And it says something about my current level of cynicism that a story about a person doing his or her job properly is enough to make me consider them heroic, but there it is--Judge Arthur Schack. Why is he a hero? Because he makes the powerful do the work they're supposed to before they stomp on the powerless.

Justice Schack, like a handful of state and federal judges, has taken a magnifying glass to the mortgage industry. In the gilded haste of the past decade, bankers handed out millions of mortgages — with terms good, bad and exotically ugly — then repackaged those loans for sale to investors from Connecticut to Singapore. Sloppiness reigned. So many papers have been lost, signatures misplaced and documents dated inaccurately that it is often not clear which bank owns the mortgage.

Justice Schack’s take is straightforward, and sends a tremor through some bank suites: If a bank cannot prove ownership, it cannot foreclose.

“If you are going to take away someone’s house, everything should be legal and correct,” he said. “I’m a strange guy — I don’t want to put a family on the street unless it’s legitimate.”
Notice--Judge Schack isn't stopping legitimate foreclosures. He's not ruling against banks for specious reasons. He's stopping companies from grabbing what they can't prove they have a right to. He's doing his job.

But his job involves tedious paperwork, reams of it, and of the sort which a less dedicated person might push off on a clerk, or simply glance at and sign off on. After all, the power differential couldn't be greater here--banks, with loads of lawyers on staff versus homeowners who very often don't even show up because they can't afford legal representation, and because they feel they don't have a chance. Why not just wave the paperwork through and give the banks what they want?
“To the extent that judges examine these papers, they find exactly the same errors that Judge Schack does,” said Katherine M. Porter, a visiting professor at the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and a national expert in consumer credit law. “His rulings are hardly revolutionary; it’s unusual only because we so rarely hold large corporations to the rules.”
Have we really gotten to the point where heroes are people who just do their jobs everyday? I hope not, but it sure feels that way sometimes.

The Story That Wasn't Told

Dan Le Batard has a really wonderful column in the Herald about Tim James, a Miami native from a meager economic background who became a star not only at the University of Miami, but who played in the NBA as well, and who now is a soldier serving in Iraq.

The story is mostly one of James's modesty. He doesn't talk about his NBA background with his fellow soldiers--in fact, he tries to keep it secret so he won't be treated any differently. But underlying the entire piece is this one notion: Tim James didn't have to do this, but he did, and he's not doing it out of some desire to regain some lost celebrity. Notice the following passages:

Betty James wanted to scream. She knew she had raised a tough man in Liberty City, but did he have to go and be this tough? He had other career options. Teaching. Coaching. Couldn't he choose a new career path in his 30s that didn't involve insurgents and explosions?...

Betty James never told him she didn't approve, even as her friends told her that her son was out of his mind....

Word on the base is now spreading that James was an NBA player, so during the hottest and dirtiest days, fellow soldiers will ask: What the hell are you doing here? You chose this?
It's never said explicitly, but the message is clear--military service in a combat zone is usually for people who don't have many other options. This is so understood that people who break that rule get newspaper columns and tv news features done about them. If it happened all the time, it wouldn't be news. After all, when was the last time you saw a story about a high school graduate with middling grades in an economically depressed area sign up for the military? It just doesn't happen.

What does it say about the way our society values military service, that it's considered odd that a person of even modest means would willingly choose enlisting? Mind you, I'm not talking about the people who go to the military academies--I'm talking about those who look at college as an impossibility without the GI Bill (and maybe even with it), or who sign up for the Guard or Reserves for the extra money, like a lot of my fraternity brothers did (and I nearly did). Our leaders talk a lot of about our "all-volunteer military" and its professionalism, and it's true we don't have conscription anymore, but volunteering takes on a slightly different flavor when the other options are being either under- or unemployed because the economy has gone to crap around you. Suddenly a meager but steady paycheck and the promise of health care (among other things) sounds a little more appetizing, even though there's a good chance you'll be facing some serious danger.

People like Tim James are incredibly brave and selfless, and I have no doubt that there are many others in the military right now who serve because they feel the same sense of duty to their country he does. But as long as they're the exceptions, as long as they're the newsworthy ones, then the wars the US wages will continue to be fought by the poorest among us, those who signed up because there wasn't much else for them.

I don't have an answer for this problem--I have some suggestions, like telling Xe (née Blackwater) and all the other private security agencies that we'll be canceling their contracts or at least not renewing them and using that money to not only give current military personnel a much-needed raise, but also to expand the size of the military so that everything is handled in-house again. No more paying Halliburton to feed the troops and do their laundry at exorbitant rates; no more paying KBR to build shoddy facilities where soldiers get electrocuted while showering--none of that crap. Given what we're paying these corporations for the crappy work they've done, we'd almost certainly come out spending less money and getting better service for it.

In the meantime, Tim James is still a brave man doing a brave thing when he didn't have to, and Dan Le Batard is right to tell his story the way he does. Those things don't change. But until we ask ourselves just why this is such a compelling story, we're never going to deal with some of our other problems as a nation.

Dear Amazon

I find it more than a little amusing that you have joined the "Open Book Alliance" alongside such other defenders of the common writer as Microsoft and Yahoo. Wouldn't have anything to do with the notion that Google dumping hundreds of thousands of ad-supported, open-format books on the web might harm your proprietary Kindle format or current near-stranglehold on the e-book market, now would it? I guess it's cynical of me to assume something like that, but one thing I've learned is that when it comes to money, one can never be too cynical.

