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Friday, June 29, 2007
(7:40 PM) | Stephen:
The Best Comment Left On Any Blog Anywhere

This is worth quoting in full:
Actually, history will show that George Bush will be recorded as one of the most outstanding Presidents of all time. Stock market records, prosperity, happiness, and unlimited optimism at every turn. You people should begin thinking for yourselves and quit buying into what a brainless liberal press keeps feeding you. Nobody gives those clowns two cents of credence anymore.
It's a comment in response to this post, and is such an excellent example of right wing delusional thinking that I'm forced to highlight it.

The right wing claim of a liberal press is understandable, if completely false. But the corollary that the press is now completely irrelevant is funny and a claim that's never made by the more realistic Left. Limbaugh, Savage, Beck and all the other right wing blowhards - even Coulter - rely entirely upon the press for their material. None of them do any original reporting. In fact, with the advent of organizations such as Talking Points Memo which actually do original reporting, I'd say that the right wing is far more dependent upon the national media than the left wing in this country.

But a belief in the media's irrelevance is important to people such as the commenter quoted above, at least so long as the media reports things that contradict the fantasy world of "prosperity, happiness, and unlimited optimism at every turn." Stock market records I'll gladly concede since those don't really have much to do with increasing the fortunes of the bulk of the American populace and are therefore truly irrelevant in any day to day sense.

As far as the "liberal" claim, have a look at Media Matters for America. Sure, it's a "liberal" site, but its founder, David Brock, was one of the architects of the very strategy that has so warped the above commenter's worldview. To put it in the theological terms with which I am most familiar, he repented of his life's work and set off in the opposite direction. Media Matters deals in easily verifiable facts, such as claims made on air that can be proven or disproven using reliable sources, video/audio records of people contradicting themselves - such as Cheney claiming he never declared a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda - the actual number of conservatives vs. liberals who appear on influential TV shows or enjoy platforms such as column space in influential magazines and newspapers.

While it may be true that a majority of reporters are socially liberal, with pro-choice views and a lack of desire to blame homosexuals for every problem on earth, the plain fact is that the news media is an industry dominated by a few large corporations. These corporations and their executives are very interested in seeing an environment that favors business and the rich over workers and the poor. This is reflected over and over in the media, especially in business segments on TV and sections in newspapers. That's why there's any kind of idea that we are in a period of prosperity; while wages are utterly stagnant, the gap between rich and poor is growing and the middle class is being squeezed out of existence, CEO pay is doing quite well, thank you, and our nation's businesses and industries enjoy the privilege of being largely ignored by the federal government's regulatory arms.

There are a lot of people who have a vested interested in comments like the above being left around, and actually believed, and they control huge chunks of the media landscape. They have been and will continue to use their platforms to convince people to dismiss anything that doesn't exactly fit into comfortable, preconceived notions about the world. And those who either don't have much strength of will or who hope to participate in the racket will continue to lap it up by the spoonful.

What a shame.

(12:42 AM) | Stephen:
It's Not Easy Being A Political Sideshow Freak

Ann Coulter lost it on MSNBC today. She has stated her desire that the building of the NYT had been destroyed, that John Edwards would be assassinated by a terrorist, that we would kill all Arab leaders and forcibly convert the populations of all Arab nations to Christianity. She has said that liberals are traitors and has advocated violence against Democrats time and time again.

Elizabeth Edwards called into a show with Coulter and asked - asked - her to stop accusing John Edwards of exploiting his own son's death and to stop wishing for John's assassination. This causes Coulter to call into Scarborough's show and pretty much lose control of her emotions while defensively pointing out the number of NYT bestsellers she's had - yes, the same New York Times she supposedly wants destroyed.

It's not really about Elizabeth Edwards or anybody being mean to Coulter. It's that people used to listen to Coulter because of her supposed views and opinions, because when you looked past her delightfully colorful word choices, she really had something to say. No one does that anymore. Coulter has turned into a sideshow act, a freak brought on to say outrageous things so people will get upset and will pay attention, bringing a temporary spike in ratings.

But Coulter has been in this game a long time, and she knows as well as anyone that sideshow freaks don't have staying power. But this is the only act she knows, and so she's going to milk it for all it's worth.

via Kathy

Thursday, June 28, 2007
(2:50 PM) | Stephen:
Bill Clinton Is Well-Liked

Atrios just posted this:
Bill Clinton Factor: Campaign Asset or Liability?

Only to the Drudge-addled brains of our elite press corps would this question even occur. It is, by the way, the topic of tonight's exciting installment of THE SITUATION ROOM with WOLF BLITZER.

Bill Clinton is probably the most popular man in the country. The 90s were a period of growth, optimism, wage growth across the board, declining unemployment and declining poverty. America got its groove back.

Like the guy or not, the idea that he'd be anything but an asset for Hillary Clinton is absurd.
That's about right, and it's becoming more true every day. My only disagreement is that I would say the most popular man in the country, or at least the most popular politician, is Al Gore.

History has already vindicated both of them, and will only continue to do so. Likewise for George Bush: nothing he does can change the fact that he is the worst President this nation has ever had. He will become the gold standard for utter failure to A)uphold and defend the Constitution and B)accomplish one's goals while in office.

Unlike Reagan, Oliver North and even Nixon, no amount of spinning, hagiography or revisionist history will ever change this about him. In fact, once we're finally rid of him I'm not sure there will be very many who will want to try.

(11:14 AM) | Stephen:
Constitutional Showdowns And The Future Of American Politics

Bush has rejected Congressional subpoenas for documents related to the US Attorney purge. It's not surprising, of course. Also expected is the characterization of this as preparing for a "Constitutional showdown." This phrase is suffering now from overuse, as Bush has apparently forced "Constitutional showdowns" with his authorization of torture, suspension of habeas corpus, egregious signing statements that contradict the law to which they are appended - 600 of those and counting - and just about everything else he and Dick Cheney have done or authorized since taking office.

