Interesting stuff in this Op-Ed piece in today's NY Times by Eduardo Porter. Some of the facts he cites confirm what I suspected, and I want to expand on some of what he says as well.

First, the facts.

Among the 30 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a club of industrial countries, only Mexicans, Koreans and Greeks pay less in taxes than Americans, as a share of the economy. The United States also ranks near the bottom on public spending on social programs: 19 percent of the nation’s total output in 2003, compared with 29 percent in Sweden, 23 percent in Portugal and almost 30 percent in France.
Like Satan*, whose greatest trick was convincing people he didn't exist, the greatest trick the economic right wing ever pulled was convincing Americans that they were overtaxed. We might be able to argue that we're not getting enough value for our money--on health care, for example, that is certainly the case--but our overall burden is not a bad one, especially when compared to the rest of the world.

Mr. Porter also points to a number of studies that suggest that charitable giving is strongly correlated with racial makeup--white people give to white people, in other words, and the more racially diverse an area, the less money is spent on social services. But there's also this:
This breakdown of solidarity should be unacceptable in a country that is, after all, mainly a nation of immigrants, glued together by a common project and many shared values. The United States has showed an unparalleled capacity to pull together in challenging times. Americans have invested blood and treasure to serve a broad national purpose and to rescue and protect their allies across the Atlantic.
I think that we over-hype our "nation of immigrants" status a bit. It's one of those things that some people say to feel good about themselves, but they don't actually believe it.

Here's what I mean. We talk a lot about the melting pot, about the lines on the Statue of Liberty, but we also talk about securing the borders. It's as though our immigrant history is just that--history. We took in lots of people from all over, but those days are done now, and we're not going to do it anymore, unless they're going to mow our lawns or babysit our kids while we dangle the threat of deportation over their heads.

I'm curious as to what percentage of the 300 million people living in the US are first or second generation immigrants, particularly from Europe, since that's the group primarily discussed when the melting pot is invoked. I'll bet it's small, and I'd also bet that even those from that group who identify as a hyphenated person (to steal Carolina Hospital's poetic term) still consider themselves more American than they do their country of origin. And if you get past second generation to people like me whose ancestors came over from Europe more than 100 years ago, the relationship to the old country (or countries, more likely) is even weaker. We're ethnically Americans now, with as little connection to the melting pot as professional wrestling has to sports.

And then there's the suggestion in the paragraph above that "Americans have invested blood and treasure to serve a broad national purpose and to rescue and protect their allies across the Atlantic." That, not to put too fine a point on it, is a bit simplistic. When we have involved ourselves in overseas struggles, we have not done it out of some feel-good, our-friends-are-in-trouble motivation. We've done it because our politicians have decided this country can benefit from it in some way. The politicians may have been wrong about the potential benefits, but that was still the motivation. (Side note--notice the European-centric nature of Porter's quote--I doubt he's talking about Africa.)

His overall point is a good one--we do need to show the ability to rise above ethnic differences and work toward a common good, and using tax money to rebuild our infrastructure is a good way to begin. It may be a necessary tool to use to get ourselves out of this current economic mess, and I would certainly love to see it.

*I speak, of course, of a metaphorical Satan, as opposed to a red-skinned, horned beast with a pitchfork and a bifurcated tail. Or even Dick Cheney.

Hot Tea Blogger?

Do you like a steaming cuppa sitting beside you while you blog the night away? Me too. Nothing like hot tea. Coffee's great: I love the stuff. But tea just can't be beat when it comes to a nice productive evening buzz.

The only problem is that hot tea leaves tea stains on the cups. It's not a matter of "rinsing right after," because the stains form while the tea is being drunk: in a ring where the tea meets the air; they slowly extend downward as the tea is consumed. These stains do not rinse or scrub off. They do not come off in the dishwasher. Over time, they darken dramatically. They look like hell.

So today I go online looking for household tips on how to clean tea mugs. I see stuff about mixing baking soda and lemon juice and bleach, and I think to myself, fuck, get out the rubber gloves -- this is going to be an ordeal. But then I get a hit that says it's from an old lady in Ireland. It recommends sprinkling a moist tea-towel with table salt and wiping the mugs inside.

I stand up. I go into the kitchen. I moisten the corner of a towel. I sprinkle it with salt. I pick up a mug. Wipe. It all comes right off. RIGHT off. Seriously. This shit that would not budge for years of scrubbing with soap and boiling hot water wiped off like it was dry-erase, with salt.

Pleased? Of course I am! But curious more. I want to know: what strange science is this? What chemical bonds are being broken? Or formed? What ions are being exchanged? How is this possible?

I begin google-searching the phrases "kitchen science" and "tea stain" -- oh sure, I find lots more advice on how to remove tea stains from mugs; most of them having to do with harsh chemicals, or vinegar. A few give the miracle salt solution, but none of them explain why salt works. What's going on here?

Or should I not be so surprised? Have we all been sucked into some massive conspiracy on the part of the chemical companies? Will common kitchen ingredients solve all of our household cleaning needs without the toxic side effects? Can I use pepper to kill ants? Can I use ice cream to heal wounds? Will ketchup get the soap scum out? Are we poisoning ourselves for nothing?!

Someone tell me: Why does a moist towel sprinkled with salt become the magic eraser of the otherwise indelible tea stain?

Where is Mr. Wizard? Where is Bill Nye? I need answers!

Not satisfied with slashing property taxes (and with it, services state-wide), the Florida legislature wants to put another tax decrease on the ballot this fall. But this one will make Amendment One look like chump change. The plan would, by 2011, wipe out the property taxes now levied throughout Florida to help fund public schools — about a quarter of a typical homeowner's tax bill. Considering that Florida has no income tax, and that the state receives the majority of its revenue from sales and property taxes, to cut a quarter of one of those revenue streams is a major blow to the state coffers, which are already pretty bare.

Florida business leaders, however, aren't wild about this plan.

Florida's business lobby has launched a campaign to torpedo the plan for additional property tax relief that the state's powerful tax commission plans to submit to voters in November....

"It's the biggest trick since Houdini, because you're going to pay for it one way or the other," said Barney Bishop, president of Associated Industries of Florida, a large pro-business group that has been buttonholing members of the commission to ask them to rethink their support.
Mr. Bishop's pained metaphor aside, he's right. We're not going to stop needing police and fire protection simply because we don't have the money to pay for it, and teachers aren't going to start showing up to work just because they love their jobs. People have to eat and live, and those tax streams pay a lot of salaries among other things, even though they get paid less than state employees anywhere else.

Proponents of the tax cut say it will help improve the housing market, which will then feed over into the rest of the economy. I say that's crap--the problem with the housing market in Florida has nothing to do with property taxes and everything to do with over-inflated housing prices. If you want people to buy houses, you either have to pay them enough so they can afford them, or the prices have to come down to where they can afford them. A tax cut on a $800,000 townhome isn't going to matter to a person making $70,000 a year--you could make it tax-free and that person isn't closing the deal.

Meanwhile, opponents of the tax deal are asking the only logical question--where's the money going to come from. So far, the proposed deal says it will make up the shortfall by increasing the sales tax by a penny. Great--a regressive tax that will hit the people who can't afford to live here even harder. And that only makes up about a third of the revenue lost to the property tax cuts. So where's the rest going to come from? No one seems to have an answer. It's like our tax commission is run by the underpants gnomes or something.
1. Cut Taxes
2. ?
3. Revenues!
It makes one despondent at times. It's enough to make a person think that the legislature is trying to make Florida such a horrible place to live that people will leave in droves, after having their property foreclosed on, so it can be turned into a playground for the uber-wealthy. But that's crazy talk, right? Right?

Good News



Via PZ Myers.

Annals of the Inane

(There may be one too many Ns in that title...)

Unless Shelfari has become a dating site (and I may have missed something), this is probably completely anecdotal, not indicative of any kind of widespread trend. Nonetheless: brought to you by the NYTimes, proof that smart people must go especially out of their way to make themselves unhappy:

Anyone who cares about books has at some point confronted the Pushkin problem: when a missed — or misguided — literary reference makes it chillingly clear that a romance is going nowhere fast.
Yes, that's right. This one's titled, "It's Not You, It's Your Books." Some gems:

“Can you believe it!” she shouted into the phone. “He hadn’t even heard of Pushkin!”

“It’s a bit of a Rorschach test.” To Fels (who happens to be married to the literary publisher and writer James Atlas), reading habits can be a rough indicator of other qualities. “It tells something about ... their level of intellectual curiosity, what their style is,” Fels said. “It speaks to class, educational level.”