Mind you, my cynicism isn't coming just from my distrust of corporations--I think that there are some concerns to address in this Google deal, such as whether or not this is a one-time license that Google will be granted and no one else will be able to follow in their footsteps. But in your case, Amazon, I'm particularly cynical, since this is in the Open Book Alliance's Mission Statement:

The Open Book Alliance will work to advance and protect this promise. And, by protecting it, we will assert that any mass book digitization and publishing effort be open and competitive. The process of achieving this promise must be undertaken in the open, grounded in sound public policy and mindful of the need to promote long-term benefits for consumers rather than isolated commercial interests.

The Open Book Alliance will counter Google, the Association of American Publishers and the Authors’ Guild’s scheme to monopolize the access, distribution and pricing of the largest digital database of books in the world. To this end, we will promote fair and flexible solutions aimed at achieving a more robust and open system.
Bolding is mine.

Tell me, Amazon, how does that mission statement jibe with your company's closed-source practices with the Kindle? Are we going to be hearing an announcement from you saying that you're changing your posture so that books purchased from other publishers will be readable on the Kindle, or that Amazon e-books will readable on non Amazon-approved readers? Somehow I doubt it.

I don't blame you for going after this deal, just as I don't blame Microsoft and Yahoo for doing what they can to try to close off a potentially (but by no means guaranteed) revenue stream from a rival. It's a good business decision. But to do so under the auspices of something called the "Open Book Alliance" when you have shown nothing but hostility to open-source e-books is hypocritical in the extreme.

Update: And Sony has chosen sides too--with Google, to absolutely no one's surprise. But at least they're up front about why they're doing it.
In Sony Electronics’ view, the cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship the Settlement forges between Google and the copyright holders in the proposed class may have a profoundly positive impact on the market for e-book readers and related devices.
It's all about the ducats.

Randall Terry, Always Classy

Now with an extra helping of racism.

Terry's colleagues put on a skit with a man in an Obama mask pretending to whip a bloodied woman, who kept saying, "Massa, don't hit me no more. I got the money to kill the babies."
Because there's no length too far when you're talking about ending abortion. You can lie (unfortunately, abortion will not be paid for by any health care reform plan), you can put together a racist skit which depicts the President as a woman-beater, and Jesus is just fine with it because your motives are pure--or something.

Poll question--who's a more loathsome individual? Randall Terry or Fred Phelps?

Via Balloon Juice

Why Wright is wrong

I generally respect Robert Wright. Nonzero is one of the most interesting books I've ever read, and I think that, for the most part, he knows what he's talking about. But wow did he go wrong in his op-ed in the NY Times yesterday.

P Z Myers and Jerry Coyne have deconstructed it pretty well from the scientific angle, but I think it's easy to see where Wright went wrong without going that far into his piece. It happens right near the beginning.

These two warring groups have more in common than they realize. And, no, it isn’t just that they’re both wrong. It’s that they’re wrong for the same reason. Oddly, an underestimation of natural selection’s creative power clouds the vision not just of the intensely religious but also of the militantly atheistic.

If both groups were to truly accept that power, the landscape might look different. Believers could scale back their conception of God’s role in creation, and atheists could accept that some notions of “higher purpose” are compatible with scientific materialism. And the two might learn to get along.
Wright--and I don't know if he's doing this intentionally or not, so I'm not going to make an assumption about that--conflates two groups in a completely incorrect way, and I'm not talking about the intensely religious and the militantly atheistic. I'm talking about the intensely religious with the ind of folk who would be willing to give on what is an intrinsic part of their doctrine.

The kind of religious people who are willing to go along with the idea that evolution is God's way of making stuff happen in nature aren't the problem in this debate, and frankly, while many prominent atheists might act peevishly and wonder why the religious don't just take the next logical step, they really don't have much of a problem with the detente that exists, because those religious people aren't generally trying to get creationism into classrooms or suggesting that global warming isn't a danger because God's going to take care of it. They're generally sensible people who just aren't willing to take the step of denial. Common ground already exists, but for some reason, Wright doesn't talk about that.

Instead, he acts as though the intensely religious--who in this debate seem to me to be the young earth creationists, the Intelligent Design people, the Tom Coburns of the world--might be willing to take a step toward evolution if the atheists take a step toward God, and I can tell you from personal experience, that ain't gonna happen.

The Witnesses are a hybrid of Old Earth/Young Earth creationism. They think Adam was created only about 6,000 years ago, and from him, the rest of humankind, but say that the word "day" is flexible enough in meaning that the earth could indeed be billions of years old. It's what I call convenient symbolism. But nothing--not scientific evidence, not a proffered hand of friendship from the United Atheists Alliance (if such a thing existed) would get them to move off of the idea that evolution is a ruse and that Jehovah is a personal God involved in the daily affairs of humans. There's no compromise to be made, because to compromise is to betray their faith, which is an unforgivable sin.

The same is true for most fundamentalist Christians. There's no room for movement here. You might as well ask them to deny that Christ died and rose again three days later. It's that important.

