About Sebelius and Clinton

Over at TalkLeft, Jeralyn Merritt is saying that she thinks that the Obama campaign has put Tim Kaine's name out there as a smokescreen, and that he's really planning on choosing Kathleen Sebelius as his running mate. Now, I hope she's correct about this, as Sebelius has long been a top choice of mine, but there are some things about her reasoning that bother me.

Here's her argument:

Why does Obama need Kaine as a smokescreen? To make Sebelius more palatable to Hillary supporters who will be more than a bit upset at his choosing a woman other than Hillary.

It's the same theory behind the five stages of grief, 1. Denial and Isolation, 2. Anger 3. Bargaining. 4. Depression 5. Acceptance.

Hillary supporters are just coming out of the anger phase. They realize Obama is going to be the nominee and, as loyal Democrats, have been trying to get to a place where they can accept him. One of Obama's dilemmas has been that Hillary supporters aren't ready to accept a woman other than Hillary for the ticket. They view it as a slap in the face. The only way Obama can pick a woman other than Hillary is if the alternative is worse

So, Obama tosses out Kaine's name as a serious contender, knowing he's a deal breaker for women. Kaine is their worst case scenario. The prospect of Kaine makes them feel adrift. Is this even their party? To avoid Kaine, he’s betting they are willing to move to stage 3 and the bargaining table.

Obama is hoping given time, once women process and come to grips with the fact that the VP candidate is not going to be Hillary, they will accept it. Then the issue becomes who can he pick? Knowing Kaine will scare them to death, he bets that . anyone else, even another woman, would be a relief by comparison.

In the next few weeks, should Obama announces his running mate is Sebelius, he is counting on that sigh of relief from Hillary supporters: he didn't completely abandon them. He could have slammed them harder. He could have picked Kaine or Hagel. By picking Sebelius, he's throwing them a bone, and after contemplating the prospect of Kaine, they may just be hungry enough to take it. I think I am.
Let's get the first thing out of the way quickly--there aren't a lot of Clinton supporters who haven't accepted Obama as the nominee. Zuzu over at Shakesville, who is no great fan of Obama, points this out regularly when there's even a hint of the idea that women will be blamed if Obama loses. So the number of voters we're talking about who will switch sides if Obama chooses a woman other than Clinton is marginal at best. There's just no evidence to suggest that Sebelius is a risky choice in this way, other than in the minds of media types who are desperate to keep this race close and in those people like Lanny Davis and some other nutters.

Another quick note--I don't think Obama could have chosen Hagel, not without risking an all out revolt from his left flank. Hagel has been right on the war in the last couple of years, but that's about the only endearing thing about him, and that ain't much.

But here's the real thing that bothers me about this sort of argument. It assumes that women in general are going to be insulted if Obama chooses an non-Hillary Clinton woman as a running mate. It discounts the significant support Obama got from women, both white and of color, during the primaries, and it assumes that the only reason Obama might pick Sebelius is because of her gender.

Is it really a stretch to think that Obama just might think he'd work well with Sebelius, assuming he picks her? She's a hell of an administrator, and she fits well with Obama's centrism--she practically resurrected the Kansas Democratic party by getting centrist Republicans to work with her and then getting them to switch parties. If that sort of thing appeals to you--and it certainly seems to fit with Obama's "reach across the aisle" rhetoric--then she's a great fit. And the benefit of looking at it in that light is that you don't have to insult anyone to come to that conclusion.

One more step

I think Matt Yglesias is onto something when he's talking about HMOs here, but he doesn't quite take it far enough.

If I'm feeling ill and want the doctor to prescribe me some antibiotics, but then he says "no no no, you have madeupitis and if you take antibiotics you'll die" then suddenly it seems I don't want the antibiotics anymore. Medical treatment isn't fun, people don't just want treatment for no reason. If you convince them that the treatment isn't useful, they really won't want it.

But that means the person saying "no" needs to be credible, needs to be someone you trust. And I agree with Krugman that a representative of a for-profit company probably isn't it. The company has good reason to deny you coverage that may really be useful -- they just don't want to pay. And if the circumstances are right, it can even be in the HMO's interest for you to do. That's an ugly business and naturally people react differently to being told "no" by a company like that than they would to being counseled by someone they trust.
It's not so much that the person telling you "no" is a representative of a for-profit company--it's that it's not a doctor. If the doctor tells you no, then you tend to trust a little more not just because he or she is an expert in treating illness, but also because you don't see an ulterior motive at play. If anything, we tend to mistrust doctors when they over-prescribe medication or try to convince us to have surgery when we might not think it's completely necessary. Look at the current controversy over Caesarean sections for proof of the latter.

But it's not usually a doctor telling you "no" in an HMO. It's an accountant or an adjuster, and not only is there no personal relationship at play, there's antagonism from the beginning because our system is a for-profit one, and the assumption from the patients' point-of-view is that the HMO or insurance company is looking to cheat them out of the coverage they've paid for.

I don't know how to remove that antagonism from the system--it's not the same as buying a car where customer and dealer are working out a price and both expect to give a little and benefit from the transaction. People tend to get a little more upset when you deny them treatment for illness than when you don't throw in the moon roof. Maybe if the doctors had more of a stake in keeping costs down, that would make a difference--you're certainly not going to convince the health care industry that they need to limit their profitability. Or--and I know this sounds crazy--we could take the profit motive out of the industry for most people, and leave it as a niche market.

Okay, I still do, to a certain extent, but at least they were reacting to something real, even if I think they left reason behind a long time ago.

But these people? They're really nuts, especially since the event they're freaking out about is, ummm, the possibility that a black man might be elected to the Presidency of the United States. In terms of offensive conspiracy nutbaggery, this is right up there with Jews controlling the banks.

Speaking of change

If there were ever any doubt that the anti-abortion crowd was more concerned with controlling behavior than they were in stopping abortions, the recent moves out of the Bush administration has cleared that up. The Washington Post, which seems to have developed a backbone on its news pages in the last couple of days, points this out in an article titled "Does Bush proposal threaten access to the pill?" The short answer is "yes it does." The real question is, why has it taken so long for the traditional media to pick up on the fact that anti-choice people are going after birth control as well?

And let's be perfectly clear about this--there's an attack on birth control here. I'm sure there are lots of people who claim that they're pro-life (a euphemism I find dishonest, but whatever) but will say "I'm in favor of birth control." If that's you, then don't take this personally, because obviously, I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about the people who are trying to enact this:

The most controversial section defines abortion as "any of the various procedures -- including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action -- that results in the termination of life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation."

That definition would include most forms of hormonal birth control and the IUD, which most major medical groups believe do not constitute abortion because they primarily affect ovulation or fertilization and not an embryo once it has implanted in the womb.
What they're doing is trying to redefine abortion so that it includes birth control. The science doesn't say that, but the Bush administration has never let a little thing like science get in the way of a political objective--look at the way they've pressured global warming scientists.

This is getting ridiculous, people. Look--if you're committed to reducing abortions, then we're on the same side here. I'd rather that fewer women were forced to make that choice in the first place. It's a painful procedure for the woman, and causes an often unnecessary hardship and expense. But you don't reduce abortions by making it so that women can't control when they get pregnant. You do it by providing all the tools possible to help women control that aspect of their lives.

The anti-choice movement has always been about controlling womens' sexual options, and the attack on birth control is just the next step in that movement. This step is clever, because of the framing--they don't want to ban birth control--they just want to give people who have a moral objection to dispensing it a way to avoid doing that part of their jobs. Sorry, but that doesn't fly either, for one major reason. It's based on a dishonest premise--that the pill and other forms of birth control are abortifacients. They aren't, and no amount of bullshittery by the Bush administration will make it so. If there's no honest premise, then a person can't have an honest objection to it. Simple as that.

Lookie what I saw

Now, I didn't "find" this one in the traditional sense--the people at Dogma found it and had it sitting up behind the counter, but I did recognize it, so that's got to count for something.

And thanks to Rick at South Florida Daily Blog for turning me on to Mary Tiler Moore.

