Christina Page at Alternet has an informative (if not surprising) piece on contraception and how it's becoming the new fault line in the abortion debate.

It's no surprise to anyone who's followed this discussion closely that the major anti-choice groups are way more concerned about punishing women for having sex than about reducing abortion. No major anti-choice group says it's pro-contraception. At best they're neutral; at worst, they spread false information like the birth control pill is an abortifacient or that condoms have a high failure rate even when used properly. Pro-choicers have been yelling about these lies and the anti-choicer agenda for as long as the debate has been going on, for all the good it's done us.

The reason there's a fault-line forming is because the anti-choicers who favor contraception in particular and expanding the social safety net in general are now calling out their more radical counterparts.

Ryan is committed to preventing abortion so much so that he, unlike every other pro-life legislator in Congress, spent the last few years working to identify the policies proven to reduce the need for abortion....As thanks for his outspoken leadership in trying to make abortion less prevalent, Congressman Ryan was removed from the board of Democrats for Life of America, and with it, disowned by the pro-life movement at large. Pro-life publications have taken to qualifying his pro-life status as "allegedly" pro life or referring to him as someone "who claims to be" pro-life. Because of his support of prevention in 2007-2008 congressional session, Ryan received a "0" rating from National Right to Life Committee. According to the pro-life establishment's new standards, his support for prevention means he no longer qualifies as "pro-life."
Reading that, you might think that it's the radicals calling out the moderates, but in the past, the moderates wouldn't have pushed for this sort of legislation, and they certainly wouldn't have risked offending the radical anti-choice base. That legislators like Ryan are willing to push back shows that they're willing to take on the wingnuts, at least in some small way.

The whole thing is interesting and worth a read, including how among Episcopalians, support for contraception nears 100%, which is higher than support for puppies and goodness.

What about the sexism?

Lots of people have been giving police officer Justin Barrett holy hell for the email he sent sent a Boston Globe columnist and some of his friends about Henry Louis Gates Jr. Barrett is likely to lose his job over the email, in large part because he calls Skip Gates a "banana-eating jungle monkey." But few people are talking about the rampaging sexism in his email.

Barrett wrote "You are a hot little bird with minimal experiences[sic] in a harsh field.... You have no business writing for a US newspaper nevermind[sic] detailing and analyzing half truths. You should serve me coffee and donuts on Sunday morning." And near the end of the email, he comes back to the coffee and donuts thing. "Again, I like a warm cruller and hot Panamanian, black. No sugar."

Now it's no surprise that the repeated references to Gates as a "jungle monkey" got the most attention--the "debate" over what role race played in Officer Crowley's stupid arrest of him has been (poorly) debated ahead of anything else over the last few days. But it's been a little surprising to me that almost no one has mentioned Barrett's sexism, even in passing. Racism is so much the big sin here, it seems, that the sexism doesn't even register. That's sad, I think.

A Business Opportunity

I used to like American Apparel--they were a company that actually made t-shirts and other clothing in the US (instead of in the Mariana Islands, where you can still claim the tag) instead of outsourcing to other countries, and they paid their manufacturing workers relatively well. Unfortunately, they're also owned by King of all Douchebags Dov Charney, who recently implemented a policy "demanding employee group photos from AA store managers so that he can 'personally judge people based on looks.' In the name of 'aesthetic' Dov is encouraging that anyone 'he deems not good-looking enough to work there' be fired. At risk of stating the obvious the store manager writes 'this is blatant discrimination based on looks.'"

So here's what I mean by a business opportunity. There are all kinds of progressives who would love to have another option for buying US made clothing made by reasonably well-paid workers using US materials. I want to buy what American Apparel sells, but not from Dov Charney. I'll buy from another company, or from American Apparel, if Charney gets tossed out. Just my two cents.


Via Conscience Continuum, an amazing moment in the debate over health care reform.

At a recent town-hall meeting in suburban Simpsonville, a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

“I had to politely explain that, ‘Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,’” Inglis recalled. “But he wasn’t having any of it.”
How do you respond to that level of ignorance?


Perhaps I'm a little immature for enjoying this as much as I am, but I'm so tired of birthers that I'm going to indulge myself. Seems that Rep. Dan Abercrombie of Hawaii has introduced a resolution to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's statehood. Why does this affect the birthers?

“In the language of the resolution, there is a statement that Hawaii is the birthplace of the 44th President of the United States,” Abercrombie spokesman Dave Helfert confirms.

That confronts House GOPers with a choice: They can vote for the measure, and endorse the idea that Obama was born in Hawaii, which could earn the wrath of birthers. Or they can vote against commemorating the 50th state’s joining of our blessed Union. Or GOPers can skip the vote, but that could look nutty.
If Abercrombie can get this in before the August recess, even better. Most Congresscritters will be holding town halls and such during the recess in order to deal with health care reform, and you know there are going to be birther wingnuts out in force.

Seriously, though, if this pressure from the psycho wing of the Republican party causes their politicians to moderate, so much the better. If it causes them to drive moderates even further away from their party, that's okay too, but I'd really rather have a two (or more) party system that's more to the left than we currently have. If the Republicans move left and take some Blue Dogs with them, that gives the current Democrats room to move left as well. We're all better off as a result.

I'd be more definitive than that, but it's still early afternoon and we've still got the release of the Gates arrest tapes (and their subsequent parsing by authoritarians who will defend the police in any and all circumstances) and the argument that calling a white person a racist is as bad as calling a black person the n-word going on (TNC isn't making the argument--he's addressing it), but I feel relatively safe in saying that Mark Tapscott has written the dumbest thing you'll read all day.

Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue if the Vice President of the United States used the name of Islam's supreme being as a curse word? They rioted all over the Muslim world when a Danish newspaper cartoonist penned a series of satiric pieces on Mohammed, so making "Allah" a curse word would likely incite far more serious violence....

So where is the uproar over Vice President Joe Biden's incredible use of "Jesus Christ" as a curse word?

