As I've mentioned before, I grew up in south Louisiana, specifically, in the part that's likely to get slapped around pretty good by Hurricane Gustav for the next couple of days. The news reports about evacuations have been encouraging--90+% evacuations in New Orleans and in the coastal regions, which tells me that Katrina knocked some of the bravado out of the locals, which is tough to do.

The people closest to me have either evacuated or, in the case of my daughter, just stayed at college, which should be get some rain, possibly some tropical storm force winds, but even that is unlikely. It'll be the second time in the last four years that she's had a hurricane hit on or near her birthday. One of Amy's best poems was about the last one. Here's hoping there's less need for a poem this time around.

So my friends, past and present, in Louisiana and thereabouts, be safe. I'll be worried about you.

Don't do this

So far, this miserable excuse for a story doesn't seem to be getting much traction, not on the big blogs and not in the traditional media, and that's a good thing, as opposed to the story Amy touched on below, which needs a lot more coverage.

Here's the short version, in case you don't feel like clicking through to the diary (not story) over at Kos--some intrepid "reporter" has gathered together a bunch of photos and video clips of Governor Sarah Palin which PROVE that she wasn't actually pregnant with her last child when she gave birth. The assumption is that the youngest child--which she is, as I understand, breastfeeding--is actually her grandchild, and that this is all some big cover-up to protect, ummm, I don't know what really.

I have a hard time imagining that a pregnant teen-aged daughter would derail the political career of anyone these days, even (perhaps especially) a conservative Christian. Fundamentalist Christians are big on the slut-shaming, but they're also big on forgiveness and redemption (under certain circumstances) and trust me, they've got plenty of experience with the seven-pound-preemie phenomenon.

But even if there were a story here, I'd still say that there's no need to chase it down, because, and this is important, it doesn't matter.

When it comes to family, people of all political stripes make odd and sometimes unexplainable decisions--rather, they're odd and unexplainable to anyone who isn't inside that family. Take the Duggar family, for instance. I don't for the life of me understand why anyone, in this day and age, would want to have as many children as they've had. I just don't get it. And when I lived in Louisiana, I heard whispers about situations like the one being charged in the Palin story above. Again--I don't get why some people do it.

But in this election, we're not being asked to understand why people make the family choices they do. That stuff just isn't relevant. There isn't a necessary correlation between a person's family life and his or her policy positions, or the decisions they'd make once in office. Look at the last two presidents for evidence of that. Are we really better off because Dubya didn't screw around on his wife?

There are good reasons to think that Sarah Palin would be a horrible Vice-President. She's an extremist on choice, she's a fundamentalist Christian, she thinks we should teach Creationism alongside evolution in public schools, and she's already proven she'll abuse her executive power to pursue a personal vendetta--that's four good reasons right there. What happens in her family is irrelevant, and should be treated as such.

RNC Reign of Terror

I hope everyone is keeping up with the story surrounding the RNC convention: Glenn Greenwald is doing a great job of covering it on his blog, so I'll just link to him, but here's the short version: police are raiding houses in which lots of young people live communally, "hippie homes," as they say, with heavy weaponry, and are terrorizing innocent people. They've detained journalists and innocent citizens without cause--so far, they've only charged people with things like "fire code violations," indicating that their purpose is to harass, not protect. The irony is, there might actually be some people out there doing something illegal (like invading a country under false pretenses?), but they're too busy terrorizing innocent kids to find out. Read the amazing details at Greenwald's blog, because it looks like the major media is (incredibly) going to ignore this.

A Tale of Two Campaigns

I can't speak for everyone in the hurricane zones, obviously, but I suspect that most people on the Gulf Coast this week are paying a lot more attention to Hurricane Gustav than to the Republican National Convention, which is set to kick off next Tuesday. I've already gotten emails from several friends who are caught in the "zone of uncertainty," and even though Cuba took a chunk out of Gustav's ass yesterday, they're still either boarding up or evacuating. Politics--even of the presidential variety--isn't high on their list of priorities.

But that's not stopping John McCain and Sarah Palin from showing that they care.


Aides said McCain and his wife Cindy planned to join Palin in traveling to Jackson, Miss., Sunday at the invitation of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour because of concerns about people threatened by the storm. Gustav was heading into the Gulf of Mexico and menacing the same area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The storm could hit the U.S. as early as Monday afternoon.

The McCains and Palin will receive a briefing at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency — a permanent operations center monitoring hurricane response.
Now, to be fair, Mississippi is on the outer edge of the current projected landfall, so the local officials that the McCain/Palin campaign will be interfering with probably aren't in full-on hectic mode. They're prepping for what will be a bad, but not a catastrophic storm. But make no mistake--the campaign will be in the way.

Contrast that with the response from the Obama campaign:
Asked whether he has plans to visit the Gulf Coast region, Obama said he was considering whether he should. Obama said such a visit with the accompanying media "can be a distraction in these kinds of situations. So we want to make sure that we're monitoring the situation and that we're being useful."
I have no doubt that once the storm is past, the Obama campaign will make some sort of appearance in the area--he'll have to, because if he doesn't, even if his reason is to stay out of the way and not use resources that both locals and relief workers need, the press will cast him as cold and uncaring. But given the history of his campaign, the way Obama not only filled sandbags in Illinois back in June, but also mobilized local volunteers to help out with the effort, I expect it will be done in such a way so as to minimize any negative impact on those most harmed by the storm.

I'll be keeping a close eye on Gustav, seeing as it's heading straight for my former home, and the homes of many close friends of mine, but I'll also be keeping an eye on Hanna, since it seems no one knows what's going to happen with her. It's starting to feel a bit like 2005 around here.

Trying to update

And it's giving me a headache like you wouldn't believe. Please excuse the mess while I dork around with this.

Update: Looks like the transition to the new template means that Haloscan is history. We're on Blogger comments from now on, because I lack both the expertise and the will to try to make the other stuff work. I'll be trying out some new gadgets here and there, and hopefully, a new look will be coming along soon as well.

John McCain needs to lay off his maverick pills for a few days, because this is getting crazy.

The campaign secretly flew Palin into Dayton last night. She and McCain met privately for a couple of hours. McCain concluded she would "shake up the system" and was "a maverick," qualities he believed Lieberman would have brought to the ticket. But she also would appeal to conservatives -- which Lieberman most certainly would not have done.
I know that it requires an ego the size of a small moon to run for the Presidency, to think that you've got what it takes to do a good job as the leader of one of the most powerful nations on the planet, but is it too much to ask that the leader at least exhibit a modicum of self-awareness? I mean, this is scary stuff here. I like my politicians cynical and manipulative, not delusional.

Think about this for a moment--McCain could very well win this thing, okay? It's not likely, but we're still just over two months out, and that's a lifetime in the political world. There's all sorts of manufactured controversy that could swing this thing. So if it happens that John McCain actually follows King George the Lesser into the White House, are we really going to have a guy in charge who believes in his own maverickosity? And who chose as a running mate a woman he barely knew, had spent only moments with comparatively, because he sensed some maverickiality in her as well?

I'd feel better if the story was that this was a cynical play for disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters--at least that makes sense, in a triple-bank-massé-to-sink-the-nine-ball kind of way. But that Palin was a maverick? Now I know what Tim Kaine was talking about on Real Time with Bill Maher tonight when he compared McCain's decision on this to King Georgie looking into Pooty-Poot's eyes and seeing his soul.

Set aside for the moment that Palin couldn't be more a doctrinaire conservative if she called herself Pat Buchanan and wore fashion by Phyllis Schlafly. McCain just concluded that she would shake up the system and was a maverick, and that was it--she was the running mate. Wow.