And here's the reason why the debate is so nasty, and will remain so--because we're talking about the most basic way in which people see the world, and in this case, there's no shading or potential for debate. One group has all the evidence on its side, and that evidence is the underpinning for a great deal of the scientific knowledge and medical advances of the last two hundred years. The other has arcane writings in an ancient collection of manuscripts--and faith. And we're fighting over what knowledge gets passed on to the next generation. That's too important a fight to cede an inch of ground to people who revel in their ignorance.

Look, if I'm talking to a reasonable believer who tells me that his or her definition of God is of a distant, undescribable consciousness that permeates the universe, I might be tempted to go along with that. I certainly wouldn't mock that person for it. And if that's what Wright wants from me, as an atheist, then that's fine. But that person I described isn't intensely religious, at least not as I see it.

Hollywood today puzzles me, not because of the amount of crap that comes out every year--after all, Hollywood has always produced mountains of crap with only a couple of gems as long as it has existed--but because of this ridiculous desire to remake those gems. In my links for The Rumpus this morning, I pointed to two examples of movie remakes reported to be in the works: Robert Zemeckis wants to remake "Yellow Submarine and Brian Singer wants to redo "Excalibur." Now I'm not saying either of those films are untouchable masterpieces--especially not the latter which is notable mainly for Nicol Williamson and Helen Mirren squaring off in a scene-chewing contest and an Arthur with an Irish accent--but do they really need to be remade?

And what's more, are these really the people to be making them? Robert Zemeckis has given us, recently, "The Polar Express" and "Beowulf," the latter of which I couldn't watch more than 15 minutes of. I went back and read the Heaney translation just to scrub the movie from my brain. And he's going to re-envision "Yellow Submarine"? The Blue Meanies will probably be armed with AR-15s to invade Pepperland.

And Singer might be the most overrated action director of the last ten years. I haven't seen "Valkyrie," but I recently rewatched the first two X-Men movies, and they're really not very good, and "Superman Returns" was the most boring superhero movie I've seen. I predict that if he remakes "Excalibur," there will be long sequences of Arthur, Guenevere, Lancelot, Merlin, Morgan le Fay, Galahad, Gawaine, Percival, and probably even the kitchen boys staring into the sky, pondering the mysteries of the universe.

I will admit that part of my loathing for this practice comes from the fact that I just don't trust most prominent directors to do justice to the original piece. Look Jonathan Demme's abominable Manchurian Candidate 2: Electric Boogaloo, for example. It felt, to me, like the movie was changed just so the director could be said to have put his stamp on it. If that's all you're doing, then why remake the movie? The changes certainly weren't for the better.

Which is not to say I'm adamantly opposed to movie remakes or updates. In fact, there are films that I'd like to see updated, because I think that, in the right hands, they can be done well. "Logan's Run" is one that jumps immediately to mind. But some movies--most movies, perhaps--are better left as they are.

What is there to say?

I haven't been blogging much because I've gotten to the point where most discussion on major political issues is useless right now. Lots of people (including me) are applauding Barney Frank for his righteous smackdown of an idiot at one of his townhall meetings on healthcare--give it a look, if you haven't already.

And it's really great that not only does Frank bring the thunder there, but that it gets replayed on CNN, but the sad thing is that this is what we're reduced to. We have, on one side, people comparing healthcare reform to Nazism and bringing automatic weapons to protests and screaming at Congresspeople to "keep your government hands off my Medicare" and on the other side, well, people bogged down in minutiae over public options and co-ops and inter-party fighting.

About the only thing that would cheer me up at this point would be to see a Congressperson drop an f-bomb on the next person who, at a town hall meeting, compares Obama to Hitler, because that I think is the only reasonable response to such a person. When you make that kind of comparison, you've basically informed the world that you really aren't smart enough to be taken seriously. You have the intellect of an undernourished three year old, and no one pays any attention to people like that other than to jam cookies in their mouths and turn on whatever passes for Barney the effing Dinosaur these days.

I think I need an August recess too. Classes are cranking up again soon and the level of stupid over healthcare has just turned me off. This is just a temporary respite, I promise you.

Advertising Metaphor Failure?

I've seen this ad for Northwestern Mutual running this afternoon while watching the PGA championship, and while I get the point they're trying to make, I think a closer look at the metaphor undercuts the ad's message. Here's the ad.

For those who can't view it, there's a pitcher, a catcher, and a scout with a radar gun, all under the lights at a pristine baseball field. The first pitch (in slo-mo for some reason) hits the unmoving catcher's mitt with a satisfying pop, and the requisite poetic dust explodes in a halo. Cut to the radar gun where the number 98 flashes. And then the pitcher does it again--same spot, same speed, same satisfying pop. The voiceover is saying something along the lines of "anyone can prove their strength once; the question is consistency."

Well, in baseball, yes and no. Yes, it's important that you be able to throw that pitch consistently, but you don't want it to be too consistent. Even an Independent League benchwarmer can hit a 98 mph fastball if it's in the same spot every time. You've got to have movement, both in speed and location, or you'll get hammered. So on the baseball level, it doesn't quite work, at least not for me.