Glad to see this

Anyone who looks at my Friday Random Ten will notice that there's a fair amount of hip-hop and rap in my iTunes. I've been a fan for a long time, back to my early teens when I skated to the Sugarhill Gang doing "Rappers Delight" at Skater's Paradise. I can't say I've been the biggest fan of Ludacris, but that's in large part due to the fact that as rap has gotten more commercial, I've gotten less interested in mainstream artists. I'd rather listen to The Coup any day. My one exception is Public Enemy, because Chuck D stayed true to his political roots.

As an artist, I defend Ludacris's right to rap about what he wants, in the way he wants. I don't agree with what he's saying in this song, and I won't be buying it, but he has the same right any artist does to express himself in the medium he chooses and in the manner he chooses.

But there's no question, he's acting like a misogynist piece of crap, and I'm glad the Obama campaign distanced themselves from this song.

"As Barack Obama has said many, many times in the past, rap lyrics today too often perpetuate misogyny, materialism, and degrading images that he doesn't want his daughters or any children exposed to," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said in an e-mail statement. "This song is not only outrageously offensive to Senator Clinton, Reverend Jackson, Senator McCain, and President Bush, it is offensive to all of us who are trying to raise our children with the values we hold dear. While Ludacris is a talented individual he should be ashamed of these lyrics."
I hope Senator Obama says something personally as well--I'm sure he'll be asked about it by reporters--but this is a good start.

In a desperate attempt to keep this race from looking like the blowout it currently is, reporters and other media types have been asking why Obama's lead isn't bigger than it is. After all, they say, everything favors him--the economic climate, the public's stance on the war, George W. Bush's favorability ratings, and so on. He ought to be blowing McCain out of the water.

Well, he is, even using the polling models that are, in some part, based on guesswork. I mean, how do you poll a national contest when there's a candidate like Obama in the race? He's a first--how will that affect turnout? Will he draw new voters to the polls? Will there be a backlash? Who knows?

But even based on that, Obama holds a massive lead. CNN's poll of polls currently has Obama up by five points. That doesn't sound like a lot, but look at it in terms of vote totals, and it gets huge. By way of comparison, in 2004, just over 120 million people voted for President. Even if we assume that turnout is flat for 2008 (and there's no reason to expect that), a five-point lead translates to roughly 6 million votes. No one would look at a 6 million vote win and call it close, but five points makes it seem like it's within reach.

How about historically? In 2004, George W. Bush won by about half that margin in raw votes, and while it didn't reach the mandate levels he claimed, it was a decisive win. But in 1996, Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole by over 8 million votes, by over 8 percentage points in a three-way race, and that was a resounding win for him. Obama's lead falls in the middle of that right now, which isn't half bad, considering, as One Drop does, that Obama is "a biracial Democrat with a Muslim-sounding name" running against a "white male Republican war veteran."

But they're eeeebil!!

Glenn Greenwald:

Nonetheless, to watch U.S. Senators like Sam Brownback actually maintain a straight face while protesting China's warrantless spying on the email and telephone communications of foreigners, and lamenting that private companies feel unfairly pressured to cooperate with China's government spying out of fear of losing lucrative business opportunities, is so surreal that it's actually hard to believe one is seeing it.
Seriously, that's about what Brownback and the rest would argue--that it's okay for us because we live in a democracy, but not for the Chinese because they're Commies. What few people want to acknowledge is that we're more alike than we care to admit.

Both nations are becoming corporatocracies, where the interests of big business trump everything else--human rights, civil rights, you name it. If it hurts business, it's gone. You can couch it in whatever -ism you want; it won't change anything.

It couldn't be because they're constantly doing this, could it?

State regulators on Tuesday shut down a Florida Power & Light Co. green energy program after an audit revealed most of the money collected from customers was used to pay for administrative and marketing costs....

FPL officials acknowledge that three quarters of the $11.4 million collected from customers since 2004 went to administrative, marketing and management expenses, according to a commission report. Much of the rest of the money went to buy renewable energy credits from companies outside Florida.
FPL officials had the gall to defend the program, even though similar programs in California and Georgia spend about 15% of the money they take in on marketing and administrative costs. This was nothing more than a racket for FPL, which shouldn't be surprising, given the way FPL is constantly looking for ways to yank around Florida citizens.

It's a start, at least

Not that this will change much in real terms for the lives of African-Americans in the US, but it's a good place to begin.

WASHINGTON - The House on Tuesday issued an unprecedented apology to black Americans for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws.
I like that they added Jim Crow to the discussion, because it advances the timeline on the issue of how long African-Americans have been oppressed in this country. It's not far enough--an accurate discussion has to acknowledge that institutional racism still exists and is a major factor in the lives of African-Americans and other minorities to this day--but it's at least a start and it doesn't further the lie that everything was just fine after slavery ended.

From SyFy Portal:

Forget about those one-hour timeslots on SciFi Channel. That is if your name is "Battlestar Galactica."

Executive Producer David Eick told SciFi Wire at Comic-Con that the network has given them the greenlight to extend episodes they want to extend, and make sure every minute the writers and producers want to include in the final episodes are there.
If the writing for the final half-season of BSG is paced the same way the first half of the season was, then those episodes might not end until sometime in 2013.

Indeed they do, John

Indeed they do.

Conservationists are having an easier time buying land to protect. Some developers who bought land to put condos and the like on are now finding themselves in such financial distress that they selling parcels, sometimes at a loss, in order to keep themselves afloat and save part of their projects.

In Florida, where some land values skyrocketed from $1,500 an acre to $5,000 several years ago, The Nature Conservancy is practically overwhelmed by people clamoring to get out from under property, said Keith Fountain, director of land acquisition for the Conservancy's Florida chapter.

The properties the conservation group does acquire "truly have to be jewels," Fountain said. "It exceeds anything I've seen in my 16 years with the conservancy."
That is beautiful--the conservationists get to be choosy about what they protect.


Anyone who's read this blog long enough knows the loathing I have for Wal-Mart as an institution. I think they've done incredible damage to the working class in the US, as well as to the environment and the rights of working people to organize into unions. So when I hear that there's some opposition to Wal-Mart opening a new store in downtown Miami, I'm not exactly sympathetic to the company.

That doesn't, however, mean that I'm necessarily sympathetic to the locals, especially when their opposition is based so strongly on classism.

Wal-Mart's interest is serious enough to have sent some residents and government officials into mini-uproar.

"Horrors!!" resident Sharon Dodge recently wrote to City Hall.

Another resident chimed in: "There goes the neighborhood!"

And this, from a City Commission aide: "Visualize a Wal-Mart customer in his pick-up truck, and family of four, driving past tuxedo-clad PAC center guests arriving simultaneously."
Yeah, it would be really horrible if those tuxedo-clad folks would have to actually see working class people in their natural habitats. Don't get me wrong--Wal-Mart is no friend to the working class--but neither, it seems, are the people objecting so loudly to Wal-Mart's move. And anything that keeps a big-box store--any big-box, not just Wal-Mart--from plopping itself down in the middle of an urban area is a good idea. It's just not a good use of space.

But it's hard for me to get behind these sorts of objections, because frankly, these people would also turn their noses up at me as well, driving my '99 Hyundai with the broken door handles and the chipped and flaking paint, even though I would no doubt appreciate many of the productions at the nearby Performing Arts Center.

The objections from Commissioner Marc Sarnoff are better:
What you won't see, according to the commissioner, are a lot of people walking to the store -- making Wal-Mart a bad fit for the city's goal of building foot traffic downtown.

Sarnoff also cites Wal-Mart's heavy reliance on foreign-made products as another reason he won't be shopping there if the downtown location is indeed built.

"If we don't want to outsource our jobs, we should do a better job of buying American," Sarnoff said.
Yes yes yes. These are reasons to object to big box retailers in downtown areas--they're not practical when it comes to land use or traffic congestion, and considering that given gas prices, Miami is going to have to become even more public-transportation-friendly instead of less so, that has to be a major consideration when deciding if Wal-Mart should be allowed to build down there.

Stay classy, y'all

Via Broadsheet, a commercial for an escort service.

Classy. I love how they play on the idea that schlubby guys need to "recover" from one night stands, as though a living Real Doll is every male's right and privilege. And man are you boned if you wind up married to a real woman, because there's no escaping that level of hell.