And just what is McCain's definition of maverickation? (Yeah, I'm coming up with as many variations as I can.) Put Sarah Palin and Joe Lieberman's positions on issues beside each other, and you get some serious differences. I mean, I'm no fan of Holy Joe, but his voting record, even over the last couple of years, isn't one of extreme conservatism. Far from it. But he was going to be the nominee if McCain could have pulled it off, thanks to Holy Joe's maverickness. But when McCain's handlers told him Holy Joe was a no-go, he switched to an inexperienced governor who could only be more conservative on choice if she suggested jail time for mothers who have abortions.

(Side note to Michel Martin--on Real Time, you kept comparing Palin to Tim Kaine, but Kaine was also a Lt. Governor, and Mayor of Richmond--that's a hell of a lot more executive experience than Palin has.)

But they're apparently the most mavericky of maverick nation, and that's all that matters to John McCain. And he thinks he's the right guy for the job. Yikes.

I'll give you a hint--it's not that JOhn McCain chose an anti-choice, creationist, hard-right ideologue for a running-mate. Well, okay, that's the big story, but I think this is a bigger deal.

NEW YORK - Stocks declined unevenly Friday after the government said personal incomes fell last month by the largest amount in nearly three years while consumer spending slowed.
Once the dust settles, and McCain get congratulated for having the bold vision to choose a far-right ideologue who has the distinction of being a woman, we'll still be stuck with this economy, and folks, it's not getting better anytime soon.

In his column today, Paul Krugman hammers John McCain on the economic front. If you're a blog-devourer like I am, then there's little new information included in his column. But most people have other priorities, so I'm glad to see him doing it.

He praises Bill Clinton's speech for its mastery of economic issues, for wonking out in a way that lay people can get it, but where Krugman really shines is in pointing out just how clueless John McCain and his fellow Republicans really are.

Democrats say and, as far as I can tell, really believe that working Americans are getting a raw deal; Republicans, despite occasional attempts to sound sympathetic, basically believe that people have nothing to complain about....

Former Senator Phil Gramm made headlines, and stepped down as co-chairman of the McCain campaign, after he described America as a “nation of whiners.” But how different was that remark, really, from Mr. McCain’s own declaration that “there’s been great progress economically” — progress that’s mysteriously invisible in the actual data — during the Bush years?
Stephen Colbert has made a ton of money on the joke that reality has a liberal bias, but that joke only works because of the perception that Republicans really do seem to feel that way at times. We're not in an economic downturn that harms the working and middle classes--we're in a mental recession and are a nation of whiners. We're not doing anything to make global warming worse--we're in the middle of a natural cycle and never mind what those scientists say because they're a bunch of geeks anyway. And my current favorite--the way to fix the problem of uninsured people in the US is to simply stop calling them that--since people can go to the ER and won't be turned away because they can't pay, they're not really uninsured anyway.

This is why I rail against anti-intellectualism in its many forms on this blog and elsewhere--because the consequences of it are real, and because the most powerful purveyors of it are causing damage to a lot of people, both here and abroad.

Here's the Random Ten. Put your iTunes on party shuffle and post the next ten songs to pop up. No skipping songs to avoid embarrassment. We all believe you when you tell us "Yah Mo B There" comes pre-installed on the latest iTunes update. Here we go.
1. I Feel Like I'm Fixing To Die Rag--Country Joe and the Fish
2. Kindhearted Woman Blues--Robert Johnson
3. You Can Make It If You Try---Susan Tedeschi
4. Nothing Matters When We're Dancing--The Magnetic Fields
5. Travelin' Mood--Snooks Eaglin
6. Mercy Mercy Me--Marvin Gaye
7. Ring of Fire--Johnny Cash
8. The Remedy--Jason Mraz
9. Life's a Bitch--Nas
10. Down In The Bottom--John Mellencamp
What's in your random tens this week?

Joe Lieberman, that is. Unfortunately, that probably means he will miss out on his quest to be the first man to lose the VP election with both major parties.

Twenty-seven percent of voters in Florida, where there's a large concentration of Jewish voters, say they're less likely to back McCain with Lieberman on the ticket. Half that -- 14% -- say they're more likely. Fifty-six percent say Lieberman's presence would make no difference.

Polls have shown that Lieberman on the ticket would even hurt McCain in his home state of Connecticut. If Lieberman hurts McCain in Connecticut and Florida, where the heck would Lieberman help him?
Don't let the polls stop you, John. Holy Joe Lieberman is the running mate for you!

God hates Republicans

Were I a believer, it would be tempting to look at Hurricane Gustav as proof of that proposition. John McCain, who has the planet's bloodiest albatross hanging around his political neck, might be faced with a repeat of said albatross's greatest domestic failure during the week of his nominating convention.

Taking no chances, city officials began preliminary planning to evacuate and lock down the city in hopes of avoiding the catastrophe that followed the 2005 storm. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin left the Democratic National Convention in Denver to return home for the preparations. Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency to lay the groundwork for federal assistance, and put 3,000 National Guard troops on standby.

Forecasters said Wednesday Gustav could strengthen to a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 111 mph or higher in the next several days before hitting somewhere between the Florida Panhandle and Texas.
Personally, seeing as I have friends and family in the region, I hope the storm whirls around in the Gulf and spins itself out before it goes ashore and beats the hell out of anyone, but there's absolutely no chance that will happen. I'm glad to see that the state and local officials have learned a little something from the last time hurricanes came through.

But it can't help McCain's prospects that some of the media attention that would normally be given to his convention coverage be drawn off to cover storm damage, especially since bloggers (like me) will helpfully remind people what he was doing when Katrina came through three years ago.



Happy Birthday, Senator. Keep your head above water next week.

Because it's just another case of a politician making a lot of noise to get some cross-party love and then not following through.

TALLAHASSEE --
Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday ordered his Office of Executive Clemency to close some of the gaps that have prevented felons who have served their time from having their civil rights restored, including the right to vote.

Crist's order comes more than a year after he opened the door to a streamlined system that allows felons who have served their time and repaid their debts to restore their civil rights more quickly.

But the governor's actions are too little, too late for the American Civil Liberties Union which asked Crist in December to implement the changes then, rather than waiting until there are only weeks left before the registration books close for the November election.
I have to admit, it's a nice swerve. Crist got a lot of love from Florida Democrats in his first year in office because he was pushing this sort of thing, especially because he was doing it in the face of fierce opposition from more conservative elements in his own party. You could practically see the rage coming out of Attorney General (and former Clinton impeachment House Manager) Bill McCollum's face when he talked about Crist's plan.

But it's all worked out. Crist got some love from a constituency that wouldn't normally give him the time of day, and felons who've done their time are still on the slow track to restoration of their civil rights. And just like in 2000 and 2004, a constituency that would more likely go Democratic than Republican is still unable to vote. A cynical man might think that was the plan all along, but I'm not cynical.

Am I?

Kucinich On Fire

I watched most of the convention last night on the C-SPAN feed (like most sane people do, I think), but I missed Dennis Kucinich's speech. Am I sorry about that.

Don't get me wrong--Clinton's speech was glorious. Schweitzer's speech raised the roof. Lilly Ledbetter's got at the heart of the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. (And if you watched most of the network or cable news coverages, you only saw one of those three speeches.)

But this is one hell of a speech, and I'm glad Kucinich got to make it. He's a guy who puts his heart out there every time, and deserves better treatment from the press than he gets.

Oh Friedman

I think I've figured out why Thomas Friedman gets what little respect he does--he's up against Maureen Dowd on Wednesdays, and when that's your competition, it's not difficult to look brilliant. You only have to be slightly wrong to pull it off.

His column this week actually begins reasonably well--he's in China for the Olympics, and he's marveling at how technologically advanced China has become in the last seven years...oh wait, did I say seven years? 9/11 sighting dead ahead Captain!

Seven years ... Seven years ... Oh, that’s right. China was awarded these Olympic Games on July 13, 2001 — just two months before 9/11.