This is not merely a gaffe or "insensitivity." Taking in vain the name of the man billions of Christians for two millenia have accepted as the creator and Savior of the entire world is either a consciously chosen insult or the kind of unthinking idiocy that disqualifies this guy from being one heartbeat away from the presidency.
If this is satire, it's lost on me. Here, by the way, is the offending quote: "I can see Putin sitting in Moscow saying, 'Jesus Christ, Iran gets the nuclear weapon, who goes first?' Moscow, not Washington." Highly offensive, indeed.

Tapscott might not realize it, but he's really arguing that we need to be more like the religious extremists that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld argued were such a danger to western society. He's not using Biden's choice of "epithet" to argue that Muslims need to chill out about the use of the word "Allah"; he's saying that Biden ought to be chased out of the Vice-Presidency, i.e. that the US ought to be just as hard-line over the use of "Jesus Christ." Screw that.

Messed-Up Mashup

On those rare occasions when I find myself at a party and there's a guitar handy, I'll get a few grins by singing the first verse of "Pinball Wizard" while playing "Folsom Prison Blues." It's a cheap laugh, I know, but I take what I can get. The downside is that I now have difficulty remembering the lyrics to "Folsom Prison Blues," as well as remembering just how "Pinball Wizard sounds sometimes.

This is likely to mess me up the same way because of how spookily the two songs can be made to meld together. Rick Astley and Nirvana--maybe we are in the End Times.

I just read Charlotte Roche's much-read and more-discussed novel Wetlands as a bit of light summer fun, and it came through on that account: it is a lively page-turner that will repeatedly gross you out (as every review has promised), but keep you coming back for more.

What mystifies me, however, having read it, is the reviews I read before I read it. Most of them describe Wetlands as taking feminism to a new, grittier, grosser level. A couple of them then slam the book for including irrelevant and meaningless details about her parents' divorce.

Then I read it and discovered a gross-out novel that has nothing to do with feminism and everything to do with divorce.

So I knew I had to add my review to the blog-o-webs, because it might be that people aren't quite getting it: this book is not a study of feminism; it is a study of the emotional retardation of a woman who never got past her parents' divorce.

It's actually a page torn right out of Freud (I've heard no one reads Freud anymore): a daughter who, though 18, is trapped at the age when her parents divorced, who developed, in response to an especially squeamish mother, an anal-expulsive tendency, who fantasizes about sex with her father and seeks out lots of men to have sex with because she feels the absence of "dad" after the divorce.

There's a big whopping hint to this prior to the first page (one page before the title):
I place a lot of importance on the care of the elderly within a family. I'm also a child of divorce, and like all children of divorce I want to see my parents back together. When my parents eventually need to be taken care of, all I have to do is stick their new partners in nursing homes and then I'll look after the two of them myself--at home. I'll put them together in their matrimonial bed until they die.
But that's not the only hint you get: the 18-year-old narrator speaks of her being 18 like a 4-year-old speaks of being 4, with defensiveness and simplistic sense that the age means something. She revels in her skinny breast-less body. She gets herself secretly sterilized so that she can never be a mother. Her hobby is growing avocado pits in windowsills using toothpicks and glasses of water (a decidedly elementary-school activity). And of course, she finds her own body endlessly fascinating: she's always got her hands down her pants, likes to eat her own boogers and other secretions, and to say that she's a bit anal-fixated is to understate things in the extreme: The novel takes place in the proctology ward of a hospital, where she's quickly identified as an exhibitionist because she lies with her big, gaping anal surgery site facing the window and door: she's basically an infant trapped in a high bed playing and thinking while people come and go checking up on her anus and asking her if she's pooped yet.

You could, I supposed, interpret it as a feminist novel because she likes to have sex. But each description of her sex life seems to me like just another paradigm of infantilism: she has sex with a very old man who wants to teach her things, like a father figure. She likes to go to prostitutes because she's curious what pussies look like, and can't see her own. She wants to have sex with a particular man who only wants to shave her entire body hairless and clean as a child's and then tells her she's "too young" for him. (She responds by masturbating on his couch -- he leaves the room.) And of course while I hate to give away the end of any novel (look away now if you don't want the spoiler!), the end of this story involves her breaking down and crying like a teeny weedle baybay in the arms of her strapping male nurse and telling him she can't go home to mama, she can't go home to dada.... can I go home with yooooou? She sounds just like an unhappy child asking to go home with uncle instead of mom and dad. The difference being of course that the nurse who agrees to take her home (on his bicycle! ha!) wants to fuck her -- but not in the ass, he says, at least, not until she's healed up from her surgery, of course.

Throughout the novel the narrator tries and (spoiler, look away!) fails to get her parents back together. She doesn't regard her parents as individual people at all, but as extensions of herself -- parents ONLY, not people -- who make her angry because they do not do what she wants. In many ways the novel is an extended temper-tantrum, or worse, a small glimpse into what will be a life-long temper-tantrum. And you can't say these traits are unusual or irrelevant to 21st C society: every kid's a narcissist nowadays, or so "they" say, and lots of parents are divorced. If you haven't heard about gross-out culture or the mainstreaming of porn you've been living under a rock. Wetlands is, I think, a glimpse of things to come.

At least, it is if Freud had any merit.

It's ugly, but it's true.

I don't know how they do it

Amanda at Pandagon tweeted this link this morning and I have to say, the escorts on this blog are way more patient than I would be. I couldn't do it--I'd lose it all over those idiot holier-than-thou anti-choice protesters who are making what is usually an already difficult choice even more difficult, with absolutely no thought to the long term consequences for the women who have to make it. That they do this for no pay and with the knowledge that other clinic escorts have been shot by nutjobs just makes them even more incredible.

Notice the difference

This is a really good piece on how different police officers react to the public in tense situations. It's dealing with a small sample size, to be sure, but there's a pretty wide gamut of reactions. This one, I thought, was particularly telling.

But in Brooklyn, a 24-year-old officer, with three years on the force, seemed less inclined to walk away from verbal abuse.