But it works even less on the services level. Northwestern Mutual's big boast in the ad is that it's paid out more in dividends than anyone else over the last twelve years. Set aside for a moment that that's not necessarily a measure of consistency--12 years is a pretty arbitrary period of time, and totals can be really thrown off by a single big year (or a single bad one). The real problem is that lately, consistency has been linked to corruption. Bernie Madoff was consistent. Allen Stanford was consistent. Right now, an admission that my company took it in the teeth the last couple of years (and mine did, let me tell you) would be a mark of trustworthiness.

I'm also curious as to why they'd run a baseball-themed commercial during a golf tournament, especially when an image of a guy hitting driver after driver past the 300 yard marker, the golf balls clustering and bouncing off each other, would provide a much better visual and would get the same point across. Admittedly, most people probably won't think about the ad this much--I don't think about most ads myself. I try to avoid watching them whenever possible. This one just happened to catch my attention.

Only this time, it's not just science they're going after. History has come under the withering glare of the religious right in Texas, and there's a healthy helping of both misogyny and racism thrown in there for good measure. The biographies of some members of the board are enough on their own:

Rev. Peter Marshall, for example, one of their appointed academic experts, wants to restore America, according to the website of his Massachusetts-based ministry, "to its Bible-based foundations through preaching, teaching, and writing on America's Christian heritage and on Christian discipleship and revival.” He also believes that Hurricane Katrina, Watergate and the Vietnam War are the result of divine wrath.
Watergate? The Vietnam War? Hokay. I don't think I'm being Mr. Overly-Sensitive-Atheist when I suggest that maybe this guy ought not have a major say in Social Studies curriculum. To say he'd have a skewed view of US history is to be very kind.

But then we get a taste of what he'd like to do to the curriculum.
Marshall, along with his fellow reviewer David Barton, did not believe that students in the public education system should learn about Hutchinson:
Anne Hutchinson does not belong in the company of these eminent gentlemen. She was certainly not a significant colonial leader, and didn't accomplish anything except getting herself exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for making trouble." (emphasis added)
One of the original Puritans, Hutchinson disagreed with some of the scriptural teachings of the religious leaders and began hosting her own Bible study classes in her home. For this crime, Hutchinson was placed on trial and banished from her community. Later, she and her exiled family were killed in a Siwanoy attack.
Because women couldn't have done anything of note in early US history, I guess, other than make trouble. Sarah Vowell talks a fair amount about Hutchinson in The Wordy Shipmates, a terrific book. She made trouble, all right, but she did a lot more than that.

But Marshall isn't done yet in denigrating the contributions and accomplishments of non-white-males. Oh, no. He gets a two-fer here.
Both [Dan] Barton and Phillips recommended that César Chavez, labor organizer and civil rights leader, and Thurgood Marshall — this nation’s first black US Supreme Court justice and who, as a young attorney, successfully argued the public school desegregation case of Brown v. Board of Education — be removed from textbooks because they aren’t worthy role models for students.
Let that wash over you. Let it sink in. The first African-American Justice of the Supreme Court and the most prominent (at the time) Latino civil rights activist aren't worthy role models for students. If César Chavez and Thurgood Marshall aren't worthy role models for students, then who the hell is? This is Pat "white people built it all" Buchanan quality thinking here.

The reason this matters, though, is because Texas has an inordinate amount of pull in the school textbook industry. Texas buys so many textbooks that the publishers all compete to be their supplier, and that limits the offerings to the other states, because publishers aren't going to spend the money on different versions with different standards. We get stuck with the stupid.

I have hopes that, in the long run, the increased availability and use of electronic texts will end Texas's stranglehold over the K-12 textbook market, but we're nowhere near the saturation point necessary for that to happen. Until then, if you have kids or if you're worried about this sort of garbage infecting the educational system, you have to get involved at the School Board level. You have to fight over textbook standards, even though it may be tedious and tiring.

Every so often, some polling company tests the US public on basic facts of history and civics, and every time, American citizens come off as the world's biggest ignoramuses, and this sort of stuff is part of the reason. Joe Public can tell you who won "American Idol" but can't tell you who his Representative or Senators are (or even how many of each he has). She can tell you what's happening on "True Blood" but doesn't know what the Bill of Rights is. That's the problem, in part, because we don't teach it, and we don't learn it, and we don't reinforce it over time. But the kind of crap that these people in Texas are trying to pull only make it worse.

Geeky phones

GadgetLab is running a piece on novelty phones right now, and I'm really amazed they didn't include this one.

We don't have it anymore--it got "lost" in one of our moves. Amy got it from her dad as a present, which was funny since he wasn't really a Star Trek fan until this year when we finally convinced him to give TNG and Voyager a try, and now he's hooked.

The phone itself was worse than useless. It was painful to use, and I don't mean that metaphorically, as in "the sound quality was a pain." No, I mean that sharp edges caused physical discomfort when trying to use it for any length of time. It would come off the hook at the slightest nudge, but the dial tone was so quiet that you wouldn't hear it for hours.

Fortunately, we've upgraded and no longer have the need for a home phone, so in order to keep the Trek phone alive, Amy has the Federation Tricorder App, and I have the Klingon one. Nerdcore!

I guess I hadn't thought much about it before, but this poll in the Sun-Sentinel really drove it home for me. Here's the question and options:

Should a public health care option cover abortions?