As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.
Well, we haven't really been building better versions of that stuff, except maybe for the pilotless drones. But like Blutarski near the end of "Animal House," Friedman's on a roll, so let's just see where he goes with this.
I realize the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not. We have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements. Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.
So let me get this straight--the reason we're now behind China technologically is because of 9/11. The ridiculous Bush tax and service cuts that had us run deficits while simultaneously failing to improve our infrastructure had nothing to do with it. The privatization of the American government with little to no accountability or oversight by the Republican Congress had nothing to do with it. The fact that we cut taxes while fighting what you now acknowledge was a war of choice had nothing to do with it. The fact that we have encouraged American companies to ship manufacturing jobs to China so we could reward the investor class with higher stock prices while the working and middle classes suffered had nothing to do with it.

I don't think so. Friedman, suck on this.

Golf, Sport of Bosses and Whores

So the LPGA wants to make a new rule that to play with their tour you've got to speak good English.

“Being a U.S.-based tour, and with the majority of our fan base, pro-am contestants, sponsors and participants being English speaking, we think it is important for our players to effectively communicate in English.”
Or so the tour official says. But I can't help but feel this is a giant steaming pile of something you'd spend a good deal of time scraping from your shoe.
South Korean players interviewed supported the policy, including the Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak. “We agree we should speak some English,” said Pak, who added that she thought fines seemed a fairer penalty than suspensions. “We play so good over all. When you win, you should give your speech in English.”

She added: “Mostly what comes out is nerves. Totally different language in front of camera. You’re excited and not thinking in English.”

Meaning, even if your English is great at other times, if you're being interviewed on national television and you've just won (or lost) a tremendous prize, you'll probably forget everything you know about English grammar anyway.

But isn't this just horseshit to begin with? These women are athletes: since when do athletes have to speak any other language than the laguage of their sport?

Major League Baseball, which has a high percentage of foreign-born athletes, said it had not seen the need to establish a language guideline. Pat Courtney, a spokesman for M.L.B., said baseball had not considered such a policy because it wanted its players to be comfortable in interviews and wanted to respect their cultures.

“Given the diverse nature of our sport, we don’t require that players speak English,” he said. “It’s all about a comfort level.”

That sounds more right to me. The article tells us similar things about the NHL and the NBA. So tell me, dears, why would women's golf be different?

In fairness, comparisons between the L.P.G.A., an independent organization not affiliated with the PGA Tour, and other sports bodies are imprecise. The L.P.G.A., much like the PGA Tour, is a group of individual players from diverse backgrounds whose success as an organization depends on its ability to attract sponsorships from companies looking to use the tour for corporate entertainment and advertisement.

Rarely are N.B.A. players called upon to play one-on-one with a corporate executive whose decision to write a sponsorship check is predicated on whether one had a good time shooting free throws with Kobe Bryant.

In fairness, that's some bullshit. Are these women athletes or golf escorts? Do the corporate sponsors of basketball fear Kobe or respect Kobe or are they just not sexually attracted to Kobe? Why no desire to spend the afternoon with him doing their free throw thing?

Yes golf is the sport of corporate dickheads. So what CEO wouldn't love to do 18 holes with a cute little Korean girl who can really play? But if she doesn't catch a minute of your jokes or flirting and then leaves when you're done, I guess it's a lot less fun? I guess you realize she's an athlete and not your little golf-playing geisha girl, and that might be hard to get over? Maybe you won't even write your check to underwrite the tour at that point? (I'm guessing playing with sucky players with deep pockets is the height of boredom for the athlete herself--not that anyone seems to care.)

Lastly, Your Daily Jouralism Watch: this article never mentions whether or not there there is a similar rule in the most similar organization to the LPGA, the PGA. While it goes to lengths to point out that the LPGA is different from the ABL, NHL, and NBA, and far more similar to the PGA, it never tells us if golf-playing Spaniards in the PGA are being pressured into taking weekend language courses so they can pal around with the corporate sponsors and get all Big Moneyboss' hi-larious jokes.

Edit/Added: If anyone cares, yes, I do know how to play golf, but I've never played 18 holes because I've never wanted to splash out that much money. I live in one of the most golf-centric parts of the country, I've been to PGA tournaments, my brother was a PGA groundskeeper, golf is the single and only sport I enjoy watching on TV, and a think a know a few things about it... including that fact that working class people (like myself, my brother, Brian...) do play the sport. But we're hardly the target audience of golf-bag ads, and when you're talking about LPGA players being asked to coozie up to corporate sponsors, that is the "sport of bosses and whores" I refer to in my title.

In its rush to get its story on Hillary Clinton's speech out, the NY Times posted a story that was ridiculous in the number of typos it had. Here's a screenshot of part of the second page.



The misspellings are bad enough, but the really telling thing is the edits that were made---or more precisely, weren't made--before the story hit the screen. I'll be interested in seeing which words make it to the final cut when this is eventually corrected.

Look at the second paragraph above, for example:

Aides to Mrs. Clinton say she may start her own organized effort on behalf of femalewomen’s concerns
Obviously, either the reporter chose one word and someone else chose another, or the reporter put both in and expected someone to make the call--I wasn't there, so I can't know which. But why should there have been a question? Are women's concerns (and what's with that? Issues sure, but concerns?) ever referred to as "female concerns"? Female concerns sounds like a euphemism for a period to me.

The second one is even more interesting to me, though.
At the same time, advisers said, Mrs. Clinton wanted to ensure that her star turn at the convention could never be portrayedblamed a as insufficiently enthusiastic,
Portrayed versus blamed--there's a universe of difference between those two words, and since it's a paraphrase of what Clinton's advisers said, it's important that the reporter get it right. Again, it'll be interesting to see what winds up being the final choice once this is fixed.

What this really "portrays" is just what goes into putting an article together, including important word choices that will affect the way readers respond to the piece. This is a glimpse of the ugly side of it, the side that we rarely get to see if we're not a part of the business end of this work.

The cause of this is the rush to get the story out, even if it means the story isn't finished yet. Back in the days when breaking a story first meant you might have sold a few more papers of the morning edition before the competitors got the evening edition out, speed was important. But this isn't breaking news. It's a review of an impressive speech given by Senator Clinton. Was it really important that this story get out this quickly, with all the typos and the undecided word choices left in there for all to see? Hell, the speech only ended a couple of hours ago, if that, and it's mostly junkies like me who are reading about it on the east coast, where it's 12:40 in the morning. It could have waited until the story was clean.

But this is part of the problem with the corporate media--fast and cheap is more important than accurate and clean. And sadly, that's not likely to change any time soon.

Hat tip to trishb in Shakesville's comments.

Update: That was quick. 12:52 Eastern time, and the choices were "women's" and "portrayed." Good call.

Dean vs. Carville/Begala

Okay, given that Carville and Begala haven't had a notable success since 1992--1996 if you give them credit for Bill Clinton's second term win--and were openly opposed to Howard Dean's 50-state strategy which helped us win back both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994 (when Carville and Begala were still the hot ticket), I think I know who I'm going to give credence to when we're looking at how the convention is going so far. Here's Carville and Begala:


Democratic strategist Paul Begala took issue with Warner's comments, suggesting that more partisanship, not less, was needed at the party convention.

"This isn't the Richmond Chamber of Commerce," Begala said Tuesday.

On Monday, James Carville told CNN: "If this party has a message, it's done a hell of a job hiding it tonight, I promise you that."
And here's Howard Dean:
"We don't need to attack McCain" during the convention's opening events, Dean told delegates from Ohio, a battleground state. "There will be plenty of time for that."

It's more important, he said, "to make sure people know who Barack Obama is, who Joe Biden is."

"There is not a unity problem," he added. If anyone doubts that, he said, "wait 'til you see Hillary Clinton's speech tonight."
Dean is understating it a bit--McCain has come in for some attacks, most notably from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who hit him with her "John McCain has the experience of being wrong" line. But since the media has decided that this is going to be a narrative about whether or not the Democrats are united--look at the headline for the piece I quoted from as an example--I think it's a good idea to make that the focal point of the convention.

