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  • Wednesday, March 30, 2005


    Neocon Racoons

    Sometimes my eyes deceive me. My eyes lie. They fib to my brain, adapt an alias, substitute a corruption of clear vision.

    I saw the word "neocon" in very small print on a web page. I thought it said "racoon" and wondered how racoons had gotten so politically powerful. Had I missed something? Had the racoons parlayed threats of infecting people with rabies into a PAC? And what were they doing in the Pentagon? This can't be good for our military preparedness...


    Feminism, Rad Geek, and Fathers for Lies

    Very interesting essay and email exchange here from Rad Geek. Fathers for Lies: selective quotation and distortion of Catharine MacKinnon's position is the title of it. I enjoyed it. I'm embarrassed to admit I have only a rudimentary knowledge of Catharine MacKinnon's work and writing, something I hope to correct.

    Relatedly, I'm also growing much more interested in reading more of Andrea Dworkin's work due to enthusiastic recommendations of a friend. I shamefully admit my opinion of Ms. Dworkin's work was much influenced by the exceptionally vituperative press she got during the eighties and nineties. As I remember it, the most vitriol was coming mainly from the feminist and gay press during the so called "porn wars." I hope to rectify my lack of familiarity with Ms. Dworkin's writing. I recently acquired a copy of Letters from a War Zone and hope to read it soon.

    Fascinating. I write about feminist authors and the two words that I use to describe my thoughts are shame and embarrassment that I haven't read their work more completely. I used to have a humorous private acronym for this attitude: ISIAM = I'm Sorry I'm A Man.


    Pharmacist Ethics

    The refusal of some pharmacists to fill some prescriptions based on religious belief is an ethical dilemma. On one hand, forcing someone to do something that is against their moral standards is repugnant. On the other, by refusing to fill prescriptions, these pharmacists are essencially making medical judgments. They are, in effect and fact, refusing to dispense prescribed medical treatment. They are providing an unqualified second opinion to a doctor. (I think it's safe to assume most pharmacists are not licensed doctors. Even if they were, it would be an unsolicited second opinion.)

    If the ethics of dispensing ALL drugs is disturbing to these pharmacists, it may be possible they should rethink their choice of career. The following is from a Washington Post article Pharmacists' Rights at Front of New Debate (subscription required):

    An increasing number of clashes are occurring in drugstores across the country. Pharmacists often risk dismissal or other disciplinary action to stand up for their beliefs, while shaken teenage girls and women desperately call their doctors, frequently late at night, after being turned away by sometimes-lecturing men and women in white coats.

    "There are pharmacists who will only give birth control pills to a woman if she's married. There are pharmacists who mistakenly believe contraception is a form of abortion and refuse to prescribe it to anyone," said Adam Sonfield of the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York, which tracks reproductive issues. "There are even cases of pharmacists holding prescriptions hostage, where they won't even transfer it to another pharmacy when time is of the essence."

    That is what happened to Kathleen Pulz and her husband, who panicked when the condom they were using broke. Their fear really spiked when the Walgreens pharmacy down the street from their home in Milwaukee refused to fill an emergency prescription for the morning-after pill.

    "I couldn't believe it," said Pulz, 44, who with her husband had long ago decided they could not afford a fifth child. "How can they make that decision for us? I was outraged. At the same time, I was sad that we had to do this. But I was scared. I didn't know what we were going to do."

    Slight Addendum: Media Matters for America has more background and examples on this issue at Who are Karen Brauer and "Pharmacists for Life"?

    Tuesday, March 29, 2005


    Clever with Words

    I don't like Bush or his policies but I have to admit he's got some smart people working for him. Clever turns of phrase seem to be endlessly generated from his camp. Laws and policies with antonymic titles are a specialty: Clear Skies Initiative, Healthy Forests, etc. Here is a nice bit of deconstruction from Sean Gonsalves in To Err on the Side of Life?:

    This week's phrase: "to err on the side of life."

    It's a Bush-ism that frames an important and complex ethical debate in simplistic terms of black-and-white absolutes; a variation of the either-you're-with-us-or-against-us philosophy.

    The phrase ingeniously plays off a commonly accepted bit of wisdom – "to err on the side of caution." Take out "caution" and insert the politically charged word "life" as in "pro-life," and the GOP base is energized while putting the evil "liberals" on the defensive.

    Somebody should buy a Guinness for whomever in the Bush camp conceived the shibboleth. "Brilliant!"

    To err on the side of life...

    The implied message is clear: If Bush represents those who would rather "err on the side of life" (whatever that means), it puts anyone with other legitimate moral concerns in a defensive position, having to explain how they could possibly not want to "err on the side of life."

    You'd have to be some kind of evil demon, like "the terrorists," to not want to "err on the side of life," right? After all, what kind of sicko would want to err on the side of death?


    Devil's Dictionary of the Bush Era

    I have a soft spot for anyone claiming to add to Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary. Wit and satire of such sharp edge seems hard to come by in these days of blunt trauma humor. Devil's Dictionary of the Bush Era owes more to Orwell than Bierce but the thought counts.

    For the last few years we have been ruled by lexicographers. Never has an administration spent so much time creating, defining, or redefining terms, perhaps because no one (since George Orwell) has grasped the power and possibility that lay hidden in plain sight in the naming and renaming of words. In a sense, our post-9/11 moment began with two definitions: The Bush administration named our global enemy "terrorism" and called the acts that followed a "war," which was soon given the moniker "the global war on terror" (later reduced to the acronym GWOT, also known as World War IV), which was then given an instant future – being defined as a "generational struggle" that was still to come. All this, along with "war" itself, was simply announced rather than officially "declared."

    Given that we were (by administration definition) at war, it should have been self-evident that those we captured in our "war" on terrorism would then be "prisoners of war," but no such luck for them, since their rights would in that case have been clearly defined in international treaties signed by the United States. So the Bush administration opened its Devil's Dictionary and came up with a new, tortured term for our new prisoners, "unlawful combatants," which really stood for: We can do anything we want to you in a place of our choosing. For that place, they then chose Guantanamo, an American base in Cuba (which they promptly defined as within "Cuban sovereignty" for the purposes of putting our detention camps beyond the purview of American courts or Congress, but within Bush administration sovereignty – the sole kind that counted with them – for the purposes of the Cubans).

    In this way, we moved from a self-declared generational war against a method of making war to a world of torture beyond the reach of, or even sight of, the law in a place that (until the Supreme Court recently ruled otherwise) more or less didn't exist. All this was then supported by a world of pretzeled language constantly being reshaped in the White House Counsel's office, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon so that reality would have no choice but to comply with the names given it.


    How Safe is Safe?

    The neverending war footing in a lockdown nation. From Security the Progressive Way by John Tirman:

    The hardening of society began with a crackdown on Muslims in America. Terrorist-related prosecutions, harassment of Muslims and other Arab Americans and surveillance and disruption in these communities has included at least 200,000 FBI interviews, "special registration" for thousands of Muslim men, as well as hundreds of deportations. All of this has produced no evidence of a domestic terrorist threat lurking in American society. In fact, the 9/11 Commission report could uncover no such plot, and the nearly 400 indictments by the Justice Department are a parade of inconsequential misdemeanors or actions unrelated to al Qaeda. This is not just about civil liberties – there is a larger danger that Muslims are being targeted by federal authorities as a permanent internal threat. We are witnessing the re-emergence of a cold war culture in a new U.S. security apparatus and compliant social and political institutions.

    This is not to say there is no threat, of course. America still faces a risk of attacks by al Qaeda from abroad, and the danger is growing as a result of the Iraq war.

    The anti-Muslim juggernaut also twists the role of society itself in protecting ourselves from terrorism. Alienating and isolating Muslims, Arab Americans, South Asians and other immigrant communities is foolish on moral grounds and as a means to achieve antiterrorism goals. What we should be fostering from these communities is cooperation, not alienation.

    But the Bush administration is intentionally fostering mistrust and anxiety. Through the endless stream of higher alerts and its alarmist rhetoric, it is nurturing an ethos of fear as civic virtue. It sponsors, for example, programs in schools and civic education that emphasize being alert to the possibility of terrorists in one's community. As Steven Heydemann and Amaney Jamal point out in a new study for the Social Science Research Council, "Through such initiatives, the Corporation for National and Community Service and other government agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations linked to these agencies, are integrating norms of homeland security as a defining element in the broader relationship between citizens and government. It is being used to reframe commitments to civic education, with a special focus on bringing homeland security themes into K-12 curricula in public schools. It is also becoming more prominent in the governance of other activities long associated with the vitality of civic life in the United States, including volunteering, community service, and charitable giving."