* Abortion is wrong and as a taxpayer I shouldn't be forced to support it.
* I am personally against abortion, but I would be ok with a plan that included coverage of Plan B.
* Women have a right to choose. Without the money to pay for an abortion, a woman's right is meaningless.
The bolding is in the original, which basically makes the poll have two questions instead of one. If you base your answer on the bolded part, then you really get two options--anti-choice or pro-choice, since the middle option still keeps abortion legal and available (and lets people act a little self-righteous, but that's another story).

But it's the rationales that I find more interesting, especially the first--the notion that your personal feelings about an issue should have an effect on whether tax dollars should be used to fund it only seems to find mainstream resonance on the subject of abortion, which is odd since the most famous tax protester in US history is probably Henry David Thoreau, who spent a night in jail for refusing to pay his taxes because he opposed the Mexican War (a worthy war to oppose, quite frankly). But while there are modern equivalents--and I'm not talking about the shysters who argue the income tax is unconstitutional--they don't get the public support that anti-abortion folks do.

One thing that's particularly aggravating about the current debate is that the whole argument is irrelevant. Federal money can't be spent on abortion, even if we go to Medicare-for-all (HR 676) because of the Hyde Amendment, and there's no plan even being breathed of repealing that, so when people toss that objection at you, it shows either a) they're ignorant (which isn't surprising considering how much the anti-abortion lobby treats their followers like mushrooms--in the dark and fed with shit) or b) they're dishonest.

I read a science fiction story back when I was a teenager (which means there's no chance in hell I remember the title) that was based on the idea that there was a change in the tax code which allowed taxpayers to allot their dollars to projects they deemed worthy. You still had to pay the same amount, but you got to decide where it went, and in this writer's world, that meant that things like education got tons of money and the military got a lot less. It wasn't a very realistic story, I know, even though I would be one of those who would personally zero out military spending (figuring others would put most of their dollars in) and would fund things like Medicaid and the arts, K-12 and higher education and programs for the homeless, those sorts of things.

But I don't get those choices, and neither should anti-abortion types, I think. I don't want my tax dollars going to fund the Iraq War, but they do. If I have to put up with that, then I don't think it's too much to ask for anti-choice people to have to fund family planning programs for poor people. That's a fair trade, as far as I'm concerned.

I've been lucky

I was reading Barbara Ehrenreich's piece in the NY Times yesterday and it reminded me of some difficult times I went through not so long ago. This was about a year after my divorce--I was a 27 year old underemployed college sophomore getting the max in student loans (and immediately turning over more than half to my ex-wife for child support, which I never missed), living in a run-down fraternity house. I couldn't drive legally--I'd fallen into the very scenario Ehrenreich described in her piece:

Or suppose you miss a payment and, before you realize it, your car insurance lapses; then you’re stopped for something like a broken headlight. Depending on the state, you may have your car impounded or face a steep fine — again, exposing you to a possible summons. “There’s just no end to it once the cycle starts,” said Robert Solomon of Yale Law School. “It just keeps accelerating.”
For me, it was an expired inspection sticker, which I could have gotten had I not needed proof of insurance, which I could have had if I hadn't needed to eat every month. I was so broke at one point that I cashed a check for $25 on campus that I knew would bounce because I knew they'd take it out my next Pell Grant six weeks later, and that money would buy me enough ramen noodles (Wal-Mart brand, natch) to feed me in the interim. During this point, I got mugged on my way home from work, which meant that I not only lost my only legal mode of transportation (my bicycle), but also my wallet, so I lost all my identification as well.

I'm not telling this story to moan about how bad I had it once. Honestly, I was lucky--I never had to sleep outside, and I never missed a meal (though some meals were less satisfying than most). Getting around was a pain, but I lived close to campus and close to friends I worked with, so while I was inconvenienced, I wasn't screwed. And slowly, my situation improved--I got better hours and started serving, so I got tip money. The next set of financial aid came in and I found a roommate in a cheaper place. I got my truck legal again and that expanded my opportunities for work and I found a second job. I wasn't on Easy Street, but I was making it.

But I was lucky. If I had been hit with one more setback while I was down, I might be homeless today. If that setback had been a medical problem, I'd really have been screwed. It wasn't some strength of character that made it possible for me to bounce out of that situation, nor was it my brilliant and incisive mind--the older I get the more I realize just how un-brilliant I am. It was luck.

My story's a joke compared to the ones Ehrenreich talks about in her piece: the homeless veteran arrested for being homeless; the homeless man who did time for a felony he committed when he was 15 but can't find a job now; the children who can't get to school on time because of bus cutbacks who are arrested for being truant. It's not bad enough that we have a crappy social safety net in this country--we have to dump more troubles on the backs of the poor, it seems.

One digression: there's a Facebook poll going around right now that just depresses me--it asks whether or not people who receive food stamps and welfare should be forced to pass a mandatory drug test. I haven't clicked on it because I know what the results will be; it's too easy to shit on people at the bottom of the economic pile. My view is that if your life is so crappy that you're forced onto welfare or food stamps--and believe me, applying for that kind of aid is difficult and shaming (the people who work in the offices, consciously or not, make you feel like dirt for being there)--I don't blame you for wanting to get high once in a while to escape your problems. But our attitude as a society seems to be that if you're poor, it's your own fault, and so you don't get to escape your sins by getting a little pleasure. (Most of the people who make this argument have never missed a meal unwillingly.)