The story has been out there for a little while now--an Idaho vendor making campaign buttons or Idaho Democrat Larry LaRocco accidentally put Larry Craig's face on the button instead. I'm sure the wide-stance jokes will be flying fast and furious, assuming they haven't started already.

You know what the really interesting thing to me is, though? Obama isn't a liability in Idaho, apparently. Ponder that for a moment. Idaho, one of the reddest states out there, one of the last states to dip Bush's approval numbers below 50%, home to some pretty hardcore white supremacists--being linked to Obama isn't a political handicap. And mind you, LaRocco isn't an also-ran here--he's competitive. It will be an upset if he wins, no question, but he's not an underfunded challenger with no chance. I don't really have anything else here--I'm just marveling at that.

Um, Bill?

If you're counting on American voters going for McCain because they're scared of the prospect of Democratic control of both Congress and the Presidency, you're in deep denial. I mean, I know you're the famous columnist with the NY Times column and all, but seriously, this is what you've got to hold on to?

Given the unpopularity of the current Democratic Congress, given Americans’ tendency to prefer divided government, given the voters’ repudiations of the Republicans in 2006 and of the Democrats in 1994 — isn’t the prospect of across-the-board, one-party Democratic governance more likely to move votes to McCain than to Obama?

So I cheered up once again. For it will become increasingly obvious, as we approach November, that the Democrats will continue to control Congress for the next couple of years. But if the voters elect Obama as president, they’ll be putting Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in untrammeled control of our future.
Two things wrong with this. First of all, you're giving American voters way too much credit here. Your boy Dubya got a ton of votes back in 2000 because people thought he'd be better to have a beer with, not because they thought that he'd work well with a divided Congress.

But secondly, you're not being honest about the reasons for Congress's unpopularity. Congress's numbers are so low because Republicans are mad at the Democratic Congress because they're not rolling over for King George the Lesser, and because Democrats are mad at the Democratic Congress because they're rolling over for King George the Lesser too much. Trust me--the logic works on this.

But there's a reason why even you admit that the Democrats will retain control of Congress and expand their majorities in November--because Republicans have destroyed their brand for the moment. They'll build it back--I'm not one of those folks who sees the death of the opposition party. Democrats aren't nearly as unpopular as you're trying to make them out to be, so to those few voters who actually look beyond the personalities and superficialities of the two major candidates, having the Democrats in charge of both Congress and the Executive is a feature, not a bug.

And the rest of them aren't paying that much attention.

The Sun-Sentinel today has a longish story on the tax exemptions that churches receive on their property, especially that property that doesn't seem to be used for religious reasons. As you might expect, I disagree with the idea that religious groups ought to be given any special exemption from paying taxes on their property. People who favor the exemptions often say that to tax a church would be a violation of the separation of church and state, but I figure that as long as the tax is applied evenly, regardless of the faith represented, we're probably okay on the constitutional front.

But what this article focuses on isn't the taxing of church buildings. No. it's the extraneous stuff, some of which might just piss you off.

In Broward, the value of properties considered tax-exempt for religious purposes totaled $1.8 billion in 2007, the last year for which complete data is available. While most were traditional churches and temples, the tax-free properties also included vacant land, parking lots and multimillion-dollar homes with golf course and water views, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found.
It's about what you would expect--a "parsonage" for a televangelist whose church is in a storefront, another parsonage that's worth more than the church it belongs to (the church is in a low-income part of the city, of course), and in one case that has since been reversed, a parking lot that was leased (for a profit, one assumes) to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

But more importantly, why should religious groups be privileged in this way? Why should they get tax breaks in the first place? Jesus was talking about paying taxes in that passage I alluded to in the post title from Matthew 22, after all.
17Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

18But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"

21"Caesar's," they replied.
Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
Sounds like Jesus believed in the separation of church and state as well, even when it came to financial matters.

Oh Ouch

Not to get too rednecky on y'all, but where I grew up, we called this stomping a mudhole in someone's ass and walking it dry. (Yes, I am aware that Stone Cold Steve Austin appropriated the phrase.) And he's not just stomping John McCain either.

The growing Obama clout derives not from national polls, where his lead is modest. Nor is it a gift from the press, which still gives free passes to its old bus mate John McCain. It was laughable to watch journalists stamp their feet last week to try to push Mr. Obama into saying he was “wrong” about the surge. More than five years and 4,100 American fatalities later, they’re still not demanding that Mr. McCain admit he was wrong when he assured us that our adventure in Iraq would be fast, produce little American “bloodletting” and “be paid for by the Iraqis.”
They sure aren't. Indeed, when they're not giving McCain donuts with sprinkles, they're busy covering for him when he says something stupid, which happens a lot. Rich helpfully points some of those out.
Once again the candidate was making factual errors about the only subject he cares about, imagining an Iraq-Pakistan border and garbling the chronology of the Anbar Awakening. Once again he displayed a tantrum-prone temperament ill-suited to a high-pressure 21st-century presidency. His grim-faced crusade to brand his opponent as a traitor who wants to “lose a war” isn’t even a competent impersonation of Joe McCarthy. Mr. McCain comes off instead like the ineffectual Mr. Wilson, the retired neighbor perpetually busting a gasket at the antics of pesky little Dennis the Menace.

The week’s most revealing incident occurred on Wednesday when the new, supposedly improved McCain campaign management finalized its grand plan to counter Mr. Obama’s Berlin speech with a “Mission Accomplished”-like helicopter landing on an oil rig off Louisiana’s coast. The announcement was posted on politico.com even as any American with a television could see that Hurricane Dolly was imminent. Needless to say, this bit of theater was almost immediately “postponed” but not before raising the question of whether a McCain administration would be just as hapless in anticipating the next Katrina as the Bush-Brownie storm watch.
I especially liked the oil rig bit, being a Louisiana boy and all. I know McCain is from Arizona and all, but he has to have seen a hurricane on tv before at least, right? Someone on his staff maybe? Or were they hoping to get him out there on a rig, in the storm, looking like a Weather Channel reporter only to be told just how stupid of an idea that was? We will never know, sadly. We only know that he doesn't look good when compared to Barack Obama.

Horror Journalism:

The NYTimes assesses "modern literacy":

Despite these efforts, Nadia never became a big reader. Instead, she became obsessed with Japanese anime cartoons on television and comics like “Sailor Moon.” Then, when she was in the sixth grade, the family bought its first computer. When a friend introduced Nadia to fanfiction.net, she turned off the television and started reading online.

Now she regularly reads stories that run as long as 45 Web pages. Many of them have elliptical plots and are sprinkled with spelling and grammatical errors. One of her recent favorites was “My absolutely, perfect normal life ... ARE YOU CRAZY? NOT!,” a story based on the anime series “Beyblade.”

In one scene the narrator, Aries, hitches a ride with some masked men and one of them pulls a knife on her. “Just then I notice (Like finally) something sharp right in front of me,” Aries writes. “I gladly took it just like that until something terrible happen ....”

Nadia said she preferred reading stories online because “you could add your own character and twist it the way you want it to be.”

“So like in the book somebody could die,” she continued, “but you could make it so that person doesn’t die or make it so like somebody else dies who you don’t like.”

Nadia also writes her own stories. She posted “Dieing Isn’t Always Bad,” about a girl who comes back to life as half cat, half human, on both fanfiction.net and quizilla.com.

Nadia said she wanted to major in English at college and someday hopes to be published. She does not see a problem with reading few books. “No one’s ever said you should read more books to get into college,” she said.


It's a rare sportswriter, in my experience, who can successfully move away from his or her specialty and write intelligently on social issues--King Kaufman does it, Jason Whitlock does it, Michael Wilbon does it, and there are others as well.

And then there are some who maybe ought to stick to sports. Take, for instance, the latest from Buzz Bissinger, who craps all over baseball players on the NY Times Op-Ed page. His complaint? Baseball players make too much money, especially All-Stars, and that's obscene in a world where GM is going under. And he takes it all the way to eleven in places.

