AIG Fesses Up

So where has all that taxpayer cash that's been shoveled into AIG gone?  Today they revealed their largest counterparties, and the top 5 — drum roll, please — are:
  • Goldman Sachs: $12.9 billion
  • Bank of America + Merrill Lynch: $12.0 billion
  • Société Générale: $11.9 billion
  • Deutsche Bank: $11.8 billion
  • Barclays: $8.5 billion
So it looks like everyone was right: Goldman did have enormous exposure to AIG and foreign banks did get massive dollops of aid from the bailout.  No wonder Lloyd Blankfein and Christine Lagarde took such a keen personal interest in AIG's fortunes.

UPDATE: The AIG memo contains four appendices that list amounts paid out to various creditors.  I just added them up to get the numbers above, but Felix Salmon says that amounts to adding up apples and oranges.  The real action, he says, is solely in Appendix 2, which gives us a different top 5:
  • Société Générale: $6.9 billion
  • Goldman Sachs: $5.6 billion
  • Merrill Lynch: $3.1 billion
  • Deutsche Bank: $2.8 billion
  • UBS: $2.5 billion
There's more to it than this, though.  Read Felix for more details on why further transparency is still needed.

Journalism is weird.

Check out this HuffPo article about medieval folks' belief in vampires:

An archaeological dig near Venice has unearthed the 16th-century remains of a woman with a brick stuck between her jaws— evidence, experts say, that she was believed to be a vampire. The unusual burial is thought to be the result of an ancient vampire-slaying ritual. It suggests the legend of the mythical bloodsucking creatures was tied to medieval ignorance of how diseases spread and what happens to bodies after death, experts said...The well-preserved skeleton was found in 2006 on the Lazzaretto Nuovo island, north of the lagoon city, amid other corpses buried in a mass grave during an epidemic of plague that hit Venice in 1576."

How weird that the desecrated skeleton blamed for the worst of society's ills was female. Not. But I digress.

Wouldn't you know that Friday, as I luxuriated in the New Yorker I innocently came upon this: "In The Blood: Why Do Vampires Still Thrill?"

Ok. I smell a conspiracy, which is about as unusual as me smelling coffee or my stupid cat's litter box. Or, like, oxygen.

I'm a humorless feminist and all, but given the planet's fascination with vampires, why are the victims female while the cultural vampire sex symbols are male?

People, if we're gonna do the time, can't we at least do the crime?

Usually, I'm fine with the idea of nonsense for the sake of nonsense. From Monty Python to Aqua Teen Hunger Force, the random and ridiculous can often reach ecstatic comedic heights. On the other hand, sometimes comedy can be the best weapon against hypocrisy and villainy, as Jon Stewart's hilarious and vital takedown of CNBC made clear this week. So it should be the perfect formula: the usually-hilarious Will Ferrell brings his smirking imitation of the just-barely-former president to Broadway in "You're Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush," the final show of which was broadcast by HBO last night. Unfortunately, Ferrell's 90 minutes of Bushy bumbling missed the mark, both as silliness and as satire. Tellingly, the first big (or, well, average-sized) story to emerge from Ferrell's Broadway run was pure shock value: the Times reported last month that audience members had "stormed out" after seeing a photo of a penis projected on a screen. While the Times' breathless reporting on this issue was actually pretty funny in and of itself, the moment turns out to be oddly symbolic of the entire show's caterwauling randomness, a "just because I can" stunt with an easy "stimulus package" joke. This "ultimate" exposure could be an attempt to get at something central and pathetic about W., but it just feels kind of empty.

My friend Hanna Rosin has such a deliciously subversive piece in the latest Atlantic that I've spent days over my witch's cauldron of a laptop diabolically trying to figure out which plums to excerpt for maximum outrage. The piece is called, (tee hee) The Case Against Breastfeeding. Pissed off yet? Good.

So, where to begin? What will most offend the tender sensibilities of MoJo's oh-so-progressive readers? How about this, the subhead?

In certain overachieving circles, breast-feeding is no longer a choice—it's a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting. Yet the actual health benefits of breast-feeding are surprisingly thin, far thinner than most popular literature indicates. Is breast-feeding right for every family? Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?

Wha? I never miss Hanna's work, but this time, she had me at "instrument of misery." I just hope the drool doesn't crash my keyboard. The science behind 'breast is best' is bogus, just another conspiracy to keep those of us with vaginas barefoot and topless in public? Yes, as it turns out—the science is bogus. Can't tell that from, oh, what our pediatricians and 'lactation consultants' tell us, could we?

I only breastfed both my kids off and on, the first for about six months, the second for at most four. Why? There was a minor (though, with great effort fixable) health issue. But mostly it just felt so selfish. There was my then husband and my mom, both of whom had to sit there tapping their feet with lust to get at those luscious babies who spent most of their time latched onto me like lovely little leeches.