Which is why, last night, I found myself getting angry at people who argue that health care is not a right. If we want to argue over the mechanism we use to make sure everyone in this country has access to health care, that's fine--Medicare for everyone, public-private hybrid, whatever. But if you're arguing that there's a class of people in this country (including undocumented workers) whose only access to health care ought to be emergency room care (which isn't free, by the way), then you fail at life. You're a bad human being, because you lack simple, basic empathy. You fail because you don't understand that the only thing different between you, living your comfortable life, and the homeless person on the street is luck, whether it's luck in good health or decent education or living conditions or simply the opportunity to succeed. You got lucky, and they didn't. It's that simple.

It Pays to Wait

I thought, when I saw it earlier this evening, that this would be hands down the dumb quote of the day:

"Hello! Uh, my name is Diana and I'm calling from Oregon. Uh, I just wanted to let the SEIU know that, um, America is watching the thug tactics that you folks are using at healthcare meetings and various other public places, and the absolutely thuggish, violent tactics that your group is using. I suggest you tell your people to calm down, act like American citizens, and stop trying to repress people's First Amendment rights. That, or you all are gonna come up against the Second Amendment. Stop the violence!"
Look at the elements--disjointed syntax, accusing the subject of something your side is doing, the threat of violence while telling the other side to stop the violence. It's brilliant in its inanity.

But then Sarah Palin logged into her Facebook account, and you know what's coming next.
The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society," whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.
Indeed, such a system would be evil, if one were being suggested. Seriously, this is nuttier than the "we're going to off your grandma" line that Republican House members were spouting recently--this is Michelle Bachmann territory here.

No, it's actually worse.

How times change

In January 2004, Moveon was running an ad contest, the winner of which would get a spot during the Superbowl. Someone entered a video which compared then President George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler, which caused great outcry throughout the land.

RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie (search) called the ad, "the worst and most vile form of political hate speech." is "using the memory of that genocide as a political prop," American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen (search) wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, referring to the Holocaust.

"President Bush has shown us leadership in Iraq, and our troops have liberated a people who were oppressed by another murderous dictator … comparing the commander-in-chief of a democratic nation to the murderous tyrant Hitler is not only historically specious, it is morally outrageous," Rosen continued.
Mind you, Moveon didn't make the ad, and immediately removed it from the contest, where it was doing poorly in the member voting, because most Moveon members felt it was inappropriate, but that didn't stop Republicans from screaming in outrage--and trust me, I could have gotten a lot worse quotes if I'd gone blog-surfing.

Fast forward to today. One of the most prominent members of the Republican party, Rush Limbaugh, compares President Obama to Adolf Hitler, and the Democratic party to the Nazi Party, a comparison so odious that Pat Buchanan distanced himself from it.

Look at the power differential here. In 2004, Moveon was one of many grassroots organizations trying to affect the outcome of the coming presidential election, and boasted a very large fundraising base. Powerful, yes? Sure--so powerful that CBS wouldn't air the ad that won Moveon's contest, even though it was about as uncontroversial an ad as you could find. Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh gets to compare President Obama and the Democrats to Hitler and Nazis and hardly anyone bats an eye. Fox News, which was all over the Moveon story five years ago, has this on its front page right now: Dems Raise Specter of Swastikas to Cancel Town Halls, a story about altercations at the events. No mention of Limbaugh (or his yippy little wannabe Fox News host Glenn Beck, who's been doing much the same thing)--just a story about how protesters show up with Nazi symbolism and Democrats call it Nazism, and somehow that makes both sides equally bad. Go figure.

Saved for Posterity

It's not very often that the Washington Post runs a column like this one, but it's really rare when they run a headline like this, so rare that I did a screen grab.

Do my eyes decieve me? The Washington Post is calling out Republicans as liars, in the headline no less?

The article as a whole is awesome. It dismantles pretty much every one of the right wing's lies about health care reform, and calls out Republicans as hypocrites. I wonder what the chances are that the jackholes grandstanding and disrupting town hall meetings, the mobs who are following the bidding of the Glenn Becks and Michelle Malkins, who have bought into the inane lies that Rush Limbaugh has been spewing, will read this article? Probably about the same as the NRA naming Sonia Sotomayor as Woman of the Year.

Dear Mike Massucco

When it comes to health care, the federal government has been the hell out of your way for the last eight years at the very least, and in most cases, forever, unless you're a veteran or on Medicare/Medicaid (and people on those programs are pretty happy with the service according to most polls). The result we've gotten lately is a doubling and tripling of insurance premiums in the last seven years, more people without health insurance than ever, and a health insurance industry that routinely denies valid claims and seeks any opportunity to void claims or get rid of policyholders who've cost them money. So Mr. Massucco, the status quo is what you get when government gets out of your way--it might be working for you, but it's not working for most people.

Remember 2005 in the US Senate? The minority Democrats were holding up a handful of Bush nominees for various court appointments, and the Republicans were in a snit about it. They threatened the nuclear option; they threatened to change the rules and get rid of the filibuster for votes on judges. "Up or down!" was the rallying cry. The Republicans, deep in the delusion of Karl Rove's "permanent Republican majority," didn't stop to think about what would happen if and when they were in the minority again--they just wanted to stomp on some Democrats.