And if I might offer some advice to anyone who's watching the convention out there--watch it on C-SPAN, because I can promise you one thing about the coverage of Clinton's speech tonight. It doesn't matter what she says or how she says it--she could give Barack Obama a tongue bath while defecating on a burning effigy of John McCain and there will be analysts who say that she's sending coded messages to her supporters to help McCain win. Watching them will make your head explode, and C-SPAN has none of it, so save your sanity and make your own mind up.

The PUMA movement has close ties with racists. I've gotten to the point where I really feel for Hillary Clinton, because she didn't ask for this crap, and I know she doesn't agree with it. Her life is a testament to that.

Why would anyone do this?

When you read a story like this one, where a 71 year old man, working without running water or sterilization equipment in a storage unit is performing dental work, it's easy to wonder "how on earth would people be willing to submit to that?" If you think I'm exaggerating here, read this:

The scene was reminiscent of old back-alley abortion clinics, though not as shady: an operating theater in dirty, unsterile conditions.

Police pulled up to a storage unit in Palm Springs to find a man with a light attached to his head, leaning over a patient in a reclining dental chair. There was a syringe filled with lidocaine smuggled in from Colombia, police said. Dental tools and a trash can with bloodied gauze told the rest of the story.
But you know something? I've had dental pain bad enough that I've numbed it with whiskey and ibuprofen--not killed it, mind you; only got the throbbing down to where I wasn't ready to kill someone. But I was lucky--I had options. I lived in a city with a dental school that didn't require a credit check for their financing program, and I had the money for a down payment.

And yet, while we talk about the need for universal health insurance, and the desire to include mental health in the options, there's very little rumbling about dental care, even though one of the surest signs of where a person resides in the economy is the condition of his or her teeth. (Yeah, I've got an appointment this afternoon--why do you ask?)

Hat tip to Rick

MIchelle Obama's Speech



Michelle Obama isn't quite the orator her husband is, but she showed last night that she can hold her own on the big stage. Amy and I were talking about it last night, and she pointed out something I found very interesting. She noticed that the audience for the speech wasn't her husband's most excited constituency; her speech was directed at her mother's generation. It was a speech that cast both her husband's success and her own as the natural outgrowth of the struggles that both civil rights activists and second-wave feminists brought to the forefront in the sixties. It was particularly telling given that Ted Kennedy, one of the most prominent links to that period, had given an impassioned speech of his own.

It was an interesting night--even the overly cute ending where Malia and Sasha got hold of the microphone worked, I think, though you can be sure that some wingnuts will reach for their fainting couches over the fact that the children were not raised in the Milford School philosophy, where children are neither seen nor heard.

No, not me. The closest I'll be is Dish Network's dedicated channel for the proceedings, and my attention will be limited at best. No, the bloggers of the Florida Progressive Coalition are in Denver, and they're already posting stuff about their trip. They're the official Florida Netroots representatives, so we're talking access, baby!

Seriously, though, they'll be a good source for stuff the news media decides isn't important enough to cover, and they'll give a different point of view, that's for sure.

Shorter Stanley Fish

It's censorship when a government does it. Seriously, that's what it comes down to, and I agree with him, although I think there's one way in which what Random House is doing could be considered censorship--but that's based on supposition.

Here's the rest of the story. Random House agreed to publish a novel--a first novel by writer Sherry Jones--that was about Muhammad's child bride. Later, after the book was printed and ready to be released, Random House got cold feet and decided to not release it. Salman Rushdie, in an email to the AP, called it censorship, and Fish got a little het up about that word.

Near the end of his column, Fish says "So what Random House did was not censorship. (Some other press is perfectly free to publish Jones’s book, and one probably will.)" But that claim seems to be based on incomplete information. Has Random House tossed the book back into the marketplace or are they holding onto the rights? If they've released it, then Fish's statement is accurate--Random House is not guilty of censorship. But if they've bought the rights to a book and now have the intent of refusing to allow anyone to publish it, can't we at least argue that they're engaging in a form of censorship? Were this the case--and I want to make clear that I don't know if it is or not--a powerful entity would be exercising its power to keep information from the public.

It's not a perfect comparison, and I'm certainly in agreement with Fish's opinion that the word "censorship" gets thrown around carelessly by people who ought to know better. But I can certainly see why people would use the word in some very particular circumstances.

That would be beautiful

Bill Kristol has come up with a doozy in his lifelong strong of bad ideas disguised as punditry--well, bad idea if you actually want John McCain to win in November, that is. From my point of view, it's a brilliant strategy that McCain would be a fool to pass up.

He could select the person he would really like to have by his side in the White House — but whose selection would cause palpitations among many of his staffers and supporters: the independent Democratic senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman.
Oh please, give Joe Lieberman the chance to make history as the only person to lose the Vice-Presidency as a member of both parties. Make him the ultimate trivia footnote, the bane of drunken pub nights in decades to come. He deserves it so.

As for the rest of Kristol's column, well, Bill still exhibits the selective memory that has served him so well as a neocon all these years. For instance, look at this characterization of Lieberman.
Lieberman could hold his own against Biden in a debate. He would reinforce McCain’s overall message of foreign policy experience and hawkishness. He’s a strong and disciplined candidate.
This is the same Lieberman who rolled over for Cheney in their 2000 debate, and who couldn't concede fast enough in November of that same year. Strong and disciplined? Maybe in neocon-world where everything is opposite of reality.

And then there's this nugget:
And as a one-off, quasi-national-unity ticket, with Lieberman renouncing any further ambition to run for the presidency, a McCain-Lieberman administration wouldn’t threaten the continuance of the G.O.P. as a pro-life party.
This is the second time in the last week that I've seen a suggestion that a candidate for national office ought to limit his ambitions as regards the Presidency. McCain, for his part, is having none of it, and given the way Lieberman reacted when his party tossed him in Connecticut, there's no reason to believe he'd make any sort of pledge to not run (and finish fifth or worse) for the presidency as a Republican either.

Needless to say, I think that a McCain/Lieberman ticket would be the most awesome thing for Democrats since, well, ever, so I'm rooting for it, not just because I'd like to see Joe Lieberman's name cemented into history, but because I'd love to see Bill Kristol keep his record of insane wrongness intact. John McCain--only you can make both those dreams come true.

Dear Mudcat,

I understand that you consider yourself quite the political expert, especially when it comes to winning races for Democrats in the rural south, but personally, I have to go with Oliver here and say I hope you never get another job working for a Democrat. I mean, it's bad enough that you've nicknamed yourself after what is considered by most southerners to be a useless fish, so nasty that you can't even fry the shit taste out of it--yeah, that's what the "mud" in mudcat is; those fish are bottom feeders, much like yourself--and that you act like southerners in general are ignorant and proud of it. But you live the stereotype, and when you do it like this, well, you make me your proud enemy.



You see, Mudcat, I take this kind of stuff personally. I've written about the blight that the Confederate Battle Flag represents to my native south, and you can claim all you want that it represents a tribute to “the gallant kids from around here who lost their lives," but it doesn't. It represents slavery, treason, and post-Civil War bigotry. You want to celebrate southern heritage, then celebrate our cuisine, our music, our literature, but don't celebrate that flag, because that flag and what it represents has held us back as a region for over a century, and people like you are keeping it relevant.

And for the record, the artist John Sims provided what I think is the best way to treat the Confederate flag.

How would you know?

There was a time, when I was younger, broker, and didn't really have a sense of what was edible in the ways of food, when I ate Hot Pockets. My memories of them are not fond, which is why I wondered how anyone noticed that a batch contained small pieces of red plastic and clear rubber material. I figured that's what they were made of all along.

I'm sure, because I'm a partisan Democrat, and because I've already started moving that way, that in a couple of weeks I'll be convinced that Joe Biden was a good choice for running mate. But it's not because I'm simple-minded. It's because I'll be synthesizing happiness. And lots of people will do precisely the same thing, only it might be about something else. It might be about John McCain's VP choice, or about the collapse of their favorite baseball team down the stretch, or about the end of this year's exquisite berry season. Whatever it is, we'll come to grips with our disappointment and move on, because that's what we do as human beings.