    Environmentalism and Hunters

    I'm interested in the hook from this story named Fishing for New Environmentalists by Russ Baker. I do believe that hunters and fishers should have a vested interest in preserving the environment but they often don't have a good grasp of how the issue impacts their lives.

    In the Times article, the reporter spoke with a fisherman. When she told him that the lake in which he was fishing was a probable mercury "hot spot," he replied, "You're worrying me."

    And there, my friends, is a political goldmine for good environmental policy. For many years, the NRA has had the upper hand with the hunting-and-fishing crowd. It has been so successful in stressing threats to the right to carry a gun that the NRA almost single-handedly, with help from the Christian right, transformed Congress into a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Corporate State.

    Hunters and fishermen are not all the same, to be sure, and they're also not as ideologically one-dimensional as they are often portrayed. If they understand the larger consequences of the NRA-wrought "revolution," they'll become alarmed about the threats that face them. Shrinking stocks of fish, more pollutants in the food chain, erosion of natural area by development and logging – all of these are disturbing developments for those of us who spend time outdoors.

    Thus far, the environmental movement and progressives in general have not done nearly enough to engage the millions of Americans who hunt and fish. When they come to understand the direct consequences of the administration's steady unshackling of polluters, they will realize that there's more at stake in local, state and federal elections than the kind of gun they may carry. As for Christian fundamentalists, they have recently developed a vocal environmentalist wing, based on the religious conviction that humans should act as "good stewards," not despoilers, of God's green earth.

    These people are a ready-made audience for a clear save-the-environment message. The facts are there, for sure. The state of Connecticut has noted, for example, that most types of fish have some mercury in them, and advised that the following people should not eat more than one meal a month of fish that are caught in Connecticut rivers and lakes:

    • Women who are pregnant
    • Women who plan to become pregnant
    • Women who are nursing their baby
    • Children under six

    Subsistence and sports fishermen who eat their catch can be at a particularly high risk of mercury poisoning if they fish regularly in contaminated waters, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Nationally, though many waterways haven't even been tested yet, mercury pollution is known to have contaminated 12 million acres of lakes, estuaries, and wetlands (30 percent of the total), and 473,000 miles of streams, rivers, and coasts. Forty-four states have issued fish consumption advisories – that's enough to put a damper on a boisterous fish-fry around any campfire.

    Monday, March 28, 2005


    Fighting Propaganda

    Methods of conveying information from a source to the end user (consumer) have changed over the years. For a very long time, advertising has been an avenue for a manufacturer or retailer to give tailored information to a consumer. Not really the truth and not (generally) whole lies, advertising as the saying goes "sells the sizzle, not the steak." A picture of an SUV taken from the height of the front bumper makes it look much larger, dominating the landscape, even though few people will actually see the SUV from this angle.

    There is a long history to the press release. A press release is written to provide easy access to information to reporters at newspapers and TV stations. Often it is even written in a manner so that whole sentences and paragraphs can be lifted directly from the release and inserted almost verbatim into a "story." Of course, the reporter needs to be aware that the PR from General Electric on GE's nuclear reactor might not be the full story or might selectively choose favorable "experts" as sources. Now suppose the person writing a story on GE is in the NBC newsroom. NBC is owned by GE. You can see how this might influence how the story is written.

    Public relations and advertising are the bane of our times. In many ways, these two industries underwrite much of the "news" we get every day from TV and newspapers. Think about this: TV broadcasting is 100% paid for by advertising. Not 50%, not 70%, but 100%. Now also take into account that at least some of the information being provided (and used) for news reports comes from press releases and the like, and it's easy to see just how weighed the system is in favor of advertisers and corporations.

    For years, the government has also been supplementing the information to reporters and news networks. The so called Video News Releases (VNR) are often completely professional and, well, complete reports, ready to air. They are prepared by a Public Relations firm in consultation with a particular government agency. They often have a "reporter" (who is not really a reporter) doing intro, outro, and voiceover. You may not be aware of it but regular news reports usually have a very defined structure, narrative, and pacing. VNRs use these structural signposts to cue you into thinking you're watching a "real" news report when you are actually watching a promotional advertisement for the government.

    Although the use of VNRs apparently goes back to the Clinton administration, the Bush Admin has substantially increased their numbers and distribution. Take a look at this Google search which just adds "gov" to "video news release". This brings up the .gov sites that mention VNRs.

    It's difficult to counteract VNRs. You might never know you've seen one. The only antidote I've found is to regularly visit sites that are active in presenting differing views, alternative news, and media criticism. But I do this anyway because most mainstream news seems to studiously avoid controversy except in the most superficial manner.

    Here are some sites I like:

    Common Dreams bills themselves as "Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community."
    Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) is a kind of media watchdog organization. Not too good at breaking news but good at identifying bias and holes in media coverage of stories.
    Media Matters for America is a very active site monitoring rightwing talk show hosts and other stories, factchecking and shining a light on particularly egregious and nasty utterances from these hosts and others.
    Democracy Now! has done stories about VNRs in the past. It is one of the few real counterbalances to the current rightward swing of the media.

    This is PBU13 in association with the Progressive Blogger Union.

    Sunday, March 27, 2005


    National Grudge Day

    This may not seem at all in keeping with my previous post about verbal abuse but I think this is both funny and serious. I'm not sure I'd like the actual implementation though. I'm not going to reprint any of it. You'll just have to go see for yourself. So go see National Grudge Day at the blog Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell. Want a taste? She suggests replacing Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day with a National Grudge Day.


    Verbal Abuse

    The subject of verbal abuse recently came up in response to some rather abusive comments over on Zmag Blogs in a discussion on pornography. I thought I'd share. From Verbal Abuse and Domestic Violence by Patricia Evans:
    Verbal Abuse Can Lead to Domestic Violence
    I see verbal abuse as a boiling cauldron of pain and anguish in possibly millions of homes and physical abuse as the surface sputters that get our attention. Batterers don’t start beating their partners before they have first withheld their feelings from them, called them names, or belittled them. A person who might cross from verbal to physical abuse is likely to show signs of an impending physical assault by launching intense and repeated verbal attacks, by indulging in rages or by becoming abusive in public. Such a person attempts to justify the abuse by blaming their partner. Batterers notoriously blame the victim of their assaults. "If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be in jail," says the batterer. The verbal abuser does likewise saying, "You made me...," or "You’re trying to control me," or "You’re trying to start a fight."

    Battering and Myths
    Domestic violence is an enormous problem made difficult to see, not only because it is usually hidden, but also because it is hard to understand why grown ups revert to hitting and sometimes killing the people to whom they claim to be close. Myths about the victims, such as "they bring it on themselves," or are "co-dependent", or "provoke it," also obscure the problem.

    Control, Verbal Abuse and Violence
    Domestic violence is about the control of one human being by another. This control begins with verbal abuse and is similar to mind control. Verbal abuse attacks one’s spirit and sense of self. Verbal abuse attempts to create self doubt. "You don’t know what you’re talking about," "You don’t have a sense of humor," "You can’t take a joke," "You’re too sensitive," "You’re crazy."

    Verbal abuse so controls ones mind that some women who have left a verbally and sometimes physically abusive relationship twenty or more years ago still find themselves wondering, "Maybe there’s something I could have done...," or, "Maybe if I’d tried to explain just one more time my relationship would have gotten better." Very often the people who find themselves the target of controlling behaviors can’t comprehend that anyone would want to control them so they try to be nice. This doesn’t work. You can’t stop a rapist by being extra nice.


    Oil Death for Industrial Society

    The US should be spending some effort figuring out what to do when the supply of oil starts declining. Some people think we've already passed what is called "peak oil". From the site Peak Oil: "Peak oil is the point in time when extraction of oil from the earth reaches its highest point and then begins to decline." It seems unsurprising to me that the Bush Administration, with its strong ties to the oil industry, isn't addressing this problem. Or rather, the way it is addressing the problem is to send the US military to secure the largest possible sources of oil left in the world. Who do you think will profit from the tightening market on oil and rising prices? Textiles? The service sector? Small businesses?

    A friend of mine sent me a link to the following interview with Matt Savinar. He is the author of The Oil Age is OVER: What to Expect as the World Runs Out of Cheap Oil, 2005-2050. I haven't read the book but he does seem to have a good grasp of the issues. He is very pessimistic about our future. This is from In the Wake:

    Aric McBay: Could you summarize the current Peak Oil situation for us?

    Matt Savinar: If the optimists are correct, we are 10-20 years from the peak. If the realists are correct, we are peaking right now.