The question I keep asking in different fora is what, exactly, will Congress do about it? This isn't a sarcastic question, or one that calls into doubt the Democrats' willingness or ability to reassert the authority of the Constitution over a rogue President bent upon tyrannical rule. When the proper perspective is taken, we can see that the Democratic majority, with all its shortcomings, has accomplished quite a bit, more even than we expected when the election results started to come in last November. Pernicious elements of laws, such as the buried little amendment to the Patriot Act renewal that allows Bush to appoint interim US Attorneys without Senate confirmation, would have been hidden by the GOP-led Congress. The US Attorney scandal itself would have no Congressional action or play in the press without the Democratic majority. Habeas corpus would still be totally dead, with nary a peep out of anyone other than "fringe" liberals if not for the Democratic control of Congress.

But the Democrats simply do not have the votes to take any serious action against Bush. That's what is usually missing from discussions about the possibility of impeaching Bush and Cheney. The Democrats cannot actually impeach either of them, because the GOP is still in complete lockstep with the Bush/Cheney regime no matter how hard they try to deceive us with speeches from the House or Senate floor decrying some administration action or policy. Aside from any other political consideration, the most damage that would accrue to the Democratic party from an attempt to bring Bush/Cheney to much-deserved justice would be from the inevitable failure to meet that goal.

Of course we could also expect AM Radio, newspapers, Fox News, much of CNN, books and magazines to explode into uncontrollable rage at the thought - the utter gall! - of impeaching a president for things as silly as lying or what-have-you. That's been the reaction to the Scooter Libby verdict: how dare anyone try to prosecute someone for such a silly thing as lying during a Federal investigation! The hypocrisy of the DC media is as startling as it is insulated from the majority of Americans, though such brazen disregard for little matters such as facts and the rule of law is starting to come through their carefully constructed rhetorical shields.

Even the GOP base is starting to see the hypocrisy, though it's because the DC media and political establishment is not sufficiently aghast at the brown hordes streaming across our southern borders in order to take advantage of Social Security, Medicare and free acute care at emergency rooms - apparently they break their legs and arms on purpose or something so they can partake of that delicious, filling emergency room. . .well, not food, exactly, but I suppose the attention and really comfortable beds. Actually, I have no idea why people think that illegal immigrants come to the USA to sign up for welfare; our welfare benefits suck. Even if they are better than Mexico's, anyone living in the US has to pay US prices for things, and our various welfare programs simply aren't up to the task of giving people a comfortable life.

The end result, though, is that even the hard-core base of the GOP, the inhabitants of that alternate world described and maintained by the vast right-wing media empire is starting to see that Trent Lott, John McCain and even George Bush himself simply don't care about them. They don't care what they want, they don't care what they think. These GOP dead-enders are finally starting to see that they are and have been nothing more than dupes, pawns, tools and fools to be used and discarded, over and over. The campaign rhetoric never changes and neither does the disparity between that and the way the GOP governs.

The conservative movement in the USA is completely bankrupt intellectually and morally. No conservative politician actually wants to shrink the size of the government. Even Grover Norquist never complains about the size of the government under GOP Presidents and Congresses. And the last 6 years have made it abundantly clear that GOP tax cuts are not intended for conservatives who put Bush in power. If you depend upon your next paycheck, or your next year's salary in order to maintain your lifestyle, the GOP leadership doesn't care if you live or die, and that fact is finally starting to break through the decades of intellectual programming to which conservatives in this country have willingly submitted themselves.

Perhaps the truth will really break through to everyone, even the 30% that persists in supporting the most corrupt, lawless, warmongering and murderous group of vile scumbags to ever sully the White House with their presence. Maybe there will be a true conservative movement, one that actually cares about the rhetoric we've been hearing for so long. I would welcome that. Despite what David Broder thinks, we need to be able to have spirited debate about politics, because politics is no game. Politics matters. Politics is about war and peace, about security and safety, about a nation's infrastructure and economy, the ability of a nation to feed itself, educate its citizens. Politics is literally about life and death.

Or it should be. What we have now is a Democratic party that is being taught this lesson by its progressive base and which is actually listening. Democratic politicians that use their power to enrich themselves and play games are finding surprisingly strong primary challenges, and that will not stop. On the other side of the aisle, we have a Republican party that shows no likelihood of repentance. That can only change if the people who belong to that party, who count themselves as conservatives, rise up and make them pay electorally.

My fear is that the movement is not up to the task. I'd love to be proved wrong.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007
(12:21 PM) | Stephen:
Users Who Bought This Book Also Bought Duke Nukem Forever

I see that Jonah Goldberg has changed the title of his book version of vaporware, to Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Hegel To Whole Foods.

HA HA! That's clever, that title is. I guess only liberals want great tasting food and amazing variety when they go to the grocery store.

Here's the great thinker in action:

I am a conservative.

I spend my day writing inane columns and asking my readers to do all my research for me, torturing Simpson's references while complaining that writing a book is hard.

I don't shop at Whole Foods because they don't carry Twinkies, Cheez Whiz and Natty Light.

Therefore, Whole Foods is a liberal plot to destroy our way of life.

My editor says that there's already 5,000 books about Hillary Clinton. Maybe I'll go after Whole Foods, since all conservatives hate that store. They don't even have Twinkies! Hegel; Whole Foods. Heh. Alliteration. That's good.