"We say, ‘Back down,’" he said. "If they don’t back down and start making direct threats, that’s an offense. They don’t get a free pass."

He said that threats could be defined in different ways, and he preferred to talk people down, but that the rules changed if a crowd formed, which was routine in New York and also occurred during the Gates incident.

“I wouldn’t back down if there’s a crowd gathering,” the Brooklyn officer said, in part out of concern of sending a message of weakness that could haunt another officer later. “We’re a band of brothers. We have to be there to help each other out. If there’s a group and they’re throwing out slurs and stuff, you have to handle it.”
Look at the language he's using, especially with the "band of brothers" comment. He's acting as though he's a soldier, and the public is made up of inhabitants of an occupied land. That's not a healthy attitude to have toward the people you're supposed to be protecting and serving.

Not all police have that attitude, but enough do that, especially if you're a person of color, you can feel like the police are foreign occupiers and that you have only as many rights as they're willing to grant you. No American should feel that way in his or her country.

Oh come on

Let me begin by saying that I believe Governor Crist when he says that the thank you note his office sent a white supremacist for a copy of an anti-Semitic film was "an inexcusable mistake by staff in my office." All the elements are there--a form letter, a machine signature, the fact that Crist is running for Senate in a state with a massive and heavily engaged Jewish community. But you'd think that the follow-up might have been a little more, ahem, personal.

"Neither I or anyone in this administration agree with or condone the anti-Semitic content of this DVD," Crist wrote in a second letter that also carried his automated signature.
Puzzling. I guess maybe Gov. Crist was trying to lay all of it off on the staff? Yeah, they probably deserve all the blame, but would it be too much to ask to make the denial just a little personal?

Not funny.

There are a fair number of Republicans and conservatives who see the above picture and get pissed off, because they're not personally racist and they don't want their party to be racist. They might even be in the majority of their party or movement, though that's way iffier a proposition. What they are not, however, is in control of the image of the Republican party.

It's one thing when a random blogger, or worse, a commenter goes off on a hate-filled racist rampage--it's another when it's someone who's got some profile in the party. Dr. David McKalip is the genius who forwarded the above image to his buddies on a google listserv--who's he?

He's also an energetic conservative opponent of health-care reform. McKalip founded the anti-reform group Doctors For Patient Freedom, as well as what seems to be a now defunct group called Cut Taxes Now. Last month he joined GOP congressmen Tom Price and Phil Gingrey, among others, for a virtual town hall to warn about the coming "government takeover of medicine."
Oh, ouch.

This picture is nothing new--it's the same old racist crap recycled for a new campaign. The bone in the nose does double duty here--it's calling out to both racists and birthers--and the hammer & sickle is classic commie-baiting (which worked so well in the general election).

The really sad thing here is that there are legitimate arguments to be made opposing health care reforms--I don't think they're persuasive and I think they generally smack of "Let them eat cake" quality empathy, but they are out there to be made. They don't make much sense to me--on the one hand, free marketeers claim government can never do anything as efficiently as private industry can, but on the other, they oppose a public option because the government would be able to undercut private industry. How's that work again?

But obviously, photoshopping Barack Obama's face onto a picture of a tribesman and calling him a commie isn't a legitimate argument, nor is it likely to be a winning one. If this is the tack the opposition is going to take, we'll be installing the French system in early 2010.

One last thing to the non-racist Republicans out there. If you're not going to kick the racists out of your party, then at the very least, you might want to explain to them that there really is no such thing as a private email. It might cut down on the embarrassment a little.

Make it Sexy

Stock Car Racing and Romance Novels--I don't know who came up with this idea, but good on them for trying to expand their respective fan bases.

It's easy to crack on either group--the head-in-the-clouds reader who doesn't want anything challenging in a story, the gearhead who won't read anything at all--but it seems to me that this is at least worth the gamble. Maybe some NASCAR fans, who are overwhelmingly male, buy a book or two, or maybe some Harlequin readers, who are overwhelmingly women, take up an interest in stock car racing. And if nothing comes of it, the investment can't be too great.

That's funny

Not funny enough to buy one, mind you, or to ever watch the last season and a half of Battlestar Galactica again (it's still too soon for me to revisit the miniseries and the first two glorious seasons), but funny. Wired's Underwire blog is covering the San Diego ComicCon where there's all sorts of stuff to geek out over.

This is still the same old Brian posting, by the way--I've just changed the email address I use to log in with. And I promise to post more now that I have a (fingers crossed!) more stable home internet connection.

As the proud owner/wearer of two tattoos, I'm certainly not one to mock people who get them, even if they get them in places I never would. And yet...

I can't quite decide which one of these moves will bring the greatest amount of regret later in life--the Harry-Potter-themed tattoos or the Twilight-themed tattoos.

Based only on the photos available at the above links, I have to give the current edge to the Harry Potter ones for worst decision, but only because of the subject matter of the tattoos. About a third of the Twilight tattoos are just quotes that are banal and innocuous enough that they can be passed off later in life as something silly, but not quite as silly as getting the name of a character from a bone-stupid set of novels (or the title of the book itself) permanently inked onto your body.

For Polytheism

The NYTimes "Bloggingheads" has a little exchange this morning titled "Against Monotheism," but the conversation doesn't go anywhere, mainly because the "head" on the left seems a little impatient with the question, is defensive about his own book (he believes he's being accused of mistreating polytheists in his book), and so the idea doesn't go very far.

But it's a very good question.

When I was in elementary school, I was taught that long ago, people were silly stupid polytheists, and that then there was this wonderful transformation in the ancient world where people saw the light, became monotheistic, and all civilization grew up from that point.

You tend to internalize things you are taught very young, so it took me many years to come back to the question -- it actually took, believe it or not, the Battlestar Gallactica miniseries (predating the series). I watched this ultra-modern cast o' characters with their many gods and I wondered why some small part of my brain rebelled at the very idea. Then I remembered what I'd been taught: many gods are for primitives! Only monotheists can build computers and battlestars!