    We have no scalable alternatives.

    We have no plan on how to reform the banking system so that it does not require a constantly increasing supply of energy.

    We have no political leaders who are willing to tell the public the truth.

    In other words, it doesn't look good.

    AM: What does this mean for the prospects of industrial civilization? What level of technology will people be living at in 50 years?

    MS: Optimistically, the average westerner will be reduced to what you might consider a modern day third world level of existence. In that case, your best bet is to either be as self-sufficient as possible or extremely rich - top 1 percent or better. Everybody else is in deep trouble.

    Pessimistically, nuclear war and radical climate change will eliminate all but a very small portion of the population.

    Saturday, March 26, 2005


    Rule of Law?

    So much for an orderly society based on the rule of law. From the Miami Herald:

    Hours after a judge ordered that Terri Schiavo was not to be removed from her hospice, a team of state agents were en route to seize her and have her feeding tube reinserted -- but they stopped short when local police told them they would enforce the judge's order, The Herald has learned.

    Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told police in Pinellas Park, the small town where Schiavo lies at Hospice Woodside, on Thursday that they were on the way to take her to a hospital to resume her feeding.

    For a brief period, local police, who have officers at the hospice to keep protesters out, prepared for what sources called ``a showdown.''

    In the end, the squad from the FDLE and the Department of Children & Families backed down, apparently concerned about confronting local police outside the hospice.

    ''We told them that unless they had the judge with them when they came, they were not going to get in,'' said a source with the local police.

    ''The FDLE called to say they were en route to the scene,'' said an official with the city police who requested anonymity. ``When the sheriff's department and our department told them they could not enforce their order, they backed off.''

    Friday, March 25, 2005


    Pam's House Blend

    Pam's House Blend is a homey blog. She's got dog pictures which is always a sure path to my heart. And she takes in rescue dogs, another plus to me. Her subhead reads: "American. Female. Lesbian. Ethnically diverse. Opinionated. Proud member of the Reality-Based Community." Plenty of commentary on current issues in the news. Take a look.


    Canvassing and Missionary Proselytizing

    A little tidbit picked up in How to Turn Your Red State Blue:

    And yet the improbable fact about missionary activity is that it works, regardless of the faith's specific dogma. Mormons are the fastest-growing church in the country. Evangelical protestant congregations make up 58 percent of all new churches in the United States. Globally, Islam continues to reach into new and unfamiliar lands, experiencing explosive growth in China. Religions that actively proselytize – Pentecostals, Mormons, Muslims – grow, almost without exception.

    There's a corollary to this in politics. Yale political scientists Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber have found in numerous studies of voter contact that face-to-face canvassing is far and away the most effective means of persuasion: Roughly one out of every 15 voters approached at the door will add their vote to your tally.


    Almost Cats...

    I'm still not sure I've got this inserting photos thing down right. Although I've rarely come across it, I understand there is a tradition of blogging one's cats on Friday nights. Over on AmericaBlog, John blogs orchids. Below are two of our dogs giving the evil eye to the photographer. I have spared you, gentle viewer, the rest of the scene which includes the lifeless body of a flying squirrel. Sheena (Shiba Inu in the foreground) had made a kill, perhaps her first. In the house. We have flying squirrels in our walls. Don't ask. Generally we are able to livetrap them and release them elsewhere but this one got out of the walls and was loose in the house. We vacillate between pride and disgust. Ripley (black Shiba in the background) has much more experience hunting but not always the best judgement. She once killed a porcupine in our yard. I am not kidding. She had a couple of hundred quills in her that had to be pulled.

    Damn, I feel like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly saying "Oh, that's disgusting isn't it?" Sorry if this was too much information.

    Demon Dogs on guard Posted by Hello


    It's the Oil, Stupid

    Despite claims to the contrary by the Bush administration, it's difficult to not see the connection between oil and US military interventions in the Middle East. Locations of proven world oil reserves are easy to look up. The top three countries in descending order are Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait. See any connection between them? Why, the US is great friends with the repressive Saudi ruling family! Hmm, now where do I remember Iraq and Kuwait from? Some "police action" I think.

    The next three are almost as interesting: Iran, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. I don't know much about UAE but the US has certainly been making threatening noises toward Iran and Venezuela. Venezuela even had a nice brief little coup against the democratically elected government. Who backed the coup? Three guesses and the first two don't count. How interesting!

    I was following up on some info in a Norman Solomon article on government paranoia so I could read the original text of a quote from the Department of Defense. It's contained in a nifty little report released on March 18, 2005 with the catch title "The National Defense Strategy of the United States of America" (PDF). This is the excerpt:
    Consider this key statement: "Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism."
    Yep, they'll use that ol' "strategy of the weak" against the US. And, eww! "Judicial processes!" Why can't they just use strongarm tactics and economic blackmail like a normal superpower nation? Oh, wait, there aren't any other superpowers... Never mind.

    Thursday, March 24, 2005


    Personal Sacrilege

    I've read books all my life. I've read a LOT of books. I read almost compulsively.

    I have great respect for writers. I have aspirations to write something of substance some day.

    So the following realization borders on earth sundering sacrilege: Writers are not necessarily intelligent. I don't mean I disagree with some writer's positions or their technique. I mean some might be of average or less than average intelligence.

    I always figured crafting language was, ipso facto, intelligent work. Wrong. It's a skill. Of course, a moron might have some difficulty writing a coherent piece but perhaps not as much I would like to think. (I use "moron" as defined in my dictionary: a person with the mental capacity of an 8-12 year old.)

    And I don't mean to insult morons by comparing them to writers. Just so you know.


    Book: Loving to Survive

    I'm not really sure I want to review this book but I have been read chunks of it lately and wanted to at least mention it here.

    Loving to Survive: Sexual Terror, Men's Violence, and Women's Lives by Dee L.R. Graham with Edna I. Rawlings and Roberta K. Rigsby. (New York: New York University Press, 1994) The basic premise draws on the 1973 hostage situation in Stockholm that gave its name to "Stockholm Syndrome." Stockholm Syndrome is when hostages and captors mutually bond to one another to the point where the hostage actually wants to protect the captor. The authors of Loving to Survive postulate something they call Societal Stockholm Syndrome which affects essentially all male-female relationships. Violence or the threat of violence leads to certain behaviors, certain coping patterns on the part of women. Lest you think they are referring just to physically violent or abusive relationships, they are not. The net cast by the thesis is much wider.

    From the inner cover: "Dee Graham and her coauthors take this syndrome as their starting point to develop a new way of looking at male-female relationships. Loving to Survive considers men's violence against women as crucial to understanding women's current psychology. Men's violence creates ever present, and therefore often unrecognized, terror in women. This terror is often experienced as a fear--for any woman--of rape by any man or as a fear of making a man--any man--angry. They propose that women's current psychology is actually a psychology of women under conditions of captivity--that is, under condition of terror caused by male violence against women. Therefore, women's responses to men, and to male violence, resemble hostages' responses to captors."

    To those unfamiliar with feminist theory this might seem like a wild overexaggeration. The authors are very thorough in laying out the details and supporting documentation. They start with a close examination of the actual hostage situation from 1973. It was well documented. From there, they draw on numerous studies to build the case for Societal Stockholm Syndrome.

    One aspect in particular struck me: The precautions women take to prevent violence. If women were asked directly whether they were afraid of men in general, they usually said no. However when asked about specific situations they encountered in day to day life, the answers told a very different story. Particularly telling was comparing the women's answers about these situations with men's responses about the same situations. An included chart is difficult to quote directly because of the format but the results are clear: Women restrict their activities much more than men due to fear of violence.

    I like the book and think it's well worth seeking out and reading.


    Fair Use and Blogs

    This suit against Google is interesting. I can understand the basis of the complaint as explained at CJR Daily, but the thing that always freaks me a little is the concept that linking to sites might be illegal. I can't really understand why anyone would think something that drives web traffic to your site is bad. If links are outlawed, only outlaws will have links? I'd hazard that 90% of the blogs published would die without the ability to link to external sources.

    This is all very nebulous stuff, but if the case makes it to trial it may set a precedent for both news aggregator sites like Google News as well as blogs that use content from news sites. Under the broad outline AFP is using in its lawsuit, even links to stories may come under fire.

    In a somewhat ironic twist, the thing Web journalists most hope for -- legitimacy -- may be an argument that AFP ultimately uses against them. Joshua Kaufman, a partner at law firm Venable LLP, which represents AFP, told eWeek that Google News should be viewed in the same light as a traditional newspaper, because the way it displays and uses content independent of a user's search request is akin to a traditional print publication.