Dan Gilbert explains it better than I do, and he has data to back him up. Watch it. You'll feel better.

What Took So Long?

I don't think of myself as a money-motivated person. But I can't deny that it was cold green dollars that got my ass (finally) onto the Tri-Rail, South Florida's local, and admittedly limited, commuter train.

Once I was sitting on the train, many things came to mind:

1. I am not stressing, which is to say, I am not driving: dealing with general traffic, not to mention the inevitable jerk-off drivers, not to mention the inevitable "trying to kill himself and take half the highway with him" drivers. I am calm, I am watching the view.

2. I am not busy. Whether at that moment a pleasure or pain, driving is a task. On the train I can listen to music, read a book, or just stare into space.

3. I am getting a wee bit o' exercise. Climbing the stairs to the pedestrian overpass to get to the Northbound tracks might not sound like a big deal, but when you're a busy indoor-worker like myself, every little bit helps. Rather than sitting in traffic feeling my ass expand, I'm getting a little hike in.

4. I am comfortable. The train seats are big. Some of them have tables to set your coffee on, or pull out a laptop. Can't do that in my car. Nice.

5. I am moving faster than the cars on I-95. The Tri-Rail goes right beside I-95, and you can watch the traffic from the train. The train seems to go much faster than the traffic I saw! Woo Hoo!

6. I am with other people. I like hearing the dorky cellphone rings of Kreyol-speaking women I will probably never really get to meet. I like joking with strangers about the inconsistent announcements re: the late-running train, and the fact that the train, when it does arrive, is hauling so much ass it almost missed the station!

7. I got from my home doorstep to my work doorway in exactly one hour and 5 minutes. I've bettered this by about 15 minutes using my own car, but only when I've gone to work at 7am, before the traffic rush. I got there in 1:05 by train during the peak of the 9am-rush. That's fan-freakin-tastic.
Turns out, Tri-Rail is a good deal the whole way round, life-wise, not just money-wise. So how come it took money to finally make me try it? Here's the last good thing about Tri-Rail, the one I'd figured out before I even bought my ticket:
8. The whole trip cost $3.50. At $4/gallon and 20 miles/gallon and 20 miles one way to work (another 20 miles back), it costs me $8 to drive to work and back. Tri-Rail is a savings of more than 50%. Over the 9-month school year, it will save me at least $300.
As I said, I don't think of myself as money-motivated, but the last one is what did it. I guess I am not the woman I thought I was. I guess I just suck a bit more than I thought. Oh well. Now that I'm on it, I can only wonder why I haven't been doing this all along?

Who really is Obama's VP?

Who really is Barack Obama's Vice-Presidential choice? Is Joe Biden really just the senior US Senator from Delaware, who's loved by the press as a gaffe-prone expert on foreign relations, a twice-failed presidential candidate who was busted for plagiarism his first time out (although his gaffes may signal his ability to learn important lessons)?

Or is he really Raiden, god of thunder and lightning, who seeks to protect Earth's champions in the final conflict between Earthrealm and the dark forces of Outworld.

Let Mortal Kombat begin!

(I started out looking for a picture of Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod, but couldn't find one that really worked. I think this is geeky enough.

Krissy and Dean's Wedding Video

Most readers have never heard of Krissy and Dean: most readers should be sorry for the fact. These are two awesome people. Anyway, I went to their wedding, took some video (so did Brian), and worked it into this classy wedding video.

If you'd like me to produce a wedding video for you...



...please get your head examined. ;-)

Another step forward

It won't matter for federal income taxes, or even to the state, but to Kitzen and Jeni Branting, that doesn't matter. What matters is that the members of their tribe recognize them as a married couple.

PORTLAND, Ore. - At the request of a lesbian couple, the Coquille Indian Tribe on the southern Oregon coast, in the U.S. West, has adopted a law recognizing same-sex marriage.

Tribal law specialists say the Coquille appear to be the first American Indian tribe to sanction such marriages. Most tribal law doesn't address the issue. The Navajo and Cherokee tribes prohibit same-sex marriages.
But even though it may not mean a lot legally, it does mean something culturally. The more groups that recognize the rights of same-sex couples to marry, the more the culture at large will accept it. Sure, some people will never be willing to go along--hell, what would Bill Donohue do if he had to get a real job?--but just as homophobia is less widespread today than it was during the Stonewall Riots, the people who now object to same-sex marriage will become rarer and rarer until they have the same social standing that Klansmen have today.

And that day can't come soon enough. Congratulations, Kitzen and Jeni.

Just a suggestion--if you're going to ask whether or not the housing market in south Florida has hit rock bottom, you might want to ask someone other than the people with an interest in saying it has. I mean, what else do you expect realtors to say? They were saying the market had bottomed out 18 months ago. The reality?

NBC 6 found that overall sales prices have only dropped about 10 percent since the market's peak in summer 2005. The median prices for homes then was $339,000; in 2008 it is $294,000. For condos, the median price was $220,000 in summer 2005, and that has dropped to $205,000.
The reality is that prices haven't fallen nearly enough for this market, especially when you factor in the pullbacks in employment. I've said it more than once--the housing market will come back when some combination of income increases and price drops make it reasonable for working and middle-class families to own again. We're not there yet.

Here's this week's Random Ten. Set your iTunes to party shuffle and post the next ten songs that pop up. Here we go.
1. Cannonball--The Breeders
2. Bulldozer--Datarock
3. I Walk Alone--Big Smith
4. Let Me Clear My Throat--DJ Kool
5. She Came In Through the Bathroom Window
6. Daughter--Pearl Jam
7. Description of a Fool--A Tribe Called Quest
8. She'll Come Back To Me
9. Hombre Secreto--The Plugz
10. Pork and Beef--The Coup
What are you listening to this fine Fraiday?

Free iPhones for College Students

Apparently some (higher-end, of course) universities are distributing iPhones and iPods to their incoming students: iPhones if they're willing to take on the monthly contract, iPod touches if they're not. This gives the students a handheld portable computer they can carry with them into classes.

While schools emphasize its usefulness — online research in class and instant polling of students, for example — a big part of the attraction is, undoubtedly, that the iPhone is cool and a hit with students. Basking in the aura of a cutting-edge product could just help a university foster a cutting-edge reputation.

Apple stands to win as well, hooking more young consumers with decades of technology purchases ahead of them. The lone losers, some fear, could be professors.


Why are the professors "losers" according to this analysis? Because the professors must "compete" with the devices, and inevitably lose.

Students already have laptops and cellphones, of course, but the newest devices can take class distractions to a new level. They practically beg a user to ignore the long-suffering professor struggling to pass on accumulated wisdom from the front of the room — a prospect that teachers find galling and students view as, well, inevitable.

“When it gets a little boring, I might pull it out,” acknowledged Naomi J. Pugh, a first-year student at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., referring to her new iPod Touch, which can connect to the Internet over a campus wireless network. She speculated that professors might try harder to make classes interesting if they were competing with the devices.


This is so wrong that I'm actually genuinely surprised. It seems that this story was written by someone who knows nothing about the subject, prefers a "cool kids with techno gadgets outmaneuver stodgy profs" ("Revenge of the Nerds" meets "Animal House") narrative, and prefers only to interview professors trapped in the same ancient story: one of the professors interviewed had apparently never heard of an iPhone:

Robert S. Summers, who has taught at Cornell Law School for about 40 years, announced this week — in a detailed, footnoted memorandum — that he would ban laptop computers from his class on contract law.

“I would ban that too if I knew the students were using it in class,” Professor Summers said of the iPhone, after the device and its capabilities were explained to him.


Ai yi yi. Okay, here's the drill: in a large lecture class, with 100 students or more, the professor doesn't even care if you're there let alone if you're mentally checked out. Short of masturbating in your chair, you can do what you want. So long as you pass the exams, you're cool.

