Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Well, the Big Dog called me yesterday. Got my voice mail because I was asleep. He urged me to vote for his wife. I appreciate the effort, Bill -- the history-making thrill of getting a call from a former President asking me to vote for his wife. Duly noted.

Also noted is that this week the television ads for Hillary changed. The one that had been running was a snoozer, especially when compared to Barack's, which showed him as a little round-head with his Mama, talking about health care costs consuming her thoughts in her last months. He ends with "I approve this message because in order to fix health care, we have to fix government." Fantastic delivery -- but for those of us who watched incredulous as Reagan delivered his infamous "Government isn't the solution, government is the problem" damnation that is a direct line to Katrina, the Minneapolis bridge collapse, and untold human suffering -- it was too calculated to play on Texas independent nostalgia for Ronnie Raygun. I really don't appreciate the K-Y approach, Barack.

Now Hillary's ads begin with a shot of Bobby Kennedy. If you think that doesn't make boomers sit up and howl, you don't know anything. It's followed by pictures of Cesar Chavez, then earnest endorsements of Bobby Jr. and Cesar Jr., before Hillary makes an appearance. Yellow-dog Democrat dancing on the border of outright liberal, that ad. What a fucking relief to see on the airwaves again. I have no idea how it will play, and honestly I don't think anyone else does, either. Until the votes are counted.

I took the Implicit Association Test for Presidential Candidates being touted on Bitch Ph.D., Pandagon, and other places to see if it would reveal my preference to me effortlessly. Except it didn't turn out to be effortless. It actually caused me internal dissonance, a form of pain, to click on the "good" buttons when pictures of Huckabee or McCain came up. I had such a hard time, my test was littered with red X's and, toward the end, exhaustion from confusion. It was ornery enough to make me seriously trust the results -- I was too resistant to "game" the test.

And the results didn't get me any further. Hillary and Barack came in dead even, in my preferences, and way "up there". Whereas sucking the bottom of the pond algae were Huckabee and McCain, again as equals. At least I'm consistent.

The excellent Black Agenda Report currently has an article on Holding Barack Obama Accountable which is an interesting read. Managing editor Bruce Dixon leads with:

'The presidential campaign of Barack Obama has become a media parade on its way to a coronation. Journalists and leading Democrats have done shockingly little to pin Obama down, to hold him specifically responsible for anything beyond his slogans of "yes we can" and "change we can believe in". Prominent Black Democrats, many ministers and the traditional Black leadership class are doing less than anybody to hold Obama accountable, peddling instead a supposed racial obligation among African Americans to support this second coming of Joshua and his campaign as "the movement" itself. What would holding Barack Obama accountable on war and peace, on social security, health care and other issues look like, and is it possible to hold a political "rock star" accountable at all? '

Even better is Dixon's extremely well-researched piece on 2008's Ten Worst Places to be Black in America. Dixon uses prison populations as his criteria, stating "America's prison system, the world's largest houses some 2.2 million people. Almost half its prisoners come from the one eighth of this country which is black. African American communities have been hard hit by the social, political and economic repercussions of the growth of America's prison state. Its presence and its reach into Black life is a useful index of the quality of life in Black America itself."

He goes on to state "Although our Black presidential candidate would have us believe that African Americans are, as he has said many times, '90% of the way' to freedom, justice and true equality, the facts seem to say otherwise. As recently as 1964, a majority of all US prisoners were white men. But since 1988, the year Vice President George H.W. Bush rode to the White House stoking white fears with an ad campaign featuring convicted Black killer and rapist Willie Horton, the black one-eighth of America's population has furnished the majority of new admissions to its prisons and jails. The fact is that while US prison populations have grown seven times since 1970, crime rates have increased only slightly over that time. According to Berkeley scholar Dr. Loic Wacquant the increase in America's prison population over that time has been achieved simply by locking up five times as many people per one thousand reported crimes as we did in 1980."

There is a kick-ass looking map heading this article which I was unable to get enlarged enough to read. (If anybody else can, please send me a copy.) In lieu of sharing that with you, I'll include a couple of the tables Dixon has created, but folks, DO go read this article and its comments, and credit/link to this man's if you pass on his information.