    Once this all shakes out, if AFP and the other producers of copyrighted content decide that their rights continue to be violated, online publishers will have a stark choice to make: pony up and start paying copyright fees, like the print papers and magazines that they want to sit at the table with; or run the risk of defending some big-time lawsuits.


    EM 1: Shameless Agitator

    This is first in a small series of posts featuring women's blogs I've enjoyed reading recently in celebration of Estrogen Month (EM).

    Shameless Agitator reminds me a bit of the tone on my blog. Except she seems smart and incisive. She often excerpts other sources to make her point. Check her out.


    Estrogen Month!

    I'm a little late getting to this idea from Elayne Riggs. I like it. I'm going to see if I can add 4 or 5 deserving (IMHO) women bloggers to my rolls over the next week.
    In fact, if you're a male blogger, why not take the Pen-Elayne Pledge publicly on your blog that you'll add to your visible blogroll at least one female blogger per week this month, whether or not the bloggers you add are the same ones I do? Be sure to post about whom you add as well, and I'll mention your participation here.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2005


    Lying by Graph

    Damn lies and statistics, indeed. OK, I understand that CNN has changed this graph since it was first published but it is still a monumental piece of misleading graphic art. This is what happens when you allow graphics designers to visualize statistics. I'm not saying designers are dumb, just that they aren't the best choice to do graphs. USA Today used to be the biggest offender on this front. Cute little stacks of pennies or cows to punch up the graphic, ignoring the actual information being conveyed. This is from a Media Matters story:

    According to the poll, conducted March 18-20, when asked if they "agree[d] with the court's decision to have the feeding tube removed," 62 percent of Democratic respondents agreed, compared to 54 percent of Republicans, and 54 percent of Independents. But these results were displayed along a very narrow scale of 10 percentage points, and thus appeared to show a large gap between Democrats and Republicans/Independents:

    Laid out in this manner, the graph suggests that the gap between the two groups is overwhelming, rather than only 8 percentage points, within the poll's margin of error of +/- 7 percentage points. Also, this presentation obscures the poll's finding that majorities of all the groups sampled approved of the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube. A more accurate presentation of the poll's findings would have looked like this:

    * UPDATE: CNN has updated its graphic after the posting of this item.


    Inevitable Terry Schiavo Post, Part II

    Really, I shouldn't add yet another post to this public spectacle of commentary and ethical parsing. The only thing I'm fairly certain about in this whole case is that an extraordinary amount of court and legal time over the course of seven years has been spent going over the issues and the evidence from both sides. Does that insure that the right decision has been reached? Not really. At this point, I just don't think I can know what is best in this situation. There are many ways in which I distrust our court system but given the situation, the different judges, and the appeals, I have to hope that the system has reached a proper judgment.

    A synopsis of the case that is long but covers many aspects is at Obsidian Wings. It takes a similar view but with much more detail.

    Monday, March 21, 2005


    Women Bloggers

    Every few months apparently, some (male) bloggers ask "where are the women bloggers?" One response is the Blogroll at What She Said! A couple of people (women) have collected reasons people (male) have given about why women bloggers are not as prominent as males. (Well, except for Wonkette apparently, who seems to be in a class by herself. I don't know; I don't read her much.) This first bit is from Sappho's Breathing:
    "Golly, why are all the big-time bloggers men?"

    "Well, my child, let me tell you...."

    1. Women don't like to argue, and they aren't very good at it anyway.

    2. Women are boring.

    3. Wonkette is an exception because she's young and pretty and likes sexual innuendo.

    4. Women only blog about women's issues, which are boring.

    5. Women don't argue; they react emotionally. "Ew, bad, I don't like it!" isn't an argument.

    6. Anyone can write a weblog, and popularity simply comes to those who write the best. Women bloggers aren't popular. Ergo, women don't write as well as men. (If A, then B. Not B. Therefore, not A.) [Female bloggers, imposing logical form on male hysteria...but I digress.]

    7.Women are practical and think about their families. They don't think about big, important ideas, like silly, impractical men do.

    8. Women aren't interesting.

    9. P.C. feminists are running Harvard and running Larry Summers out of a job.

    10. White men are really the victims here.

    There's more to the post, this was just the beginning. In a similar vein comes the following from Bitch. Ph.D.:
    You know, I try. I really try to give credit where it's due, to not be such a bitch, to be understanding that men don't "get" feminism, for the most part. I know it's not their fault. I know privilege is blinding.

    But fuck me.

    I saw that first post yesterday, after I wrote this one. And it clearly implies that Drum was at least one of the bloggers who said some of those things. But I thought, ok, well, let's hold off, I don't know that for sure, he's trying, ya ya ya. But you know what? He is trying. But goddamn, goddamn, how long do we have to stand around and be grateful for men "trying" when they continue to say shit like this? And not have the--excuse me--balls to admit it unless someone forces them to?

    Women don’t give me much linkable material.

    Women write on subjects that don’t interest me.

    Women don’t know how to compromise on abortion rights.

    Why don’t women post about Social Security? It affects them, too.

    Women don’t write commentary, don’t come up with new ideas.

    Gender politics is all secondary issues.


    News Feedback Loop

    The idea is nothing new: News channels are in a self-inflicted feedback loop between high ratings and not particularly important human interest stories. Such stories often provide good footage, salacious details, less need for research, and easy access for pundit opinion. Viewers watch, drawn by the drama, and ratings go up. More airtime is spent on the story and less airtime is spent on so-called "hard" news stories.

    I'm not saying some of these "soft" news stories don't provide a hook for discussing important issues but when the "crisis" is over, what is really left of the discussion? The Michael Jackson trial could be a way of discussing how sexual predators manipulate and abuse children or other victims. It could show the complexities of how the abused person often has an ongoing relationship with the abuser and that abuse rarely happens between complete strangers. This information is important regardless of Jackson's guilt or innocence. I don't see much of this kind of depth in coverage of these stories.

    Just my opinion.

    Sunday, March 20, 2005


    Inevitable Terry Schiavo Post

    Amid the uproar about Terry Schiavo, I've only been really aware of the case for about two days. I heard the phrase "vegetative state for 15 years" and figured she was due death if it was appropriate. Then I caught the video on the news of her seeming to track a balloon with her eyes and expressions on her face as she apparently saw people. I thought, whoa, she may be brain-damaged but she sure seems cognizant and aware of her surroundings. I had previously thought she was in more of a coma.

    A search brought up this site called Abstract Appeal which follows items of interest in Florida law. The sitekeeper, one Matt Conigliaro, seems to have done a fairly good job of tracking the legal issues and the presented facts of this case. As he comments, it's a sad case but not incomprehensible. He does not know any of the principals personally and apparently both sides have called him biased at various times, a perverse recommendation in my book. This is from his page of information on this case. If you are looking for a relatively dispassionate assessment of the situation, his page is a good place to go. All emphasis is mine.
    This is a very tough situation for all involved -- and mind you I'm not at all involved. I just discuss the case as part of what seems to be my running commentary on Florida law.

    I appreciate that you wish to understand more. Ultimately, Terri's case is understandable, though painfully so. If you take away the "evil" allegations that have been leveled against everyone, it's easy to see what you're left with.

    You're left with a woman who suffered a heart attack 15 years ago, who essentially died but was resuscitated, though not entirely. Her brain had suffered enormous damage from the heart attack. As time passed, her brain further deteriorated -- to the point where much if not most of her cerebral cortex (the portion of the brain that controls conscious thought, among other things) was literally gone, replaced by spinal fluid. Doctors hired by Terri's husband say the deterioration of Terri's brain left her without thoughts or feelings, that the damage is irreversible, and that Terri's life-like appearance is merely the result of brain stem activity -- basically involuntary reflexes we all have. An independent doctor hired by the court reached the same conclusions. Doctors hired by Terri's parents did not dispute the physical damage done to Terri, but they claim there are new therapies that could improve her condition. In two separate trials, the trial court found such claims of potential improvement to be without merit. Terri's body continues to function without her cerebral cortex. She is sustained by a feeding tube surgically inserted into her stomach. She cannot eat through her mouth without a strong likelihood of choking to death.

    You're left with a husband who lived with his in-laws following Terri's heart attack, who apparently provided care and therapy for years but who later came to believe Terri would never recover. He believes she would not have wanted to be kept alive in this brain-degenerated condition by a surgically implanted tube. He is apparently willing to continue his fight to achieve what he believes Terri would want despite ridicule, hatred, expense, and threats.