They were saved from their folly by the gang of fourteen, thus proving that at least seven Republican Senators had the ability to imagine a return to the minority, and the filibuster was saved, with the help of some conservative Democrats.

Had the filibuster fallen for judges, it wouldn't have survived. That would have been the first breach in the levee--the filibuster as a whole would have vanished because the Republican majority was too small to get what it really wanted--they got plenty as it was, but they were constantly complaining about obstructionist Democrats. (I know--how times have changed.)

Which is why, looking back to four years ago, and looking at health care and climate change and all the other issues progressives really want to make happen, it seems pretty clear that we should have told the Republicans to pound sand and blow up the filibuster if they really want to. None of this cloture-on-every-bill crap; none of this needs-sixty-votes-to-pass-the-Senate nonsense. Up or down votes.

Matthew Yglesias made the case in 2005 that dumping the filibuster would be, in the long run, good for progressives, and we're seeing that play out right now. EFCA would be law if it weren't for the filibuster. Climate change legislation would be tougher. Health care reform would be much farther along, perhaps already out of committee. We might have even seen some movement on DOMA or DADT, or on getting troops out of Iraq. Progressives would be telling the Blue Dogs to get with the program; they'd be straight ignoring the Republicans, because they would truly be irrelevant.

We were so close.

The most obvious thing to laugh at in this clip of Arthur Laffer, Super-genius Economist, is the whole "just wait till you see Medicare, Medicaid and health care done by the government" bit. But it's the part that preceded it that I'm going to harp on.

"If you like the Post Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles and you think they’re run well..." Okay, it's time to stop conflating these two groups for starters. DMV's are state agencies, not federal ones, and they work as well as the individual states require them to. The DMV in Louisiana when I started driving was a freaking disaster, and the one in Arkansas was worse, as getting a license required shuttling between two offices on opposite sides of town. The one in California, however, was a dream--everything was organized and I was in and out in less than thirty minutes in both cases. And it's much the same here in Florida, though I am miffed that the state has added a year onto my life without my permission and makes it difficult to get it fixed. Guess I'll have to wait until I move to another state to take care of that.

The Post Office, however, is brilliant. Nowhere else in the world can you have someone come to your house, pick up a letter, and deliver it to whatever the farthest part of the US away from your home is for under 50 cents, usually in 2 to 3 days. I just got back from the post office mailing out books to two people, each over a pound, and spent less that five bucks total. It took me less than five minutes because I used an automated kiosk in the lobby of the building, and I put it on my debit card. Fed Ex and UPS can't come close to touching that service.

What's more, the Postal Service goes places private industry won't. If a place is deemed too rural to be financially viable, no private delivery service will go there, not without charging an exorbitant fee--and sometimes not even then. The Postal Service will. It gets the job done. If we're looking for a model for efficient, high-quality service for healthcare, we could do a lot worse than the post office.

Newspapers are crying left and right about how bloggers are parasites, how new media and the internet are killing them, keeping them from doing original reporting. Of course, when they do it...

The Sun quoted cut and pasted from our interview with Jill Sobule, barely acknowledging The Rumpus. If you’re looking for the line between linking to an article and stealing content, this would be a good example of the other side of that line.
Check the two pieces out side-by-side. The Sun cut the interview so that it sounded like Sobule was out to dis Katy Perry, and then mentioned The Rumpus once near the end of the article, and in such a way that it seemed The Rumpus had only "contributed" the last bit, as opposed to the whole damn thing.

Just from my point of view, here's how The Sun could have run the same story without being, as Stephen put it, "content thieving little sluts" (a reference to something Sobule said in the interview). First of all, acknowledge The Rumpus in the lede--not difficult to do, and done in most stories of this type. Second--add a little something. Don't make the story your own simply by excising what doesn't fit your narrative. Third--ask someone involved with the original story for a comment. It's not difficult--an email is generally good enough.

Finally, and this is how I teach plagiarism in my classroom--simply sourcing something isn't enough to avoid a plagiarism charge if you don't add anything of your own to the discussion. If a student of mine followed these tactics, I'd fail him or her for the assignment without batting an eye.

Update: Fuck Perez Hilton. He credits The Sun only. (He also caps on Jill Sobule while forgetting that he'd praised her when Perry's song came out originally, but given that he's a moron, that's not so surprising.)

In Florida,at least:

In March 2009, the Circuit Court of Leon County ordered Samantha Burton – a mother of two suffering from pregnancy complications – to be indefinitely confined to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and forced to undergo any and all medical treatments deemed necessary to save her fetus. After three days of state-compelled hospitalization, Ms. Burton suffered fetal demise and was released from the hospital.

"We should all be alarmed by Florida’s wholly unwarranted intervention in Samantha Burton’s care," said Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida. "Not only is it unconstitutional for the state to override a pregnant woman’s decision to refuse medical treatment, but the medical community, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Women’s Association, and the American Medical Association, strongly advises against it.”
Just so we're clear here--this woman wanted to leave the hospital and was detained and forced to receive medical treatment she didn't want. That the fetus didn't survive is beside the point--even if it had, the violation of the woman's right to self-determination should be unacceptable in a free society.