But the tick of obscene salaries just keeps on ticking in professional sports, the one sector of the economy I know of, except for maybe Internet pornography, that still dances merrily along in the bubble of its isolation from the real world. As we try to figure out not just what is fundamentally wrong with the American economy but with America itself, look no further than what is being shelled out to the men who play with bats and balls roughly eight months out of the year (after all, they need their rest after such taxing work).
Set aside for a moment that internet porn hasn't been a moneymaker for over a year now (except that Bissinger has this habit of trashing the internet regardless of facts), Bissinger's point seems to be that inflated baseball player salaries (and later, football and basketball player salaries) are indicative of a sickness in the American economy.

Buzz, the problem isn't the players--it's the owners. Professional sports seems to be the one case I can think of where in a dispute between labor and management, the public comes down almost every time on the side of management, and I just don't get it. Actually, I do get it--look at the skin color of lots of those athletes who are pulling down major bucks. Toss in that they're in the spotlight while the owners look like pretty much any other old crusty white guy in a limo and that player salaries are the subject of headlines while the owners' net worth almost never gets mentioned, and it's easy to see why players get vilified.

But the owners are the best example of what's wrong in the US economy. They're a perfect example of the motto "Privatize the profits, socialize the costs." We see it right now in south Florida, where Jeffrey Loria is the latest owner to try to squeeze a stadium out of state and local government. He's gotten farther than anyone else has so far--right now only a lawsuit is impeding his progress--but how many locals do you think could even name Loria, much less pick him out of a crowd? He's about to get a $350 million dollar gift from the state, a gift that will put money in his pocket for years to come, and lots of people locally are happy to do it. Tax money--money that could be spent on education, on public transportation, on aid to the homeless or orphans or even on tax relief if you want to get Republican about it--is instead going to Jeffrey Loria. Hanley Ramirez, who (as Bissinger tells us) just signed a 6-year, $70 million contract, isn't the problem. Jeffrey Loria is the problem, because he's sucking from the public teat and giving next to nothing back, and best of all for him, he doesn't even take the heat for it because people like Bissinger have his back.

So when Bissinger closes his Op-Ed with this piece of wisdom:
So ask Alex [Rodriguez] for help, Mr. Parker. Ask him to pay for the cost of your cancer drug so you can live. Ask Manny [Ramirez] or any of the players at All-Star Game last week.

And then hear the laughter.
I can only respond with--no, Buzz. They ought to ask Jeffrey Loria, or the Steinbrenners, or any of the other owners, because they're the ones making the real money, and they're the ones sucking away tax dollars that could be used to pay for Mr. Parker's cancer drugs. Go after the real bastards in this story, and not the easy targets.

Learning lessons

I'm sometimes astounded by the power of media narratives. Remember how, during the primaries, the fact that Senator Clinton was beating Senator Obama among Hispanic voters spelled doom for Obama in the general election? Turns out not so much. But notice the second paragraph in the story about the poll results.

The results represent a ''sharp reversal'' in Obama's fortunes from the primaries, when he lost the Latino vote to Clinton by nearly 2-1, prompting speculation that Hispanics were leery of voting for a black candidate, said Susan Minushkin, the center's deputy director.
It was a pretty common argument, used by the media as well as by die-hard Clinton supporters--Obama can't win whites, Obama can't win Hispanics, blah blah bah.

Those people could use a visit from J. Walter Weatherman, who would waggle a finger in their faces and say "That's why you never use primary results as an indicator for the general election." He'd probably have fake blood spurting out of a stump for good effect.

The news from the poll was really good for Obama, by the way.
Instead, the survey found that three times as many respondents said being black would help Obama with Hispanic voters, as opposed to those who said it would hurt. And 53 percent said his race would make no difference.
So much for the theory that Hispanics won't vote for a black candidate, one would hope. I doubt that those numbers would be as good down here in south Florida, where there's such a large and powerful Republican sentiment in the Cuban-American community, but as a sample of the larger population, it's good news for Obama and Democrats in general.

Words failed BarbinMD on the front page of Kos, but I have a few for this inane take on The Dark Knight.

There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.
The whole point of the movie is that the knight in question--Batman--is dark. He's not an example of moral courage and fortitude. He's an example of how vigilantism, no matter how well-meaning, goes wrong, and if the stakes are high enough, lots of innocent people either die or are put in grievous danger.

At this point, if you haven't seen the film and you worry about things like spoilers, you might want to stop reading.

Take, for instance, the Batman wannabees in the early part of the film. They're inspired by Batman's vigilantism, and it costs at least one of them his life (or at least we're led to believe that). On the one hand, it's easy to be inspired by their willingness to stand and fight for their city, but in the end, they're not heroes. They're chewed up and spit out by forces so big they can't even begin to comprehend them, and their efforts are wasted.

The best example of this is Rachel Dawes. The seminal scene for me was the conversation between her and Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. Dent invokes the example of the Roman tyrant, how in times of emergency, the city would suspend democracy and appoint a leader who would bring them through, and then would restore democracy. Dent is arguing that there's a place for the dictator--desperate times require desperate measures, in other words.

Dawes points out that there's a price to pay for that choice. Caesar became supreme ruler of Rome, and the Republic never existed again. That's the danger of elevating one person to ultimate power.

Andrew Klavan, the moron who wrote the piece quoted above, has faith that George W Bush will restore our civil liberties as soon as our crisis is past, even though there's no reason to expect that he would. Batman hopes for a day when Gotham won't need him, but one point of the movie is that there will always be a way Batman can justify his existence, just as Dubya, by proclaiming a war on a tactic, has ensured that there will always be a justification for stripping us of our civil liberties.

Klavan would like to have us believe that The Dark Knight offers us a simple dichotomy of good versus evil, and that Batman represents the good, the reality that one must be cruel to be kind at times. What the movie really shows is that sometimes all your choices are crap. Whether it chooses the golden-boy fascism represented by Harvey Dent, the working within the corrupt system that fails for Gordon, or the dark vigilantism of Batman, Gotham City is in a world of shit, and the movie doesn't exactly leave you thinking that anything is going to get better.

See, that's the real key to the Dark Knight--the possibility that Ras-al-Ghul had it right in the first movie, that Gotham may be beyond saving, or at the very least, beyond Batman's capability to save it. In fact, Batman may be the very thing that kills Gotham once and for all.

I've written before about this subject: a book comes along, it's really good, someone makes a movie out of it, the movie's really good, and so everyone forgets it was ever a book.

It's a sad thing, because what was considered the work of, say, a man named James Leo Herlihy, becomes thought of as the work of Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt -- who did a great job, no doubt, but it wasn't their story.

And as a writer, I'm interested in the inventors of tales. I'm interested in the way a person weaves a plot and makes it mean.

So it's become a sort of perverse hobby of mine to seek out these books and read them, to see if anything got lost in the translation into film, if there is something about the book that makes it as valuable if not more valuable than the movie.

Which is why I just read a little paperback, title of Cool Hand Luke: like Midnight Cowboy, the movie made from this book pretty closely follows the basic story as the author wrote it. And like Midnight Cowboy, what got left behind was a big chunk of the meaning, and the darkness, and the depth.

First, some background: Cool Hand Luke was written by a guy named Donn Pearce, who was not exactly a professional writer when he wrote this book. He was, well, a criminal, who had just spent a couple of years working on a chain gang in Florida. He's published a few more things over the years, other novels, stories for magazines, but the latest edition of Cool Hand Luke remarks at the back that Donn Pearce is "currently a private investigator in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida."

I found a picture of him online. Just for the record, you probably do NOT want to fuck with this guy.


As the title implies, the beauty of this book lies in large part with the title character: Lloyd Jackson, whose nickname on the chain gang is "Cool Hand Luke." This character has been "replaced" (by my reckoning) with Paul Newman. Newman played the role as a young, handsome, charming guy--Southern, but almost a bit urbane--a rebel sans cause who just can't seem to get along in the prison of life. He's got a beef with God, and he is the Hope of the other prisoners, and the story ends in a church, with Luke being shot dead.

The novel version is better than that. But before I say more:

That isn't the only beauty to this book. The setting in this book is alive. As a Floridian I especially approve of how he portrayed the landscape. As a Free Person, I feel like I've gotten a good look at what's it's like to be on one of these chain-gangs (and I hope I never get closer to the experience), including the pride a man takes, even a convict in chains being put to forced labor, at being good at something. At having a bit of finesse and skill, even at something like ditch-digging. What comes through more vividly than anything but Luke himself is the feeling of the accumulated degradations of life, and the transcendence of those few and rare moments of pride, or joy, or real freedom.