    You're left with parents who were once allied with Terri's husband in an effort to care for Terri and restore her but, unlike Terri's husband, they never lost hope. They believe Terri reacts to them and has conscious thoughts. They believe Terri would not want, and does not want, her feeding tube removed, and that some cognitive function could be restored through new therapies. Terri's parents are willing to continue their fight to achieve what they believe Terri would want despite ridicule, hatred, expense, and threats.

    You're left with judges who have been placed in the utterly thankless position of applying Florida law to this impassioned situation. Florida law calls for the trial court to determine what Terri would chose to do in this situation, and after a trial hard fought by Terri's husband and her family, where each side was given the opportunity to present its best case about what Terri would do, the court determined the evidence was clear and convincing that Terri would chose not to continue living by the affirmative intervention of modern medicine -- that she would chose to have her feeding tube disconnected. In a second trial, brought about by Terri's family's claims new therapies could restore her and that the existence of such a therapy would make her "change her mind," the trial court again heard evidence from all sides and determined that no new therapy presented any reasonable chance of restoring Terri's brain function. The propriety of these decisions -- from the sufficiency of the evidence to the appropriateness of the procedures used -- has been unanimously upheld on appeal each time.

    You're left with a public that is much confused. Some see video clips of Terri moving, appearing to make eye contact, and making sounds, and they assume such are the product of conscious thought -- that Terri's "in there." Some believe Terri's husband has been motivated by money. Some believe that no heart attack occurred -- instead, Terri's husband beat her nearly to death and has been trying to end her life ever since. Some believe he is a bad person because he has taken up with another woman and has children with her. Some believe Florida's judiciary is corrupt or inept, to the point where death threats have been made against the trial judge. Some are sad that families would fight like this. Some believe that removing Terri's feeding tube would cause her pain and is inhumane (I'm no doctor, but the medical information I've seen on this subject uniformly says the opposite.) Some are disappointed that the law does not allow someone in Terri's condition to be kept alive perpetually if a family member is willing to care for him or her. Some believe no life should be permitted to reach an unnecessary end unless irrefutable proof, or at least written proof, shows the person wanted things that way.


    State of the News Media

    You, dear reader, might have gathered from some of my posts that I have an interest in journalism and the flaws of corporate media in society. (My title/credit in my high school newspaper was "creative lackey.") This may explain why I'm happy to find a whole report devoted to The State of the News Media from It seems rather long but I thought I would excerpt from the Overview and the five trends identified in it:

    Last year we identified the underlying trends shaping the transformation. In 2005, our research has led us to five main conclusions about the nature of the media landscape.

    There are now several models of journalism, and the trajectory increasingly is toward those that are faster, looser, and cheaper. The traditional press model - the journalism of verification - is one in which journalists are concerned first with trying to substantiate facts. It has ceded ground for years on talk shows and cable to a new journalism of assertion, where information is offered with little time and little attempt to independently verify its veracity. Consider the allegations by the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," and the weeks of reporting required to find that their claims were unsubstantiated. The blogosphere, while adding the richness of citizen voices, expands this culture of assertion exponentially, and brings to it an affirmative philosophy: publish anything, especially points of view, and the reporting and verification will occur afterward in the response of fellow bloggers. The result is sometimes true and sometimes false. Blogs helped unmask errors at CBS, but also spread the unfounded conspiracy theory that the GOP stole the presidential election in Ohio. All this makes it easier for those who would manipulate public opinion - government, interest groups and corporations - to deliver unchecked messages, through independent outlets or their own faux-news Web sites, video and text news releases and paid commentators. Next, computerized editing has the potential to take this further, blending all these elements into a mix.

    The rise in partisanship of news consumption and the notion that people have retreated to their ideological corners for news has been widely exaggerated. A year ago we mentioned a third, older form of news that seemed to be gaining momentum - the journalism of affirmation. Here the news is gathered with a point of view, whether acknowledged or not, and audiences come to have their preconceptions reinforced. In 2004, that notion gained new force when Pew Research Center survey data revealed that Republicans and conservatives had become more distrustful of the news media over the past four years, while the perceptions of Democrats, moderates and liberals had remained about the same. This led to the popular impression that independent journalism was giving way to a European-style partisan press, in which some Americans consume Red Media and others Blue. The evidence suggests that such perceptions are greatly overstated. The overwhelming majority of Americans say they prefer independent, non-partisan news media. So, apparently, do advertisers and investors. In addition, distrusting the media does not correlate to how or whether people use it. Not only do Republicans and Democrats consume most news media outlets in similar levels, but those in both parties who distrust the news media are often heavier consumers of news outlets than those who are more trusting. The only exceptions to this are talk radio and cable news. In the latter, Republicans have tended to congregate in one place, Fox. For most other media, the political orientation of the audience mirrors the population. The political makeup of the network news audience, for instance, matches that of the Weather Channel.

    To adapt, journalism may have to move in the direction of making its work more transparent and more expert, and of widening the scope of its searchlight. Journalists aspire in the new landscape to be the one source that can best help citizens discover what to believe and what to disbelieve - a shift from the role of gatekeeper to that of authenticator or referee. To do that, however, it appears news organizations may have to make some significant changes. They may have to document their reporting process more openly so that audiences can decide for themselves whether to trust it. Doing so would help inoculate their work from the rapid citizen review that increasingly will occur online and elsewhere. In effect, the era of trust-me journalism has passed, and the era of show-me journalism has begun. As they move toward being authenticators, news organizations also may have to enrich their expertise, both on staff and in their reporting. Since citizens have a deeper range of information at their fingertips, the level of proof in the press must rise accordingly. The notion of filling newsrooms only with talented generalists may not be enough. And rather than merely monitoring the official corridors of power, news organizations may need to monitor the new alternative means of public discussion as well. How else can the press referee what people are hearing in those venues? Such changes will require experimentation, investment, vision and a reorganization of newsrooms.

    Despite the new demands, there is more evidence than ever that the mainstream media are investing only cautiously in building new audiences. That is true even online, where audiences are growing. Our data suggest that news organizations have imposed more cutbacks in their Internet operations than in their old media, and where the investment has come is in technology for processing information, not people to gather it. One reason is that the new technologies are still providing relatively modest revenues. The problem is that the traditional media are leaving it to technology companies - like Google - and to individuals and entrepreneurs - like bloggers - to explore and innovate on the Internet. The risk is that traditional journalism will cede to such competitors both the new technology and the audience that is building there. For now, traditional media brands still control most of where audiences go online for news, but that is already beginning to change. In 2004, Google News emerged as a major new player in online news, and the audience for bloggers grew by 58% in six months, to 32 million people.

    The three broadcast network news divisions face their most important moment of transition in decades. A generation of network journalists is retiring. Two of the three anchors are new. One network, CBS, has said it wants to rethink nightly news entirely. Nightline, one of the ornaments of American broadcast journalism, was fighting for its life. After years of programming inertia and audience decline, network news finds itself at a crossroads. If the networks rethink nightly news, will they build on the programs' strengths - carefully written, taped and edited storytelling - or cut costs and make the shows more unscripted, like cable interview programs? Will they try to find network evening news a better time slot, or begin to walk away from producing signature nightly newscasts altogether because of the programs' aging demographics? Will ABC try to save Nightline because it adds to the network's brand, or drop it because the company could make more money with a variety show? The next year will likely signal the degree to which passion, inertia or math drives the future of network news.

    Saturday, March 19, 2005


    Bankruptcy and Health Care, Part III

    It may seem that I'm beating the whole medical bankruptcy thing into the ground but it's important to counter the misinformation that only spendthrifts and irresponsible people file for bankruptcy. From one of my previous posts:
    That's a startling example of the "straw-man" school of argument. The study by the Harvard profs shows that in the two years before filing for bankruptcy, 19 percent of families went without food, 40 percent had their phone service shut off, 43 percent could not fill a doctor's prescription and 53 percent went without important medical care.
    One of the authors of the study mentioned answers a few questions here about how the methodology of the study. Here's a little bit from it:
    2) What did you say in the study?

    There were many ways to measure medical bankruptcy, from the family that was crushed by massive medical bills (medical debt) to the person whose bills were picked up by insurance but who was flatted by eight weeks with no income (job loss) to the family that paid off huge medical bills by putting a second mortgage on the house and who now can’t manage the mortgage and all their other bills (migrating debt). We said that reasonable people could make the count different ways, but that the data suggested that about 44.2%-54.5% of the families filing bankruptcy could fairly be classified as medical bankrupts. We extrapolated those numbers, which would mean about 750,000 households filing for bankruptcy, or about 1 million people (counting husbands and wives who file together). Once the children, the elderly dependent parents, and the non-filing spouses are counted, the total rises to about 2 million.