“I did have to break up with one guy because he was very keen on Ayn Rand,” said Laura Miller, a book critic for Salon. “He was sweet and incredibly decent despite all the grandiosely heartless ‘philosophy’ he espoused, but it wasn’t even the ideology that did it. I just thought Rand was a hilariously bad writer, and past a certain point I couldn’t hide my amusement.” [are you sure you broke up with him??]

Judy Heiblum, a literary agent at Sterling Lord Literistic, shudders at the memory of some attempted date-talk about Robert Pirsig’s 1974 cult classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” beloved of searching young men. “When a guy tells me it changed his life, I wish he’d saved us both the embarrassment,” Heiblum said, adding that “life-changing experiences” are a “tedious conversational topic at best.” [hm. likes a cheesy book or lays her withering superiority on people... who is more tedious again?]

Jessa Crispin, a blogger at the literary site Bookslut.com, agrees. “Most of my friends and men in my life are nonreaders,” she said, but “now that you mention it, if I went over to a man’s house and there were those books about life’s lessons learned from dogs, I would probably keep my clothes on.” [thanks for the tip.]

“I’ve broken up with girls saying, ‘She doesn’t read, we had nothing to talk about,’” said Christian Lorentzen, an editor at Harper’s. Lorentzen recalls giving one girlfriend Nabokov’s “Ada” — since it’s “funny and long and very heterosexual, even though I guess incest is at its core.” The relationship didn’t last, but now, he added, “I think it’s on her Friendster profile as her favorite book.”

James Collins, whose new novel, “Beginner’s Greek,” is about a man who falls for a woman he sees reading “The Magic Mountain” on a plane, recalled that after college, he was “infatuated” with a woman who had a copy of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” on her bedside table. “I basically knew nothing about Kundera, but I remember thinking, ‘Uh-oh; trendy, bogus metaphysics, sex involving a bowler hat,’ and I never did think about the person the same way (and nothing ever happened),” [can anyone even tell me the purpose of this anecdote?] he wrote in an e-mail message. “I know there were occasions when I just wrote people off completely because of what they were reading long before it ever got near the point of falling in or out of love: Baudrillard (way too pretentious), John Irving (way too middlebrow), Virginia Woolf (way too Virginia Woolf).” Come to think of it, Collins added, “I do know people who almost broke up” over “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen: “‘Overrated!’ ‘Brilliant!’ ‘Overrated!’ ‘Brilliant!’”

“Manhattan dating is a highly competitive, ruthlessly selective sport,” Augusten Burroughs, the author of “Running With Scissors” and other vivid memoirs, said. “Generally, if a guy had read a book in the last year, or ever, that was good enough.” The author recalled a date with one Michael, a “robust blond from Germany.” As he walked to meet him outside Dean & DeLuca, “I saw, to my horror, an artfully worn, older-than-me copy of ‘Proust’ by Samuel Beckett.” That, Burroughs claims, was a deal breaker. “If there existed a more hackneyed, achingly obvious method of telegraphing one’s education, literary standards and general intelligence, I couldn’t imagine it.”

“I had a boyfriend I was crazy about, and it didn’t work out,” Nora Ephron said. “Twenty-five years later he accused me of not having laughed while reading ‘Candy’ by Terry Southern. This was not the reason it didn’t work out, I promise you.”
The rest of the article is just the Jell-O suspending aloft these lumps of fruit: writerly-readerly people sounding like asses (with the exception of Ephron, whose clear-sightedness in the context of all this idiocy comes like a punch line). The one person who had a legitimate reason to judge the person (anyone who approves of Ayn Rand's philosophies is probably a heartless jerk) judged him for reading something she saw as poorly written, not for admiring self-serving inhumanity.

As a writerly-readerly person myself, I find them a sad lot of short-sighted saps who seek only new justifications for their bad personalities and the loneliness it earns them. The only writing it's absolutely necessary to me that Brian respect is mine. (And even then...)

I think our collective image of the homeless is shaped by two major factors--the people we see on the street corners begging for change, perhaps disabled, holding a sign, dirty, and the ones portrayed on television shows, which in most cases reinforces the first image. Once in a while, a television show or a movie will remind us that some of these homeless are returned military veterans who are suffering from PTSD and/or substance abuse and can't get treatment, or that some of them are the working poor, people who are holding down a job, maybe two, and just can't make ends meet.

This article in the Sun-Sentinel focuses on that last group, and introduces us to a sub-set who have been caught in the swirling toilet that is our local housing market.

But advocates said they are seeing, for the first time, people in trouble even though they've been paying rent on time and holding jobs. That's because some landlords continue collecting rent without paying the mortgage, leading to foreclosure.

The families find out only when banks evict them. Two families joined Broward's waiting list this week after that happened to them, homeless advocates said.

Even if the renters get their deposits back, they still need to come up with the $3,000 to $4,000 required to get into a new place.
And this, I am afraid, is going to become more common, not less, as the real estate market continues to shake out. Fewer and fewer people have the safety nets of old--extended family, for instance--that can lend money or offer temporary shelter when unexpected circumstances hit. And local shelters are already being overwhelmed.
More than 100 homeless families in Broward County, many with at least one parent working full time, are on a waiting list for emergency housing. An equal number are in various shelters or transitional homes, trying to save the cash for first and last month's rent plus security deposit in an expensive housing market.

Just a few years ago, the waiting list rarely had more than a handful of families.
And for every one of those families, there's at least one more that's teetering on the edge, hoping the car won't break down, praying a kid won't get sick, wondering if the rent they've been paying actually means something.

There's been some talk about federal intervention in the housing market, especially when it comes to mortgages. That would probably help people on the brink, if it comes in time. But I'd like to see some incentive offered to banks that are foreclosing on rental properties to allow the people living there some time, possibly rent-free, so they can use the money they would normally spend on rent to save for deposits for another place, while also allowing the tenants to go after the landlord for their deposits.

This isn't a new thing. Homeless working poor have been around for a long time, and will continue to be with us as long as we place our national economic priorities where we've had them for most of our existence. But one thing is for certain. We're headed in the wrong direction right now.

I complain about my students from time to time--they have problems with subject-verb agreement, they don't know what a comma splice is, they have problems writing a compelling thesis. But I don't know that too many of my students would do this.

Coral Gables - On a typical spring afternoon on the leafy campus of the University of Miami, many of the 15,000 students are in class, others are romping around the athletic field, and a few are seeing how close they can get to a 6-foot American crocodile sunbathing with its mouth open.

"They apparently don't realize how dangerous this thing is," said security guard Roberto Heredia as he warned curious collegians away from the toothy reptile. "Some people think it's fake."
They think it's fake. Do they then shit their pants if it moves? Or are they simply looking to be a contender for next year's Darwin Awards?

I realize that some of these students are not from around here, and that they may not realize that large, toothed reptiles with a penchant for eating stray pets are actually fairly common, that we built into the swamp, and that the swamp is constantly trying to reclaim what it has lost. I can even see how they, and how locals for that matter, would be curious enough to want to look at it.

From a distance.
Last week, Heredia said he saw a campus visitor approach a basking crocodile and lift up its tail while a friend took his picture. "If that thing grabs him with its mouth, what it'll do is pull them into the water and start turning over and over in circles until the person drowns or it tears off an arm or something," Heredia said.
You can have your fancy-schmancy private school students. I want kids with sense enough to know that a crocodile will fuck you up.

I have a theory about the origins of the Cult of the Sentence. You see, the best way to teach literature, assuming that your students have already read it closely, is to talk about the author and the context, and then dive into what the story means, using especially potent passages -- sometimes just sentences -- to illustrate the point. You might also spend some time on passages or sentences that are more complex and require a bit of thought to decode the full value out of.

But of course this method is only the best way if your students actually have read the work before class (at all, let alone closely). Question: what would happen if decades'-worth of English majors graduated having barely cracked the books they "studied"? And what if they happened to be that late fruit of empire (snarkily called "snowflakes" in some quarters) who all believe they hit a triple despite their clearly having spent the game meandering between the bathroom and the sno-cone concession? In other words, what if they really believe they "know" literature -- perhaps even believe they should be writing it -- and their total comprehension of the "great literature" they believe they've read amounts to little more than the biographical highlights of the author, the outline of plot and theme, and a few GREAT sentences? (Many of which are very complex sentences, which, since they are read out of context, have interpretations that the students feel are random, smoggy streams of mystification?)

I believe this is how the cult of the sentence was born. (Not to mention the cult of sloppy logic.)