It's a good story. So what did the movie leave out? Well, most of the darkness, some of the depth. A lot of the reality, I would dare to say: in the book, there is a lot more cussing and farting, a lot more nasty conversations, a lot more attention paid to the movement of bowels. The beatings the guards inflict on Luke feel more real to me in the book, and those confrontations feel more dangerous -- in large part because in the movie, Paul Newman is a clever, charming guy who can't get right with the world, but in the book, Cool Hand is a man who's killed and raped, who's seen human depravity played out on a horrific scale, who's seen it in himself, and had it rewarded with a silver star.

Far from the urbane-seeming Paul Newman, the book's Luke is a banjo-playing hill farmer whose father was a preacher back in Appalachia, before he ran off and did the family wrong -- and then Luke went to war. Here's something you didn't get in the movie: Luke playing the banjo and telling about his experiences in the second world war...

But the banjo picked and plucked and reverberated through the monotony, the waiting, the hunger, the heat and the cold and the wet and the filth, the drunken revels and the jokes, the agonies and the horrors. Men were bombed and burned and butchered. Germans and Americans. Frenchmen, Englishmen and Italians. Civilians shot as hostages, as spies, as accidents. Children disemboweled. Women decapitated.

Luke began to join those who sought out the liquor in every captured village and farmhouse. When the sergeant led his squad into the overrun German dressing-station and pounced on the two nurses who had been left behind with the wounded, Luke took his turn in line. And when again a few weeks later they shot their way into a farmhouse and found three hysterical French girls amidst the wrecked furniture, the corpses, the empty shell cases and littered weapons, again Luke took his turn in line.
This tale goes on for some time, and that is by no means the worst of it. The Cool Hand Luke in the novel is a person that Paul Newman would never have allowed himself to be. Newman's "Luke" is practically spotless, and just has this strange beef with God. But Pearce's Luke is a man who has seen Hell, who has been a part of it--who, for fuck's sake, was good at it, was good at killing and fucking and bringing Hell down on other people, who felt the pride of being good at it--and life no longer has any joy or purpose for him, except if he can tell the world "fuck you."

Far more so than the Luke of the movie, the Luke of the novel wants to die--needs to die--because there is no place for him in this (God Forsaken) world. His endless escape attempts are really suicide attempts, and even though it's sad and shocking when he is finally killed, it is inevitable.

The saddest thing of all about the movie version, if you ask me, is that it came out during the Vietnam War, and while the WWII satire of Catch 22 was embraced and applied by the public's consciousness to Vietnam, this was not:
Luke and his men rolled on, moving too fast to wash or shave, too fast to think or feel, demented by their conquest, their immortality. They carried bottles [of liquor] in their packs. They confiscated civilian cars and charged over pastures and fields like a squadron of mad calvary pursuing an enemy in any direction, they cared not which. Prisoners were fed. Prisoners were shot. Girls were given chocolate bars. Girls were raped. Orphans were given shelter. Homes were broken into and ransacked.

In a castle on a hill over a village by a river that none of them could name, having lost a fourth of their number in a ferocious fight that lasted for three days, Luke's company was quartered for a temporary rest. But they didn't want to rest. With the tacit permission of the lieutenant who had taken command the day before when the Captain's jeep ran over an anti-tank mine that blew off both an arm and a leg, the company of soldiers began to loot the place in an orgy of vandalism. Silver was taken, the contents of closets strewn open and trampled on. They shot down a painting of a high ranking officer, laughing hilariously when one of them urinated on it. They shot down chandeliers. Cabinets were smashed open and liqueurs guzzled. They slit open sofas with bayonets, broke windows, built up a fire in the fireplace and fed it with smashed furniture. An old man came tottering in, yelling his protests until he was smashed in the mouth with a rifle butt. Hysterical children were rounded up and locked in a room with an old nurse. Then the women were rounded up, the servants as well as the Countess and her family, all of them carried off kicking and screaming into various rooms to be stripped and mauled and ravaged over and over again.

Luke followed one of them up the curving stairway as she tried to escape the mob carousing in the hall below, screaming, giving the Nazi salute, cheering, bellowing their drunken laughter as Luke followed behind her, playing a hoe-down melody on his banjo. Trying to cover herself with the torn remains of her clothing she fled from floor to floor, screeching as the haunting strings pursued her with relentless purpose. Reaching the top of the tower she locked herself in a room. But Luke followed, never missing a note, kicking the door open and entering the small dark cell fitted out with medieval furnishings.

The girl lay curled up in a heap on the floor, burying her face in her arms, refusing to look at the bewhiskered, muddy enemy soldier who stood in the doorway playing his fiendish instrument.

Then Luke stopped. High on the wall was a huge crucifix, the figure of Christ carved in the crude, macabre style of the Middle Ages, the wood dark and stained and splintered by the years, the face gaunt and tormented.

Luke stood there and looked at it. He looked down at the girl. He waited for a long time, hanging his head and thinking and quietly slung his banjo over his shoulders and left the room.
I like Paul Newman fine, but that's the work of a man named Donn Pearce. His book goes places the movie derived from it did not--could not. Read the book.

Back in April, Amy mentioned that she'd been accepted for publication in a print journal called Relief: A Quarterly Christian Expression. I was accepted in that issue as well, which means that for the first time in our careers and our relationship, Amy and I will be in the same journal at the same time. We're very excited.

But there's even more news. My poem, a ten section monster titled "Hall Raising," was just given one of the Editor's Choice" awards, and considering that less than a year ago, I'd almost despaired of ever seeing that poem in print (I've pulled it from my book-length manuscript), this really feels good. It's especially cool because the final section of the poem has a clear statement that the speaker (and it's semi-autobiographical) isn't a believer anymore, but the editors never asked me to change a word of it. They've been open and accepting to it from the start, and I'm planning on sending them more of my work in the future. The issue we're in isn't out yet--we just looked at our galleys a couple of days ago--but you can subscribe here if you are so inclined.

Here's this week's Random Ten--put the iPod on party shuffle and then post the next ten songs to pop up. No skipping songs that embarrass you--there's not enough irony in the world to make "Desert Rose" okay.

1. La Sirena--Feist
2. Soon--Squirrel Nut Zippers
3. Right About Now--Talib Kweli
4. Sexy Mother Fucker--Prince
5. Shatter--Liz Phair
6. Two Princes--Spin Doctors
7. Ohio--CSN&Y
8. Face of a Fighter--Willie Nelson
9. Don Henley Must Die--Mojo Nixon
10. I Believe I'll Dust My Broon--Robert Johnson
So what are you listening to on this fine Friday?

More video

Last night on the Colbert Report, Nas performed this song from his new album. He describes it as being "about the worst TV network in existence."

I especially like how she goes after the ridiculous claim that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a moderate. She comes out really strongly for LGBT rights and the right to choose as well, which is refreshing.

According to an email from her campaign, she will officially receive a Blue America endorsement on August 2, when she'll be doing a live-chat over at Firedoglake. She's got a long way to go in this race, but this is the kind of year where she can pull off an upset if we all work together, and Ms. Taddeo is the kind of Democrat we want in DC. In a time when we're looking both for more Democrats and better Democrats, we're lucky that Annette Taddeo can fill both those roles.

I missed this Op-Ed when it ran three days ago, but I think it's good to bring it up, given what I've written in the past on the way certain religious minorities have been treated during political campaigns.

The article, by Frances Wilkinson, tells the story of Robert Ingersoll, "the most notorious heretic in the land, famous for his lectures debunking Christianity and the Bible." He also campaigned for Republicans back when the party wasn't dominated by religious nuts, which means back in the days of Rutherford B. Hayes through William McKinley.

Imagine Richard Dawkins giving a speech at a major party's nominating convention. Ingersoll did just that, back in 1876, back in a time that many people--myself included--look at as hopelessly enthralled to the magical thinking of religion. It's unthinkable today. There are days in this campaign when it seems the two major candidates are locked in a battle over who can out-Jesus the other.