In a lab that's run well, you're too busy to play with your phone. In a lab that's run badly, who cares? It's for, like, one credit hour. It's also run by a TA who's 3 years older than you, and far more addicted to her iPhone than you could dare to dream.

And then there are small discussion-centered classes, like the ones we teach in the English department. In these classes the teacher has the absolute power to ban outright any device she wants to: laptops, mp3 players, and phones are all named on my syllabi as completely verboten. At any time I can simply tell a student to leave the room and dock his/her attendance grade. As my syllabus says: students must be present mentally as well as bodily to be counted present. I have no trouble enforcing this: laptops are big and obvious, mp3 players leave tell-tale earbud trails, and so only phones are an issue.

And phones in class have been, by the way, an issue for years, since before the iPhone, since before schools gave out iPhones: but you know what? The few students who are sneaky and subtle enough to get away with spending whole classes texting their friends, playing enigmo (which is really effing cool), and using the Facebook ap to look at pictures from last night's drunken party pay their own penalties in the form of grades.

So who gives a rat's behind? And who's to say that if they weren't playing with their phones they'd be paying rapt attention? That they wouldn't be daydreaming or doodling or writing angsty poetry about their latest breakups?

Most importantly, though: it is no professor's job to "compete" with an iPhone. Nor is it a professor's job to compete with a movie, a roller coaster, a weekend in Vegas, or a hike to the top of a Mayan pyramid. Not to mention the latest evolution in marijuana technology, or a person's first, one, true love. The world is full of stimulating stuff that is not classroom learning. Professors aren't walking around demanding students dump all other concerns and only think about classroom learning. Professors merely punish those students unable to work classroom learning into their busy schedules by denying them passing grades, and, therefore, college degrees.

You don't need a college degree to enjoy life. So go, enjoy! And quit pretending teaching is a freaking minstrel show: it's not.

One of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's blogs is called Flori-DUH, and it's one of those "news of the weird" sections. But I suspect that there will be some outcry over the second item on the screen capture to the side there, especially when you factor in the snarky tone of the post.

Or maybe not. After the "Jesus in the grilled cheese sandwich" story, seeing him in a plank of wood seems sort of old-school.

This is one of those stories where it's easier to just quote it than it is to sum it up.

PONCE DE LEON, Fla. - When a high school senior told her principal that students were taunting her for being a lesbian, he told her homosexuality is wrong, outed her to her parents and ordered her to stay away from children.

He suspended some of her friends who expressed their outrage by wearing gay pride T-shirts and buttons at Ponce de Leon High School, according to court records. And he asked dozens of students whether they were gay or associated with gay students.
The ACLU sued on behalf of the students, and won of course, but this was the reaction from the local community.
And despite all that, many in this conservative Panhandle community still wonder what, exactly, Davis did wrong.
Here's what you did wrong. When a student came to you because she was being taunted, you validated the taunting. You told her she deserved it, and what's more, you invaded the relationship between that student and her parents--and if she hadn't outed herself to them, there was probably a good reason for it. And what's with the ordering her to stay away from children?

But it wasn't quite enough for you to mistreat one student--no, when other students dared show solidarity with their friend, you violated their freedom of speech. Maybe when you're the principal of a school in a rural area, you can feel like a king, where no one will question your orders, but the reality is that people, even minors, have rights that you're not allowed to violate.

The reason Davis felt he had the authority to do this is because, like many fundamentalist Christians, he believes he answers to a higher power, one that doesn't necessarily recognize freedom of speech or the biological reality of homosexuality. The judge got that, to a certain extent.
"I emphasize that Davis's personal and religious views about homosexuality are not issues in this case. Indeed, Davis's opinions and views are consistent with the beliefs of many in Holmes County, in Florida, and in the country," Smoak wrote in an opinion released last month. "Where Davis went wrong was when he endeavored to silence the opinions of his dissenters."
What Judge Smoak is saying is that Davis's personal views about homosexuality aren't illegal, but I think they are an issue in the case, in this respect. Davis's belief that his religious views allowed him to trump the rights of his students to speak their minds on a subject that he has only a religious objection to is what caused this mess. If he'd truly understood the nature of the separation between church and state, he'd have known the limits of his power. It's the mindset that cloaks bigotry and hatred in the wrappings of religious rhetoric that makes this kind of mess possible.

RIP Rep. Tubbs-Jones

The news hit, confusingly, earlier today--Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones of Ohio was in critical condition in a Cleveland hospital because of a brain aneurysm, then she was dead, then she wasn't dead but was in critical condition with minimal brain activity. It looked like her passing was an inevitability, so I decided to wait until it was official before expressing my condolences.

Because, you see, Rep. Tubbs-Jones is a bit of a hero to me. She was one of twenty members of the House of Representatives who, in January 2005, exercised her responsibility and objected to the votes that had been cast in the Electoral College for the state of Ohio, and thanks to Senator Barbara Boxer of California (another hero of mine), was able to force a hearing over the legitimacy of George W. Bush's re-election.

It didn't change much--King George the Lesser has continued his destructive reign for the last four years, and the nation that soon-to-be President Obama will inherit is a damn sight worse off than the one John Kerry would have gotten. But when historians look back at this period of our nation's existence--and I suspect many a dissertation will come out of this time, just because of the sheer fucked-up-edness of it all--they'll get to talk about people like Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, who stood up in the face of a rotten election and said, through her actions, "you may get what you want, but we will not be silent in the face of it." We need more people like her in Congress, not fewer, and 58 is too young for people like that to leave us.

Reporting Today

Today's NYTimes story of the plane crash in Madrid is datelined PARIS, presumably because the Times does not have a reporter in Spain. At the bottom of the story we are told "Micheline Maynard contributed reporting from Detroit."

So a plane crash in Madrid is being reported on by a reporter in Paris and a reporter in Detroit.

Why are they bothering? Why don't they just translate the top Spanish newspaper's story into English for us, give credit to the Spanish reporters and the American translators, and be done?

Why don't they just admit that overseas journalism by Americans is historical at best? If you're going to suck, at least be honest.

Zooids

(That would be robo-zoo animals, zoo-bots!)





People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says an undisclosed donor wants to buy at least one SeaWorld park, then free the animals and replace them with virtual-reality or animatronic displays.


You could do so much more fun stuff in a waterpark full of zooids: they could talk and sing, follow you around, do elaborate tricks like make dolphin pyramids and go water-skiing... oh, the possibilities are endless!

That's Your Cue, Harry

Dear Majority Leader Reid,

I understand why you've been deferential to the antics of Joe Lieberman so far--he provided the margin that gave you your current position, after all, and your Senate is better than one run by Mitch McConnell. But next January, you'll have more room to move, more of a majority. Even McConnell acknowledges that the Republicans will lose seats this time around--the question is how many.

So with that in mind, it's time for you to cut Joe Lieberman loose from his Committee chairships. Chairing committee is the kind of job that a loyal Democrat should have. What's the point of having the majority if you're not going to impose your will on the committee system, after all?

This is a little different from 2004, when you could cut Zell Miller loose. He wasn't coming back to the Senate, and there was little chance of the Democrats holding onto that seat anyway. But Lieberman will be a Senator until 2012, barring some unforeseen circumstance, and the Chair he holds is too important to leave in the hands of someone who won't advance the Democratic party's agenda. He's not one of us anymore. Show him the door.

Hey Vern!

Vern Buchanan, the Florida Republican who "won" the most controversial House race out there in 2006, the result of which helped bring about the demise of electronic voting machines in Florida, is in a world of trouble according to the Huffington Post.

Buchanan is being accused by former employees, many of whom are Republicans, of hiring undocumented workers, threatening employees, bilking customers, misappropriating funds, filing fraudulent papers with banks, and best of all, FEC violations as concerns campaign fundraising. It's a longish article, and I suggest you read it all, but here are a couple of nuggets I found interesting.

