Your tax dollars at work–at sexy fun (for some)!

Pay no attention to these people!

This morning, the Denver Post print edition ran an excerpted version of this Washington Post story published yesterday:

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.

For U.S. intelligence officials, this is how some crucial battles in Afghanistan are fought and won. While the CIA has a long history of buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has prompted the use of novel incentives and creative bargaining to gain support in some of the country’s roughest neighborhoods, according to officials directly involved in such operations.

Riiiiiight–because we invaded Afghanistan back in 2001 in order to restore traditional patriarchal control of Afghan society?  Well, that’s not how they explained it at the time.  But, hey–men of all nations can bond over the sexual domination of women!  “Uncle Sam” is just doing what works, eh?  (As the headline in the Denver Post reads, “It’s the little things that sway Afghans.”)  Later in the Washington Post story, a veteran CIA officer explains, “You’re trying to bridge a gap between people living in the 18th century and people coming in from the 21st century. . . so you look for those common things in the form of material aid that motivate people everywhere.”  Well, only half of the people, at most.  (Funny how that works!)

Handing out viagra to Afghan chieftains is explained not as the sexual exploitation of women regardless of consent, nor as sex trafficking, but as a way of doing business with a distinguished history:

Among the world’s intelligence agencies, there’s a long tradition of using sex as a motivator. Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer and author of several books on intelligence, noted that the Soviet spy service was notorious for using attractive women as bait when seeking to turn foreign diplomats into informants.

“The KGB has always used ‘honey traps,’ and it works,” Baer said.

It’s just sex, right?  Sex is sexy fun for everyone!  Well, at least for the people the U.S. government cares about–not necessarily for the women involved, but clearly they don’t count. 

I liked it better when President and Mrs. Bush pretended to be feminists and told us that we were invading Afghanistan to liberate women from their burkhas.  Good times, good times.

Christmas cookie exchange and U.S. Senate appointment update

Well, the cookies have been baked (at least one batch of each), and delivered to neighbors and friends.  I still have a wrapping marathon ahead of me, but I thought you’d love to feast (your eyes, at least) on my heaping plate o’cookies!  (I’m not the first blogger to post cookie photos–Roxie beat me to it with her photo and recipe for “Moose’s Boobs” cookies last weekend.  Grades were only due yesterday–what do you think Historiann was doing all weekend, friends?) 

Clockwise starting at 12 o’clock, that’s pistachio cranberry Christmas bark, decorated sugar cookies (with a crazed lederhosen-wearing cookie on top), holly cookies, and Mexican wedding cakes.  The holly cookies were an exercise in nostalgia for my 1970s childhood–the Mexican wedding cakes are actually my favorite.  Not pictured:  gingerbread and Christmas cake, the items I had no hand in making.

Perhaps I should add the cookies to my list of qualifications to become my state’s next U.S. Senator?  The Denver Post featured a story this morning suggesting that our dear Governor Bill Ritter has lots of men on his list of possible appointees, but not so many women.  I think either U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette or former Colorado Senate President Joan Fitzgerald would be terrific, if I’m somehow overlooked.  If you want to send the Governor a note of support on my behalf (or anyone else’s), you can send it to:  ussenate DOT comments AT state DOT co DOT us.

Merry Christmas, if that’s your style.  If it’s not, stay warm and eat some cookies anyway!

It's a Festivus Miracle!

Via TalkLeft, Richard Cohen in the Washington Post this morning:

I can understand Obama’s desire to embrace constituencies that have rejected him. Evangelicals are in that category and Warren is an important evangelical leader with whom, Obama said, “we’re not going to agree on every single issue.” He went on to say, “We can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.” Sounds nice.

But what we do not “hold in common” is the dehumanization of homosexuals. What we do not hold in common is the belief that gays are perverts who have chosen their sexual orientation on some sort of whim. What we do not hold in common is the exaltation of ignorance that has led and will lead to discrimination and violence.

Oh, you mean like this story (via Corrente) about a lesbian being gang-raped last weekend and left naked on the street in California?  Yeah, that sounds like violent discrimination to me.  Over to you again, Richard:

Finally, what we do not hold in common is the categorization of a civil rights issue — the rights of gays to be treated equally — as some sort of cranky cultural difference. For that we need moral leadership, which, on this occasion, Obama has failed to provide. For some people, that’s nothing to celebrate.