It's understandable. Even though 16 "percent of Americans categorized by the Pew Forum on Religion and Society as atheist, agnostic or free-range 'nothing in particular,'” when it comes to running for President, you're better off being a Mormon or a Muslim than an atheist. Not a Scientologist, though. That's heartening, I guess. We're not as despised as Tom Cruise or John Travolta.

What Wilkinson points out, though, is that it wasn't always this way, which gives me hope that it won't always be this way either. It would be nice to see an open atheist make a speech at a major party's nominating convention one day.

Ode to Joy

Nobody does it like Beeker


Great online text art!

You enter a heap of text or a URL, and wordle will turn it into pretty. (The above is my short story "Venus Envy" as it appears on Fringe Magazine's website.)

Modern Day Slavery

I clicked on Leonard Pitts's column in the Miami Herald because of the title: "You think slavery ended in 1865?" I was thinking that it might be a discussion of modern-day slavery--the mistreatment of migrant workers, for example.

It wasn't. It was an article about what sounds like an interesting book by Douglas Blackmon titled Slavery By Another Name, which explores the "convict leasing" system in Alabama that basically re-enslaved African-Americans until the mid 1950s.

I didn't know, for example, about the so-called ''convict leasing system'' of the South, wherein poor black men were routinely snatched up and tried on false, petty or nonexistent charges by compliant courts, assessed some fine they could not afford and then "sold" for the cost of that fine to some mine, turpentine farm or plantation, the money going back to the judges and sheriffs.
I didn't know about it either. Let's be straightforward here--the stories of poor people and minorities don't get a lot of play in the standard high school American History class. Hell, where I went to school, the discussion of post-Civil War life for slaves wasn't even a topic. My experience was more like the one the poet Natasha Trethewey describes in her poem "Southern History."
we still had Reconstruction
to cover before the test, and--luckily--

three hours of watching Gone With the Wind.
the teacher said, of the old South--

a true account of how things were back then.
We didn't actually watch Gone With the Wind, but I did hear the Civil War referred to as "the War of Northern Aggression" more than once.

So I'm glad that Pitts is using his platform to point out that slavery didn't really end in 1865, since that date is often thrown out by white supremacists as a way of arguing that since slavery ended long ago, so did the effects of racism. (Don't ask me to make sense of the argument--you can't explain stupid.)

But there's still a problem. We're still seeing slavery today, locally. Most of us benefit from it--we're ignorant of the fact that it's happening, but we're still benefiting from it, and that's a story that also needs to be told, because we won't change that situation as long as we're unaware of it.

Some Schadenfreude

Jack Thompson is a bona-fide Florida jackhole who loves nothing more than to scold people for doing things he finds immoral. He's the worst kind of person--a bully who gets off on abusing his power. So it was with great enjoyment that I discovered, via Riptide 2.0, that Thompson is in deep doo-doo.

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Dava Tunis, the referee in Thompson's disbarment proceedings, rejected the Florida Bar's recommendation of disbarment for ten years.

How about, she suggested, permanent, non-negotiable disbarment? And a fine amounting to more than $43,000?
Oh, ouch. Thompson is the kind of guy who would excuse his own unethical conduct because he's pursuing some higher purpose. I love it when those people go down.

Liberal Media, my ass

Readers of Atrios will have seen this already, but I feel like it's important to give the video as much circulation as possible, so here.

The worst part of what CBS did is in the editing job. Not pointing out that McCain got the facts wrong is bad enough, but not wholly unexpected--after all, since when has the traditional media ever done real fact-checking, especially on the fly? But that kind of editing is, in my opinion, dishonest. As Matthew Yglesias put it,

Sometimes things have to end up on the cutting room floor in television, but it seems to me that if you show video of a question being asked, you ought to cut to the interviewee answering that question not just show some other film. Certainly when you've got a candidate who's made the idea that he's super-knowledgeable about national security policy misstating the basic facts of the issue that seems noteworthy.
And if there was time to edit the piece, then there surely was time to point out after the clip that McCain got the timeline wrong.

Some mornings

there's just no point in clicking on the NY Times Op-Ed section.

This is one of them.

What took you so long?

Italy finally made it into the 20th century with its ruling that blue jeans aren't a chastity belt.

ROME - It was less than a decade ago that Italy’s top criminal court ruled that it was impossible to rape a woman who was wearing jeans. The court concluded back then that nobody could forcibly remove a woman’s jeans unless she cooperated.

Since then, the court has changed its mind.

It has now upheld the sexual assault conviction of a man who argued that it would have been impossible to carry out the attack on a teenager because the girl had been seated and wearing jeans at the time.
This has come up in my poetry classes in the past--when we talk about feminist poetry, the issue of rape is often part of the subject matter and so rape law becomes part of the discussion. Most of my students have no idea what a rape shield law is, much less that this sort of argument has been made in what we would consider civilized countries. I like to blow their minds at least 5-6 times a semester--this will do the job nicely, I think.

That's really what this article in the Washington Post should have been titled. After all, it pretty much laid out the case for why young Republicans are irrelevant in today's political games, even though the author might not have intended that.

Take, for instance, the end of the second paragraph.

The crowd was mostly white and mostly male, dressed in slacks and starched shirts. For most of them, Ronald Reagan and the good times he personified for conservatives were not even vague memories.
Limited demographic appeal and no new heroes--that's a recipe for irrelevancy, all right. Besides, this isn't Reagan's party anymore, and Reagan's party wasn't anything to get all that excited about in the first place. This is the party of Dubya and The Hammer and Newt, of Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld and John Bolton, of an economic recovery that never was for most people, and an unnecessary war that has added to our national hangover.

The really interesting thing from this piece, however, is how much the people interviewed in it are convinced that the problem is one of branding, not one of substance. For instance, look at the following selections:
"Conservatives haven't been in the right place to get the message to young voters," Austin Walne, 22, says, sipping his beer. "Young people who just got into the workforce don't care about the tax rate, but they have to fill up their gas tank and turn on the AC in their studio apartment. Energy is a big winner for us if we can communicate it well."....

If McCain can convey his straight-shooting independence and show his authentic sense of humor through compelling YouTube videos and smart interaction via the blogosphere, he can pull in Gen-Next and millennial voters, says All....

David All points to a page on McCain's Web site as more old-fogy branding: The candidate is extolling his regulatory policies as friendly to small business, and the accompanying photo shows an old-time Main Street barbershop in the background. The young Republican techie, who raises money online for McCain, would have used the image of a young high-tech entrepreneur instead, someone to whom teenagers could relate. Seventy percent of high school students say they want to be entrepreneurs, according to a recent Gallup poll.
Only the first example even begins to acknowledge the real world stresses young people are experiencing, and even then, only in the vaguest of terms--"energy is a big winner for us if we can communicate it well." What does that mean? More drilling? Solar? Wind? Public transportation? Hybrids? There's no policy there--just branding.

And I understand why; it's because that's all the Republicans have right now. Fortunately for us, that brand is crap because of the last eight years of Bush rule, and younger voters understand that as well. There's a reason 44% of voters under 30 identify as Democrats while 18% identify as Republicans, and it's not because Democrats have done a great job in going after them--it's because Republicans have screwed up so badly that the Democrats don't look so bad by comparison.

But I hope they keep it up. I hope they continue thinking that the problems their party has with youth voters are tied to branding and have nothing to do with the fact that they're overwhelmingly white and male, because they'll continue down that path to irrelevancy if they do.

Desperate for attention?

The McCain camp must be freaking out right now. Their latest fundraising month gets stomped on when Obama blows expectations out of the water with a $52 million haul, their latest ad is a joke, blaming Obama for rising gas prices--even King George the Lesser acknowledges that drilling now would have, at best, a psychological effect--and Obama's trip through the Middle East goes even better than expected, with the Iraqi Prime Minister dumping all over McCain's plans for hegemony in the region.

That's got to be the reason why Novak is reporting that McCain's ready to announce his running mate. Anything to change the current media cycle. After all, VP selections always encourage speculation, and there's nothing television talking heads love to do more than speculate. Bloggers too.

I'm sure I'll be frustrated by the space this speculation fills, space that should be better filled with actual discussion of policy issues and the like, but the truth is that once the spot is filled, that's one less distraction McCain will have to use, and he only has so many. It's the act of a desperate man.

Where the women at?