Alli-teration. Alli. I bet I could eat even more Twinkies with Cheez Whiz if I took that stuff! I bet Hitler hated Twinkies. Hey! I can make that my first chapter: "Hitler hated Twinkies, Whole Food hates Twinkies, and Hillary hates Twinkies." Heh. More alliteration. Gold, baby!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007
(11:35 PM) | Stephen:
The Essence of Hate

Via Amanda, we see that Dan Riehl continues mucking about the bottom of the intellectual pond, blaming Jessie Davis for her own murder, among other things.

He gets his column off to a rousing start:
Any murder is tragic; the murder of a pregnant woman is even more so. And nothing should distract from an expedient investigation and prosecution, or fail to appreciate the family's profound suffering because of this crime. Unfortunately, if this is what constitutes crime in the heartland of America, that heart is very sick and we can only expect more of the same.
As Amanda pointed out, a pregnant woman was murdered. If that doesn't "constitute crime" anywhere, let alone "the heartland of America," then I'm quite curious to see just what would meet Mr. Riehl's standards.

The rest is just hateful nonsense, victim-blaming because Davis had the utter gall to get involved with a married man. There's also a strong undercurrent of racism, since Davis was a white woman who had relationships with black men and was carrying the alleged murderer's mixed-race child. It wasn't too long ago that interracial dating and marriage were illegal and Jerry Falwell, for example, first hit the big time by preaching against interracial relationships, and Bob Jones University, pride of the south you know, had a written policy about interracial dating until the 2000 presidential campaign, when continual GOP pandering to the school put just a little too much scrutiny on them.

Another side of this story that Amanda points to is how some medical researchers are starting to conclude that murder is the largest single cause of death for pregnant women in America.
Homicide is the fourth leading cause of death among all American women of childbearing age; and one-third of all female murder victims each year are killed by an intimate partner. As pioneering medical researchers reexamine death reports of murdered women, looking for signs that the victim was pregnant, they are concluding that often, the killer of a pregnant woman is the partner or spouse of the mother-to-be.
The fourth leading cause of death for all American women of childbearing age is murder. One-third of all female murder victims - of any age - are killed by "an intimate partner." The common stereotype about female victims of violence is that they were dressed like sluts, walking down dark alleys, drunk and alone. Since other murders and assaults are committed by people women know who aren't "intimate partners" but are friends, brothers, coworkers, fathers, etc. the plain fact is that women have very little to fear from strangers. It's when they are in their own homes, with their own families or friends, sober, dressed and minding their own business that women need to fear, it seems.

But Dan Riehl, like so many others, would rather blame Jessie Davis than face the truth of this nation and his gender. He and the vast majority of this country - this world - would rather continue to hold women responsible for the crimes committed against them. The evil that lives in the heart of Jessie Davis' killer is far less malevolent than that which lives in the hearts of the Dan Riehls of this world. If it was her boyfriend who did it, at least we can point to his desire to not disrupt his marriage and family life, as sick as that is. We can see a rationale even if we don't value it, even if we refuse to allow it to reduce the penalties.

People like Dan Riehl, though, have no excuse for blaming Jessie Davis. He has no reason whatsoever to blame her for her own murder, to exculpate her killer without any evidence, without any real knowledge of the story other than the bare and changing facts presented to us by a breathless and ratings-hungry media.

Unless, of course, Dan Riehl fundamentally thinks that women are less than human, less than him. Unless Dan Riehl nurses within himself a resentment toward women, a hatred of the things they can do that he cannot, an anger at how his genitalia no longer give him carte blanche to act as he wishes in all circumstances.

Blaming victims is an incredibly pure form of hate. Abusers blame their victims. Rapists blame their victims. Murderers blame their victims. Dan Riehl and those who agree with him have placed themselves on the side of abusers, rapists and murderers. They sympathize with the perpetrators of crimes against women. They have allied themselves intellectually and emotionally with the most vicious, evil monsters our society can produce.

In their hearts, they are all the same.

(3:10 PM) | Stephen:
Simple Truths

We are not going to leave Iraq so long as George Bush is President.

Dick Cheney is not going to resign.

George Bush is not going to fire Dick Cheney.

The GOP has absolutely no interest in standing up to either George Bush or Dick Cheney.

Silly stories in the WaPo or other news outlets about a possible "coup" organized by GOP politicians to get rid of Cheney in order to improve their image and give one of their candidates a veneer of incumbancy are just that: silly. They're leaked out there in order to make people think that the GOP leadership, from the White House to Congress to the RNC, actually give a damn what anyone thinks. They don't.

They're not even trying to come up with presidential candidates that will actually appeal to rank-and-file GOPers. McCain, Romney, Giuliani, Thompson - each one of these guys couldn't care less about the issues that motivate the base of the GOP, and their campaigns are built entirely around deceiving regular Republicans about it.

They don't care about any of us. That's the key thing to keep in mind about these people.

(11:24 AM) | Stephen:
On This Day In 1972

Thirty five years ago today, I was physically abused by a man in a position of authority. He did it in public, with the active encouragement of my parents.

Oh, sure, they say it was just a light smack on my butt to get my crying so air would get into my lungs, but it hurt. It certainly was no way for a little kid to get introduced to this bright, cold, loud world.

Things did improve fairly quickly after that, to be sure. Once I was free of the clutches of that awful Man in White, the only abuse I received was at the hands of my 3 sisters and 1 brother, and they had the good graces to wait a few years before really starting in on me. Plus, I did learn to give it about as well as I got it, so to speak.

In 1972 the life expectancy was around 68 years, so I'm firmly in my middle age. Of course, I fully expect to live far longer than that, my family does pretty well hanging on for a while, and I've already mentioned my goal of living long enough to be able to set foot on Mars. What I really meant was I refuse to die until that happens.

But there is an increasing sense of my own mortality each time my birthday rolls around - especially because of my no-good nephews and nieces insisting upon growing up, going to college, getting married, buying their own homes and generally turning into wonderful adults. They make me feel so old that if it weren't for how proud I am of each of them I'd be pretty mad.