Each line shows, in order:
Wisconsin 4.5% 10.64 6%
Iowa 4.2% 13.59 2%
Colorado 3.5% 6.65 4%
Arizona 3.3% 5.58 4%
Oklahoma 3.3% 4.39 8%
Texas 3.2% 4.74 12%
Kansas 3.1% 6.99 6%
California 3.0% 4.68 7%
Oregon 2.9% 5.84 2%
Kentucky 2.8% 4.98 8%

Excluded from this list are South Dakota, Vermont, Utah, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, where African Americans make up 1% or less of the population, but which do have extremely high rates of Black incarceration. Also excluded, until the data becomes available, are the nearly 200,000 prisoners under federal lock and key.

Introducing a second table, Dixon states "Most US prisoners are nonviolent drug offenders. Although federal statistics show the rates of illegal drug use for whites, Blacks and Latinos to be within a single percentage point of each other, African Americans are an absolute majority of the people serving time for drug offenses. The start and inescapable fact of double-digit disparity between Black and white incarceration rates is hard to miss, and harder to explain, except in terms of a consistently applied, if rarely acknowledged policy of racially selective policing, sentencing and imprisonment....The states with the fifteen highest disparity rates between black and white incarceration show some interesting characteristics. First, none of them are in the South. Secondly Blacks make up a negligible percentage, 6% or less in ten of these high disparity states. Thirdly, the other five high-disparity states either contain or are adjacent to three of the five largest concentrations of African American population in the US, namely the metro areas of New York, Chicago and Philadelphia."

Each line shows, in order
Mississippi 37% 1.74% 3.46
Louisiana 32% 2.45% 4.69
Georgia 30% 2.06% 3.32
Maryland 29% 1.58% 5.48
South Carolina 29% 1.86% 4.47
Alabama 26% 1.91% 3.54
North Carolina 22% 1.72% 5.40
Delaware 21% 2.51% 6.36
Virginia 20% 2.33% 5.89
Tennessee 17% 2.0% 4.12
Florida 16% 2.61% 4.45
Arkansas 16% 1.84% 3.86
Texas 12% 3.12% 4.74

(Unnamed performers, photo by Charles "Teenie" Harris in Pittsburgh, PA, circa 1940s)

For those of us (besides me) feeling a jolt at The End of Polaroid As We Know It, as reported by Liza at See Saw, here's an article by Brian Haynes for American Scientist on Computational Photography, which states:

"Imaging laboratories are experimenting with cameras that don't merely digitize an image but also perform extensive computations on the image data. Some of the experiments seek to improve or augment current photographic practices, for example by boosting the dynamic range of an image (preserving detail in both the brightest and dimmest areas) or by increasing the depth of field (so that both near and far objects remain in focus). Other innovations would give the photographer control over factors such as motion blur. And the wildest ideas challenge the very notion of the photograph as a realistic representation. Future cameras might allow a photographer to record a scene and then alter the lighting or shift the point of view, or even insert fictitious objects. Or a camera might have a setting that would cause it to render images in the style of watercolors or pen-and-ink drawings."

Zelig meets the Purple Rose of Cairo.

(Image by Maira Kalman)

For those of us who have never believed the road to democracy lies in going shopping, and who say "Can what?" when we hear "Yes we can", consider this lovely essay from JSpot (Jewish perspectives on contemporary issues of social and economic justice), Rabbi Danny Nevins speaks to Parshat Terumah: Sanctity in Sweat:

"Humility is appropriate in situations of physical labor and also in our efforts at social change. Frequently it seems that we work at tasks that can never be completed. We identify ideals such as justice and peace that seem always beyond our grasp. This situation can be demoralizing. What’s the point of trying when the world seems always to veer back in the direction of oppression and war? Parshat Terumah is encouraging—identify worthy tasks and use every resource you can muster to complete them. But do not be discouraged when success eludes you. Build the sanctuary in the wilderness—wherever there is human need, build a home for God. And in that effort God will join you, dwelling in your very midst."