Several of the plaintiffs, and one additional former Buchanan employee, reported having received death threats or threats of bodily harm from other Buchanan staffers. When an assistant to plaintiff Joe Kezer, a former finance director for Buchanan's flagship outlet Sarasota Ford, blew the whistle about being asked to engage in fraudulent activities, the dealership's general sales manager began to scream and told Kezer to "get on the same page." He then threatened to beat Kezer's assistant "to a pulp" if he complained again. Kezer said he fired the assistant to get him out of harm's way and later was fired himself--in retaliation, he claims, for refusing to go along with the alleged fraudulent practices....

In September 2005, plaintiff Carlo Bell, then finance director of Buchanan's Venice Nissan Dodge dealership in Venice, Florida, was "instructed" by senior executives to make a $1,000 donation to Buchanan's Congressional campaign. Bell did--he has the canceled check to prove it--and claims he was immediately reimbursed in cash (he has the deposit slip to corroborate that)....

Bob Whittaker was a former sales manager at Buchanan's Spacecoast Honda in Merritt Island, Florida. Not a plaintiff himself, Whittaker nevertheless said in an interview that he attended a Saturday morning sales meeting in the fall of 2005 at which the general manager announced that all managers were to donate $200 to Buchanan's campaign and all salesmen $50. The clear implication, according to Whittaker, was that if you didn't give, you would be fired. As soon as he cashed his next paycheck, Whittaker gave $200 in cash to the general manager for Buchanan's Congressional bid.
There's lots more, like I said. Here's hoping this information will hit big in the next few months--Christine Jennings would be a much better Congressperson for that district.

Hat tip to Steve Benen

Change the law

I don't always agree with college presidents--that's part of being a faculty member, I think, part of the contract--but these people are right. The drinking age in the US, if we have to have one at all, should be 18 instead of 21.

The argument is pretty simple to me--if we as a society are going to set a bright line for adulthood at 18, then the ability to consume and purchase alcohol ought to be a part of that. By restricting that ability based on nothing other than age, we're discriminating against a segment of society--it's ageism, only against the young.

And spare me the platitudes about the idea that they're not old enough to drink responsibly. That's crap. Whether or not a person drinks responsibly has lots to do with their personalities and very little to do with their ages. If age conferred wisdom with regards to alcohol consumption, we wouldn't have people in their 50s spending the night in the drunk tank after thinking the lights on the top of the cop's car were part of the disco. (Hat tip to Bill Hicks.)

So for those reasons alone, I think it would be a good idea to change the drinking age, but there's also the matter of binge drinking. For starters, as I've written before, the definition of binge drinking is a bit silly.

A binge drinker was defined as someone who had five or more alcoholic drinks on at least one occasion in the last 30 days.
I have friends who call five drinks the start to a good tailgate party, or an average evening at the club--a club they've been at for four hours, I might add. But I have no doubt that for kids my daughter's age--and she's a college freshperson this year--they rarely stop with five, and it's likely there's a little action of another kind going on as well, at least if they're looking to get obliterated.

It's the goal that's the problem. I'm a firm believer in the idea that the best way to get kids interested in doing something is to make it taboo. If you want them to think it's not a big deal, offer it to them. I think that lots of kids in college binge drink because they don't know what to expect--they're inexperienced, and don't realize what the alcohol has done to their reflexes and motor skills. But the answer isn't to drive them underground--it's to train them so they know what to expect.

So I suggest a change in the law, but not simply a lowering of the drinking age. I suggest a licensing exam for alcohol consumption--no charge--where a person who becomes a legal adult has to take a series of classes that teach the effects of alcohol on the human body, including practicals where the student has to drink and try to perform various tasks in a state of inebriation. (No doubt that will be the most popular part of the course.) And in order to get your drinking license, you have to pass a test on the subject--more of a formality than anything else. Education is the answer, I think.

One other point. In the article I linked above, the national president of MADD had this to say:
"It's very clear the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at those campuses," said Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of MADD.
Most campuses are alcohol-free or alcohol-restricted zones these days, Miss Dean-Mooney, and that's not going to change if the state legislation governing drinking ages changes. Furthermore, no university is going to risk the lawsuits that would follow a refusal to enforce state laws. That you would stoop to this kind of dishonest rhetoric does your group a disservice.

Obama's VP

The buzz is that the Obama campaign will send out THE TEXT probably early tomorrow morning (dependent on news cycles more than anything else: if another big story breaks, like a plane crash or celebrity misdemeanor, expect them to delay). Most sources are suggesting that the field has been limited to Bayh, Biden, Kaine, Sebelius, and Richardson.

I've decided to take the google image search approach to prognostication: what does Google Image say about the possibles?

Methodology: I've google searched "Obama [possible VP]" and looked only at the top results. The images are then rated according to how much they look like a Prez and his Veep.

Starting with least Prez-Veepish:

BAYH. The top google image searches for "Obama Bayh" turn up a series of photos of Bayh and Clinton. This practically disqualifies Bayh.



2nd Least Prez-Veepish:

SEBELIUS. I hate to say it, because I'd like to see her as Veep, but the google image search does not lie: in one photo her hand touches Obama's in limp lack-of-victory salute, in another they appear as awkward as two chaperons pressured into dancing with each other at a Middle School dance, and in a third they look about to make out. Varying feelings from each of these photos, but none feel Prez-Veepish at all.



That leaves Kaine, Richardson, and Biden, who each come up using the google image method at various levels of Veepishness.

Coming in third:

BIDEN. I'm not so sorry to see him 3rd runnered-up, I'll admit, but the proof is in the pics: the image search pulls up photos of Obama and Biden which so lack chemistry they might as well have been forcibly juxtaposed by a photo editing program. Oh wait, one of them was. There is one good shot of Biden listening to Obama speak with something close to Veepish deference, but that just keeps him a tick above Sebelius.



That takes us down to Kaine and Richardson. Now of course I am massively pro-Richardson, having once written swooningly about his sexy (and oh-so-presidential) beard, so I might be considered biased... which is why this prediction should carry even more weight. Richardson comes up the less Veepish of the two.

2nd Place:

RICHARDSON. The google image search results for "Obama Richardson" do indeed come up Prez-Veepish looking, which means the system does mark him for an acceptable choice. The problem comes in the extent to which Richardson looks more Prezish than Veepish, and makes Obama look more Veepish than Prezish.



Which brings us to the winner and my prediction for Obama VP:

KAINE. Notice how Veepish he looks standing next to Obama, and how much more Prezish he makes Obama look in comparison. Even when Kaine is in the foreground of the picture, he manages to direct attention on Obama. He's got an expression on his face of sublime second-fiddledom, a classical deference when he tucks his arms behind his back, a full and enthusiastic victory wave when he gets that arm out there.



Google Image Predicts: Obama/Kaine 2008!

Which for Limbaugh, is a drastic improvement in his batting average. Via The Corner:

McCain Would “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” if he chose Joe Lieberman as his running mate, says one Rush Limbaugh.
That's accurate if you define victory as only losing by 5 percentage points as opposed to the 10 he's probably lose by if he chose Lieberman.

Careful what you wish for

So there was a lot of clamoring for Senator Clinton's name to be entered into nomination at the convention, a lot of talk of catharsis and whatnot, but it seems not everyone is so thrilled with the prospect of actually voting for Clinton at the convention.


Just how many former Clinton supporters will vote for the former first lady during the symbolic first ballot is anybody’s guess, but each of them will be called upon to do so — whether they want to or not....

Other onetime Clinton backers are reluctant to reverse course for fear of angering their black constituents.

“My boss is totally conflicted about it — and pissed Hillary is putting us in this position,” said a congressional staffer for another New York House member. “We still haven’t made up our mind and I don’t know when we are going to.”
To a certain extent, I think Clinton is in a no-win situation here. If she didn't press to have her name included on the ballot, her strongest supporters (the ones who've been helping her pay down that massive campaign debt) would have felt betrayed. If she pressed too hard (which for some, wrongly, meant asking about it in the first place), then she risks being seen as disloyal to the party, and Clinton, whatever else you may think of her, is a loyal Democrat, so that's important to her.