I would just like to state for the record that the easiest part of writing is putting together great sentences. (And I mean the great ones, the ones you find in Joyce and Woolf, that actually say something.) The hard part is doing something great with those great sentences: bringing characters to life, telling an affecting story.

I was just offered to write a book review, but with the explicit understanding that the review must focus on the sentences. ("Story and character don't do much for our editors..." -- I would suggest that's because your editors know nothing about them!) So, do I write a review in the model of the Cult, or do I just move on? (At this point in my career, I regret that I might just have to don the goat head and do the moon-dance 'round the altar.)

So I'm scanning around for something to blog about this morning and nothing's really catching my eye. Just not feeling inspired, you know? And then I scrolled down the diaries list at Kos, and guess what I found:

So I have a question for my fellow Kossacks.

I work at Spencer's Gifts, a store that prides itself on being fairly humourous and "edgy." We sell a shirt there that shows portrait shots Hillary and Obama side by side, seperated by the words "Bros before Hoes."

Full disclosure - I immediately purchased one even before we put them up for general sale on the floor, literally as soon as they came into our building. I thought (and think) they are hilarious.
He goes on to mention that the CEO has been getting pressure to stop selling the shirts, but plans to continue, and what do his fellow Kossacks think? The reaction is, to be kind, depressing. There are only a handful of people arguing against the shirts, full stop. A few are doing the "it's offensive and I wouldn't wear one, but the First Amendment..." game, and the rest--the majority, it feels like right now--are openly applauding the shirts.

The thread is going to get ugly, and while I generally avoid ugly threads, this is one where I've already started calling people out, and I imagine I'll be doing it for as long as the thread stays viable. If anyone else is interested, I suggest you join in.

Here's the Random Ten. Put the iTunes on party shuffle and post the next ten songs to pop up. Insert your own witty remark here--I'm too pissed to come up with anything right now.

1. What Do You Want From Me--Pink Floyd
2. Perfect Love--Veruca Salt
3. Walking Blues--Robert Johnson
4. Step Into My Office, Baby--Belle and Sebastian
5. Blues Five Spot--Thelonius Monk
6. Body Movin'--Beastie Boys
7. Low Down Man--Squirrel Nut Zippers
8. The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side--Magnetic Fields
9. I'm Wrong About Everything--John Wesley Harding
10. Rebellion (Lies)--The Arcade Fire
Question of the day--what's the most offensive t-shirt you've seen lately?

Clinton is not a Nader

When I read this Op-Ed by Nicholas Kristof this morning, I actually scrolled back to the top to make sure I hadn't misread the name and was actually reading something by Bill Kristol. Okay, that's not exactly true--Kristof on his worst day doesn't bring the stupid like Kristol does, but this piece is really, really bad, and he doesn't take long to get right into it.

Yes, Hillary Rodham Clinton may still have a chance of winning the Democratic nomination. But it’s probably smaller than the chance that a continued slugfest will hand the White House to John McCain.
This is just sloppy thinking. Everyone who reads this blog knows I lean toward Obama now, that I was an Edwards supporter, and that Clinton was never higher than 4th on my list of Democratic favorites, but come on--there is no real evidence that Clinton's continued contesting of the nomination is going to hand John McCain the White House.

Consider this: it's March. That ought to be enough of an argument, but I'll flesh it out. The only people really paying attention to the Presidential race right now are 1) journalists who are covering it, 2) bloggers who are obsessed with politics, and 3) some of the people who live in the next primary states. The average voter won't start paying attention to this race until September or October, so to argue that what's happening now in the Democratic nomination process threatens to hand the White House to John McCain is a bit ludicrous. A month is a lifetime in presidential politics, and we still have more than 7 of those to go.

But more worrisome to me is this notion that Clinton will become the Nader of 2008. First of all, we already have a Nader in 2008--the same one we had in 2000 and 2004, and he's running for President again. But secondly, the comparison just doesn't work, unless you simplify both the Nader and Clinton candidacies to matters of vanity. There's also a sense of Democratic party entitlement just oozing out of Kristof's column.
But if the brawl continues, then she and her husband may be remembered by many people who long admired them as having the same effect on Mr. Obama this November that Ralph Nader had on Al Gore in 2000.
Let's make this clear--the Nader effect in 2000 is way overblown. Gore was done in by the media, by a voter-roll scrubbing in Florida that should have resulted in criminal charges for Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris, and a Supreme Court that put partisanship over the law, and which will be reviled in history books well into the future. Plus, he won the election.

But more importantly, there's the difference that Nader wasn't challenging Gore inside his party. Clinton is, and there's no indication that she's planning an insurgent, third party campaign, or that she'll campaign for John McCain if she doesn't get the nomination (like some former VP candidates I could name). So let's knock off the specious comparisons, please. You're better than this, Mr. Kristof.

A Meme of One's Own

Blogger's looking screwy right now, so I hope this comes out all right. Anyway, my post about the death of Popeyes' Chicken founder Al Copeland got me thinking about my teen years. You see, when I was a teenager, my first real job was at a chicken restaurant, a local knockoff of Popeye's called Happy's Famous Fried Chicken n' Biscuits, owned by a colorful local fella named Fred Berger, or to those who worked for him, Mister Fred.

It wasn't a half bad job for a kid in high school. I made just enough to keep gas in my 1970 Pontiac Bonneville, and he was about my dad's age--his son, Fred Jr., was a year ahead of me in high school, though at a different school.

By the time I left Slidell, Mister Fred was getting out of the chicken business--his brand was dying, and he'd moved into the Mardi Gras bead supply business on the side, and that was taking off. I moved on and basically forgot about him until Copeland's death got me thinking, so I googled him and discovered this.

Mister Fred's a freaking professional poker player now, and not half bad from the looks of it.

So here's the meme: google someone you haven't thought about in years--one of your first bosses, an old co-worker, a college acquaintance--and see if you can find out something interesting about their lives. And then tag some indeterminate number of people to have the meme go on.

Since I have to start this thing, I tag my co-bloggers, Amy and SOS, my former co-bloggers Bradley and Emily, Michael (who needs to blog more anyway), Elle, PhD, Mark, Sinfonian, konagod, and Teh Portly Dyke. Have fun with it, y'all.

The Florida Senate did a good thing today, and you won't see me write those words very often. They approved a resolution apologizing for the state's history of slavery.


In a somber Senate chamber, legislative historian John Phelps, a former House clerk, read a summary of state laws from the 19th century that strictly regulated the rights of slaves, freed blacks and those of mixed-race living in Florida.

This is a good thing to do, but before the state Senate throws its shoulder out patting itself on the back for passing a symbolic resolution that it should have passed a long time ago, let's ask--what about the way the state, the nation for that matter, treated African-American citizens in the years since slavery? Shouldn't there be a series of apologies for Jim Crow? For the systematic denial of human and civil liberties to people who were, as defined by the Constitution, full citizens?

I bring this up because I have heard racists, when arguing against programs like Affirmative Action, say things like "slavery ended a long time ago," which is accurate, but also a lie of omission, because African-Americans didn't even begin to approach full citizenship until about 50 years ago, and in many ways, there's still a long way to go.

I also bring this up because, as people like Pam Spaulding mention constantly, race is a troublesome topic to discuss. A lot of white people are nervous about broaching the subject, especially if they oppose racism, because they're afraid of saying something insensitive or stupid, and being tagged as a racist. I worry about it myself. But I don't let it stop me, because the only way I'm ever going to get better at weeding out the racial hangups I have is by trying to talk about it, and taking my lumps if and when I say something dumb.

The post I did last night about Al Sharpton and the NAACP's involvement in the Dunbar Village rape case is an example of being really, really nervous about writing a post, about constructing my sentences carefully, about getting the facts right, because it's a sensitive issue. And one of the comments on that post shows why--some people don't read carefully, and see what they want to. In this case, a commenter saw it as a chance to slam African-Americans in general, which is absolutely not the point of the post.

One of the good things to come out of this year's presidential race has been a more open attitude toward talking about race. We're struggling with it as a nation, stumbling, fumbling, but at least we're talking now, instead of acting like it all ended a long time ago. The Florida Senate did a good thing today. Now let's move forward in history and start talking about the continued and ingrained racism that affects lives now.

Expect to see this photo a lot over the next couple of days. It's already the basis of a recommended diary at Kos, it's been linked to by Atrios, and it was posted, originally, so far as I can tell, at The Corner.



It's Hillary Clinton sitting down with the owner of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Richard Mellon Scaife. Yes--that Scaife. The one who funded the Arkansas Project, the one who pushed the "Hillary killed Vince Foster" story, one of the most odious men in recent history. And Hillary sits down with him during an interview with the editorial board.