Each year I'm faced, as many are, with the question of just what I've done with my life, what I've accomplished. These last few years I've been unable to see much on that front. Thanks to having undiagnosed Depression for so long, I've jumped from job to job, from life path to life path. Also thanks to Depression I've found it hard to recognize the cool things I've been able to do as cool things.

But this last year I have been a full-time Dad. And while there are so many areas of that which need improvement, overall I feel like I have done a good job. My children seem pretty happy and healthy. My daughter is bright, fun-loving and well-behaved. My son loves to laugh and explores his world exactly the way a 9 month old is expected to. So I can feel pretty good about what I've accomplished in the last year, at least.

Most importantly I am married to a stunningly beautiful, successful wife. She has succeeded at everything she's ever attempted, and that includes her vows to love me in all circumstances. She has, and were there nothing else in my life good or joyful, her presence would be enough.

Truly, though, I suffer an excess of blessing, a flood of goodness always threatening to overtake me. And that people will actually read this is a big part of that. Both of you!

To my family, my friends both online and offline, thanks for the birthday presents, the ones you give me every day.

(12:54 AM) | Stephen:
Guess What?

I still believe in total equality for women. Looks like the denial-of-service attack on Shakesville really isn't going to change anyone's mind.

My understanding, from reading the various blog reactions and such, is that Shakesville's intrepid crew is purposefully using this time to apply safeguards against future DOS attacks. That's wise; in the past when DailyKos and Pandagon have been under fire it's always seemed like they put the site back up too early and end up having to do more work in the long run.

It should be back soon, and you can expect it to come roaring back into existence. And not one of the contributors will have changed his or her mind about the basic dignity of every human being, no matter their gender or any other characteristic - even extending that to the idiots who have launched this attack.

That's going to be frustrating for the poor guys, isn't it?

Monday, June 25, 2007
(9:58 PM) | Stephen:
An Eternal Fount Of Stupidity In Iraq

This is going to go over really well:
More than a third of Iraq's national police battalion commanders are now Sunni after a purge of Shiites who had a sectarian bias, a U.S. general said Monday.
I seem to recall that under Saddam a Sunni minority ruled over and oppressed a Shiite majority. After we moved in, we got rid of the Sunnis, then we put them in power again, then removed them, then put them in power. We've armed the Sunnis against the Shiites, and the Shiites against the Sunnis. We've claimed that Iran is helping the Sunnis (ha!), wait, no Iran is helping the Shiites. But they're all al Qaeda, we can be sure of that. Even if al Qaeda is a Saudi terrorist organization made up exclusively of Sunnis and supported by payoffs from the Saudi royal family to extremist organizations within Saudi Arabia in order to buy a little bit of stability.

I almost believe that the Bush administration is purposefully trying to make Iraq a meatgrinder for American soldiers. The only thing that keeps me from really buying that particular conspiracy theory is that the stories coming out of Iraq seem to all be of the "they couldn't have done it that way if they tried" variety.

Army Brigadier General Dana Pittard, the outgoing commander of US efforts to train Iraqi police and military units, also dropped this little gem in his farewell remarks:
"I nearly shed a tear when I saw Baqouba today," Pittard said of the capital city in Diyala province. "The markets aren't up, the projects that we had spent so much time on, together with the Iraqi government, are now, in many places, in shambles
Here's the on-the-ground assessment of what's really happening in Iraq. Here's the unvarnished truth, the grim reality that everyone needs to face: things are not improving, the country is not stabilizing, and the projects that our soldiers are working on when not being blown up by insurgents using American weapons and training are themselves being blown up and torn apart by insurgents using American equipment and training.

The most despicable, evil, amoral, lying, thieving inhuman monsters that our nation has yet produced. That's who we have in the White House, who stalks the halls of Congress, who populate the high offices of our land. The deaths of thousands, the injuries of hundreds of thousands, the torture of thousands more, the imprisonment of the innocent, the destruction of an entire nation - all of this and more is accomplished at their whim. They send our soldiers to die and those fortunate enough to make it back are denied the very basic benefits and rights due them by their own contracts with our military.

If you don't seethe with anger, if you don't fight the impulse to hate George Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of the scumbags in our government, then you either aren't paying attention or you have a serious problem with morality yourself.

(9:31 AM) | Stephen:
Trade Issues

I'm tired of people talking about "free trade" as something that helps the poor - whether America's poor or the world's poor. Free trade has absolutely nothing to do with workers and their standard of living. Nothing. Free trade has to do with corporations' ability to move goods and services across borders. It has to do with reducing tariffs and even providing incentives for a nation's corporations to move their operations to other countries, such as the tax breaks American corporations receive for outsourcing.

Free trade also means that the workers in the poorer countries that participate in free trade agreements face new restrictions on organizing. It means that all those new jobs we hear about are unsafe and pay below that country's poverty level. It means that coffee growers in Colombia who sell to Folger's or Maxwell House need to raise coca on the side because the massive size of those companies allows them to buy their nasty-ass coffee beans at less than the amount it takes to raise them. Free trade means children work in factories instead of going to school. Free trade means that corrupt politicians are able to stay in power and enrich themselves at the expense of the citizens they claim to serve.

Free trade means American towns losing their residents. Free trade means our stores are flooded with useless, poorly-made and often unsafe junk. It means transforming our economy from one that allows high-school graduates to support their families through manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs to one where working as a barista at Starbucks is a "good" job, yet is one of 2 or 3 required to actually make a living. Free trade means our economy is increasingly based upon the masses of our citizens working in menial "service industry" jobs for the comfort and amusement of the wealthy - the same wealthy citizens who craft and ensure the passage of Free Trade Agreements.