(Ant With Acorn, woodcut by Tugboat Printshop)

Here are updates and new angles on various posts in the past (some of them quite some time ago, but my above-average readers keep sending things my way, bless you):

From this week's New York Times, via Martha, an article entitled Women More Likely to Postpone New Knees could have been lifted from my own experience. It begins:

"Women appear to delay knee replacement surgery longer than men, and often show up far more disabled by the time they undergo the procedure.

"The gender differences among knee replacement candidates is cause for concern because far more women than men suffer from osteoarthritis, which can wear down the cartilage in knees and leave sufferers with bone-on-bone rubbing and agonizing pain. Patients are typically advised to delay knee replacement as long as possible because titanium knee parts eventually wear out too. By delaying the treatment, the patient ideally will die a natural death before replaced knees wear out again.

"But doctors now say they may need to rethink that advice because women appear to take it to the extreme."

Yeah, tell me about it.

In a related note, a recent study reported on in the Journal of Neuroscience states "chronic pain seems to alter the way people process information that is unrelated to pain". An article on the study quotes the researchers as stating "These findings suggest that the brain of a chronic pain patient is not simply a healthy brain processing pain information but rather it is altered by the persistent pain in a manner reminiscent of other neurological conditions associated with cognitive impairments."

For those of you who read Skene or are familiar with past references to the 70's dyke pursuit of parthenogenesis, here's riveting news:

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor for the Telegraph in the U.K., written on January 31, 2008, Sperm cells created from female embryo, it reads:

"Sperm cells have been created from a female human embryo in a remarkable breakthrough that suggests it may be possible for lesbian couples to have their own biological children.

"British scientists who had already coaxed male bone marrow cells to develop into primitive sperm cells have now repeated the feat with female embryonic stem cells.

"The University of Newcastle team that has achieved the feat is now applying for permission to turn the bone marrow of a woman into sperm which, if successful, would make the method more practical than with embryonic cells.

"It raises the possibility of lesbian couples one day having children who share both their genes as sperm created from the bone marrow of one woman could be used to fertilise an egg from her partner.

"Men and women differ because of what are called sex chromosomes. Both have an X chromosome. But only men possess a Y chromosome that carries several genes thought to be essential to make sperm, so there has been scepticism that female stem cells could ever be used to make sperm.

"In April last year, Prof Karim Nayernia, Professor of Stem Cell Biology at Newcastle University, made headlines by taking stem cells from adult men and making them develop into primitive sperm.

"He has now managed to repeat the feat of creating the primitive sperm cells with female embryonic stem cells in unpublished work.

"The next step is to make these primitive sperm undergo meiosis, so they have the right amount of genetic material for fertilisation.

"Prof Nayernia showed the potential of the method in 2006, when he used sperm derived from male embryonic stem cells to fertilise mice to produce seven pups, six of which lived to adulthood, though the survivors did suffer

"He is now optimistic about the prospect of lab-grown sperm from women.

“I think, in principle, it will be scientifically possible,” Prof Nayernia told New Scientist.

"He said that he has applied for ethical approval from the university to use bone marrow stem cells from women to start experiments to derive female sperm.

“We are now writing the application form,” he said, adding that experiments will begin in Newcastle if and when they get approval.

"However, Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem cell and sex determination expert at the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London, doubts it will work: “The presence of two X chromosomes is incompatible with this.
Moreover they need genes from the Y chromosome to go through meiosis. So they are at least double-damned.”

"In Brazil, a team led by Dr Irina Kerkis of the Butantan Institute in Saõ Paulo claims to have made both sperm and eggs from cultures of male mouse embryonic stem cells in the journal Cloning and Stem Cells.

"The researchers have not yet shown that their male eggs can be fertilised to produce viable offspring, but they are thinking about possibilities for same-sex human reproduction.

"If all these experiments pan out, then the stage would also be set for a gay man to donate skin cells that could be used to make eggs, which could then be fertilised by his partner’s sperm and placed into the uterus of a
surrogate mother.

“I think it is possible,” says Kerkis, “but I don’t know how people will look at this ethically.”