Atrios says he'll "let the picture speak for itself." But that's precisely what we can't do, because the picture alone doesn't say anything other than that those two people were in the same frame at the same time. There isn't an automatic narrative here, much as Al Rodgers would like to think there is.

Why? Because pictures don't talk.

Let's examine the context we do have. Pennsylvania is the next big contest, and Clinton has to have not only a win, but a big win in order to stay in the race. So meeting with the editorial board of a newspaper is not only a good idea, it's a necessity, even if the owner of that paper is the biggest scumbag on earth, who accused you of murdering a childhood friend for nothing more than political gain, because if you're running for President, and you're behind, then you do shit that will turn your stomach most of the time. That's the ugly truth of it.

And the only indication that this is anything approaching a friendly meeting is a throwaway comment at The Corner--do I have to say how trustworthy I find them when it comes to anything Clinton?

So is Hillary Clinton making nice with Scaife? Maybe--but it's not certain based on that picture. For all we know, she could be telling him to fuck a dog and die. He could be calling her a pox-ridden cunt. Unless we have a transcript of the meeting, we don't know, and it's intellectually lazy, if not outright dishonest, to imply that we do. Neither Atrios nor Al Rodgers have provided a transcript--they're letting the photo do the talking, and Rodgers in particular is letting his imagination do the rest.

Rodgers may well be right. Clinton may be making nice with the man who did more to subvert democracy in the 90s than perhaps any other American. But the picture doesn't say that, and if Rodgers winds up being right, then he got lucky, nothing more. And if he's wrong, then he's slandered Hillary Clinton, and sadly, won't pay any sort of price for it.

Trekalot

Via litbrit.



The person who made this may be the biggest geek in the universe, and I bow in his or her general direction. It's the perfect melding of two of the canonical works of fan-dom. Truly awesome.

Bad Choice

Pizza Diavola suggests a letter writing campaign, and I agree.

I recently heard about the NAACP’s involvement with the Dunbar Village rapists’ case. Seeing as how the NAACP’s mission statement is to “Ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination,” I thought for certain that the NAACP was standing up for the victims in the case, who suffered rape, assault, disfigurement, and grievous bodily and mental harm. Advocating for them, providing legal counsel, pressing law enforcement agencies to do their utmost to find the six rapists currently not in custody, and ensuring that the cases of this black woman and her son would not be lost. That injustice would not prevail again in the case of a population that has consistently been disregarded, silenced, and abused.

I was horrified to find out that instead, the NAACP is standing up for the rapists. This is completely unconscionable, particularly given the DNA evidence and confessions, and the magnitude and monstrosity of the rapists’ crimes. By standing up for the rapists, you’re telling every woman of color in this country that we do not matter. Our suffering does not matter. When we’re raped, assaulted, abused, and victimized, even a group supposedly committed to fighting racism and injustice will not be our allies. Instead, you will ignore women and ignore children, because in your eyes, we don’t matter.
Here's the story, in short form. There are two major rape cases going in Boca right now, involving underage defendants. One set of defendants is white, the other is black, and the white kids are out on bail, while the black ones are not. Seems pretty clear cut, if that's all you know, and not at all surprising considering that it's Boca Raton.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details.

Let me begin by saying that I think a fair outcome in this situation would be if neither set were allowed out on bail. The white suspects are accused of getting a 13 and a 14 year old drunk on vodka and then gang-raping them. They're charged with sexual battery on a helpless person, and could face 30 years in jail if convicted.

But the Dunbar Village rape case is one of the most sordid I've ever heard of. From the Palm Beach Post:
In the Dunbar Village case, four teens are charged with armed sexual battery for the June crime where they allegedly forced the woman at gunpoint to have sex multiple times, including with her son. Police say the teens then used cleaning agents on the victims afterwards in an attempt to cover their crimes, including stuffing a bar of soap inside the woman. They face possible life in prison.
No way these people should be out on bail. Sorry, Al. It's one thing to argue that these two cases show discrimination against blacks--they do, I think--but it's another entirely to argue that because the judge in one case made a bad call, that another atrocity should be allowed to happen.

Al Sharpton and the NAACP both do good work most of the time, but in this case, they're off base, way off base. Point out the discrimination, and argue that the white kids need to be in jail as well, but by saying the black ones need to be out, you're saying that the victim in the Dunbar Village case--a black woman--is less important than the people accused of attacking her so brutally, and there's no justification for that.

What took so long?

Douchebag Supreme Joe Francis may be out of jail, but he still has legal problems. The Girls Gone Wild founder and slime-heir to Larry Flynt (without the latter's penchant for outing hypocritical Congresspeople) has been sued by women claiming they were underage when they bared all for his videos.

Four additional women sued him last week alleging he exploited them. They say they were 17, 16, 15 and 13 when the company solicited them to participate in sexually provocative videos in 2003 and earlier. They want unspecified monetary damages.
I can't be the only person who, when those videos first came out, saw this as an inevitability, both the underage part and the contractual issues. I'm not even a lawyer and I saw huge problems, not the least of which was the issue of whether a drunk person can agree to a contract of the sort Francis and his people were offering.

I hope they take him for every penny he has and then some.

Forgive the hyperbolic title, but I can't help feeling like that's the attitude behind the framing of this piece by Robin Toner in today's Times, titled "Obama's Test: Can a Liberal Be a Unifier?"

The first problem is that the answer to the question is obviously yes--liberals have been unifiers in the past, and there's no reason to think one couldn't be at this point in our history. Franklin Roosevelt was unquestionably liberal, and he united the nation in one of its more dire moments. The same was true of Lyndon Johnson in the days after the death of JFK, and was even true of the early days of Jimmy Carter's administration. But that's never even hinted at in Toner's piece.

There's another problem at play. Toner asks:

But this promise leads, inevitably, to a question: Can such a majority be built and led by Mr. Obama, whose voting record was, by one ranking, the most liberal in the Senate last year?
Emphasis mine. Toner is speaking of the National Journal's ranking, which placed Obama as the most liberal in the Senate, which is quite an achievement, considering that he's up against liberal stalwarts like Barbara Boxer, Ted Kennedy, Tom Harkin and Bernie Sanders, who describes himself as more socialist than Democrat. One would think that such an outcome might cause an intrepid reporter to at least ask how the National Journal came up with those rankings. After all, this is the same magazine that ranked John Kerry the most liberal Senator in 2003, with a pre-populist John Edwards coming in 4th by that measure.

But cast an eye around the progressive landscape, and the excitement over Obama is likely to be a bit more tepid. Yes, we're excited about the possibility of electing the first African-American president, but by that limited standard, we're also excited about electing the first woman to the presidency. But neither of them does much for us from a progressive point of view. After all, Clinton's not giving us much hope on the Iraq War front, and Obama's sold us out a bit on universal health care. Clinton seems to want to continue her husband's aggravating triangulation strategy and Obama speaks so often of unity across party lines that many wonder just how partisan he's willing to be. Progressives are supporting these two candidates--and there is a divide in the progressive community, make no mistake--in spite of their lack of progressive credentials, not because either has reached out to us.

Toner's hack job isn't limited to Obama in this piece either. Clinton gets it right in the neck.


Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has worked hard in the Senate to moderate her liberal image and forge working relationships with Republicans. But with her husband’s tumultuous presidency still fresh in some voters’ minds, she is often cast as a hyperpartisan Democrat who would try to achieve her ends by beating the Republicans at the same brutal (and often futile) competition that has dominated Washington for years.
No mention of the cause of the tumult in her husband's presidency, of the partisanship that Newt Gingrich and company exploded and then exploited. And most importantly, no questioning of the framing of Clinton as a hyper-partisan Democrat, when progressives will tell anyone within earshot that it's Clinton's tin ear on bipartisanship--crossing the aisle to support nonsensical measures like video game violence legislation or flag-burning amendments, not to mention her Iraq War vote--that makes us wonder just how partisan she will be as President.

Don't get me wrong--progressives are, for the most part, willing to line up behind either candidate, come the general election. We recognize that either will be an improvement on the current president, or on John McCain, even if we are disenchanted with the two options we're left with.

Of course, if Toner had bothered to ask a single progressive for this piece, maybe that would have come out. Obama gets the lion's share of the quotes, as one might expect, but the other people quoted are Mark Penn, Clinton's chief pollster, and Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. Any of those people sound like progressives to you? Me either. It's not like progressive voices are difficult to find if you just look around.