Free trade is a crock of shit, a huge crime perpetrated upon the citizens of the world, deals made complex and inscrutable in order to hide the enormous stink of corruption and injustice rising from them.

So don't speak to me of free trade. Trying to argue in favor of it means you're either a fool or a criminal. Opposing free trade agreements doesn't make one "protectionist" or "xenophobic." There are plenty of models out there for fair trade, trade that opens up markets, that provides jobs, that helps people and their countries - even the USA - to improve their lot, to send kids to school instead of work, to allow people to work and live with dignity, providing for themselves and passing on to their children more than debt and the resentment, misery and despair of broken dreams and unobtainable goals.

I hereby declare war on free trade, on all those who are either ignorant or mendacious enough to support the idea.

(8:58 AM) | Stephen:
Slipping The Surly Bonds Of Earth

It's so easy to forget that there are over 6 billion human beings on this planet, and that among the wars, natural disasters, diseases, injustices and crimes there are many, many people who do remarkable things every day. From new cancer-fighting drugs to human-computer interfaces that allow people to control prosthetic limbs or laptop PCs, to the small child who spends her day in the refugee camp following the antics of an industrious beetle and therefore finds joy, and fun, in the midst of what would surely cause me to sink into irredeemable despair.

It's also easy to forget that not every human being lives on Earth, that we have a permanent outpost in the sky. Work on the International Space Station began 9 years ago, and a new set of solar panels have just been added. The Astronomy Picture of the Day has a series of photos that chronicles the changes:

January 2, 2002

December 8, 2002

September 20, 2006

June 25, 2007

You're probably all aware of the various arguments for why our continued presence and exploration of space is important in spite of the many problems confronting us here on Earth. I'm not very concerned with those, though I am grateful for the advances in technology that have occurred because of our space program.

What is truly important about a permanent human presence in space, why it matters that we don't cede our explorations entirely to computers and robots is more spiritual in nature. Leaving this planet in order to clearly see the stars, in order to walk upon alien worlds says that what it means to be human is that we never accept what we know right now, that we always strive to see more, to know more, to be more.

I want to live long enough for there to be a permanent human presence on Mars, with the possibility for civilians to travel there. I want to go to Mars, land on an alien world, taste the dirt. I want to be able to walk on the surface of the planet, stand on a hillside and watch the sunset. Then I will take off my helmet, breathe the Martian air and die. And no, it won't be anything like Total Recall.

Saturday, June 23, 2007
(11:51 AM) | Stephen:
Causus Belli

One of Josh Marshall's astute readers made an interesting point recently, namely that US officials have started using the term "al Qaeda" to refer to people and groups that have been heretofore considered "insurgents" or "Sunni/Shia" groups involved in Iraq's civil war.

Iraq and al Qaeda, the lie that just won't die. Now that the drums of war are sounding ever louder for Iran, Bush administration officials are pushing the ludicrous idea that Iranian Shiites are supporting and arming al Qaeda Sunnis. Marshall points us to some remarks from Gen. Petraeus via Andy Sullivan:

They are trained in Iran, equipped with Iranian (weapons), and advised by Iran. The Iranian involvement here we have found to be much, much more significant that we thought before. They have since about the summer of 2004 played a very, very important role in training in Iran, funding, arming. This is lethal stuff, like EFPs (explosively-formed penetrators), mortars, and rockets that are used against Basra Palace (the main British base in Basra).

One of the many things the American occupation of Iraq has shown us is that even with US forces as a common enemy, Sunnis and Shiites will still manage to find the time and energy to fight one another. For quite some time our government has tried to portray every single Arab as a particular brand of extremist depending on the enemy du jour: Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Lebanon, the Palestinians - peoples with radically different languages, histories, religious beliefs and even ethnicities.

Iraq is lost, Bush, Cheney and Petraeus know that. Petraeus was built up as a Golden Child, a messiah-like figure. But his reputation isn't really going to be wasted on something like trying to win in Iraq. Rather, his reputation was built up, this surge was put into place in order to "find" evidence that Iran is "training. . .funding [and] arming" every Iraqi with any type of weapon, no matter how much that particular Iraqi might hate Iran from either the brutal war between the two countries or the centuries of hostilities between Sunnis and Shiites.

The nonsense coming from Petraeus about Iran - as if we haven't already heard about Iranian-produced weapons only to find it a lie - shows not only how close to war with Iran we are, but also undermines the overly-optimistic reporting about the Rice-Cheney conflict in the White House, especially the idea that Sec. State Rice actually has the upper hand right now. The State Department has been used since day one as merely a convenient cover for the Bush administration's real goals, and a loyal lackey like Condoleezza Rice isn't going to offer even the tepid level of dissent Colin Powell managed to dredge up.

Feel free to use the comments to offer your predictions for the date our war with Iran publicly begins.

Friday, June 22, 2007
(2:21 PM) | Stephen:
They Can't Win This

In comments, Mustang Bobby brought up Shakesville and expressed his certainty that it will come back. He also made a bad pun, but I'll forgive him.

Right now Shakesville is in the middle of a Denial Of Service - DOS - attack. Some jerks have started sending so much data at the server, and requesting so much, etc. that the server can't handle the load. If I remember correctly, DOS attacks can eat up bandwidth, which can be really expensive.

It's just another day for a website run by a woman who doesn't use her platform to attack other women, or to reinforce stereotypes, or parrot patriarchal talking points. The point of the attack is to make Melissa and her co-bloggers feel violated, as if they were on the receiving end of an assault. It's all about power, about impotent men who lash out from their own inadequacies and insecurities.

It might make them feel a little better about themselves, at least for a little while. Sooner or later the attack ends, the server gets beefed up or some other thing happens. They won't be able to silence Shakesville, or Pandagon, or Pam's House Blend or any of millions of other websites, magazines, books, and most importantly people who have decided that having 50% of the population of the world oppressed, beaten, raped, killed, dismissed and rejected just doesn't make sense anymore.