There's some interesting stuff in this NY Times piece about women in the workforce, but as usual, what's more interesting is what's not included, as well as the assumptions made by people looking at the problem.

Here's the situation in a nutshell: women in their prime earning years have been taking breaks from employment during the current "recovery." Taking breaks is the euphemism the Times uses to describe losing a job and not finding a similar one right away, just so we're clear--in this article, it's rarely describing women who voluntarily take a break from the work force to raise kids.

That didn't stop the people looking at the phenomenon from making that assumption, though.

When economists first started noticing this trend two or three years ago, many suggested that the pullback from paid employment was a matter of the women themselves deciding to stay home — to raise children or because their husbands were doing well or because, more than men, they felt committed to running their households....

After moving into virtually every occupation, women are being afflicted on a large scale by the same troubles as men: downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or the discouraging prospect of an outright pay cut. And they are responding as men have, by dropping out or disappearing for a while.
So it didn't occur to them that women were being shafted by the "recovery" (and yes, I plan on using scare quotes to describe the Bush economy for the entire post)--no, those economists just thought that it was an optional thing. After all, most women just play at a job because otherwise they'd get bored watching Oprah and The View in between having kids and going to the salon, right? It's no big deal if they get tossed out of a job, right?

Except that it is, of course. It's interesting to look at some of the statistics the piece offers; to get a sense of just how crappy this "recovery" has been, look at this excerpt:
The proportion of women holding jobs in their prime working years, 25 to 54, peaked at 74.9 percent in early 2000 as the technology investment bubble was about to burst. Eight years later, in June, it was 72.7 percent, a seemingly small decline, but those 2.2 percentage points erase more than 12 years of gains for women.
12 years of gains for women, wiped out in a single "recovery," when in every previous recovery, women had made gains. And later in the same article:
Pay is no longer rising smartly for women in the key 25-to-54 age group. Just the opposite, the median pay — the point where half make more and half less — has fallen in recent years, to $14.84 an hour in 2007 from $15.04 in 2004, adjusted for inflation, according to the Economic Policy Institute. (The similar wage for men today is two dollars more.)
Smell that equality! At least the economists are honest about their biases, though.
But while men are rarely thought of as dropping out to run the household, that is often the assumption when women pull out.

“A woman gets laid off and she stays home for six months with her kids,” Ms. Boushey said. “She doesn’t admit that she is staying home because she could not get another acceptable job.”
Two questions--why do they insist on calling it "dropping out to run the household" instead of calling it what it really is, namely, being unemployed long-term? And why aren't men thought of the same way as women in that circumstance? The two answers are identical--it's the power of the patriarchy. If the economists call it what it really is--long-term unemployment--then there's pressure to skew economic policy toward the working classes instead of toward investors, which are largely made up of older white men. And if they acknowledge that working and middle class men and women are being hit by the same pressures and are being pushed from the workplace by the same issues, those workers just might team up and demand better from their employers, and that's the last thing the people in charge want.

Monday Reading

There's a bit of ailment going on around the casa for the last couple of days, so the blogging hasn't been up to the usual standards of, well, whatever they usually are. So here's some suggested reading.

Elle passes along a horrible story of police brutality from Long Beach. Seems a cop couldn't handle some single-finger disrespect and decided to take it out on her face.

Blast Off! has an improvement on the now famous Huggy Bear John McCain picture. Might not be safe for work.

Ken Quinnell gives us an update on the FPC's fundraising for their DNC trip.

The Miami Herald points out what seems to me to be a glaring problem in the mortgage brokerage industry.

Rate Your Students has an ongoing conversation about the consumer model of higher education. It's probably better if you just go there and scroll.

And Paul brings us the Superbowl Shuffle of political anthems.

Feel free to post links to your own stuff or other good things I missed in the comments.

The 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals just overturned the fine the FCC levied against CBS for Janet Jackson's nipple, thus threatening western civilization as we know it.

About a month ago, I wrote about James Dobson's move toward endorsing John McCain. He took another one today.

Word of the forum came as a leading conservative Christian, James C. Dobson, signaled that he might reverse his position and endorse Mr. McCain, The Associated Press reported.

“I never thought I would hear myself saying this,” Mr. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, said for radio broadcast on Monday. “While I am not endorsing Senator John McCain, the possibility is there that I might.”
What a shock. The religious right might not love John McCain, but they'll vote for him if they're convinced that the alternative is worse.

The first part of this story is about what I've come to expect from the AP when it comes to their coverage of John McCain. It's all about how he's spending as much or more than he takes in as he approaches the Republican convention.

So what's missing? Any discussion of McCain's violation of campaign-finance laws, or of the controversy surrounding his attempt to pull out of the public financing system. The AP is acting like there's no question surrounding McCain's situation, when there is. The FEC has yet to rule on McCain's request to withdraw from the system--at least, I haven't seen any news reports to suggest they have--which means that McCain is potentially in violation of federal law. Now, I don't expect that the FEC would actually arrest McCain and charge him in the middle of an election campaign, but it would be nice if the AP would at least acknowledge that McCain does have a problem here.

Shorter Frank Rich

That's pretty much what he did to John McCain in today's column. The Bloomberg stuff is a non-starter--the social conservatives already mistrust McCain, and if he picks someone to his left, they'll stay home--but the rest of the column is a brutal beatdown, and fun to read.

In the NY Times article about Barack Obama's trip to Afghanistan, there's this curious line:

The trip is intended to build impressions, and counter criticism, about his ability to serve on the world stage in a time of war. It carries political risk, particularly if Mr. Obama makes a mistake — the three broadcast network news anchors will be along for the latter parts of the trip — or is seen as the preferred candidate of Europe and other parts of the world.
Are we really that xenophobic as a nation? Isn't part of our problem with getting other nations to help us out with stuff the fact that our current president is a complete and utter douchebag? I'm not saying that a candidate's popularity rating in another country ought to be a major consideration in choosing our President, but it sure as hell shouldn't be a hindrance either.

I actually think that line says a bit more about the writers of the piece and the editors who sent it through. Even if they're not personally convinced that Obama's potential popularity overseas is an issue, they're convinced it will be an issue for someone. Just another way in which the right-wing has "worked the refs" in the media to the point where their point of view is considered the objective one.

It's no secret that I am interested in robots: I'm a spaz for my roomba and I'm writing a novel about an electronic girl. Hell, I've even got a soft spot for the shower cleaner hanging in the bathroom. The more robots they build to come into my house and spare me from the chores of life, the more robots I will buy.

But I just bought a robot that doesn't clean or sweep or do anything to help around the house at all. It's called a "Pleo," and it was invented by the same dude who invented the Furbee. It's much more advanced than a Furbee, but its function is more or less the same: it is a robot designed to elicit empathy from a human being.

It is in the shape of a cute baby dinosaur: a good choice since it is impossible to own an extinct animal, and while the robot is fun and engaging, it doesn't compare to interacting with a live animal. Had they built it in the shape of a dog, people would inevitably compare it to playing with a dog, and it would come up wanting. But since it allows us to have as a pet something we could not otherwise know, it works really well. My dinobot is friendly and cute, loves to be pet, and rewards attention with flirty glances, coos, purrs, foot stomping, tail wagging, and "singing" (if he gets really "happy," he vocalizes melodiously). 

Where does it exceed a live pet? Leave it alone and it falls "asleep." Wake it and it's ready to play. Go on vacation, come home, turn it on, and it never knew you were gone, never needed a feeding. In other words, it is convenient. But part of pet ownership is putting yourself out for another living creature whose needs cannot be put off according to your whims or convenience. So for those of us who enjoy the "bond of sacrifice" that comes with pet ownership (or any relationship), the robot falls short; for those for whom pet ownership would be good if not for the annoying "burdens," the robot is deliverance. 

The distinction is instructive: most advanced robots these days are being built in the shape of women. The terrifyingly popular woman-without-brain known as the Real Doll (see this fabulous BBC documentary "Guys and Dolls" for some insight into this phenomenon) will inevitably be combined with this empathy-eliciting AI tech to create a more convincing "girlfriend substitute": a "girlfriend" that never needs food, love, entertainment, stimulation, or a life of her own, who will react to your touch with coos, giggles, ass-wagging, and (if you touch the sensors in just the right way) artificial orgasms. 