Toner made it pretty clear that the liberal tag would be affixed to Obama's forehead, whether it deserved to be there or not. Keep an eye on this sort of reporting--we can expect to see a lot of it in the coming months.

A couple of weeks ago, Amy wrote a post that garnered a good bit of local attention. It was titled "South Florida: Don't Move Here." Here's a sample:

Bottom line: living here ain't what it used to be. But people gotta live. Some of us have our whole families down here, all our friends, our whole histories are tied up with this place. We're trying to make it down here, but the pressure's on. The benefits are evaporating and it's getting harder and harder just to live from day to day.

And so today, it was with no surprise whatsoever that I read the following article, titled "Florida ranks last in pay for state employees." Some of the stories were sickening.
TALLAHASSEE - Eight years ago Kelvin Haywood needed surgery for a dislocated spine after he was choked unconscious by an inmate at the state hospital where he works. He's still being tested for HIV and hepatitis since another inmate bit him on his upper arm a year ago.

His pay for dealing with dangerous inmates: $24,000 a year.
But here's where the state's priorities lie. More tax cuts. We just passed a massive tax cut, even though we're busily defunding higher education and pretty much every other state institution, and now the state is proposing another 25% porperty tax cut on top of that, with only a portion to be made up by a 1% sales tax.

Don't move to Florida? More like "get out of Florida before it descends into chaos." Citizens here aren't getting services as it is, and we're talking about even more tax cuts? I guess we just can't get enough of a bad thing.

The Associated Press announced this evening that the death toll for the Iraq War reached 4,000 today. That number is incorrect. It is correct to say that 4,000 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, but it is incorrect to say that the death toll--even with the descriptive "American" added--for the war reached 4,000.

The problem is that that number doesn't count civilians, and it doesn't count Iraqis, and as a result, the American public doesn't have a real sense of just how devastating this war has been.

Nothing I am saying here is new. People have been making this same statement almost since the beginning of the war, and at one point, there was even some public outrage over the fact that the US wasn't doing civilian body counts. But that faded, just like coverage of the war has faded in recent months, thus enabling the farcical notion that the surge is working.

At least the AP acknowledged in its lede that while the 4 US deaths pushed the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq to 4,000, another 61 Iraqis were killed as well. No total number was given for them. Iraq Body Count puts the number of Iraqi civilian deaths somewhere between 82,000 and 90,000, and the 2006 Lancet study suggested that the number of people who are dead now who would likely not have been otherwise was potentially as high as 650,000. Either number is too high for my liking, but the fact that these numbers are not reported bothers me even more.

It is because we do not see these numbers, and more importantly, that we do not translate these numbers into actual people--mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, lovers--that there are not riots in the streets demanding an end to the war. And on those rare occasions when they are mentioned, they are not mothers and fathers--they are terrorists, insurgents, camel fuckers, rag heads, sand merchants, hajjis (which, according to Reza Aslan's book No god but God, is the term for a Muslim who has completed his or her hajj to Mecca--think "pilgrim"). They are demonized--the easier to ignore their suffering, the easier to assuage our consciences, to tell ourselves that they were bad people who had to die, or worse, that they weren't people at all, but rather animals.

But they are people, and they are dead, and they have family and friends who grieve for them, and we as a nation bear the responsibility for that.

Please, make us understand that responsibility.

So long, Al

I had my first taste of Popeye's Chicken when I was about 8 years old, and I never got over it. To this day, it's the only fast food I'll eat without hesitation, and that I eat regularly (which is to say, about twice a month, maybe less). So it's with a bit of sadness that I read that Al Copeland, the founder of Popeye's, has died at age 64. Thanks to him, fried chicken just doesn't taste right to me if it doesn't have a liberal dose of cayenne pepper in it.

Blogging against Theocracy

I suppose I could have cheaped out and used yesterday's post about James Carville's inane comparison of Bill Richardson to Judas as an example of the problems inherent in the lack of a separation between church and state, but that would be too easy (not to mention a bit of a stretch).

According to Wikipedia, 78.5% of the population identifies as Christian, an unquestionable majority, and that fact is often put forward by religious types who argue that since we live in a democratic society (we don't, but bear with me), then the "values" set forth by Christianity should be dominant in our society. But they gloss over the most important part of that question.

What, exactly, are Christian values? Is there a definitive list somewhere that we as a nation might examine and debate about and then decide on?

Ask a Christian conservative that, and the answer will likely be some form of "it's right there in the Bible," with perhaps a nod toward the Ten Commandments (carefully neglecting the rest of the Mosaic Law, except on the gay thing). Jesus often gets skipped over--his message of love and acceptance doesn't generally fit into their theology--but Paul (and people who claimed to be Paul) get a lot of love, especially when it comes to woman-hating.

The reason for this--and it's obvious to anyone on the outside--is that the Bible, the rulebook for this vast conglomeration of religions, is a mishmash of stories and life lessons and symbolic language and contradictory laws. Don't get me wrong--for a book written over an incredibly long period, by dozens of authors, across multiple cultures, it holds together remarkably well, but that's more a testament to the later editors than it is proof of a consistent author, or more importantly, of a divine presence in the words.

And this mishmash has already been the cause of great division inside the world of Christianity. While there have been schisms in powerful churches for purely political reasons, a great many of them have been as a result of dogmatic differences. The divisions between Catholic and Protestant theology are just the starting point--the divisions inside the Protestant movement are often hilarious to the outside observer. I get a kick out of it myself because I've been on the inside, and remember vociferously defending my narrow spectrum of beliefs as the one and only truth.

So what does this have to do with theocracy? It's pretty simple, actually. It doesn't matter if 78.5% of the population fits itself under this umbrella of Christianity--not all Christians believe the same thing, even the basics. Forget the margins. And if people can't agree on whether their holy book claims Jesus is God or Man or some sort of hybrid, what makes them think that they'll agree on more important issues of governance? And if they're a member of a small church, what makes them think they'd wind up in charge, or would even have a say? Remember, this discussion began with the claim that we're a democratic society, where the majority rules, and that since the majority is Christian, they get to rule. But that only works in an ecumenical sense, and does anyone here believe that Jeremiah Wright and Pat Robertson are going to be on the same side of any issue, no matter how much either claims to believe in God?

Fortunately, enough people are far-sighted on this. They understand that in a theocracy, their church could potentially be legislated out of existence, and so see the separation of church and state for what it is--a protection for the church as much as for the state. We just have to keep pushing back against those who don't see it, and who would attempt to dominate the rest of us through their specious claims of divine backing.

Via Atrios, James Carville gives us this illuminating insight.

The reaction of some of Mr. Clinton’s allies suggests that might have been a wise decision. “An act of betrayal,” said James Carville, an adviser to Mrs. Clinton and a friend of Mr. Clinton.

“Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic,” Mr. Carville said, referring to Holy Week.
Let's try to work this out. According to Carville, then, that would mean Hillary Clinton is Jesus, Bill Clinton is Mary Magdalene, Obama is probably Caiaphas, the high priest (if you go with the assumption that Obama seduced Richardson away from Clinton with a promise of something). Would that make the 30 pieces of silver into the VP slot or simply a Cabinet post? Carville, I'm guessing, sees himself as someone like the apostle John in this scenario.

But here's my real question. Who, in Carville's fevered imagination, is this?
51A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.
Joe Biden? Sorry.

Bob Herbert is off today, so the NY Times Op-Ed people turned the space over to someone named Timothy Egan, who proceeded to write one of the dumbest things I've read all day.

Look, I know it's taken on faith that Democrats are unorganized and that we're better than the New Orleans Saints at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There is a little truth to it--the danger of building a party around a coalition as diverse as ours, often made up of oppressed minorities, is that no one wants their priorities to be suborned in favor of others, and so there's always tension around some faction or another threatening to leave. But even with that constant tension, things are not as bad as lazy commentators would have us believe.

Egan chooses as his model for the Democratic party... the Donner party. That's right--we're a bunch of ill-prepared settlers heading for a new world who get stuck in the snow along the way and eat each other. I won't go into the myriad ways this doesn't literally work--for instance, Egan says we don't make it out of the Rockies, but anyone who's approached Denver from the east knows that the approach into Denver from that direction is fairly flat. You don't have to get into serious mountains until you head farther west. Instead, I want to point out that the Democrats are not nearly in the disarray that Egan wants to make us out to be.