    These families were mostly middle class, with good educations and decent jobs. About three-quarters of them had health insurance at the onset of the illness or accident that eventually bankrupted them.

    3) Is it true that you included drug addiction and gambling in the definition of medical bankruptcy?

    Yes, we reported data on addition and gambling—but it made very little difference on the overall numbers. About 2.5% families described the costs of dealing with addiction and 1.2% reported uncontrolled gambling. Many of those families had other medical problems—children with serious illnesses, car accidents, a terminal illness in the family, etc. If all of these families were somehow disqualified from consideration as medical bankruptcies, then the top range of the estimate of medical bankruptcies would drop from 54.5% to 50.8%.

    4) Why include these people at all? Isn’t this their own fault?

    My physician coauthors felt strongly that a family driven to bankruptcy to pay for drug rehab treatments for a teen-aged son should be included in medical bankruptcies. They also thought that a family that lost everything when an out-of-control husband ran up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts at casinos should be included. If a family described their reason for filing as addiction or uncontrolled gambling we reported it, but we also gave the exact percentages so that anyone who wanted to exclude these people could do so—and could see that it wouldn’t change the overall finding.


    Polls: Half Empty or Half Full?

    Do you see any problem with the title of this post? If you don't, read on.

    One problem (among many) with polls is false parameters. I'm sure professional pollsters have a term for this but I don't know it. The questions, the way questions are asked and the range of responses offered by the pollster, constrain and define the possible answers. No matter how impartially such questions are phrased, this can give completely unrepresentative results. The act of phrasing a question in a yes/no/I don't know format simplifies the tally process but also imposes a response universe of only three answers on the issue.

    The title of this post utilizes a well known water glass metaphor ("Is the glass half empty or half full?") often used to tell whether a person is an optimist or a pessimist. Half full, optimist; half empty, pessimist. An argument could be made that the glass is a vessel designed to hold liquid. Any description of its contents also depends also on its previous state (i.e., empty or full.) Its state is both static and dynamic, a snapshot and a moment with a past and a future.

    It's not always obvious what moment a poll is capturing or the boundries of its information.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2005


    Illicit Drug Use and Revisionist History

    I admit it: I've abused illegal (and legal) drugs in my past. "Abused" in this case is not just a euphemism for "used" although that is true too. Except for a few very notable times, I've never really tried to hide this part of my past. Of course I don't have children so the problem of what to tell the kids isn't one I've had to deal with. But this is an issue that needs to be confronted honestly not with deception and revision of personal history. The whole "Do as I say, not as I do/did" thing is creepy to me. I think there's a real problem with trying to maintain an idealized past/history. I think these lies reverberate, create modes of thought and denial which become a sublimated part of the public discourse. (ooo, "me talk pretty some day," as the title of David Sedaris' book says.) The following is from Do You Puff, Daddy?:

    According to the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than a third of Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at some point in their life – that's 80 million people who actually admit it, and I suspect there are a couple more who don't. Many of these millions can look at their offspring with a straight face and explain that while they once experimented with drugs during the folly of their youth, now they don't – and neither should you, little man.

    That must be nice for them. I don't know many of these people.

    The people I have spent the last decade working and playing with have inhaled more than a few puffs and taken a variety of trips down Alice's rabbit hole. Yet some way, somehow they have turned into able and impressive members of the republic. These are people with good jobs, who engage in charitable pursuits and who rarely cut in line at Whole Foods. We've taken some of our old vices with us into adulthood without burning down the house or checking into rehab. We've done a good job prolonging our adolescence, but now we're facing adulthood's ultimate gut check: children. And when it comes to kids, we have a drug problem.

    What to tell the children about past – and, in many cases, current – drug use ain't easy. Should we practice what we preach? Should we lie? Where do you draw the line between being a hypocrite and protecting your kids? Are we worse parents if we get high in front of our kids than if we have a couple of stiff drinks? How do we reconcile our own experiences with drugs – ones that have been overwhelmingly positive – with the very real possibility that our kids could run into trouble with what are in fact potent substances?

    Before you write nasty letters to the editor denouncing my friends and me for advocating drug use, let's be clear: Scores of people have had their lives and the lives of those around them destroyed by drugs. No one I know believes that all drugs are good nor wishes a nation of junkies on anyone. Drugs are not for all people, all drugs are not for all drug users, and no illicit drugs are good for children.


    Next Big Thing

    Nope, I'm not going to reveal the NBT. Sorry. My incisive insight doesn't include this knowledge. I would like to note that American society has become so used to the ever-shortening cycles between one "big thing" and the next that we have a diminished sense of recent history. I'm particularly thinking about politics but it also encompasses popular culture.

    I would love to see politicians held accountable for campaign promises, especially when these promises are correlated with their political actions. Politicians are allowed to change their positions on issues but I think it should also be known exactly how their position has changed. I think it's important to understand what a politician said before they were elected and what they actually did in the period following election. I guess I would mostly like to see cynical posturing held up to the harsh light of the actual actions taken by the politician.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2005


    Quote of the Day

    You do have to wonder what a Democracy is when it comes down to a few men in the Pentagon and a few men in the White House having their way.

    --Seymour Hersh, from Democracy Now! via The Progressive.


    Scary Paul Cameron

    AmericaBlog has a post about the return of Paul Cameron, a scientific "expert" who has been spreading quite nasty misinformation about gay people for, well, over twenty years. According to the post, his theories are so strange and outre that even the religious far right hasn't quoted his work for five or more years. Read the whole post but here's a little bit from it:
    "At the 1985 Conservative Political Action Conference, Cameron announced to the attendees, 'Unless we get medically lucky, in three or four years, one of the options discussed will be the extermination of homosexuals.' According to an interview with former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Cameron was recommending the extermination option as early as 1983." - Mark E. Pietrzyk, News-Telegraph, March 10, 1995.

    "At least twice Cameron has advocated the tattooing of AIDS patients on the face, so that people would know when they were meeting with an infected person. The penalty for trying to hide the tattoo would be banishment to the Hawaiian island of Molokai, a former leper colony. In the event that a vaccine were developed to prevent AIDS, Cameron has proposed that homosexuals be castrated to prevent them from 'cheating' on nature." - Mark E. Pietrzyk, News-Telegraph, March 10, 1995.
    Obviously a charming and sensitive fellow.


    Gay Marriage and the Law

    Amid all the furor about "activist judges" on the gay marriage issue, I feel that an important point is drowned out. In the Massachusetts ruling allowing gay marriage, the Supreme Judicial Court of Mass. (SJC) didn't just impose some arbitrary standard on the population of the state. What they ruled was that NOT allowing marriage between same sex couples was unconstitutional under the law of the Mass. constitution. The constitution is the foundation for many laws in the state. You can't just decide to not like some part of the state constitution and ignore it. It is the SJC's job to interpret the constitution and that is what it did.

    I note that a California court has come to the same conclusion. This is from the San Francisco Chronicle:

    News that a judge declared California's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional fell Monday on a San Francisco City Hall that was a ghost of the noisy, floral-scented building it was around this time last year, when thousands came to wed their same-sex partners before the ceremonies were halted by court order.

    Monday, March 14, 2005


    Jesus' General

    I like humor. Much as I try to be serious blog-guy, commenting on issues of free speech and politics, I'm really just a frustrated comic and satirist. So I thought the tone of Jesus' General was pretty funny. I commented on a letter Gen. JC Christian wrote to Gary Glenn of the American Family Association of Michigan. It gives me a giggle so I thought I'd share.
    Hmph! In my day, there weren't no d**n articles in the school newspaper about Wiccans. Buddhists, maybe. Quakers, sure. But don't get me started on those d**n Unitarian-Univeralists! New England is crawling with them! Every town seems to have one of their d**n pagan temples! In eighth grade, I had to get my occult knowledge the hard way: a deal with the devil and hallucinogenic drugs! None of this "Blessed be!" stuff and nekkid rituals in the woods! It was hard work! And lonely! And I had acne!

    Anyway, thanks for your stout reply to Mr. Glenn. I tingle with you. In a manly, hetero way, OK?
    And, really, no disrespect meant to any of the mentioned religions. I mean, the devil worshipers are pretty mellow, but I sure don't want to get on the bad side of the Quakers or Buddhists; they can be mean when riled. I heard somewhere that the central tenet of Buddhism is "Every man for himself."



    Update: It's back. Why do I bother complaining? I guess it's like carrying an umbrella to ward off the rain.