The guys behind this DOS attack will find that their "high" wasn't all that good, that it wasn't much of a triumph. Unfortunately for them this will ultimately result in just more feelings of impotence. Let's hope they keep it online and don't branch out into the real world, because let's face it, it's the same type of thinking that leads one to launch a DOS attack that leads another inside a bedroom window.

(9:57 AM) | Stephen:
Leak Your Way To Less Weight

Alli has come on the market. It's the first time that a prescription weight-loss medication has been approved by the FDA for over-the-counter use. I'm usually pretty frustrated at the various rules and barriers to getting medicines, and there are quite a few medications that I think should be out from behind the counter. Albuterol, for example, is a fairly benign medication that only helps out asthmatics; it's not even very good for huffing purposes.

But there are some medicines that should stay behind the prescription wall, and Alli is certainly one of them. Just because someone is willing to live with explosive gas (mixed with feces) and orange, oily discharge doesn't necessarily mean they should be allowed to experience it, especially for such a small gain.

The above book is for sale from a special display at my local grocery store. The actual drug has yet another special display stand, very nice looking, with a telephone handset you can pick up to hear a soothing, confident voice tell you all about the many, many benefits to taking Alli.

It's not for everyone, of course. "But it is for me," people will think, the ones who have been lied to and told that they're grotesquely obese, the ones that see someone in the mirror that isn't there, the ones that do need to lose weight and think that Alli will let them continue to eat garbage and do nothing.

Notice, also, that the book gives you "no-prep, no-cook" meal options. Unless they're talking about buying bunches of pre-washed veggies & fruit, eating plain whole-wheat bread and popping some supplements, then they're just selling snake oil*. One of the best ways to lose weight is to cook, from scratch, as much as possible. Lowry's Sesame-Ginger marinade is pretty good. My sesame-ginger marinade is a lot better. I got the recipe from 2 minutes of googling, and it takes about 5 minutes to make. There's no high-fructose corn syrup, no preservatives, no artificial flavors. You can buy BBQ beef or pork already made, right in the meat department (and I don't mean from a local BBQ joint, or maybe you people that live outside KC don't get that benefit). Or you can put a hunk of meat in a pan, drench it in BBQ sauce and cook it on medium-low for a while. If you can stand the Hormel crap, it'll taste pretty good to you, trust me.

If it's processed, it's not good for you, and that goes for a bunch of so-called vegetarian, vegan and/or organic stuff too.

Take the $60 for a month of orange, oily anal discharge, the $20 for the book and get a cookbook. With the money left over go on a shopping spree for herbs and spices, the real low-calorie way to eat with a lot of flavor. Find a recipe you like, pour yourself a glass of wine or a beer (you can afford the calories now) and have fun in the kitchen.

That's the Stephen Diet Plan™. Feel free to send me some money for it.

*Orange, oily, anally-leaked snake oil, that is.

Thursday, June 21, 2007
(8:16 AM) | Stephen:
An Evening Walk

In college we used to drive down to Sunset Cliffs, taking our textbooks with us so we could convince ourselves that we were going to study. We'd drive into OB to get $.35 ice cream cones and then head back down to the cliffs, watching the waves continue their work of destroying the shoreline and threatening the multimillion dollar homes.

When we lived in Korea we'd hike up mountains to see 1,000-year-old Buddhist temples and drink spring water that had been filtering through the granite for a million years.

In San Francisco we'd walk among the redwoods, older even than the temples we admired in Korea, ludicrously tall and thick, and then head down to the beach to play or drive up the coastal highway, heading down roads and finding little towns that remove the highway signs pointing to them in order to keep gawking tourists like us away.

In my hometown of Alamogordo I spent my days bracketed by mountains rising 12,000 feet above sea level, and 8,000 feet above my head. We'd take walks in glacial valleys, the southernmost such valleys in the North America, trail streams down canyons until they disappeared into the desert sands at the canyon's dusty, rocky mouth. We'd find fossils of shells and other sea creatures from the time when our first mammalian ancestors were barely starting to differentiate themselves from other life forms.

In Kansas City and the surrounding area, well, it's flat. Even the Flint Hills, to our eyes, are more like bumps in the endless prairie, the description "rolling" more an optimistic hope than accurate assessment. But even so, there are times when the American Midwest shows its beauty, and last night on our family walk was such a time.

Our neighborhood was built over 40 years ago, back before developers cut down every tree and carted off the topsoil. Every house has at least 5 trees, usually closer to 10. The trees themselves are usually 30-50 feet tall, with quite a few that tower even over that, their branches spreading and touching each other, forming an interlocking canopy that at times stretches over the street and which creates a sun-dappled tapestry on the lawns and sidewalks each day. Dogwoods, Magnolias, Redbuds, Kentucky Coffeetrees, Lindens, Lacebark Elms, Oaks, even the slovenly Sweetgums play their part in the whispering, rustling, scraping symphony of our neighborhood.

Fireflies begin their dance in the early evening and bring twinkling starlight to earth all night, curious about the laughing, grasping creatures which chase and catch them. The air is thick with the perfume of flowers, the green grass, the tang of dandelions, the honey sweetness of clover. You can feel the tiny sounds of growing, of life itself that will keep going and moving whether we finicky humans care for it or not. The quarter-moon hangs high in a light blue sky that fades to white in the west, fading even more as the night descends into faint purples and reds until twilight, the time-between-times, hangs over all, reluctant to go, giving us walkers and mowers and basketball players still more time to tap into the growing and becoming and dying all around us.