So who am I talking about in the title? Ah, it's those hardcore Clinton supporters for whom the inclusion was the important thing. It's the ones who keep hoping against hope that something will happen to Obama between now and the convention, something so devastating that it will mean Clinton can still win the nomination. You've gotten what you asked for--she's on the ballot, and you (assuming you're actually a voter at the convention) will get to put your name on record as having supported her, even though she's supporting Obama. And the people who you've put in an untenable position will not thank you for that.

How did I miss this?



I love how Jemaine is rocking the porn 'stache.

Tropical Storm Fay


I'm sure that people over on the southwest coast are getting soaked, and probably some flooding right now, too, but here in the Fort Lauderdale area, we're just looking at intermittent bands of heavy rain, frankly nothing worse than we usually get from un-named tropical storms during the rainy season. Still, everything's closed down, including our university, and will be tomorrow, too. It's always nice to get a little Nature-enforced day off. Here's to the people from the Keys to Marco Island up to Tampa Bay: they're no doubt having a worse time of it. I raise my beer to them.

From Elle:

...My son is standing behind me reading. "You're an assistant professor?" he asks.

"Yep"

"Who do you help?"
Indeed.

All Summer Long

I haven't listened to Kid Rock at all since his breakout album some 9 years ago (has it been that long? I'd never have predicted that kind of shelf life.), largely because I stopped being an overgrown frat boy and decided that songs about pimping weren't really my style. I was reading about his latest hit song in Rolling Stone about a week ago, but didn't really feel the need to search it out until my daughter mentioned it during my visit a couple of days ago.

She's nearly eighteen, which means she's grown up in a world where sampling and mashups are the standard, and like many young music lovers, she also spends a lot of time listening to music that was big before she was born. She mentioned the Kid Rock song to me with some venom in her voice, because Rock uses "Sweet Home Alabama" as part of the mashup, and she really likes that song. (She can't help it--it's the dominant redneck gene expressing itself.) She hadn't heard the other song Rock uses--Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London"--a great failing on my part as a parent, and it turned out that when I finally listened to Rock's hit, that was one of the things that set my teeth on edge.

The real problem with Kid Rock's song, though, isn't that he's desecrated a song that means something to me--it's that the song is even more derivative than most. Musically, the song is dominated by two signature riffs--the openings of both Skynyrd's and Zevon's songs--and doesn't really do anything with them. They're two instantly recognizable moments just looped around each other, and not a lot of anything else.

But the lyrics are, if anything, even worse. Look at this section from the first verse:

Splashing through the sandbar, talking at the campfire,
It's the simple things in life like when and where
We didn't have no internet but man I never will forget
The way the moonlight shined upon her hair
So--it's a nostalgic look back at teenagerdom, complete with the notion that life was simpler then, and that made experiences more immediate. But I've heard this song before, even down to the bit about the internet.
The vcr and the dvd
There wasnt none of that crap back in 1970
We didnt know about a world wide web
It was a whole different game being played back when I was a kid

Wanna get down in a cool way
Picture yourself on a beautiful day
Big bell bottoms and groovy long hair
Just walkin in style with a portable cd player
That's "A. M. Radio" by Everclear. Sure, Kid Rock throws in some stuff about sex and smoking weed, but it always comes back to the music, man. Both go on and on about how it's rock that mattered--for Kid it's southern rock, with the "Sweet Home Alabama" reference, and with Everclear it's Led Zeppelin--but the result is the same.

But here's the big difference. Everclear wrote and performed their song. I certainly don't have anything against mashups--they're awesome when they're done well---but the key, it seems to me, is to use a delicate hand. There's nothing delicate about "All Summer Long."

So yeah, I've just spent a long time taking apart a freaking Kid Rock song. Seems like a lot of effort for a small result, and I guess it is, but as an artist, when I use a work as a jumping off point for a poem of my own, I feel like I have a duty to the original work of art to do something new and different with it, as opposed to simply repeating a trope and dropping in some dishonest nostalgia into it.

Road Trip Review

I spent most of the weekend on the road--my daughter moved into her dorm this weekend, so I drove a total of 1700 miles to see her. It was worth it, but instead of boring you with the details of dormitory life, I figured I'd bore you with a review of the road trip itself.

One thing that's important to know in advance--National won't rent you a car if you live locally unless you have a credit card. That would have been nice to know before I showed up to pick up the car I'd reserved. It made the morning of my drive a bit more exciting than I'd planned. Fortunately, Thrifty came through for me, and provided me with the chariot you see below, and at the economy car rates. If only it had gotten the economy car gas mileage.



Side note: there is absolutely no reason why an auto rental company should purchase cars for their fleets that don't have cruise control. Come on. I appreciate the cup holders and the power windows and the connection on the stereo for the mp3 player, but I'd have traded it all for cruise control. 1700 miles is rough on the foot.

As far as cars go, the PT Cruiser was nice. The driver's seat is pretty upright, which made it comfortable for the 12 hour trip. It hesitated a bit on takeoff, which made it feel a little underpowered, but the ride was smooth and the steering was responsive. It got about 22 miles per gallon for the trip, which wasn't what I was hoping for--thanks again, National Car Rental.

And I'm really glad to be home and out of the car. 1,700 miles in 3 days is too much time in a car for my tastes. It was worth it, though.

Enough Already

So I'm watching MSNBC--David Shuster's Race for the White House--and one of the people he's interviewing mentions that 12% of Americans still believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. He then proceeded to say that Obama needs to hit that point, not dwell on it, but hit it and move on. I say it's not worth addressing anymore. Why?

Because 12%, especially given who is likely to make up that group, is insignificant in terms of this election. I mean, it's fair to assume that there's a lot of overlap between that 12% and the 17% of Americans who think the US is on the right track. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some overlap with the 18% who think the earth's temperature hasn't been rising for the last 100 years. And it wouldn't surprise me (though I won't assume) if there some overlap between that 12% and the 18 percent who believe there exists an inter-dimensional Sasquatch teleporting in and out of our plane of existence.

I mean, I think one thing is abundantly clear. Between 15 and 20% of the population of the US are complete idiots. Fortunately, if they're the types who don't understand global warming or who think the US is on the right track, then they weren't going to vote for Barack Obama anyway, so it's no great loss, politically speaking.

Good News for now

I won't feel secure about it until the Florida Supreme Court rules on it, and I might not rest easy even then, but for now, Amendment 5 is dead.

But it was the reaction by the Florida Association of Realtors that I found funny.

"Homeownership is a fundamental right, and Floridians deserve a say on how their property is taxed," said Chuck Bonfiglio, president of the Florida Association of Realtors, in a prepared statement. "We are shocked that the court decided to deny property owners' the ability to dramatically lower their property tax rates."
Homeownership is a fundamental right? It's up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? (Yes, I know Locke defined it as "property," but I like Jefferson's better, and the people who signed on to the Declaration of Independence didn't object enough to make it a sticking point.) It's up there with freedom of speech, with the right to be secure in your person, to worship (or not) as you so choose? Really?

If that's the case, where are the protections ensuring homeownership? Remember--Bonfiglio didn't just call it a right--he called it a fundamental right, a basic right, one of the core rights of humanity. Seriously? I mean, if Bonfiglio really believes that, perhaps he ought to be thinking more radically than simply calling for an economy-wrecking tax cut. Maybe he ought to get working on a plan where the government divvies up all the land, builds houses on it, and distributes it to citizens, so each citizen can exercise that "fundamental right to homeownership."

But that would be communism. Now, I'm not calling the Florida Association of Realtors a bunch of communists--I don't like them enough to give them that quality of compliment. I'm just saying that they ought to be a little more careful about how they toss that term around.

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