"The UK parliament is now debating changes to the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, and the government is under pressure to include an amendment that would allow the future use of eggs and sperm grown in the lab from stem cells.

"However, a clause added to this amendment would restrict this to sperm from genetic males and eggs from genetic females."

Yet another reason to up funding for science in this country.

And, to illustrate what kind of legislation ignorance about basic biology leads to (especially in Missouri), check out this post at Bitch Ph.D., Next Up, We'll Repeal the Law of Gravity! which explains in clear, useful terminology how fertilization does NOT equal conception, and illustrates how the not-so-secret goal of the Right is to outlaw contraception, not just abortion. If we don't remain their breed cows, they have no hope of keeping human progress from continuing joyfully onward.

Regarding the dead-end nature of essentialism, both culturally and as a political strategy, there's a series of articles in the latest issue (Jan-Feb) of The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide tackling "The science of homo-sex". Not all of the pieces are available online, but one that is features an interview with Joan Roughgarden, Nature Abhors a Category. To quote their introduction:

'JOAN ROUGHGARDEN threw down the gauntlet at the feet of the evolutionary biology establishment a few years ago when she published Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People (UC Press, 2004). The book challenged the widely held Darwinian dogma that some traits—especially those that appear maladaptive for survival, such as the peacock’s feathers—come into existence through competitive “sexual selection” rather than a cooperative form of classical natural selection. Such traits were thought to survive because they’re favored by the opposite sex—with females doing most of the selecting—which interprets them as an indicator of genetic fitness. One of Roughgarden’s main examples is the prevalence of homosexual behavior among animals—she documented some 300 such cases—which cannot be explained with recourse to sexual selection, which envisions a competitive struggle among members of the same sex. Instead, homosexual behavior among both males and females suggests a larger survival strategy based on group cooperation and teamwork, which in turn are promoted by physical intimacy.
Dr. Roughgarden is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford. Her latest book is Evolution and Christian Faith (Island Press, 2006).'

Two other pieces worth mentioning (available in print only) are
"Genes, Hormones, and Sexuality" by Neena B. Schwartz -- Why the rush to explain behavior patterns in biological terms?

"Can Biology Vanquish Bigotry?" by Sean McShee -- Now that we’ve hitched our wagon to a genetic model...

In a post this year on Judy Grahn, I showed the photograph above by Cathy Cade of Gail Grassi and Kate Kaufman repairing a car, East Bay, 1970s. I was browsing a website of Maoist Chinese propaganda posters online and discovered, lo, the very poster that is on the wall of this women-run garage -- first printed in 1971. I remember this poster being in lesbian households. Now I know the caption in Chinese reads: "Struggle to quicken the implementation of agricultural mechanization" (Wei jiasu shixian nongye jixiehua er fendou)

Here's something I especially love about my quirky cat Dinah: If I pull my shirt up so my head and face are covered, then growl ferociously, when I look at her again her pupils are dilated, her tail is frizzed and her ears are laid back. As if I had transformed into a monster. I honestly don't think she's taken in by the cheap transformation, I think she's just playing along -- either as a kindness to me or because life with a crippled obsessive writer is so boring, she maximizes any stimulation that comes along.

I have a canister of Whisker Lickin's Chicken and Liver treats on my computer desk. There is no way I can lift it and get the lid off without her hearing, no matter where she is in the apartment or how asleep she might be. She comes at a desperate gallop, and the last foot or so she makes a breathy little chirrup. Kitty crack, I guess.

Here, I'll try again right now, because I can hear her snoring on the top of my red shelves in the open box of envelopes.

Nope. She heard me. She is now doing her James Bond impression: Once is not enough.

And, in her honor, some LOLCats (etc) from little gator:


kat said...

As to the embryonic stem cell turned sperm, Boyfriend sez:
"If artificial insemination counts as reproduction, this sure as hell counts as parthenogenesis."

question, though, were the '70's lesbian/feminists researching parthenogenesis from a science perspective, or really just thinking that eating fruit will do it? Cuz, really?
*Kat arches her eyebrows cynically*

Blue said...

That's a lot of labels.

My brain is full. Goodnight, and good writing.