In the beginning, I pumped just so they could have that special feeding/bonding time with those precious bundles gripping so tightly with those little fingers. Truly—breastfeeding felt selfish. Which means that more or less subconsciously, I just didn't buy that they'd grow up to be hunchbacked mental deficients without my precious boob juice. There simply had to be too many other variables at play. I'm almost 50, so you know I wasn't breastfed, and I'm pretty smart and pretty healthy, like most folks of my generation. And remember—our parents drank and smoked the whole time (though not my mom. But it wasn't because she thought it would hurt us. Booze and cigs just were never her thing.)


My mom couldn't help me with the breastfeeding and, with my ineptitude, the little buggers hurt the hell out of me. I dutifully visited and revisited the lactation consultant but kept peppering her with questions about why formula was so bad, and how much mixing formula with breast milk might hurt them. Finally, she laid down the law:

"Look, I'm not here to tell you it's OK not to breastfeed, Debra."

I thought about that for a minute. Then said, "Fair enough." So I pumped less and less and joined the Enfamil crowd.

As Hanna admits in her piece, feeding time didn't feel any more special to me than any of the other hours I spent dreamily nibbling their toes and pretending to make stuffed animals dance. The time that was most special to me was, after eating, when they'd happily lose consciousness and burrow into my chest. So warm, so content, so secure. That time was sublime to me, that was when I felt most maternal. Breastfeeding was a time-consuming painful chore I didn't think worth it.

And when the folks in my tony, Ivy League crowd gave me the stink-eye as I whipped out a bottle, I just shrugged it off. When you have kids, the world is full of folks telling you you're doing it all wrong. But unless they're willing to walk the floor with my kids all night when they're sick, they can just suck it. Breastfeeding just wasn't high on my list of priorities in an over-stressed life. Besides, I had to work like a dog. Breastfeeding made a difficult career even more difficult, and something simply had to give.

Which gets me to the excerpt I'll leave you with, in hopes that you'll beat feet, in high dudgeon of course, to read the piece in full:

The Bitch in the House, published in 2002, reframed The Feminine Mystique for my generation of mothers. We were raised to expect that co-parenting was an attainable goal. But who were we kidding? Even in the best of marriages, the domestic burden shifts, in incremental, mostly unacknowledged ways, onto the woman. Breast-feeding plays a central role in the shift. In my set, no husband tells his wife that it is her womanly duty to stay home and nurse the child. Instead, both parents together weigh the evidence and then make a rational, informed decision that she should do so. Then other, logical decisions follow: she alone fed the child, so she naturally knows better how to comfort the child, so she is the better judge to pick a school for the child and the better nurse when the child is sick, and so on. Recently, my husband and I noticed that we had reached the age at which friends from high school and college now hold positions of serious power. When we went down the list, we had to work hard to find any women. Where had all our female friends strayed? Why had they disappeared during the years they’d had small children?
The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women's lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let's say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That's nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is "free," I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It's only free if a woman's time is worth nothing.
How dare she? What an awful woman! Her children should be taken away! Or, maybe, we should all just mind our own business.

Bay Bleg

Marian and I are coming up to San Francisco in a couple of weeks and we're going to have all day Sunday free for sightseeing and whatnot.  Do any of my Bay Area readers have any nonobvious suggestions for things to do and see?  Anything accessible by foot or transit is OK.  Thanks!

Tim Geithner's Plan

Ezra Klein reports on Larry Summers' talk yesterday:

Summers [...] argued that the administration was right to be vague on its banking plan. Specifics, he said, could only come after the stress tests reveal what action is needed. That sounds sensible enough, though it's hard to say whether that's been the plan along or it's just the plan now that no one liked Geithner's original banking proposal.

I too think that a bit of vagueness might have been justified here.  It's better than rolling out a detailed but half-baked proposal that gets immediately shot down.  However, if that was the plan all along, then surely President Obama wouldn't have said this 12 hours before Geithner took the podium:

[T]omorrow my Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, will be announcing some very clear and specific plans for how we are going to start loosening up credit once again.

There are a few possible explanation for this: (a) Obama is an idiot, (b) Obama wasn't up to speed on what Geithner's plan was, (c) everyone in the administration was under the impression that Geithner's plan was "very clear and specific," or (d) they changed their minds a lot in the days and hours leading up to the announcement.  I'm guessing the answer is (d).

Here's something a little different to take advantage of our brief respite between Friday the 13th and the Ides of March.  Yesterday Marian and I had lunch at Ruby's, and as usual our utensils came wrapped in a napkin that was held in place by a paper napkin ring.  I have helpfully recreated this setup in the picture on the right.

Seems ordinary enough, doesn't it?  But as I unwrapped the silverware I noticed something: a patent notice.  This little paper napkin ring, it turned out, was protected by U.S. Patent No. 6,644,498.  I was intrigued.  What was patentable about this thing?  The stickum?  It seemed like ordinary Post-It Note type stuff.  The size and shape?  Couldn't be.  The logo?  No.