Sorry, Broadsheet, I love you, but on this one you're missing the point. Michael Pollan's arguments in this weekend's New York Times Magazine aren't ham-handedly anti-feminist, even if I do like the expression, "his penis is showing when he says..." and he doesn't mis-interpret Betty Friedan half as badly as you mis-interpret him.

Yes, there was a time when cooking was almost universally and solely a drudgery inflicted upon women who would rather be doing more stimulating things, and no doubt some women still experience that pressure, but the fact is that freshly-prepared foods are qualitatively different from (and better than) processed and pre-packaged foods, and we all would be healthier and happier if we made our own meals at home, all of us, men and women, etc.

As the Broadsheet says:
Sacrificing certain ideals to prioritize pursuits we find more rewarding -- or more urgent -- is part of being a grown-up. And for women, having the option of feeding ourselves and our families without working pro bono all day is part of what allows us to function as (mostly) equal citizens.
So putting a high priority on food prep is not grown up? The suggestion is that cooking is... infantile? Isn't having others bring you food all the time while you remain ignorant of what's in it and how it was made, helpless to take the power out of their hands and put it into your own, isn't that infantile?

I have a young friend who'd never before shredded cheese before I taught her to at the age of 21. "The only thing you need to know how to make is reservations," her mother had taught her. Lovely. Inspiring. But. In the meantime she pays 11 times the price per ounce for her cheese to be pre-shredded, and it's coated in cornstarch to keep the pieces from sticking. Paying more and having unwanted starch (or preservatives, or whatever) added to your processed food is not power. It's a problem.

Viewing cooking as drudgery is also a problem. Follow the long chain of evolution back to our earliest forebears, even the primordial ones, single-celled organisms, hell, even clusters of proteins, and if there's one thing we've all been able to do from the beginning it's obtain a meal. Sometimes that's been harder, sometimes easier, and sometimes individuals have contracted with others or oppressed others in order to avoid the work, but if we don't do it, we don't live.

Being able to feed ourselves well and wisely is, in fact, the greatest and most important piece of power we can possibly hold over our own fates. Nutrition determines a lot about us, including our body size, our relative intelligence, our mood, our overall health... we are what we eat. That's why there's so much emotion and energy in this country for better control over where our food comes from. We need to control what we put in our bodies. We all know this. We all feel this.

Kate Harding of Broadsheet titled her criticism of Pollan, "Michael Pollan Wants You Back in the Kitchen." Does he? Yes. Does that "you" mean only women? No. Pollan is arguing, instead, that we'd all (man, woman, or otherwise) be healthier and happier if we took the time to prepare our own meals -- and marvels that we might spend only a few minutes a day making food (and a few minutes quickly wolfing it down) but that we would spend hours watching TV and movies like "Hell's Kitchen" and Julie & Julia which are all about cooking food.

His observations are interesting, his conclusions positive. And yet the sting of sexism still makes some out there say, "no! Don't try to convince me to cook my own meals! I'm a grown up and grown ups have better things to do!" Yes, they also have better things to do than lying in bed for hours, or walking to the toilet and and wiping their own behinds, but they still do it, because it's part of caring for oneself. Feeding oneself is a big part of being a grown up, Kate Harding. If you don't wanna 'cause you don't like it, that's fine. But don't make it out like it's an anti-feminist attack. It's not.

Stories like this one are the reason why I immediately questioned the police report in the Skip Gates arrest controversy. Not because this happens every time, but because it happens enough to make me think it's common.

The police chief of Hollywood is speaking out for the first time since a video surfaced showing some of his officers trying to frame a DUI suspect for a February traffic accident.
It's hard not to be suspicious of police officers in general when you read stories like this one--I know, not all of them would pull a stunt like this, but how is a citizen supposed to know who is who?

But here's the thing that really confuses me. The video that exposed all this wasn't taken by a passerby with a cameraphone--it came from a police cruiser's dashboard camera. Did they forget that their cars have cameras on them? Or did they figure no one would look at the tapes and that they'd be able to cover it all up?

Another thing: this was no small thing they were going to hang this driver with. DUI carries some hefty penalties and getting your license back is expensive and time-consuming. But these police officers were willing to hammer someone in order to cover up a mistake by one of their own. I don't know how much trouble a police officer can get into for causing a car accident, but I'd bet money that it's not as much as a citizen can get into for a DUI, whether there's an accident or not.

Here's the deal we make as a society when it comes to police. In order to insure public stability and safety, we give some of our fellow citizens weapons and the power to detain people and in exceptional circumstances, even use deadly force in order to protect the public at large. What we demand in return is that the police not abuse that power. If any police officer isn't willing to keep up that end of the bargain, then he or she needs to find another line of work.

Just curious

I know that right-wingers who oppose any sort of health care reform are behind the current campaign of lies suggesting that the federal government is going to off your grandparents once they get expensive to take care of, but I'm wondering what, in this nation's recent history, would make that prospect anything other than ludicrous? I mean, if the government wanted to off old people because they got expensive, then why would we have Social Security? Medicare/Medicaid? A prescription drug benefit? If anything, the federal government has gone out of its way for the last 70 years or so to make sure old people live longer, and what's more, have a higher quality of life for those final years. So now the government is going to turn all that history on its head and start lining old people up Logan's Run style?

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