But that's moronic. And I started thinking in the abstract about the merits of the two systems: a system in which people believe in multiple forces, often at odds with one another, or a system in which there is only one force, and whatever it does is "good," and whatever works against it must be "evil." And of course it struck me right away that monotheism isn't a leap forward, it's a plummeting dive back.

With one possible exception, which I'll get to in a minute.*

Imagine a literary tradition in which there can be only one consciousness in a story, and it is taken that every story is from that singular consciousness' point of view. Every children's book, every romance novel, every thriller, every meditation is really another version of the same all-good all-right mind. Anything that impedes this singular protagonist in his or her all-good goals is all-bad, evil, and must be destroyed. The climax of the story comes when the impediment is removed and the protagonist gets what he/she wanted, and there is much rejoicing.

Insomuch as we learn to be human through story, humans would not be what we know them as, if they lived within that tradition. They would be rigid binary thinkers, always on the lookout for the right-aligned authority -- they would have no sense of empathy, compromise, or humility, because they wouldn't need these. Who is aligned with the protagonist is right, all others are evil and must be eliminated.

I would suggest that there actually ARE millions of people living within that tradition, and whose humanity is compromised by their monotheism.

Now most people are not really monotheistic: most Christians (for example -- and I'm limiting this to Christians only out of convenience) love both Jesus AND God, and trinitarians love the holy ghost too. There's also a lot of Mary-worship in this world, John the Baptist worship, all kinds of saint-worship, including Judas-worship. Your more new-age types go in for nature worship, and you could argue that popular culture offers us a whole pantheon of low gods with lives as tumultuous and ribald as the Greek gods'.

And I would suggest that as a result, most people are pretty good at understanding that there are multiple points of view in any situation, that other people have their own goals and perspectives and that when two objectives are at odds, neither need be good nor evil, and that empathy is necessary to navigate, compromise is often moral, and that in a world of many minds, we must be humble and respectful of others. There is not one, all-right protagonist. There are many, many protagonists, all trying to get along.

But there are those whose alignment with, say, Jesus is so complete, that they believe they have a personal relationship with him and talk to the dude on a regular basis -- from such a person's point of view, the world is very much a one-god-show: there is Jesus's agenda, and there are those who further it, and those who hinder it.

So if you're looking for a world in which people have their own individual lives with their own individual goals, yet still get along and live in peace, monotheism is a huge step backwards.

*But there is an exception, or, should I say, an alternate goal: peace love and understanding are nice, but humans are a chaotic rabble who must be organized and coordinated into a single body with a seeming-single mind to get anything done. I speak of pyramids, armies, churches, and so on. It is conceivable that you can organize a large group of people to work hard through empathy, compromise, and humility, but it's a lot more efficient to teach people that there is one god with one mind and this is what he wants them to do -- and you're either moving that block of stone into place, or you're an evil to be eliminated.

It's like Mussolini and time-tables: do you want freedom and dignity, or do you want that train to pull into the station at 07:12 on the dot?

And maybe, from that point of view, monotheism is responsible for creating the modern world -- not because it has any moral advantages (it has moral disadvantages, clearly), but because it whips people out of their state of individualism and turns them into useful cogs in a vast machine. The same machine might be built of volunteers, but who can depend on that? The builders of empires couldn't wait for every Titus, Diccus, and Hector to decide of his own free will how his personal narrative interacted with all these others, or whether his story lie elsewhere, out on the seas, or within a cabin on the Hibernian frontier, or within a library.

But despite a titularly monotheistic culture, we do, as I've mentioned, persist in carrying on the tradition of multiple points of view. And human cultures, all over the world, seem to be a balance of these things. We believe in kings, and we believe in kings of kings, probably because those who didn't, we wiped out millennia ago. But reality is not monotheistic; few of us have minds that will accept a universe in which only one consciousness "matters." And the rest of use find that few terrifying, because they are your Apocalypse-prayers, your suicide-bombers.

We would be more moral if we dropped the idea of one, all-powerful, all-good god, and that has always been true. But for most of history it would have meant losing the ability to get things done. Today we have new technologies that allow individual action to move faster and have more of an effect: maybe these will make the need for that organizing principle obsolete. One can hope. But in the meantime it's worth re-thinking the relative standing of monotheism and polytheism, and the different moral behaviors they inspire.

Turned on the season premiere of Leverage and was dumbstruck when I saw an ad for this product. My mouth stayed open for a long time.

Maybe my memory is faulty, but I don't remember any previous Presidents ever being so "honored." I feel offended by this product, but I think I'm even more offended that the Chia company would think it was a good idea. What the hell?

Text Etiquette

It's a hot topic, and it's on my mind, because the Spring of 09 was, for me, as a college instructor, the worst "texting" semester of my life. Students, even good students who I know and respect, seemed unable to stop themselves from texting anytime anywhere no matter how small the class (12 students, in one case) and how interesting the class discussion (re-writing the US Constitution is usually a bit of a draw).

I'm "on vacation" right now, but if you teach, "vacation" always has to go in quotes -- yes, I'm not actively teaching in a classroom, but I'm reading and thinking and rebuilding and restructuring and doing all the things necessary to my job that I don't have time to do when class is in session. And one of the biggest things on my mind is how to jiujitsu my students into setting down their f*ing phones and learning.

There is no prohibition that will work. No matter how many rules you make, no matter how draconian you make them, one of the features of texting is that the text-er believes him or herself invisible: forget the glassy eyes (skilled texters don't look down, but they do get a zombie stare on their faces), the forward hunched shoulders, and the light tapping coming from under their desks -- they believe they are not seen nor heard, and they have no concept of how they are disrupting the class, retarding the discussion, and preventing their own learning.

Most of the articles I've read on the subject are about etiquette: whether or not it's impolite to text at a meeting or at a dinner table, etc. And I think they're on to something. But most 19-year-olds are not particularly concerned with maintaining their Emily Post cred. They are, however, of the prime mating age, which means that they do not want to be embarrassed and they do not want to be considered nasty.