I read some time ago that an important Navajo tenet is contentment in all things, that people should adapt to their surroundings. When their is no rain, the white man will curse the drought and pray for rain, while the Navajo sings to the dryness and the desert and adjusts himself to them. St. Paul taught a similar thing, that of being content in all situations, and I've tried to live that way, with greater and less success as circumstances have changed. Kansas City in particular has been difficult for me to do this; nothing in my past has prepared me for the terrain and weather here.

Last night, I think, the final adjustments were made, my soul finally awakened to the beauty here, and while I will always love the mountains and stand in awe of the sea, I can live in harmony and appreciation of these yes, rolling plains.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007
(8:33 AM) | Stephen:
GOP Disarray

Republican voters apparently have come to the conclusion that the GOP has already lost the White House next year. They're looking for a messiah type, a knight riding a white horse who can swoop in to save the day for them. It's interesting that there's no media coverage about the phenomenon, especially the blatant way the GOP is considering general election "electability" as a key characteristic this time around. In 2004, when media outlets weren't uncritically passing along already-discredited lies about Kerry, they devoted hours of airtime and thousands of words to the idea that Democrats really didn't care who they nominated, as long as that person seemed "electable" enough, appealing enough to the mythical moderates and imaginary independents that populate the play world of pundits and Democratic consultants.

To a certain extent it was true: Democrats had long tired of Bush's assault on the Constitution and his callous disregard for both our soldiers' lives and the boundaries of sovereign nations. We wanted somebody who could sway enough people to switch sides so we could win. We accepted, with Carville, Shrum, Begala and the rest of the useless consultants leading the way, every silly insult, smear and attack the GOP had ever used against us and found a candidate we thought would negate those attacks.

And President Fly-By-Night - remember the mission to Mars, billions to fight AIDS, even the faith-based intiatives, none of which have ever amounted to anything? - was therefore able to bumble along in his fake cowboy hat on his fake ranch, acting as if he actually stands for anything other than a naked grab for power and profit, and everyone bought it. Once again the GOP stood firm on "principles" while the Democrats flitted around, pandering to all our special-interest groups.

What's happening right now is nothing less than a complete reversal. The progressive blogosphere is holding the Democratic candidates' feet to the fire, forcing even Hillary Clinton* to start to take actual stands on issues. Democrats in general are upbeat, confident and usually of the opinion that even if one's favorite candidate doesn't get the nomination, we're still in good shape not only electorally but in terms of how our candidates would govern.

The GOP field has seen John McCain, once again, go from prohibitive front-runner to flameout, his temper and his "maverick" reputation coming back to haunt him as they always do outside Arizona's borders. Rudy Giuliani has used his heroic press conference on 9/11 and his ability to out-crazy even Dick Cheney to take the lead in the polls - at least until this week.

Enter the GOP faithful's next Messiah: Fred Thompson, who is now tied with John McCain for second place according to Gallup, and who actually leads the Rasmussen poll, beating Giuliani by one point, making it a statistical tie for first.

Not too long ago I said that Giuliani was in first place only because a minority of GOP voters actually knew his pro-choice record. Thompson's entry into the race is proof that the movers and shakers of the GOP - not the Religious Right - have understood this for a while and have been actively looking for and recruiting someone to take Giuliani's place, knowing that instead of his "moderation" attracting independents and Democrats it would keep the Religious Right home on election day.

Fred Thompson did not join the cast of Law & Order to prepare for a presidential run. Fred Thompson did not put his own name out there as a possible candidate. Even his friends know that he's too lazy for that, and anyway he doesn't have the type of national political name recognition and history to seriously run for President. But the GOP leadership has had great success with running fake cowboys for office, people who can look like a good ol' boy with the right clothes and the right accent. Fred Thompson, like Ronald Reagan, George W. and even George Allen - another actor/politician who would be in front place if he could have kept his vicious racism under wraps - can convincingly wear a cowboy hat, speaks in a gravelly southern accent and just generally seems like a regular guy, full of folksy wisdom and down-home values.

But his candidacy is not one of strength. Already his religious credentials are being challenged, and the GOP will find it a bit harder to run against Hollywood both because of Thompson's full acceptance in Hollywood and because of the last 30 years of demonizing it - an effort that was still in its early stages when Reagan ran for President. The corporate masters of the GOP want to keep the tax cut and deregulation gravy train coming, but they don't want another religious looney who actually believes that Jesus "saved" him from alcohol. They know that having a true believer in the White House will only mean that Democrats will be more motivated and organized, more willing to take clear stands on issues where we actually have the upper hand.

By contrast, putting a Jesus freak - and that is the term used in the back rooms, believe me - in the White House means that the Religious Right becomes even more demanding as they start to see their pet causes addressed with more than rhetoric. That more than anything is going to doom Thompson's candidacy, just as it did McCain's and is in the process of ending Giuliani's real chances of becoming the nominee.

When it becomes clear that Thompson can't win, the corporate masters will look for someone else, and try it again. They've been working on Chuck Hagel, of course, but he's holding out for some reason, most likely to be able to set more of the terms of his own candidacy. I still see him announcing in early September, giving Thompson enough time to flame out and benefiting from the traditional season to announce new things.

*I want to separate Hillary the candidate from Hillary the person. Hillary the person is great and I love her. Hillary the candidate is too tied to the DLC, Republican-lite, cowardly-consultant wing of the Democratic party, and I can't support that.

(12:58 AM) | Stephen:
I May Have Just Hit The Big Time

So Digby is out, and yes she is a woman. She accepted some kind of award and gave a speech at the Take Back America conference, which I don't really care about too much. Her speech I do care about, because any time you can read or listen to Digby, it's worth it.