Just which party is it that's turning on itself? Congressionally, that would have to be the Republicans. In the House, the Republicans are already facing 29 retirements including the former chair of the NRCC, and this only two years after having given up the majority because of their landslide losses in 2006. You'd have to think a lot of those first-term Democrats would be vulnerable, but instead of challenging them, the Republicans are going to be defending even more seats. When it comes to fundraising, both the Republican House and Senate campaign committees are lagging far behind their Democratic counterparts, and the Senate committee is also having trouble finding people to challenge Democrats in tough seats. The Democrats look like they'll pick up anywhere from 3-6 seats there in this cycle as well. So much for eating each other.

Then there are the long term trends. The image is from Kos, via a Pew Foundation poll, and let's just say it bodes well for the cannibals.

The share of voters who call themselves Republicans has declined by six points since 2004, and represents, on an annualized basis, the lowest percentage of self-identified Republican voters in 16 years of polling by the Center.

The Democratic Party has also built a substantial edge among independent voters. Of the 37% who claim no party identification, 15% lean Democratic, 10% lean Republican, and 12% have no leaning either way.
Which party is eating itself again?

But Egan isn't interested in that. It's the Presidential race that he cares about, the big enchilada, and there, certainly, the Democrats are eating themselves alive. The blogs are brimming with intra-party division, Obama supporters will walk if Clinton gets the nomination and vice-versa. Oh the humanity! (Side note: Egan's image of Howard Dean as the gibbering simpleton is too precious to be believed.)

Except that it's not likely to happen, for starters, and secondly, the excitement is all on the Democratic side. Remember those record turnouts? We're not talking about a few percentage points difference between Republican and Democratic party turnouts--if you compare the numbers from states where both nomination battles were competitive, there were cases where the Democratic frontrunner had more votes than the Republican candidates combined, where the Democratic second-place finisher had more than the top two Republicans combined. And this was well before the overstated "Rush-effect." Even if we focus on money, McCain had his best month of the campaign in February, where he raised $12 million. That's just over a third of what Clinton raised, and Obama raised about four-and-a-half times as much. But we're eating ourselves.

The Republicans look like the model of unity right now, just because they have a candidate and there's little internal sniping going on. But there are obviously some issues they're dealing with. The news that McCain sought out the endorsement of psychotic pastor John Hagee shows that McCain is worried that the religious base might not turn out for him, and if the Republicans want to play a game of "whose religious people are crazier," I'll see their Jeremiah Wright and raise them a Hagee, a Rod Parsley, Pat Robertson and a Jerry Falwell. And that's just the mainstream ones.

The Democratic race is, for all intents and purposes, over, and has been for a while. That's not to say I think Clinton should drop out--her continuing to contest the nomination means we continue to build the party in those states, and get them ready for the general election in November, and what's more, it keeps our issues front and center. There will be plenty of time to train our political fire on John McCain after we get to Denver.

The Secret is Out

Professors -- Instructors -- Teachers in general -- HAVE LIVES. Yes, it's true. More often than not, they're actually far more interesting people than their students are -- smarter, more creative, better-traveled, better-read, more experienced, and a with a far wider and more exciting group of friends.

But it is part of the ignorance of youth to find oneself endlessly interesting, and older people dreadfully dull. I like to remind my students of what idiots they were when they were 12 years old -- how they thought they knew everything and how they thought, for example, that grown-up movies were BOR-ing... because they didn't understand them. And then suggest that in another 10 years, they might be looking back at their current selves... they laugh with recognition. They're young, not stupid.

Although they seem stupid when they tell you that their families are sooo unique and interesting because they're just like the families on TV, or when they say to you, in a sugar-fueled rush, that you would totally hang out when them and their friends (and you wonder silently at how they intend this insult as a compliment) -- even then, they're not stupid, just young. And we've all chosen to work with them. I invite you to read this interesting article.

Now, to prove myself wrong, my random 10:

1. Love Train -- The Ojays
2. I'll Back You Up -- Dave Matthews Band
3. Teardrops Will Fall -- John Mellencamp
4. Break Stuff -- Limp Bizkit (this is my grading song!) :-)
5. Cold Brains -- Beck
6. Heaven on Their Minds -- from Jesus Christ Superstar
7. Oh Darling -- Supertramp
8. You're the First, the Last, My Everything -- Barry White
9. Freedom -- Richie Havens (from Woodstock)
10. Crazy Love -- Van Morrison

In a ruling that surprised absolutely no one, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals told Victor DiMaio to go away and stop bothering them. (They really just said he didn't have standing to bring the suit, but I like my version better.) Which leaves Florida back where it started--petitioning the Rules & Bylaws Committee to be seated at the convention.

I really don't care one way or the other--okay, that's not true. I hope the DNC sticks to its guns and doesn't seat either us or the Michigan delegation, and then uses that outrage to get the state parties to actually get their shit together on reforming the nominating process. The hold Iowa and New Hampshire have on the early debate is unfair and untenable and the old objection that they allow for close-in politics in a way other states don't is ridiculous now. We need to open this thing up, not limit it. Regional primaries, or rotating primaries, or even basing early states on how they did in the off-year Congressional elections, rewarding states that pick up seats and that show promise of flipping to blue would work for me. I'm open, as long as the result is that we no longer have an Iowa/New Hampshire dominant process.

And let me say this to all the people hand-wringing about how not seating the delegations will harm the party in the November: please cut the fucking bullshit. If voters stay home or switch parties in November out of petulance over what happened in a primary that a small fraction of the total electorate took part in months ago, then we've got bigger problems to deal with.

Here's the Random Ten. The iTunes is on party shuffle, and I'm ready to go home and enjoy the weekend. Working. Damn it. Here we go.

1. I Looked All Over Town--Magnetic Fields
2. Double Up--Lifesavas
3. Coming Into Los Angeles--Arlo Guthrie
4. Criminal Minded--Boogie Down Productions
5. Burn One Down--Ben Harper & Innocent Criminals
6. White Moon--The White Stripes
7. A Great Day for Freedom--Pink Floyd
8. Things That Make You Go Hmmm--C&C Music Factory
9. Too Drunk to Fuck--Nouvelle Vague
10. Door--Luscious Jackson
Weekend plans? Random Tens? Hit me.

The time has come in America for an Immigrants' and Non-citizens' Bill of Rights. Those of us on the progressive side of things will probably recognize these as simply "human rights," but rights un-codified help no one.

The most distressing thing about the Republican approach to immigration "reform" is that it focuses on the individual immigrant and sees that person as a "criminal" by virtue of his or her very presence. This is why so many object to the phrase "illegal immigrant": because it defines the person as illegal, and seems to put the person outside the protections of the law:

No problems so far, the immigration agent told the American citizen and his 22-year-old Colombian wife at her green card interview in December. After he stapled one of their wedding photos to her application for legal permanent residency, he had just one more question: What was her cellphone number?

The calls from the agent started three days later. He hinted, she said, at his power to derail her life and deport her relatives, alluding to a brush she had with the law before her marriage. He summoned her to a private meeting. And at noon on Dec. 21, in a parked car on Queens Boulevard, he named his price — not realizing that she was recording everything on the cellphone in her purse.

“I want sex,” he said on the recording. “One or two times. That’s all. You get your green card. You won’t have to see me anymore.”

She reluctantly agreed to a future meeting. But when she tried to leave his car, he demanded oral sex “now,” to “know that you’re serious.” And despite her protests, she said, he got his way.

The 16-minute recording, which the woman first took to The New York Times and then to the Queens district attorney, suggests the vast power of low-level immigration law enforcers, and a growing desperation on the part of immigrants seeking legal status.
You would think that a woman marrying US citizen would be exceptionally protected from the abuses we all know immigrants are subject to, from their bosses (who are the real criminals, by the way), from the police, from a prison system that is growing to depend on their "illegal" status for its funding -- but even this woman found herself powerless, helpless, degraded, and humiliated; she found herself subject to sexual abuse, because in this country, a unscrupulous person can seize unjust powers simply by threatening to fire up the frying pan we've placed under all immigrants' feet: when a person is "illegal," any fool can claim the power to deport.

This is because, in the USA, we care only about the rights of "citizens" and "Americans" (I should point out that all of North and South America is "America" -- Colombians and, yes, even Mexicans, are Americans!). By making a person's rights dependent upon his or her legal status, we create a subclass of people unprotected by the law -- a group of people little better off than people enslaved.

I'd like to propose, right now, an amendment to the constitution that gives any individual immigrant victimized by a US citizen instant "legal" status -- so that she can go to the police without fear, expose the crime, pursue justice, and be compensated for her suffering, at once.

Ask a Mexican

Gustavo Arellano's weekly column in the OC Weekly is one of my must-reads. I picked up on him when Amy bought his book for her mom for Christmas a couple of years ago, and now he's started doing a video version along with his column. I'm posting this one because it covers a point that needs to get greater play--the fact that Mexican immigrants assimilate.