Which is when it occurred to me that the prohibition needs to be one not of politeness but of grossness. In this spirit, I've invented an acronym:


F orbidden
A nd/or
R ude
T exting

I will teach this acronym to my students, and every time I catch one of them texting, I will say, "Kayla, you just F.A.R.T.ed in class! This is counting against your participation grade."

With a little luck, I will only have to say it once.

Our Florida Marlins?

Given the amount of money that state and local governments give to professional baseball teams and the very limited positive impact that teams have on local economies, we're long overdue for a close look at the relationship we have with Major League Baseball.

The public's relationship with MLB is so lopsided that maybe MLB's new marketing slogan ought to be "We put the fun in dysfunctional!" The Florida Marlins, fresh off running teams with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and conning Miami into paying for the majority of a new baseball stadium, are now saying that whether or not the payroll will go up "“will hinge on how well we draw”. Never mind that, thanks to income redistribution, the Marlins have been the most profitable team in all of baseball according to Forbes, and that the Marlins organization has been claiming that they have to run those low payrolls just to stay afloat; no, the real problem is with the fans who aren't showing up to make Jeffrey Loria even richer than he already is.

And what's even better about the current attitude is the underlying hint that things might not change even with the new stadium. It's as though the Marlins are saying "nice new stadium you're building there. It'd be a shame if we had to field a team with 29 year old rookies and 41 year old middle relievers." And they'll keep raking in their millions every year, whether or not we show.

Personally, I'd be more willing to shuck out some bucks for a Marlins game now and again if the Marlins had paid for this new stadium out of their own pockets, or if the local contribution had been limited to things like tax abatements for a limited period and maybe some help clearing the land use issues. That would show me that the Marlins have a commitment to south Florida--they'd be putting their own money at stake in the form of a stadium, much like the Giants did in San Francisco. Loria and the Marlins snuggled up to the public teat and started sucking, all while fielding a team that, were it not for the implosion of both the Mets and the Phillies in the NL East this year, would be dangling players for trade right now--and who still might. The trade deadline is at the end of the month, after all. They could get worse. And what's the public going to do about it? We've just ponied up for a brand-new stadium--we're stuck with them, whether they suck or not.

Of course cats are useless

That's why they're awesome. Cats are like poetry--a large part of their beauty lies in the fact that by traditional standards of utility, they're pretty useless. But as models of evolution, they're perhaps the most successful domesticated animal, depending on what you value.

Success is a relative term--cows are incredibly successful as a group, but they had to give up so much of their autonomy to hook up with humans that while they live in far larger numbers as domesticated animals than they would have had they stayed wild, they also serve as food stock and often live in deplorable conditions. That's their tradeoff. Same for any animal that humans use as food.

Then there are the kinds of animals that depend on human settlements for survival, but which have never given up their autonomy and become pets--pigeons, crows, those sorts of things. They provide a service--they clean up leftover food and the like--but they also are on the butt end of a lot of human disdain and in many cases, humans try to wipe them out, or at least control their numbers. Their lives don't have the sort of ease that an animal that's become a pet can generally aspire to.

Which brings us to cats and dogs, and I'm going to argue that cats are the more successful of the two. Both groups have largely managed to worm their way into the interior of human life, which means they get the benefits of living close to humans--a secure food source, relatively better sanitation, treatment for injuries and parasites (depending on the owner, of course), and a generally higher standard of living and extended life span--but without having to serve as a food source for said humans (in the US at least). We've even gone so far as to provide them protections against abuse.

Of the two, dogs--at least certain breeds of dog--are expected to be utile, usually as hunters or guards. That this is becoming less the case is a sign, to me, that dogs are becoming more like cats, especially when it comes to the smaller, more frou-frou breeds. After all, is a Pomeranian really a useful animal? Seems more decorative to me.

The real argument to me, it seems, depends on whether you think there's a disconnect between loyalty and independence. Dogs are, in my experience, exuberant about their loyalty, and I think that's a big part of what dog lovers respond to. Cats aren't generally as exuberant, though I would argue that they can be just as loyal, when they're given a reason to be. It's the second half of that equation that I find to be the most interesting--cats, especially indoor cats, haven't given up as much of their autonomy, but they've gotten all the benefits of being close to humans. And they don't really have to give anything in return--they're not expected to do guard duty or flush quail. They're like poems--they're just expected to be, and every so often, they evoke an emotional response in you, good, bad, confused or otherwise.

Four Galaxy Pileup

This makes an average day on I-95 look like slipping on a booger, I think.

Update: Link fixed. Amazing what leaving an "e" out will do.

So, we're all Nazis now?

Senator Jim DeMint, at the National Press Club last night:

Part of what we're trying to do in Saving Freedom is just show that where we are, we're about where Germany was before World War II where they became a social democracy. You still had votes but the votes were just power grabs like you see in Iran, and other places in South America, like Chavez is running down in Venezuela. People become more dependent on the government so that they're easy to manipulate. And they keep voting for more government because that's where their security is.
I'm not exactly sure of DeMint's point here. Is he saying that a social democracy can't really be a democracy because it always tumbles into tyranny, or is he saying that the current administration is planning a power grab and will use bogus elections to get it? I mean, when you invoke Iran today, you're invoking the specter of a stolen election, and no one on the right believes that Chavez actually won his elections (though UN election watchers have said otherwise).

If he's arguing the first point, that social democracy can't really exist, then I'd suggest he look at the very successful social democracies in western Europe. He's more than welcome to dislike the welfare state--even though his state would be in a damn sight worse condition if it weren't for federal government largesse--but he'd be better off if he kept the stupid at a minimum.

I'll admit to being a little revolted when I saw the headline "Crooks Littered Cemetery With Bones, Headstones", but then after a second, I had to admit that I'm surprised we don't hear these sorts of stories more often. Cemeteries really are a poor use of space and resources, especially given that the inhabitants aren't aware of their surroundings, and yet there's very little debate about how we should inter our dead. I'm leaving it up to those who survive me, but if it's all the same, I'd just as soon not be taking up unnecessary space once I'm gone.