We don’t negotiate with terrorists, so we shouldn’t negotiate with people’s civil rights.  (Especially not other people’s rights.  Nor should we vote on them, because no one else’s civil rights are ever as vital or as important as yours, are they?)  Even Richard Cohen understands this, people!  How much more conventional do you really need your wisdom? 

(Cake via Cakewrecks.  There’s a place for us–somewheres!)

Bad apples, and how they ruin it for the rest of us

This weekend’s This American Life radio program was a bellyfull of Christmas candy (including the accompanying stomach ache) for the writer and readers of this blog.  The program, “Ruining It for the Rest of Us,” opened with an interview with researcher Will Phelps Felps, who conducts research on “bad apples” in the workplace (aka bullies), and how they can take over an office culture.  His conclusions?  The bad news is that bad apples can single-handedly commandeer a workplace culture and drive it into the ditch.  He hired an actor to play one of three “bad apple” types:  the bullying jerk (who attacks and insults people), the slacker, and the depressive pessimist. 

The good news is that leadership by another person can counteract the effect of the bad apple.  This person doesn’t directly confront the bully, but instead asks questions, engages team members, and works to diffuse conflicts.  (This happened in only one group, however; in every other test case Phelps Felps ran, the bad apple dominated the group, and the other group members took on the bad apple’s characteristics.)  This segment is only 5 minutes long, and it’s right at the start of the program, so if you’re interested in workplace bullying issues, click here to listen for free.  By the way, the This American Life website doesn’t list Phelps‘s Felps’s name or his affiliation, and my efforts to try to locate his research with EBSCOhost databases and the google have failed.  I’m not sure I’ve even got his name spelled right (and in fact I didn’t, as you can see from the edits above.  This is bad form, This American Life.  Any time you interview a researcher, you really should at least provide hir name and affiliation on your website, if not also link to hir publications.)

The program’s main feature was an exploration of a recent outbreak of measles in San Diego caused by a family who refused to vaccinate their children.  The story features an interview with an anti-vaxer who is friends with the family that brought the disease to San Diego, which sickened dozens of children, and with a woman whose 11 month old son was a victim of the outbreak.  If this woman’s description of measles doesn’t lead everyone listening to run out and vaccinate their kids, then I don’t know what will.  The ultimate message of the program is that both the anti-vaxer camp and the pro-vaxer camp are utterly entrenched in their rival views of medicine and science.  However, these camps are hardly morally equivalent:  one camp is actively punching holes in herd immunity, which puts at risk infants too young for the vaccine as well as people whose immune systems are compromised.  Moreover, the anti-vaxer camp’s beliefs are utterly evidence-free and based on magical thinking. Continue reading

So you think you had a bad semester?

Sorry about the light posting and utter inattention these past few days–I picked up my final student papers and exams yesterday, so I’ll be back home at the ranch grading this weekend and frantically manufacturing some Holiday Cheer.  Here’s a little divertissement from our pals at Rate Your Students, the sad and disturbing answers to their “Big Thirsty” question of the week:  how did you ruin YOUR class this semester?  The answers are posted here–check back later this weekend for some more, but here’s a brief excerpt for your entertainment.  Schadenfreudelicious!

  • I slept with two freshmen. No, kidding. But doesn’t that make me leaving a whole set of essays in the Pittsburgh airport seem a lot less terrible?
  • After a hard swim at the college pool, I went into the locker room, took a nice, long shower, and then walked in the buff to the lockers only to find a young woman in front of her locker. Problem is: I am a male. Yes, I had the wrong room
  • .         .        .        .         .         .         .        .        .         .         .

  • On the day grades had to be turned in, I realized that one of my “favorite” students had not turned in a final project. I have no idea how it happened. It’s worth 25% of the grade, and without it she would have gotten a C. With a great project (like her other work) she would have had an A. I don’t remember her turning in a project. I had no way of getting in touch with her. It’s entirely possible she didn’t do it at all. I gave her an A anyway.
  • .         .        .        .         .         .         .        .        .         .         .

  • I gave my notice at my college, thinking that I’d rather not have a job than teach someplace that I hated. Then when the job market went south, I discovered that I’d made a huge mistake. I spent almost no time on my classes, scrambling instead to save a job I’d given back to the Dean. I missed class several times, was late other times, didn’t hold office hours. When I finally negotiated to stay on, I realized it was week 13 and my students had been robbed of nearly a whole semester of my attention.
  • Et vous, mes amis?  What mistakes did you make?  What advice do you have to offer the rest of us?