I've tried to get this same point across to my poetry students when I do poems like "Nani" by Alberto Rios or "Bilingual Sestina" by Julia Alvarez, to name a couple. Part of the reason that the general public doesn't understand that Mexican immigrants assimilate is because there are always more on the way--by the time one group is assimilated, there are new ones here who aren't, and the general public doesn't differentiate. They just see "brown person not speaking English" and let loose with a stream of invective against illegal immigrants.

I highly recommend his column, by the way. Every Thursday--add it to your rotation.

So today, the Sun-Sentinel, which I consider my local paper--the Miami Herald just doesn't do it for me, though I may have to give it a shot now--announced that its parent company, Tribune Co., is combining the broadcast, print interactive operations of the Sun-Sentinel with WSFL, which is south Florida's CW affiliate. Why is this supposed to be a good thing?

"We'll be able to offer our advertising customers an array of mediums to advertise that no one else can offer," said Howard Greenberg, Sun-Sentinel Co.'s president and publisher.
Tribune Co., fans of The Wire will no doubt remember, is the company that owns the Baltimore Sun, and which comes in for some fairly harsh treatment on that show, in part because they have their priorities, well, skewed a bit.

I guess that's why we get such a laser-like focus on the killer stingray story, and breathless coverage of locals on American Idol above the fold online, and why you have to search a bit for the story about how budget cuts will affect the judicial system in Florida. Today's news media--focused on the important issues.

Mike Mayo has an interesting column in today's Sun-Sentinel, and it deals with a subject near and dear to my heart--the teaching of creationism in the public schools. Although I have some issues with the way Mayo argues his case (which I'll get to in a moment), I'm really glad he brought this up, because I hadn't heard about this bill.

The proposed Academic Freedom Act would protect public school teachers who "present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins." The bill also would prohibit students from "being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution."

The bill is written with so much mumbo jumbo and wiggle room, you wonder what the true motives are.

"The bill does not allow or authorize the teaching of creationism or intelligent design," insisted Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who filed the House version of the bill.

Riiight.

Hays said the bill would allow discussions about "competing theories," along with "weaknesses" in Darwin's theory of evolution.

"This protects the freedom of speech for teachers in the classroom," Hays said. "I want teachers to be able to show those holes in Darwin's theory of evolution without fear of chastisement."
Mayo is right to be skeptical, if for no other reason than that there are no "competing theories" about the development of life on this planet. There are religious beliefs, and ancient myths, but there are no other theories.

Often, disagreements like these are trivialized as "mere semantics" or "arguments over words," but words matter, and I'm sick and tired of crap like creationism or Intelligent Design being given the status of a theory. The word theory has a very specific definition in the scientific community, and to denigrate it by attaching it to beliefs based on ancient writings, often of questionable translation, aggravates me to no end.

Which is why I'm a little disappointed in Mayo's argument in this column. He wants to expand the playing field, which I can understand, but he's taking an awful chance in doing so.
Then why not have provisions covering teachers in all subjects, such as health teachers who want to discuss a full range of information in sex education classes, like birth control and abortion.

"That's more of a parental responsibility than a school responsibility," Hays said.

What kind of academic freedom is that?
Okay, so Mayo knows who he's talking to in this case, and knows it's a non-starter, but the problem is that there might be some people willing to make the trade-off, and that's a problem. I want there to be full-on sex-ed in the schools, mind you, but not if it means we have to allow creationism into a science classroom.

That's not to say there isn't a place for it in the schools. A comparative religions class would be a terrific idea, and both creationism and Intelligent Design would fit right in there alongside the creation myths of all early societies, from the Egyptian to the Celtic to the many variants of Native American and everything in between.

Just not in a science classroom.

Let's also remember that academic freedom has its limits, as well--no freedom is absolute. If I got in front of my drama class and spent all day talking about Hootie and the Blowfish, I'd get canned, and rightfully so, because I wouldn't be living up to the requirements of my job. And any science teacher who wants to talk about creationism should be treated the same way, because creationism has about as much to do with science as Hootie has to do with drama. Maybe less.

Mayo is right to point out the inconsistency in Hays's position, but he's cracking open a door that needs to be sealed shut. Religion in the humanities classes, and science in the science classes, and let's leave it at that.

He'd be this guy.



I want to be clear about something here--anyone who wants to make a connection between Hillary Clinton and this person is engaging in the same sort of bull that came up when members of the press tried to hang Louis Farrakhan around Obama's neck. I put this video here only because I find it funny in the way I find all insane religious people to be funny. And this guy is indeed a loon.

Five Effing Years

If you spend a sizable chunk of your days on political blogs (as I often do), you'll notice a lot of these kinds of posts. Five years now, this nation's military has been in Iraq. And it's only been in the last couple of years that the anti-war movement has gotten any real traction. Howard Dean got a boost in the polls and raised a lot of money in large part because of his anti-Iraq-war stance, but it didn't get him the nomination, because the Iraq War wasn't the electoral albatross it has since become.

And what has the war resulted in? Hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced--I refuse to acknowledge a difference in the casualty figures between US forces and Iraqis. They are all humans, and we are all lessened by their deaths.

Batocchio has a terrific post up about war poetry, about the difference between poets who saw action and those who didn't, which generally resulted in a romantic notion of war versus a far more realistic one. She He cites Tennyson, Owens, and Rosenberg, and notes the despicable nature of King George the Lesser's comments on his envy of the soldiers he visited recently, noting that he had his chance to serve and actively avoided it.

I'd like to piggyback off that post and move forward in time to poetry about Vietnam, as I think it fits the theme a bit more naturally. I want to begin with Wendell Berry's "Against the War in Vietnam."

Believe the automatic righteousness
of whoever holds an office. Believe
the officials who see without doubt
that peace is assured by war, freedom
by oppression. The truth preserved by lying
becomes a lie. Believe or die.

In the name of ourselves we ride
at the wheels of our engines,
in the name of Plenty devouring all,
the exhaust of our progress falling
deadly on villages and fields
we do not see. We are prepared
for millions of little deaths.

Where are the quiet plenteous dwellings
we were coming to, the neighborly holdings?
We see the American freedom defended
with lies, and the lies defended
with blood, the vision of Jefferson
served by the agony of children,
women cowering in holes.
When I first read this poem a couple of years ago, I was struck by its immediacy. Every line could be applied to the Iraq War, from the lies and propaganda that drove a shocked and terrified public into supporting it to the news coverage that minimizes the cost to humanity to the notion that we would be greeted as liberators, with flowers and candy to the harsh reality that it is innocent people who suffer in the name of American freedom.

From Denise Levertov's "Life at War":
We have breathed the grits of it in, all our lives,
our lungs are pocked with it,
the mucous membrane of our dreams
coated with it, the imagination
filmed over with the gray filth of it:

the knowledge that humankind,

delicate Man, whose flesh
responds to a caress, whose eyes
are flowers that perceive the stars,

whose music excels the music of birds,
whose laughter matches the laughter of dogs,
whose understanding manifests designs
fairer than the spider's most intricate web,

still turns without surprise, with mere regret
to the scheduled breaking open of breasts whose milk
runs out over the entrails of still-alive babies,
transformation of witnessing eyes into pulp-fragments,
implosion of skinned penises into carcass-gulleys.
Not so romantic when you look at it that way, and those of us who thought of the human cost of this war from the moment it first began being hinted at, sometime around October 2001 knew it would be like this, not because we had some special intuition, but because it is always like this.

It's a Dick in your Mouth

The Burger King, that modern monarch who does not deign to pay farm workers a penny more, wants you to know that you've got a dick in your mouth.



As an experienced interpreter of literature in the Freudian mode and model, I can draw a few easy conclusions about this ad campaign right away: first, King Burger doth proclaim that you've got a dick in your mouth. This forcefully imposed sexual metaphor -- that your tongue is a lust-wand engorged with blood and bursting with prurient need, that its presence in your mouth is alien, perhaps uncomfortable, definitely embarrassing -- seems simply to be the King calling you "cocksucker" -- an insult that derives its power from the apparently subservient position the doer of the deed represents.

Get that dick out of your mouth, cocksucker, Burger King is saying to you; stop swinging from its nuts; cease being victim to its whims. How? By recognizing your oral fixation and letting it be satisfied by the King: satisfied by small potato patties infused with melted cheese -- crispy yet soft: a palmable "American Pie" meant to be taken solo.