Luckily, the web knows all.  When I got home I pulled up the patent to see what it was for.  The answer is below the fold.

Guest blogger Courtney E. Martin is the book editor of the feminist blog Feministing.

After Debra Dickerson caricatures young women as pole dancing, attention-starved idiots, she then quips: "Harsh, you say? Uninformed? OK. Tell me exactly what today's feminists are doing for the struggle."

Glad you asked Debra, because it's clear you haven't had the benefit of knowing a real, live, breathing, thinking young woman and you're really missing out. Indeed, some of us like to blog about the political and social issues of the day (as it appears, do you). We actually see this as part of the struggle—an effort to speak on our own behalf about issues that affect us in a corporate conglomerated media landscape that too often trades in stereotypes like yours.

You write, "Blogging about your sex lives ain't exactly what we previous generations thought feminism was. We thought it was about taking it to the streets." At feministing, we get frequent emails from young women, often in isolated parts of the country, who read about sexual politics on our blog and get the courage to speak up about their rape or incest experiences, advocate for comprehensive sex ed in their schools, or come out to their parents and friends. We think that's profoundly feminist.

Outside of our media activism and public intellectual work, we're joyfully and dedicatedly going about all sorts of action to make women's and men's lives more just, equal, and authentic:

We are providing support and shelter for former teen prostitutes. We are training to be abortion providers and midwives and social workers. We are mentoring low income girls to write about their experiences. We are falling in love with feminist men and women and having our hearts broken and doing it all over again. We are running shelters for LGBTQ youth who have fallen through the cracks of a homophobic society. We are educating one another about STIs, STDs, and reproductive justice. We are doing community organizing. We are rebuilding New Orleans. We are going dancing all night with our girls. We are, indeed, protesting in the streets. We are starting organizations to provide support for women veterans of Iraq, 15 percent of whom have been sexually assaults. We are drinking beers on Saturday nights with our friends and talking about feminism. We are donating money to causes we believe in, voting for leaders we respect, getting political and media training. We are queering gender and getting sex change operations and delighting in our sexuality on a spectrum. We are dancing burlesque downtown to demonstrate our rejection of oppressive beauty standards and explore our sexuality on our own terms. We are writing op-eds. We are painting and break dancing and making documentary films and writing on one another's Facebook walls and refusing to let our friends date assholes and reinventing or rejecting marriage all together and speaking out at Take Back the Night and deluging corporate email accounts when they use sexist advertising. We are honoring our mothers and grandmothers with our wide-eyed, creative, tenacious spirits. We are feminism.

So that's just some of what we’re doing for the so-called struggle. How about you?

Courtney E. Martin is a writer, speaker, and teacher living in Brooklyn. You can read more about her work at

As if I hadn't already outed myself as the pinkiest of pinko fag commies, I stumbled upon this gem at Slate's XX blog. It's an interactive quiz from the Center for American Progress to gauge just how liberal or conservative you are. Here's how the Slate-ettes scored:

"Twelve of us took the quiz, and on a scale of 0 to 400 (0 is the least progressive; 400 is the most progressive), we came out with an average score of 245. To put that in context, the mean score for liberal Democrats is 247 and 160.6 for conservative Republicans. Our median is somewhere in the mid-290s; our high is 313, and our low is 112.

Fascist heifers! I scored 332. Boo yah!

The average American drags their Neanderthal asses in at only 209.5.

So, if you outscore me, let's put on our hemp shoes and our tie-dyed bandannas, strap our home-birthed babies on our backs, and go hug some whales.

A recent report by International Rivers details a rash of dam building projects in the world's most rugged and scenic mountain range:

Massive plans are underway in Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bhutan to build several hundred dams in the region, with over 150,000 megawatts of additional capacity proposed in the next 20 years in the four countries. If all the planned capacity expansion materializes, the Himalayan region could possibly have the highest concentration of dams in the world.

It's almost certain that this will happen. Sometimes known as the "Third Pole," the Himalayas contain of 3,700 square kilometers of glacial ice, which is melting due to climate change and gushing down the slopes of the 14 tallest peaks in the world. South Asia's boom in population, economic output (which is surprisingly immune to the global downturn), and Western-funded carbon offset projects virtually insures that the forces of dam building will be almost as powerful as the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates.

Clearly the dams will export cheap and low-carbon electricity. But they will also displace hundreds of thousands of people, import hordes of culturally disruptive migrant laborers, wreck fisheries, and, maybe worst of all, breach in the likely event of an earthquake or climate-change-induced flood, unleashing a cascade of disasters. Novelist Arundhati Roy has eloquently opined against the Narmada dam project, though to little avail. We can only hope that the scenic Himalayas will fare better in the protective embrace of their poets.