Where the technology will fall short is exactly where the Pleo falls short of a real pet: the relationship, the bonding that comes from sacrifice, from having to put off your own whims, convenience, and even your own needs, for another living person. They try to build some of this into the robot: the Pleo needs to be "fed," for example (by putting a little rubber leaf with sensors on it into the robot's mouth). The "creature" must have needs or it is not convincing: if it requires no sacrifice at all, then no "relationship" can be built.

So the future sex-gynoids, the AI-enhanced "Real Dolls" of the future, will undoubtedly have demands too. If you want to have convincing play, if you want to feel a bond, you can indulge these demands. If you don't, you can just switch her off. 

The experience will of course fall short of interacting with a real human being, but like owning a dino instead of dog, these robots will give their owners an experience they can't otherwise have. Sure, they can have sex with a "dog" of a woman (offensive word choice intentional), but these robots will have an exotic appearance, and will be so sexy, with a level of Manga-like "perfection" no human woman, even with years of plastic surgery, could come close to, that people will be less likely to compare the experience to intercourse with an actual person. "Real Dolls" are already sold in odd skin colors, like blue and green. Someone out there is pretending he's Captain Kirk banging the green chick.

I am sure most readers are appalled and insulted by what the future holds in the way of sex with robots: fortunately, iPhones aside, the future is not now. It'll be another decade or so before the first case of a man taking his gynoid to the movies comes to court. But the pieces are already coming together to create robotic humanoid companions, and these will predominantly come in the shape of women. Women, who sadly don't spend much time in the world of AI and robotics, should take note, because the future may not be now, but it is coming.

Not good, just better

I think the best way to describe myself as a political person is as a pragmatic progressive. Candidates invariably disappoint me by selling out some constituency or position that's important to me, and yet I support them at the ballot box because they're better than the alternative. To this day, the happiest vote I ever cast in a non-primary election was in the mayoral election in San Francisco in 2004--my options were Green Party candidate Matt Gonzales and centrist (for San Francisco) Democrat Gavin Newsom.

This is especially the case when it comes to national candidates. I'm never going to really be excited about a candidate who has a chance to win because I know that I'm outside the mainstream of political thought in the US. I want a more socialist economic structure. I'd like a parliamentary system to replace our Congress. I want the federal government to fully separate from religion, including removing "under God" from the pledge and "In God We Trust" from money. Universal health care (not insurance), decriminalizing marijuana use, rehab instead of jail time, green energy, no offshore drilling, an end to discrimination on any basis--you name it, I'm pretty much to the left of the country's position. So when it comes to national candidates, I always choose the one who isn't necessarily good, but is better than the other one who has a chance to win--that's the pragmatism.

Here's what I'm talking about in a specific case. Here's an article on the various problems that John McCain and Barack Obama have had with the American Muslim community lately. A McCain spokesman, Bud Day, fresh from his lying attacks against John Kerry in 2004, said the following:

One of John McCain's fellow Vietnam POWs compared Muslims to terrorists during a defense of the Iraq War on Friday, saying "The Muslims have said either we kneel or they're going to kill us."....

He added: "I don't intend to kneel and I don't advocate to anybody that we kneel, and John doesn't advocate to anybody that we kneel."
A party spokesperson later said that Day meant to say terrorists and Muslim just came out by accident. Right. I think that it speaks to McCain's character that he has Bud Day as an open ally now considering that in 2004 he angrily denounced the smear job the Swift-Boaters did on Kerry.

Obama has a problem with American Muslims as well--I've written about them--but his problem isn't that he's using "Muslim" as a synonym for "terrorist." It's that he's not embracing them closely enough, and not standing strongly enough against the use of Muslim as a slur. Not good--Obama should be pointing out loudly that there's nothing wrong with being a Muslim, if that's your decision--but better than the alternative, which is that Muslim = terrorist. On every issue I've looked at, this is the case--Obama isn't good, per se, but he is unquestionably better than the other options.

What are they hoping for?

I wonder how Hillary Clinton feels right now. She's an honorable woman and a fine Senator and a groundbreaker in the world of electoral politics, and yet right now her loudest supporters are the mouth-breathers at places like No Quarter. This "article" is about Barack Obama's birth certificate, a controversy so stupid that even a right-winger like Confederate Yankee, never one to shy away from looking dumb for a cause, said was a non-starter. The latest theory suggests that Claire McCaskill, a strong Obama supporter, introduced the Senate resolution recognizing John McCain as a citizen and Constitutionally qualified for the presidency, because there were some questions about Obama's citizenship.

Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to. That's right--No Quarter is up there with Peggy Noonan when it comes to lunacy, and the air is awfully thin when you get that high.

The first time I blogged about No Quarter, I said that Senator Clinton deserved better supporters. I stand by that, but my tone in that post was wrong, because I suggested that Senator Clinton needed to do something about that site. I apologize for that. It's clear that these people are nutballs, and there's nothing that candidates can do to stop nutballs from supporting them.

I started this post with a question, but it's one I don't really have an answer for. It's pretty clear they don't want Barack Obama to be the next President, and based on the comments and the general tone of the posts, that's largely based on Obama's race. They obviously hope that somehow Senator Clinton will still be the nominee as well as the next President, but there's a part of me that thinks they won't be satisfied until the black man who dared to best their candidate is put back in his place. And if that's their motivation, I really hope they vote for John McCain, because I don't want to have anything to do with their kind.

We just saw the Dark Knight -- it was good, but more thrillingly, it was prefaced by a dreamy teaser for next year's The Watchmen. 

I am definitely in the camp that believes that The Watchmen probably can't be done well as a movie: the story is too long and complicated for a quick 2-hour jaunt. However, this trailer looked good. It was image-based and the images rocked. From the moment I saw the intrinsic field being torn from (the soon to be) Doctor Manhattan, I was sold. The shots of him on Mars are also perfect, and the woman playing the Silk Spectre is a perfect lookalike for the comic (ditto Rorschach and Night Owl, Ozymandias, not so much), and the different clips showing the Comedian alternately killing and being killed looked spot-on perfect. 

Now I know, I know: these are just visuals. How they portray the plot, the way the roles are acted, the pacing and so on, all those things remain to be seen. But the visuals are good, and that's a good sign. I've got fingers and toes crossed and am feeling a bit more optimistic about the Watchmen movie.

Oh, and did I mention that Dark Knight was good? Seriously, all that people have been saying about Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker is completely true: awesome.

Sorry for the lateness of this post--late night last night for Amy's birthday. She's still sleeping it off so we can see The Dark Knight this afternoon.

The blog world has been a little slow today, I'm guessing because most of the major players are in Austin for Netroots Nation. I liked this piece from the NY Times blog which talks about how if Fox News sends a crew to cover the event--they're saying they won't--they'll be given press credentials which say "Opinion Media."

The credential would not restrict Fox’s ability to cover the conference, but Mr. Orton said that journalists from other media organizations like Air America, the liberal radio network, and the National Review, a conservative journal, would receive regular credentials. The difference, Mr. Orton said, is that those outlets are “explicitly progressive or explicitly conservative. They don’t have a branding problem.”
I think that's an excellent idea, but I think it doesn't go far enough. The AP might need to be added to that list, since Ron Fournier seems to be openly slanting their coverage toward McCain and the Republican party. The issue, after all, is their claims to objectivity. Well, if nothing else happens this election cycle, perhaps we'll be able to put a stake through the heart of the myth of the liberal news media.

Here's the Random Ten--put your iPod on party shuffle and post the first ten songs to pop up. No skipping songs in hopes of maintaining your hipster cred--revel in your love of Huey Lewis and the News.
1. Trane's Slo Blues--John Coltrane
2. It Might As Well Be Spring--Charles Mingus
3. The Best I Can--Luckyiam
4. Gangster Trippin'--Fatboy Slim
5. I Would Walk 500 Miles--The Pogues
6. See Something, Say Something--Public Enemy
7. Time of Songs--Tapes 'n Tapes
8. Somewhere--Dave Brubeck
9. Squeeze Box--The Who
10. One Love--The Flobots
So, what are you listening to this fine Friday? And are you going to see The Dark Knight this weekend, or will you wait for the crowds to thin out a bit?

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