    I was wondering if BlogRolling was too good to be true. I've always had a leery feeling about using services that were external to my blog and/or web site. My Blogroll sits in the left column under the heading "of interest". I've added, oh, 20 or so sites to this list. The list is called from Tonight the link is dead, the site times out and I no longer have that list of sites of interest to me. Do I have this list anywhere on my local computer? Of course not. I can reconstruct it I guess.

    The main attraction of blogrolling was that it was quick (just click a button on my toolbar) and it didn't require me to add them by hand to my blog's HTML code. I'm a lazy sod and this is where it gets me. Merde. Adjust, adapt, carry on.


    Death by Numbers

    Science and mathematics are marvels of our age. Both have accomplished many things for society. Modern American society would not be possible without the ability to quantify and measure. Yet the overreliance on numbers is also what is killing us.

    How do you count love and happiness? How do you measure quality of life? And before you suggest that there are tests and standards purporting to measure these things, consider that those very scales of measure may be part of the problem.

    In capitalist society, corporations care most about the "bottom line," an accounting measurement of expenditures and profitability. A side effect of this focus is viewing the human component as peripheral to the bottom line. Theoretically, in a corporation, almost every person can be replaced. In fact, people often are replaced in order to improve profits and efficiency.

    We live our lives to the rhythm of various kinds of measurement: the clock helps regulate when we work and play, the money we earn defines where and how we live.

    The current consolidation of media is a case in point. Laurie Garrett of Newsday recently resigned, citing, among other things, the bottom line mentality of the owners. In her resignation memo she wrote: "The leaders of Times Mirror and Tribune have proven to be mirrors of a general trend in the media world: They serve their stockholders first, Wall St. second and somewhere far down the list comes service to newspaper readerships.” (In an curious side note, Ms Garrett's scathing memo and resignation have hardly been covered in the press. The only reference I found to it was at Editor & Publisher, hardly a mainstream source. I would think the resignation of a Pulitzer prize winning journalist in this manner would be news.)

    I was going to explore this relationship between numbers and quantification of our lives further here but I'm a little pressed for time. I've only scratched the surface of what I wanted to say. Perhaps later.


    For the Children...

    I have a real soft spot in my heart for Lying Media Bastards. I started blogging after reading a particularly well annotated entry on LMB. So I find myself cribbing several links from LMB for this post.

    Now that we've had tales of abuse of adult prisoners, here come tales of juveniles as young as 11 years old being held prisoner at Abu Ghraib by Americans. But I doubt they were abused; Americans would never abuse children. However they could be used for leverage against the parents:

    In one case, witness statements among the released documents allege that four drunken Americans took a 17-year-old female prisoner from her cell and forced her to expose her breasts and kissed her.

    In another documented incident, troops are alleged to have smeared mud on the detained 17-year-old son of an Iraqi general and forced his father to watch him shiver in the cold.

    Since justice and the American Way is at stake, a few trifling mistakes might be made. Not to worry, at least we're winning the war:

    In her interview, she said Maj Gen Walter Wodjakowski, then the second most senior army general in Iraq, told her in the summer of 2003 not to release more prisoners, even if they were innocent.

    "I don't care if we're holding 15,000 innocent civilians," she said Maj Gen Wodjakowski told her. "We're winning the war."

    Of course, the ACLU is giving comfort to America's enemies by revealing our tactics of soft persuasion:

    The documents the ACLU released today, posted online at, describe substantiated incidents of torture and abuse by U.S. Marines, including:

    • holding a pistol to the back of a detainee’s head while another Marine took a picture (Karbala, May 2003)
    • ordering four Iraqi juveniles to kneel while a pistol was "discharged to conduct a mock execution" (Adiwaniyah, June 2003)
    • severely burning a detainee’s hands by covering them in alcohol and igniting them (Al Mumudiyah, August 2003), and
    • shocking a detainee with an electric transformer, causing the detainee to "dance" as he was shocked (Al Mumudiyah, April 2004).
    OK, sarcasm doesn't seem to be working for me any more. Mock executions of juveniles? Electric shock? I can barely believe this crap. Is this what the American military is reduced to? Are Americans so inured to these horrid events that nothing will shock us? Won't anyone speak up, shout, demonstrate over these vicious tactics?

    Sunday, March 13, 2005


    Tragedy of Bassim Chmait

    [Note: This is the first subject I've written for the Progressive Blogger Union that I've had doubts about. Although it seems like a straightforward case of unnecessary force and wrongful death against a young Arab-American, these doubts crept into my mind. There is an obvious appeal to activists: Unarmed Arab-American shot dead by an off-duty Homeland Security member. All the evidence I've found points to the unjustified murder of Bassim. I feel nasty for bringing in my doubts but I can't help it. To see what other PBU members are writing on this subject, go to this technorati page. ]

    Tales of police using too much force for a given situation are distressingly common. The use of overwhelming force is an understandable tactic on the police's part to protect themselves and gain control of a situation. When mistakes are made, covered up and/or dismissed without investigation, then I become very concerned about the acceptance of these tactics in all situations. The arrogance of power, of a code of silence, of superiority, becomes justification for abuse. These should not be allowed to stand unanswered.

    Several years ago, a friend of a friend was the victim of such unnecessary force. Robert "Woody" Woodward's story can be found at Justice for Woody.

    A more recent tale can be found at Justice for Bassim. Here is part of their telling of this tale:

    A typical Friday night house party was held at the Madrid apartment complex in Mission Viejo, California on Friday February the 4th. Late the same night, around 1:30 a.m., a group of six friends, including Bassim Chmait, entered the complex and began walking towards the party. Soon thereafter, a neighbor living next to the party, Douglas Bates, an off duty U.S. Custom's officer, left his home dressed in just his blue bathrobe with his badge in hand and gun drawn. He confronted the group, yelling, "You do not want to F*** with a cop, do you?"

    One member of the group yelled back at Bates to stop pointing the gun at his friends. In response, Mr. Bates then pistol whipped this member of the group in his forehead. Anticipating that his friend was going to be struck again or worse, Bassim Chmait stepped in between Bates and his friend, asking Bates to put the gun down. Without warning, Douglas Bates then shot Bassim in his head. Every member at the scene was unarmed except for Mr. Bates. After shooting Bassim, Mr. Bates fled back into his apartment.

    While I do not want to excuse this horrific act or the way it has been officially handled, a few things bother me slightly about the presentation of this case. Although Bassim was 20 years old, among all the photos on the website above, practically none show him post-puberty/ adolescent/ adult. I find this strange for some reason. Perhaps relatives didn't have many photos from Bassim's later life. The result is a series of pictures that show a sweet, large-eyed boy from infant to about 12 or 14. [Update: There is a good picture of the older Bassim and many other details and links at this DC Indymedia story.]

    Official investigation into this shooting has been more than strange. Mr. Bates has not been charged with any crime. As far as I can tell, self-defense hasn't been cited. It looks like a Grand Jury will be empaneled now, more than a month after the shooting. An Orange County Weekly story has more information.

    Another call for action with some different details can be found at the International Action Center.

    I can't end this with any grand summing up. Bassim's death is tragic and, as far as I can tell, completely preventable and unnecessary. What else is there to say?

    This is PBU11, written in association with the Progressive Blogger Union.

    Thursday, March 10, 2005


    Thank a Feminist

    Blogger ate this the last time I tried to post it. I came across this and liked it. The post (dated May 2004) says it's been floating around the web for a while but I don't think I've seen it. This is just the beginning of it; there's more. Happy Women's History Month. From Echidne of the Snakes:
    Thank A Feminist

    If you're female and... can vote, thank a feminist. get paid as much as men doing the same job, thank a feminist. went to college instead of being expected to quit after high school
    so your brothers could go because "You'll just get married anyway," thank
    a feminist. can apply for any job, not just "women's work," thank a feminist. can get or give birth control information without going to jail,
    thank a feminist.

    ...your doctor, lawyer, pastor, judge or legislator is a woman, thank a


    Bankruptcy Legislation, Part II

    I admit to having a bit of antipathy to Arianna Huffington. This comes from her past as a more conservative commentator. So I don't read her often, even when she's making good points. She makes a fairly concise summary of the problems with the current bankruptcy bill currently near passage in the Senate. From Open Fire on U.S. Consumers:

    So what does the bill do? It makes it harder for average people to file for bankruptcy protection; it makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant; it endangers child support payments by giving a wider array of creditors a shot at post-bankruptcy income; it allows millionaires to shield an unlimited amount of value in homes and asset protection trusts; it makes it more difficult for small businesses to reorganize, while opening new loopholes for the Enrons of the world; it allows creditors to provide misleading information; and it does nothing to reign in lending abuses that frequently turn manageable debt into unmanageable crises. Even in failure, ordinary Americans do not get a level playing field.