Nice sentiment, but...

The Miami Herald's editorial on the need to battle hate based on religious differences is filled with the sorts of platitudes that one expects when a place of worship suffers some vandalism. If there's a problem with the editorial, it's the banality that suffuses the entire piece, like this part near the end.

This is why public and private schools, employment centers and houses of worship of every creed must not become complacent about battling hate crimes through diversity training that seeks to build understanding among people with different points of view.
Bolding is mine, and good luck with that. With only a few exceptions--and those exceptions by no means contain the majority of churchgoers in this country--you're not going to find much more than lip-service for acceptance toward the beliefs of other religions, especially once you start crossing cultural boundaries toward religions like Islam and Hinduism, etc. Maybe it's just me, but when I hear a right-wing evangelical use the term "Judeo-Christian," I get the feeling that they're only using the first half to avoid being tagged as openly anti-Semitic.

I have to say that ecumenism doesn't make an awful lot of sense to me--it seems to fly in the face of the purpose of most western religious traditions. The more radical Christian groups certainly feel that ecumenical dialogue is a waste of time, largely because they feel they have the one true faith and that everyone who doesn't get in line with their version of scripture is going to suffer some divine retribution. There's no point in making friends with the infidel if he's wrong. (Side note: this sort of fanaticism is why so many observers call members of these churches "American Taliban" or theocons.) They may not openly advocate for hostility toward members of other churches or faiths, but there's not likely to be any tsk-ing from the pulpit over vandalism at a mosque or synagogue or even at a church that follows a different dogma.

I can understand the mindset that comes from these churches, probably because I was a member of one for much of my life. That belief that you have the "truth" is a powerful motivator and can drive your conduct to extremes. I don't get the people for whom belief is more wishy-washy, who believe in something but won't or can't define it, whose faith is more malleable--the kind who engage in ecumenical dialogue and say things like "all religions are roads to the same place." Don't get me wrong--I'd rather have a cup of coffee with the latter than the former, but I don't get them. It seems to me that if you're going to buy into a belief system that asks you to accept some vague promises about an afterlife, you ought to go whole hog and have it mean something to you, and defend that belief against others who would challenge it. Otherwise, what's the point? If all roads lead to heaven, then why believe at all? Seems to me that an ecumenical God would accept a flawed-but-moral life led by a non-believer the same as one led by a fervent believer.

Ecumenism is a good idea for us in the here-and-now, especially if you can get more people to buy into it and if, like me, you're a non-believer. I'm a big believer in the power of manners (seriously--at least in real life)--they're the lubricant that smooths the running of a machine that runs roughly at the best of times--and it seems to me that ecumenical dialogue is the religious equivalent of Southerners smiling and nodding at one another to their faces and then rolling their eyes and mumbling bad things about them five seconds later. It may not result in any real friendship, but it probably stops a few fistfights, at least until there's beer involved.

Defrauder Atoll

Amy's movie is just about ready. Here's a trailer.

For the record, when I say it's Amy's movie, that's not because I'm ashamed of it or anything. I have a couple of bit parts in it and I do a fair amount of the behind-the-scenes stuff. I'm like the key boy or best grip or something. I say it's Amy's movie because it wouldn't have gotten made if not for her. She's the writer, director, producer, primary camera-person, sound engineer, special effects technician, you name it. It's amazing what you can do with a 3 year old Panasonic point-and-shoot pocket camera, Garage Band and iMovie these days.

Oh, and the title is an anagram of Fort Lauderdale.

Florida's Family Policy Council is looking for your help in the war against marriage.

In just the past two weeks we have seen marriage and adultery lead the headlines with Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and just one week earlier Nevada Senator John Ensign. In addition to these sad examples of fallen men and now struggling wives and families, we see the marital problems of reality-TV's Jon & Kate Plus Eight (Jon and Kate Gosselin) and the Today Show last week featured an outrageous story on how "marriage is an outdated institution". Unbelievable! Everywhere we look, we can't get away from the fact that from without and within, "marriage" is under fire!
You know, I was married once, and it didn't work out, and when it (mercifully) ended, I didn't think that celebrity divorces were weakening my marriage or marriage in general. I didn't blame it on anything but the fact that my wife and I weren't good together, that we were too young when we got married and didn't know who we were or what we were getting into. If it weren't for the fact that our church forbade divorce for any reason other than adultery, we'd have gotten divorced years earlier. You know, for a group who constantly harps on personal responsibility, these Family Policy Council folks are really bad about blaming others for their problems.

Obama: Student Radical?

Andrew McCarthy--the moron over at the National Review, not the star of Weekend at Bernies II (trust me, the former is more embarrassing)--has a breathless post up at The Corner concerning President Obama's time as a student at Columbia. He links to this pdf of an article that Obama wrote for his college newspaper in 1983 and then expostulates about how it shows Obama was a loony lefty during his time at Columbia. What did Obama write that was so crazy? I'll give you what McCarthy did, just to prove that I'm not cherry-picking.

Student Obama summed up with near incoherent Lefty gobbledygook:
Indeed, the most pervasive malady of the collegiate system specifically, and the American experience generally, is that elaborate patterns of knowledge and theory have been disembodied from individual choices and government policy. What the members of ARA and SAM try to do is infuse what they have learned about the current situation, bring the words of that formidable roster on the face of Butler Library, names like Thoreau, Jefferson, and Whitman, to bear on the twisted logic of which we are today a part. By adding their energy and effort in order to enhance the possibility of a decent world, they may help deprive us of a spectacular experience — that of war. But then, there are some things we shouldn't have to live through in order to want to avoid the experience.
McCarthy finds that incoherent--says more about his reading comprehension than it does about the writing of a college student. I'll sum it up for him. Leaning too heavily on theory can make it tough to see the consequences of policy decisions, and the people in these organizations are trying to make a better world by looking at previous real-world consequences instead of finding out firsthand that war does a great deal of unnecessary damage.

