The Veil in the Western World

Jennifer IzaaksonAs happens from time to time, someone I’ve never heard of starts to follow me on Twitter. Now I fully admit: I’m terrible on Twitter. I’ve been trying to follow Andrea’s lead and be something more than a tired series of “Look what I’ve written on Frankly Curious!” But when Jennifer Izaakson followed me, I noticed. She’s written a couple of articles on the Huffington Post. And regardless what they pay, I want a chunk of that. So I clicked over to see what she had written.

Her most recent article is, A Ban on the Veil Is an Attack on Our Freedoms. Well, having read that title, I was immediately impressed—imagining her as a modern day Isabelle Eberhardt. As a first approximation: of course! There’s a reason why “liberal” and “libertarian” share two whole syllables. All else equal, people should be able to do what they want. And if people want to wear the veil, who are I am to disagree? After all, for most women, it is probably more cultural than anything else.

But it isn’t quite that simple. Let’s suppose the issue were not the veil, but genital mutilation. In this case would we really believe that women were demanding genital mutilation out of some cultural affinity with their mothers? I think we would rightly believe that these women had just been brain washed. So the issue is not as black and white as I’m afraid that Izaakson would make it. Although I’m the first to admit that wearing the veil is well on the liberty side of the question.

What this all brings up is the elephant in the room. (Not Chris Christie; he’s just really big.) How do different cultures fuse together to create a new culture? I’m sorry for this, but I have to go all Thomas Friedman on you. I was riding in this taxi with a Sheikh driver. Because I’m very interested in religion, I asked him about his religion, which I knew a bit about—far more than most Americans. Unfortunately, the conversation quickly turned to the question of how American women dress and how they are a bunch of whores. Clearly, he saw things differently from the way I did. I think men are mature enough to see a totally hot young woman in short-shorts without losing all control. In other words, as a man, I put the onus of control on my own gender and he put it on the other gender. Men are helpless when tempted by the nubile figure!

Obviously, I think my cultural perspective is correct. And I’m not just saying that. His attitude was repugnant to me. I feel as sure of my attitude being better than his as I am of mammalian child rearing is to that of alligators. (FYI: alligators eat their own children.) So I have a very real problem with the veil in the sense that it is a symbol of the reptilian belief that men just can’t control themselves when they see a bit of skin. Sadly, that is what is on the other gender side of the veil debate.

You may well ask, “Does he believe in banning the veil?” Not at all! I believe not only in culture but in the clash of cultures. I believe different peoples who combine become better, in the same way that genetic diversity improves the species. And I have no doubt that over time the veil will become a cultural signifier rather than a scarlet letter. But let us not fool ourselves into believe that the veil does not have a pernicious symbolism for many (Especially men!) in many non-western cultures throughout the world.

Updated to non-drunk standards.

Placebo Policies

Robert ReichRobert Reich is angry at fellow Democrats for—What else?!—wimping out on healthcare standards. I’m right with him. In fact, I’ve spent most of the day being angry about the whole Obamacare situation. Everywhere I look, pundits are second guessing whether the website will really be up and running properly by the end of the month. Can there possible be any more useless speculation? We should just be letting the people do their work. But of course, we’re not, and it is a lot worse than just pundits.

Today, Darrell Issa has Henry Chao, the chief project officer for, testifying. And what is Issa concerned about? That a completely marginal feature of the website has been delayed for political reasons. This feature, called “anonymous shopper,” allows people to shop for coverage without setting up an account. It would be a nice feature, but regardless, it isn’t a linchpin of the system. According to Chao (who ought to know), there was nothing political about the decision; it was just that the system failed tests. Regardless, is the middle of a war the right time for yet another Darrell Issa political witch hunt?

None of this matters to me. I’m going to wait another two weeks to really worry about it. Now is about the time that we should start seeing notable improvements in the website if things are on track. “No change” up to this point really means anything. I understand why conservatives would be talking incessantly about these problems. What I don’t understand is all the hysteria from liberals.

The other, more worrying aspect of the Obamacare situation is the obsessive concern over Obama’s claim that people would be able to keep their health insurance if they liked it. Well, for a small percentage of people, this is not going to be true. And guess what? That’s the good thing! Most of these people have terrible insurance that is either (1) a policy that covers next to nothing or (2) a policy that would have been canceled as soon it started to be used. The only reason these people were happy with the policies was that they never needed to use them. Let’s just call these things what they are: placebo policies.

This brings us to Robert Reich who is focused on what Democratic Party politicians are doing, Having the Backbone to Set Minimum Standards for Health Insurance. As usual, with the smallest raindrops in the political world, large parts of the Democratic Party turn tail and run. Now there are two camps that are trying to push some kind of legislation that would allow people to keep their old placebo policies. This is the wrong way to deal with the problem.

But how big is this problem, anyway? I’m not clear on it because every time there is some news report about “sticker shock,” it turns out that the person didn’t know what they were talking about and that they’ll get a really good deal through the exchanges. To me, this is just modified Shirley Sherrod. The media are going to town on these stories and the Republicans are demagoguing them, so the Democrats just give up. Reich explains it perfectly:

But spineless Democrats (including my old boss Bill Clinton) are caving in to the Republican-fueled outrage that the President “misled” Americans into thinking they could keep their old lousy policies—and are now urging the White House to forget the new standards and let people keep what they had before…

Can we please get a grip? Whenever industry standards are lifted—a higher minimum wage, safer workplaces, non-toxic foods and drugs, safer cars—people no longer have the “freedom” to contract for the sub-standard goods and services.