    Credit card companies have been feverishly lobbying for this legislation for nearly a decade – and it looks like the $34 million the finance and credit industries have contributed to political campaigns since 1996 is finally about to pay off. On Tuesday, the cloture vote on the bill was 69 to 31. The House passed similar legislation last year and GOP leaders are hoping to bypass the conference committee deadlocks that have derailed similar measures in the past and have the bill on President Bush's desk in short order. The president, well aware that credit card giant MBNA is one of the Republican Party's largest donors, has promised to sign the bill as soon as someone hands him a pen.

    Make no mistake, the inequitable nature of the bill – bending over backwards to help the credit card industry while sticking it to American working people who fall on hard times – is no accident. Time and again over the last week, the Senate shot down amendments that would have made the bill a bit less mean-spirited. They denied proposals that would have made it easier for military veterans, the sick and the elderly to qualify for bankruptcy protection. They even rejected an amendment that would have put a 30 percent ceiling on the interest rates credit card companies can charge. Thirty percent – that's more than Paulie Walnuts charges. But 74 U.S. senators – including John Kerry, Harry Reid, Barack Obama and Dick Durbin – clearly thought that wasn't high enough. Quick, somebody send those guys a Bible bookmarked to Deuteronomy 23:19: "Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother."


    Women's History Month

    I liked this piece on why March is Women's History Month.


    CIA - The World Factbook

    The CIA World Factbook 2004 makes for interesting reading particularly if you're interested in finding out about other countries. They also cover the US. This is their overview of the US economy:
    The US has the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per capita GDP of $37,800. In this market-oriented economy, private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions, and the federal and state governments buy needed goods and services predominantly in the private marketplace. US business firms enjoy considerably greater flexibility than their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan in decisions to expand capital plant, to lay off surplus workers, and to develop new products. At the same time, they face higher barriers to entry in their rivals' home markets than the barriers to entry of foreign firms in US markets. US firms are at or near the forefront in technological advances, especially in computers and in medical, aerospace, and military equipment; their advantage has narrowed since the end of World War II. The onrush of technology largely explains the gradual development of a "two-tier labor market" in which those at the bottom lack the education and the professional/technical skills of those at the top and, more and more, fail to get comparable pay raises, health insurance coverage, and other benefits. Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households. The years 1994-2000 witnessed solid increases in real output, low inflation rates, and a drop in unemployment to below 5%. The year 2001 saw the end of boom psychology and performance, with output increasing only 0.3% and unemployment and business failures rising substantially. The response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 showed the remarkable resilience of the economy. Moderate recovery took place in 2002 with the GDP growth rate rising to 2.4%. A major short-term problem in first half 2002 was a sharp decline in the stock market, fueled in part by the exposure of dubious accounting practices in some major corporations. The war in March/April 2003 between a US-led coalition and Iraq shifted resources to the military. In 2003, growth in output and productivity and the recovery of the stock market to above 10,000 for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were promising signs. Unemployment stayed at the 6% level, however, and began to decline only at the end of the year. Long-term problems include inadequate investment in economic infrastructure, rapidly rising medical and pension costs of an aging population, sizable trade and budget deficits, and stagnation of family income in the lower economic groups.

    Wednesday, March 09, 2005


    Bible Studies

    I've often wanted to do in-depth study of the Bible, not because I believe it to be the Word of God, but because so many other people think so. Its use to justify, well, almost anything intrigues me. The whole "ten commandments" thing is particularly confusing. The version of the commandments usually referred to and written is only one of three versions in the Bible. While the versions are similar, there are very significant differences. I also find myself wondering about the accuracy of the accepted english translations. Anyway, the following is from American Wahabbis and the Ten Commandments:

    The Christian right, the evangelical movement that provided the added push needed to nudge President Bush past a tight election, is equally prone to selective interpretations of scripture. The Ten Commandments are used as a wedge to put across what is essentially a cultural protest against social change, but in the bitter disputes that have followed these seemingly ridiculous arguments the message of the commandments is usually lost. The Christian right pretends to be concerned about the life of an unborn fetus, but expresses little interest for the fate of the living child who emerges from an unwanted pregnancy, and is even ready to kill or at least destroy the careers of those who do not agree with them. Although the commandments prohibit killing, and Christ advised his followers to leave vengeance to God, the fundamentalists seem to delight in the death penalty, and in reducing welfare support to unwed mothers who are struggling to deal with the results of pregnancies that they could not control and never wanted to have.

    In the United States, as in the Middle East, the core of this Puritanism stems from a nostalgia for an imaginary past – in our case, a belief that the U.S. was a wonderful place when it was peopled mostly by pioneers who came from good northern European stock, who knew right from wrong, and weren't afraid to back up their beliefs with a gun, or by going to war, if they needed to.

    The founding fathers, of course, had a very different vision. They had seen the damage caused by the arcane disputes which triggered the religious wars of the 17th century. They preferred the ideas of the secular enlightenment, which instead of forcing men to accept the religious interpretations of other men, provided the space and security for each man to seek God in his own way.

    Tuesday, March 08, 2005


    Bankruptcy Legislation

    TalkingPointsMemo, a favorite political blog of mine, admits to spending too much time perhaps on the Social Security "restructuring" debate. Other political issues are getting short shrift because of this. Josh has launched a special site devoted to examining the bankruptcy bill working its way through Congress. It looks to be very interesting to me since I've commented on bankruptcy here and here. The following is from the opening statement from the Professor leading the site.

    The bill is more than 500 pages long, all in highly technical language. But the overall thrust is pretty clear:

    • Make debtors pay more to creditors, both in bankruptcy and after bankruptcy, so that a bankruptcy filing will leave a family with more credit card debt, higher car loans, more owed to their banks and to payday lenders.

    Make it more expensive to file for bankruptcy by driving up lawyers’ fees with new paperwork, new affidavits, and new liability for lawyers, so that the people in the most trouble can’t afford to file.

    • Make more hurdles and traps, with deadlines that a judge cannot waive even if someone has a heart attack or an ex-husband who won’t give up a copy of the tax returns, so that more people will get pushed out of bankruptcy with no discharge.

    Make it harder to repay debts in Chapter 13 by increasing the payments necessary to confirm in a repayment plan, so that more people will be pushed out of bankruptcy without ever getting a discharge of debt.

    There are people who abuse the system, but this bill lets them off. Millionaires will still be welcome to use the unlimited homestead exemption. And if they don’t want to buy a home there, they can just tuck their millions of dollars into a trust, a “millionaire’s loophole” that lets them keep everything—if they can afford a smart, high-priced lawyer.

    I don’t get paid by anybody on any side of this fight. I just think it isn’t fair.


    Helping the Terrorists

    I know people have commented on this before but I get furious with ANY argument that includes the phrase "You're just helping the terrorists... 1) by talking about such and such, 2) expressing criticism of our government, 3) by doubting the motives of Bush & Co., 4) etc."

    Hello? Is this "six degrees of Kevin Bacon"? In what world is speaking against war helping war? The logical chain is just about as convoluted as they come. On a related semantic note is this post from CJR Daily:

    Of course, sweeping, logically suspect statements serve a purpose for politicians, for whom it may well be more important to inspire than to elucidate. Journalists have a contradictory mandate -- their goal should be to use clear, forthright language to evenhandedly convey important information. Thus while "freedom is on the march" may be a great phase for a president, it's an inexcusable one for a reporter. (Not to mention the fact that one citizen's freedom is another's horror -- as partisans on both sides of the abortion, gay marriage and gun ownership debates can attest.)

    Which brings us to the word "terrorist" and its variants, most notably "terrorism." The president likes to invoke "terrorists" dramatically, in reference to people who "hate freedom," people who are members of "shadowy groups." He uses the word as a vessel for emotional response. Journalists, by contrast, need the word to have a logical foundation, so that when a news consumer reads or hears it, he or she can make some sense of it.

    And therein lies the problem, largely because "terrorist" and "terrorism" are words that lack a meaningful specific definition. We'd define a terrorist as one who, with malice aforethought, launches attacks on civilians or noncombatants out of political motivation. But that's just one characterization, and it's a loose one at that. According to the U.S. State Department's 2001 annual review of global terrorism, terrorism is "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant* targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience." (The asterisk, in case you're wondering, is used to point out that both civilians and unarmed or off-duty military personnel are considered noncombatants.) That's a nice effort, but it's far from definitive: the dictionary definitions of the word we reviewed are similar to both ours and the State Department's, but they all differ in small but crucial ways.

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