All of this is well enough, but the King wants you to do this in your car. The King wants you to show yourself off. The Burger King wants the young lady nearby to see you satisfy your oral need on a cheese-melty disc of salty-sweet delight, to "make straight" your dick-tonguing desires by redirecting them onto a piece of potato, and, ultimately, a pretty girl. And the King wants you to see all this as normal: you are not a pervert, a deficient, or a fool, but a natural male living out his urges at the drive-thru.

I am A Pimp Named Burger King -- it's a like A Tribe Called Quest: you got to say the whole thing.

...That's what Burger King is saying.

I Feel Sick.

So Amy and I are eating lunch in the food court on campus today, and on my drink cup, I see an ad for this. Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Orlando, every Saturday through April 19.

I take umbrage at this. I take offense at this. I am fucking steamed like you would not believe at this, and not just because the bands playing have included Bret Michaels of Poison and Kool & the Gang.

I'm pissed because it is a desecration of the one holiday I hold holy. Amy has New Years Eve, and I have Mardi Gras (not that I've been in a position to celebrate it lately).

Let's begin with the obvious--Universal has put Mardi Gras on a Saturday, which makes absolutely no sense given the name. Mardi is French for Tuesday--it's one of the few things I remember from my three years of high school French, that, and how to conjugate regular -er verbs. If Universal wanted to do a Saturday show along those lines, it should be Samedi Gras, not Mardi Gras.

But then there's the second half of the construction--the Gras part, which means "fat," as in Fat Tuesday, the last day of debauchery before Ash Wednesday, and the forty days of misery known as Lent. "But Brian," you say, "you're an atheist, not a Catholic. Why the hell should you care so much about this?"

I care because Mardi Gras is the one religious holiday that celebrates humanity. It says "yes, we acknowledge that people really want to get hammered to the point of illness and potentially engage in sexual activity and exhibitionism that they wouldn't normally partake in because the church is such a tight-ass," and gives them, not just permission, but encouragement for said behavior, complete with a "Get Out of Hell Free" card at midnight, thanks to midnight Mass. What's not to love about that? It's a holiday that screams "be the wild person you want to be 364 days a year--God's giving you a freebie!" And it's the once-a-year nature of the holiday that makes it special.

But Universal doesn't care about any of that. They think Mardi Gras is synonymous with "party with beads and shitty music." Third Eye Blind? Huey Lewis and the News? Heart?

And you know what else is in the pictures? Kids. Fucking kids. Mardi Gras is the one adults-only holiday out there, and for years, cities have been trying to make it kid-friendly, which is beside the point for the whole damn holiday. And I'm not even talking about the gratuitous nudity (which, thanks to fucking Girls Gone Wild has lost all its charm)--I'm talking about the carefree atmosphere that allows one to laugh at a friend who has slipped and fallen in someone else's puke, and who can't get up because he or she is too drunk. I'm talking about the desperate search for a toilet where the owner isn't going to charge you twelve bucks for a drink you don't want. I'm talking about taunting the street preachers who stand in the intersections holding signs that say "God Will Destroy All Sinners With Furious Anger."

No. You'll get Huey Lewis and the News, and maybe he'll sing that Back to the Future song, and Universal Studios will drop a goddamn DeLorean on the stage as the big finale.

Hey Terry McAuliffe

I didn't like your style when you were DNC Chairman, and I haven't liked the stories I've read suggesting you're trying to strong-arm Howard Dean into counting Florida and Michigan as-is by getting DNC donors to pull money if Dean doesn't do what you want him to do.

But now, given that Mark Shields has exposed you as a hypocrite, how about you just shut the hell up about what's fair for Florida voters.

This was not the first time Michigan had challenged the Democratic Party’s nominating schedule. Four years earlier, Michigan threatened — in the words of the state’s respected, but highly exercised, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin — to go “outside the primary window.”

The Democratic national chairman, in a very heated exchange in Levin’s office, told the senator, “If I allow you to do that, the whole system collapses, we will have chaos.”

An unconvinced Levin challenged the chairman, “You won’t deny us seats at the convention.” To which the Democratic chairman fired back: “Carl, take it to the bank. They will not get a credential. The closest they’ll get to Boston (the convention city) will be watching it on television.”

The Democratic chairman in 2004 who used the credible threat of massive retaliation, the loss of convention influence, was the irrepressible Terry McAuliffe.
If it was good enough back when a Clinton wasn't in the running, then damn it, it's good enough now.

Side note to Hillary Clinton: when you have a spokesperson going out there trying to argue that changing the rules in the middle of the game is a good thing, you might want to ensure that spokesperson didn't enforce those very same rules in the past.

A while back I wrote about a noose incident at Somerset Academy in Pembroke Pines. I saw today, via Electronic Village, that six students were suspended over the matter.


The school’s assistant principal, Donyale McGhee said the students involved in the noose hanging were cited for “disorderly behavior, misrepresentation of information, defiance and withholding information from administration.”
That's a far cry from the earlier report, which had the headmaster saying "There's nothing I can do. The students involved are the best, brightest honor students at our school."

I'm in no position to judge as to whether the punishment is enough, but I'm glad there was a punishment, and that the school didn't just try to hush the matter up.

Kiss me, I'm Irish!

Better yet, check out this James Joyce true or false quiz one of my friends put together for the local newspaper (where she works). The questions are listed out of order on the website, which may make it tricky to connect the question to the corresponding answer, but you don't really need an answer key for questions about Joyce, right?

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

We're Number One! Part Two

Sometimes, it's not so good to be on top, as I mentioned last week. Here's further proof, in case you needed it.

As if the struggling economy weren't enough to bear, consumers in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area saw prices skyrocket at the fastest pace of any metro area in the nation in February.

Inflation has been burning a hole in South Florida consumers' wallets for quite a while. This area lead the nation several times last year, as well.

Consumer prices rose at a 5.3 percent annual rate in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area in February, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. That puts the local rate higher than the inflation rate in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The growth in inflation here is almost double what it is in San Francisco, where the annual inflation rate in February was 2.8 percent.
No disrespect to Steve, but this isn't good news, and it backs up Amy's assertion that now isn't the best time to move here. Sorry, Alesh, but I think you're at least a year too early for that level of confidence.

If you want a sense of how the current economy is affecting higher education, by the way, check out this lovely example of rhetorical crawfishing released by, as Mark puts it, "Our Fair University." Here's the nutmeat, as Stephen Colbert might say.
10. FAU has experienced budget reductions in the past. Is this situation different?

Since 1991-92, Florida Atlantic University has experienced approximately $31 million in reductions, excluding the current year reductions. In the downturn associated with September 11, 2001, FAU experienced a $10 million reduction over a two-year period. These most recent reductions are different for several reasons. First, we will reduce our current year budget by $9.6 million. Second, we will likely face additional reductions in 2008-09 that could be over $17 million if the legislature reduces our General Revenue budget by 10 percent. Third, the total reduction over a two-year period (2007-08 and 2008-09) could approach what the University absorbed over a 15-year period. Finally, these current reductions are impacting a budget that has already been stretched well beyond reasonable limits.
And it's not like we've been rolling in money to begin with.

It's not looking good, folks, and I see no signs that it's going to improve any time soon.

Maybe I haven't thought this through completely yet, but it seems to me that there's a way to solve the quandary over the FBI practice of stinging people who travel to other countries to have sex with kids.

But Muentes' case is different. It is, in law enforcement parlance, "proactive," meaning would-be offenders are apprehended before they strike. That strategy has drawn criticism from defense lawyers who say the tactic amounts to entrapment and punishes what might be no more than a fantasy.

Muentes' attorney, David O. Markus, wrote in a brief that the charges against his client constitute police action against "a person's mere thought to do something abroad."

"I'm all for catching child predators," Markus said. "The problem is instead of netting the real criminals, this sting draws in innocent people like Jorge Muentes."

In a court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Rashbaum defended the charges, saying Muentes took concrete steps toward having sexual contact with a teenager by paying for the trip and attempting to board a plane.

"The defendant's actions constitute far more than mere thought," Rashbaum wrote.
The defense has a point--until the defendant gets there and does the abusing, it's possible that he or she might have a change of heart and not actually go through with it. It's unlikely, but it's possible.

But I can't in good conscience argue that we ought to do nothing to stop this, and only charge people once they've abused minors. That's monstrous.

But what if we made the act of contracting for the service the crime? That moves the bar enough that we're still being proactive when it comes to stopping child exploitation, but not charging people for things they haven't actually done? If a lawyer wants to help me out on understanding the issues with this, I'd be grateful.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home