But that freedom is usually a mirage because big businesses have most of the power and average people don’t have much of a choice. This has been especially the case with health insurance, which is why minimum standards here are essential.

That’s right. Obamacare is designed to fix a number of problems. One of them is the hidden costs associated with the uninsured, which we pay for now even though we don’t get a direct bill. People with placebo policies are effectively uninsured. And this problem is one that was bound to come up when we decided to go with the Republican “free market” leave-no-insurance-company-behind approach to healthcare reform. But there are solutions to this issue that will help those who “like” their placebo policies—for example, special temporary subsidies for those few affected to get real policies. But gutting health insurance standards is an awful idea for the individuals with these useless plans and for the nation as a whole.

Democrats and liberals of the nation: it is time to join the Vertebrate subphylum!

Richard Cohen and the Murder of Willie Edwards

Willie EdwardsYesterday, I had a little fun with Richard Cohen’s reference to the offensive Merle Haggard song “Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver).” It was part of Cohen’s own offensive column, Chris Christie’s Tea Party Problem. The thing about the column is that it is effectively an apologia of the most vile of modern racist thought.

Cohen first claims, “Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party…” But then he goes on to say, “People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children.” That is a jaw dropping statement. In other words: gagging at the thought of interracial marriage is not racist. Ta-Nehisi Coates lays it out exactly right:

The problem here isn’t that we think Richard Cohen gags at the sight of an interracial couple and their children. The problem is that Richard Cohen thinks being repulsed isn’t actually racist, but “conventional” or “culturally conservative.” Obstructing the right of black humans and white humans to form families is a central feature of American racism. If retching at the thought of that right being exercised isn’t racism, then there is no racism.

This made me think of the murder of Willie Edwards, who I discussed this morning (he would be 81 today). He was killed in 1957 in Alabama because some white bigots thought he was having an affair with a white woman. There has never been a greater emotional resonance for white racists than the idea that blacks (and other minorities, most notably Chinese) would have their way with “our white women.” Look at the film Stagecoach where the southern gentleman Hatfield almost kills Mrs Mallory rather than allow her to live as an Indian bride. This is powerful stuff.

What is deeply concerning is that Cohen and his many apologists don’t recognize this. It’s a bizarre world we live in where using racial epithets (rightly) makes one a racist, but breaking out in a panicked sweat over the idea of whites and blacks marrying is not. Richard Cohen needs to take a serious look at his thinking about race in America. But then, we all do.

H/T: Ed Kilgore

Edwin Booth Is Not His Brother’s Keeper

Edwin BoothOn this day in 1732, one of the great characters in 1776, John Dickinson was born. It’s a great character, but the real man was far more complex. He was not John Adams’ antagonist and simply abstained from votes. Given my souring opinion of Adams over the years, I’m inclined to think that Dickinson was the more clear headed one. That’s especially true given that Adams just wanted to create an American aristocracy. But neither of them were Thomas Paine.

The great Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850. He is best known for Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He was hugely successful during his lifetime, but throughout most of the 20th century, he was generally dismissed as a genre writer. Gladly, in recent years, people have reevaluated him. He was a great writer and not just in his novels. He should be rightly appreciated as one of the towering figures in English literature. I can’t imagine his reputation not growing even stronger in the coming years.

Willie Edwards was born in 1932. He would probably be alive today. Unfortunately, at the age of 24, he was murdered by the Alabama Klan. They had decided to kill a black man who was thought to be having an affair with a white woman. Regardless of the truth of that, Edwards was not that man. They beat him and then forced him at gun point to jump off a bridge to his death. His body wasn’t even found for three months. No one was even charged in the case for almost 20 years and then the judge threw it out because “merely forcing a person to jump from a bridge does not naturally and probably lead to the death of such person.” The bridge was 125 feet high. No one was ever convicted of the crime even though there is a confession.

Other birthdays: businessman Leon Leonwood (LL) Bean (1872); film director H C Potter (1904); the evil but ultimately impotent pastor Fred Phelps (84); actor Richard Mulligan (1932); television producer Garry Marshall (79); actor Joe Mantegna (66); comedian Whoopi Goldberg (58); actor Steve Zahn (46); and atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali (44).

The day, however, belongs to the one of the greatest actors of the 19th century, Edwin Booth who was born on this day in 1833. He was the son of Junius Brutus Booth—the man most important in popularizing Shakespeare in the United States. Booth continued that tradition. The problem with Booth is that he had a brother named John Wilkes Booth. Now John was also an actor but by all accounts not nearly as good and nowhere near as successful. John’s assassination of President Lincoln really hurt Edwin’s career and greatly harmed his legacy. There is no indication that anyone other than John was a political radical. I’m still amazed that we have a few recordings of Edwin. The following is in very bad shape, so I will put the text below it. It is from Othello, Act 1, Scene 3:

My story being done
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs.
She swore, in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange,
‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful.
She wished she had not heard it, yet she wished
That heaven had made her such a man. She thanked me
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake.
She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her that she did pity them.

Happy birthday Edwin Booth!