I guess this is a radical concept, especially for someone like McCarthy who has seen the heat of battle personally, waded though mountains of discarded Cheetos bags to get to his desk and type out arguments for why we should blast Muslims off the planet based on his theories of world politics. I think the real reason McCarthy doesn't like this piece--indeed, doesn't like most writing of the sort that Obama the student did--is because it points out just how dissociated from the real world consequences of his theories he really is. Like his fellow Cornerites, McCarthy likes to talk as though he's seeing the world clearly, but really he's wandering through the fog and haze of theory. He sees war in a mythic sense--lots of glory, not much gore, with good guys and bad--and hates it when someone upsets his way of seeing things.

Mark Halperin gets paid real money to come up with gems like this:

9 Pieces of "Analysis" About Sarah Palin's Decision That Are Flat-Out Totally Wrong
But he just lists them--doesn't give any reason why they're wrong, or even who's making the analyses he's dismissing so blithely. Here they are.
1. This means she can't run for president in 2012.
Take you all day to come up with that one, Halperin? Of course this one is wrong--she was born in the US and meets the age requirement. Mind you, so was I, though her chances of being able to raise the money to mount a campaign are higher than mine.
2. She would have been a stronger candidate for 2012 if she had stayed in office.
The only way this is wrong is if Alaska is about to break off and fall into the sea. Her governing experience when she was nominated as the GOP VP candidate consisted of some time as mayor of Wasilla and half a term as governor. She's added eight more months of governating to that résumé, and is quitting before her first term is complete. How would have finishing that term not made her a stronger candidate?
3. Republican primary and caucus voters in 2012 will care if she served out her term or not.
Some will, some won't, just like some will care that Bobby Jindal's skin color is dark and some won't, and some will care that Ron Paul wants to take the economy back to the 19th century and some won't. That's what caucuses and primaries are for.
4. This means she is definitely running in 2012.
I'm a bit surprised that Halperin didn't pair this with number 1. It's so obvious.
5. Making the announcement on the Friday of a holiday weekend was really stupid.
I'll give him this one. Generally, announcing this stuff on a holiday weekend means that it'll fall into the memory hole, but hey, it's Independence Day weekend and Todd Palin was once a member of that Alaskan Independence Party and besides, Rich Lowry saw starbursts during the VP debate, so it's a great way for Sarah Palin to keep herself relevant. I think I threw up a little in my mouth after typing that.
6. Until today, Palin was well positioned to run in 2012.
So is Halperin saying that Palin wasn't well-positioned to run in 2012 beforehand, or that she's still well-positioned to run after this?
7. Palin made the decision not to run for re-election all of the sudden.
It's all of a sudden, not the sudden. It hasn't been "all of the sudden" since 1590, according to the OED
8. Palin's rhetoric about the politics of personal destruction was not heartfelt.
I don't know that this really matters. Sure, she tried to use the politics of personal destruction when she was the VP candidate and then decried it when she came in for some attacks, but is hypocrisy ever really surprising in a politician? And besides, it's possible that she didn't realize how bad it can be until it was aimed at her--how she reacts as a politician from here on out will determine just how much she means it, but based on her history, it's not beyond the pale to question her sincerity so far.
9. Palin's ambition is limited to electoral politics.
Halperin's right. Governor Palin might want to become First Emperor of the Moon--of course she'll have to beat out Al Gore for that position, but if she gets the right Supreme Court...

Given the quality of the piece above, Mark Halperin, I'd just like to ask you something.

And please don't tell me you have people skills.

While bopping around the tubes this morning looking for stuff to blurb for the Rumpus, I came across this piece about Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" at Overthinking It. The author, who seems to be about my age, tells the story of the Reagan campaign's attempt to co-opt Springsteen's song for Reagan's re-election campaign in 1984. Most people who know the story know that much, and most liberals who know it probably know to a small extent why that didn't make any sense. But I wonder how many of them know this part of the story? (I didn't.) The man most responsible for the misunderstanding of Springsteen's song is George Will.

And, in a column about good ol’ fashioned American values, Will thinks it apropos to invoke both The Deer Hunter and a World War I battle in which the U.S. did not participate.

I have not got a clue about Springsteen’s politics, if any, but flags get waved at his concerts while he sings songs about hard times. He is no whiner, and the recitation of closed factories and other problems always seems punctuated by a grand, cheerful affirmation: “Born in the U.S.A.!”
Will might not have had a clue about Springsteen’s politics, but a casual listen to the lyrics of the song he quotes in that paragraph might have helped:
Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
‘Til you spend half your life just covering up
And that is, of course, the first verse.
The chain goes thusly--Will misunderstands Springsteen's song and writes a column about it; Will tells Reagan's deputy Chief of Staff Mike Deaver, Deaver tells Reagan's speechwriters, and we get Reagan claiming that Springsteen's song is a celebration of "Morning in America."

And yet, I wouldn't call Reagan's misappropriation of "Born in the USA" a gaffe. Why not? Because it's not all that clear that the general public really understood what Springsteen was talking about either. Here's what I mean--what part of that song resonates for you as a listener? What part is most likely to become an earworm? It's that repetitive chorus. None but the hardcore Springsteen fan remembers these lyrics:
I had a buddy at Khe Sahn
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there, he's all gone
He had a little girl in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms
We remember the feel-good part of the song because it's anthemic, because it is the kind of thing that can inspire a crowd to wave flags and scream along at the tops of their lungs. Springsteen intended the song to be an indictment of the way the US was falling apart, but much of his audience refused see it that way. Reagan might have been part of the reason for that--his "Morning in America" message might have been bullshit, but he sold it like it was prime rib, and Americans ate it up to the tune of one of the largest Presidential landslides in our history.

Springsteen famously refuses to perform the song in concert these days, and I can't help but think it has something to do with this incident. He was a victim of his own success, it seems to me--he wrote a song that should have been a call to arms for reform and it was embraced by listeners as a moment of unreasonable pride in one's nation, and it became one of his biggest hits.

