest, but wasting the vote, and in the process harming your side.


Well, two reasons:
1) You can be sure that Republicans are going to vote for their candidate, even if they dislike him or her. Yes, there will be some Libertarians who are going to vote 3rd party, but they are a very small minority. The rest vote party line.

2) Paradoxically, the US politicians pander for those voters who have proven that they will support them, rather than those voters they feel they might get to support them. When the moderates left the Republican party during the Bush years (and under the Palin candidacy), it didn't make the Republicans stop up and try to win them back. No, instead they went full in for the Christian right.

This would mean that if all the left-leaning Democratic voters would abandon the party, the Democratic party would not try to win them back, but instead they would rather try to keep the right-leaning Democrats, and perhaps even win more from among the Republican ranks.

In other words, it would be a counter-productive move for those who left the party because they didn't feel their voices were heard. They might not have been heard, but they definitely won't be in the future.

So, should the Democratic Party just be able to take the progressive voters' votes for granted? Well, if the alternative is the Republican Party, then yes. Hell, yes. Progressives might say that there really is not difference between the two parties, but if they really believe that, they need to have their heads examined.

Yes, the current administration is not as progressive on many issues as many of us would like, but they are noting like the Bush administration. We are complaining about how slow Obama is in rolling back the mess from the Bush administration - that's completely different from creating the mess in the first place.

Some Democratic candidates are so far right that it is hard to see the differences between them and some Republicans, but if you look at the voting record, almost all Democrats have a much better track record on progressive issues than their Republican counterparts. What's more, in those races where those democrats run, the race is not between a right-wing Democrat and a moderate Republican, but rather between a right-wing Democrat and a so-far-right-it's-not-funny Republican.

In the end, it might sound like I am arguing for progressives just rolling over and surrendering their votes to the Democratic part en bloc. I don't. I think progressives should participate in the primaries, and get progressive candidates selected for the election. This is the strategy the Tea Baggers have chosen, and it has made the Republican Party give them much more attention that they are really due, if one takes a look at the numbers. Also, 3rd party alternatives are also great on the local level.

It seems to be the attitude in the US that parties are build top-down - first you run for president, then you try to gain access to congress, but in the rest of the democratic world, parties are built from the bottom-up. Locals get together and form a party which get elected to local political organs (or even national organs), and then they demonstrate their policies, gaining a reputation for the next election, which they might cash in on, gaining more votes etc. It's not a short-term strategy, but it works. Even in countries where there has traditionally been a political system very similar to the US (e.g. the Green Party in Australia and the Liberal Democrats in the UK).

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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Book review: Smile Or Die

Smile Or Die - How Positive Thinking Fooled America & The World by Barbara Ehrenreich

Smile Or Die is the European title of Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, which is a more clever title in my opinion (given the clear references to "Blind-sided"), but not necessarily a better title.

In her book, Ehrenreich takes on the positive thinking industry, explaining the history behind "positive thinking", how it is used, and how it is harmful.

Ehrenreich first got into contact with the positive thinking movement when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, or at least, first got really aware of it. This lead her to investigate the movement, or industry as it really is, and try to understand its effect on society.

Living outside the US, I haven't felt the full blunt of the positive thinking movement, but even in Europe, it has gained some foothold, and I definitely enjoyed Ehrenreich's take on it, especially the chapters on the historical background and how it is used (e.g. as a way for the companies to get rid of fired employees without guilt). Her chapters on the movement's effect on society, was on the other hand, a bit weak, though they still gave food for thought.

One part of the book I found really interesting was the part where she explained how the megachurches in the US were based upon the positive thinking movement. I hadn't thought about it that way before, but it definitely makes sense. The whole concept of the prosperity gospel definitely plays into all that.

For a good introduction to the content of the book, I recommend RSA Animate - Smile or Die, which is an animated (and abbreviated) version of a speech by Barbara Ehrenreich.

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