It's July 4th, so there's going to be a lot of that sort of pride on display today, and that's fine I guess--I'm not going to shit in anyone's cereal. There's a lot that this nation does that's worth being proud of. But we've also got lots of room for improvement. Springsteen's description of the USA he was born into is easily as apt today as it was in 1984, if not more so. Here's the last verse of his song:

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I'm ten years down the road
Nowhere to run, ain't got nowhere to go

When I got the news alert on my Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that Governor Sarah Palin was not just not going to run for re-election, but was resigning her current post, my second reaction was "I wonder what RedState is going to do with this. My first was to wonder if she actually said "they're not going to have Palin to kick around anymore" or if she'd just leave that between the lines.

Well, RedState didn't disappoint:

The political pundits who are saying she couldn’t take the heat, so she got out of the kitchen, may have found a winning cliche to apply, but then no one has faced the heat Sarah Palin has been subjected to, largely at the hands of the political pundits now dragging out that cliche.
No one? Really Erick? You can't think of another woman in the political arena who was the butt of cruel, sexist, misogynist jokes, and whose daughter was also subjected to those jokes while a minor (as opposed to being an adult and advocate for a social cause)? You don't remember the t-shirts and bumper stickers from the 2008 campaign that said things like "Wanna see Hillary run? Throw rocks at her!"?

Oh, that's right--it's only sexist when it's one of yours who endures the attacks, not when your side is doing the attacking. I see so clearly now.

Anyone who reads this blog knows where I stand on sexist attacks--they're always crap, no matter who's being attacked and who's doing the attacking. I even defended Sarah Palin late last September because the press kept focusing on her sexuality instead of her positions on issues. But come on--Governor Palin has been in the national spotlight for what, a year and a half at best? Secretary of State Clinton has been dealing with this nonsense at the national level since 1992, and she wasn't even a candidate at the time. Let's have a little perspective here.

You all confuse the hell out of me. For a group of people who like to talk smack about how powerful your faith is and how mighty your God is, you sure act like a bunch of terrified children most of the time. Seriously--this?

This is just sad. Breaking out the whole "gay men are all potential child-molesters" line is so over, and if your faith is really strong, who cares if he mocks it? Or don't you actually believe that God can handle a little mockery and repay it if He so chooses?

I'm sure this will come as no surprise to anyone who's read this blog before, but I'd take a hundred thousand educators just like Kevin Jennings, and our children and our schools would be immeasurably better if we could find them.

Full of fail

I really don't know where to begin with this whole mess (hat tip to Rick at SFDB). Here's the basics of the story--a Florida atheist group paid for a couple of billboards. This billboard in particular has stirred up some controversy.

Here's where the fail starts to pile up.

The members of the community cite two main problems: born-again Christians own the business right next to the sign, and the billboard is located right in the middle of an African-American community.
The first part actually starts to make a little sense once you read the next couple of paragraphs--local businesses are being blamed--unfairly, of course--for the billboard's content, and they say it's hurting their business. Even if that's more perception than reality, that's at least a legitimate concern.

But what does the fact that the billboard is in an African-American community have to do with anything? Is that a suggestion that African-Americans would never be atheists? Or is atheism supposed to be somehow racist and so putting a billboard promoting it is a particular thumb in the eye to the African-American community? I'm not sure, and the article never explains it either. What's really happening is that the religious community in the area doesn't like the billboard, and it's a black neighborhood, so that's where the protests are coming from. But the skin color of the people in the neighborhood is pretty irrelevant to the discussion, so far as I can tell.

But it's not just the reporting that's full of fail. First, from one of the activists looking to get rid of the billboard:
After seeing the billboard, Team of Life community activist Essie "Big Mama" Reed brought her students out to protest it Wednesday afternoon. "Nothing else matters, but that sign needs to come down. In the name of Jesus," Big Mama chanted, as she led her students in protest.

She said the sign affects something much deeper than business. "I don't know the reason for putting this sign up," said Big Mama. "It says 'Do not believe in God.' How are we going to make it? Look at our schools, everyday. Everyday there's something going on. Kids are out here killing each other, kids are here using drugs. Who else are they going to believe in?"
Look, neither belief or non-belief in God is going to do much to stop crime or drug use. And obviously, God isn't going to personally jump in and do anything about it, because He's had plenty of chances to intervene thus far and we're still dealing with crime, poverty, drug abuse and tons of other social ills. Don't get me wrong--there are plenty of examples of people who've had problems with addiction and the idea of submitting to a higher power has helped them to control that addiction. But so have a lot of other treatments, and there are plenty of violent people as well as drug abusers who confess a deep and abiding faith. It's not a magic bullet.

But this response from the president of FLASH, the organization that paid for the billboards, isn't very good either.
The billboard sponsors said they would like the community to show them the same tolerance they fought for during the civil rights era. "The women and blacks in this neighborhood, they've been discriminated before, in the recent past, as early as 30, 40 years ago," Loukinen said, "and yet, they have no problem discriminating against another group, whether it be gays or atheists."
Dude, no, no, no, no, no. This isn't the Oppression Olympics, and even if it were, we atheists are the equivalent of the Iranian Bobsled team. Even today, women and people of color face more unconscious discrimination than most atheists can even begin to imagine. We get irritated by stuff--we don't have cabs drive past because the cabbies don't like our views on secular humanism; we don't make significantly less money over the course of our lives because we dismiss the divinity of Jesus; we don't go to jail at higher rates than believers when convicted of the same crimes. Let's have a little perspective here.

But even more so, let's not play into the stereotype of African-Americans as being gay-haters. Homosexuality wasn't even a part of this conversation until Loukinen made it one, and there was absolutely no call for it.

I like the idea of the billboards and I like the idea of atheists being more open about their lack of belief. Were that billboard in my neighborhood and the local churches protesting it, I'd counter-protest, because I believe it's important to put a human face on atheism. The message isn't very controversial--you don't have to believe in God to be a good person is so self-evident as to be banal--and I hope to see more of them. Just be careful about how much you try to claim the movements of other groups to bolster your own.

Die in a fire, y'all


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