Anyway, as she was talking about the diversity of the progressive blogosphere, she ran down a list of the various types of people: university students, immigrants, stay-at-home-dads. It's pretty clear that Digby is a big, big fan of my blog.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007
(11:08 AM) | Stephen:
Chains Of Our Own Making

Via Amanda, I was introduced to The Surrendered Wife, a book and now movement based upon the idea that women should completely, absolutely, totally set aside all independence of thought and action and rely instead upon their husbands for all opinions, instructions and decisions. There's a 60 Minutes (Australia) segment found here about the movement. As Amanda said, it's well worth the time it takes to watch the entire segment, though be prepared for some disturbing content.

Content such as the image of a woman telling her two year old daughter that "Daddy is the king of the house," or a man who schedules his wife's day down to the minute, writing it out in a giant day planner. Images of a man talking about how "women are very focused on the moment, and what might be true right now probably won't be true in two minutes," speaking, of course, about the woman's obligation to always say yes to sex, justifying it the way rapists always justify their actions: "after it starts, she'll enjoy it." And his wife is sitting next to him, nodding her head, a psychologically damaged victim of emotional and sexual abuse who has, at least on some level, convinced herself that she really does "want it" and he really does "love" her.

It's sick. It's twisted. It's blasphemous, anti-Bible, it makes a mockery of what Jesus taught, it promulgates a system in which men are able to abuse and exploit their wives and daughters for the fulfillment of their every whim. It's exactly the type of thing that women have fought for centuries to escape, proof that no matter what victories we achieve, there will always be present with us destructive, evil impulses and attitudes.

This is really simple. Sometimes a person will get into a relationship, even a marriage, with someone who is controlling and dominating, someone so petty and immature that they've never left the mindset of a toddler or young child who has to exert control over every aspect of their environment. This can be a man or a woman; petty tyranny is gender-neutral.

But why is it that women are the only ones expected to go along with this? Why are there books and movements which actually tell women that this is the natural order of things, that when they find themselves married to an emotional 2-year-old they should just take it and allow their every moment to be dictated by someone so developmentally stunted?

The answer, of course, is that the human story is written with Woman's blood on Slave's skin, bound by the straps of economic and physical bondage of all who find themselves in a position of even momentary weakness.

The issue of feminism, of civil rights for ethnic and religious minorities and those who are Gay, Lesbian or Trans is not merely about housing or jobs, about inheritance or child custody or any thing of that type, as important as they are. The struggle for complete equality is about life, and death, about bodily integrity, about the ability to choose what you will eat, what you will wear, even what opinions you will have in your own mind. This struggle is far from over, because those who wish to oppress minorities are always working to conceal the iron fist in the velvet glove, and they will always be able to find people so psychologically disturbed that they've convinced themselves of the goodness of their oppressor, and who will advise everyone else to find an oppressor of their own.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, they say, and this is nowhere more apropos than the struggle for women, and blacks, and hispanics, and children and all other oppressed people to belong to no one but themselves.

Monday, June 18, 2007
(10:56 PM) | Stephen:
Hey Baby, Wanna Rolf Me?

So I'm looking at my wife's medical expense reimbursement plan, and I see that Rolfing is an eligible expense, under "Other Medical Treatments/Procedures."

"Woah," I think, "sounds a bit racy. A little bit exotic. I'd better check this out."

Yeah, not so much.

(9:32 PM) | Stephen:
A Food Post

I have discovered Aldi's. I'd seen them, but didn't know if they were any good. Plus, they have a decidedly "low rent" reputation. Some friends of ours do most of their shopping at Aldi's, and after several absolutely spectacular meals, I've started shopping there as well. An unexpected bonus is how Aldi's uses regional suppliers for their products, meaning I'm able to support smaller farms and businesses, get food with fewer ingredients like High Fructose Corn Syrup and save some money.

Because Kansas has stupid liquor laws, I can't buy beer or wine there. My friends live in Missouri where the liquor laws make more sense, and they can get both beer and wine. My friend J gave me some beer once without telling me where he got it, and it is damn good beer. It's from some brewery in Germany (where Aldi's is from) that's been around for 500 years or something. They make an exceptionally balanced amber ale, the equal of Fat Tire and better than most others. Their Pils is a joy on a hot afternoon, and their lager not only doesn't taste like cat piss smells, but is actually good!

So consider me an Aldi's evangelist.

On another food-related note, I have discovered that taking cheese and adding heat doesn't quite make a sauce. Notions like this are why God invented Google, and I should try to remember that.

I'm mildly jealous of people who can carry a mug of coffee around with them all day. If I could, I would start the day with a bright and lively Latin American cup, probably Guatemalan or Mexican, switching over to Tanzanian or possibly Kenyan - maybe - by late morning, Ethiopian throughout the afternoon and early evening, and then finish it off with either an Arabian or Pacific at night. But 3 mugs is my daily limit for coffee, and I'm not talking about those big abominations, either, just regular mugs.

Some people think that fermented foods aren't able to go "bad." Let me disabuse you of this notion. Sauerkraut and Kimchi, both fermented cabbage foods, are quite able to go bad. Another product that is seriously able to go bad is yellow pickled radishes.

These things are so capable of turning that if they do, you can - hypothetically, of course - put them in TWO Ziploc Freezer bags, a plastic grocery bag that you then tie and you can put them in the freezer to wait for trash day, and you will still smell them, even when the freezer door is closed. The key is to buy them in the smallest packages possible. My wife and daughter love them - my daughter so much that we have to limit how much she can eat at one sitting. I really don't like them, even when they're "fresh."


(11:49 AM) | Stephen:
Paul Potts, Superstar

Not to get maudlin or anything, but the world isn't supposed to work this way. Indeed, most of the time the world works exactly how we're taught, exactly how things are set up: appearance matters over substance, connections matter more than talent or knowledge, and the dreams of the little are always kept as just that, dreams of the little people, something to keep them going, perhaps, but not anything that actually matters.

It's funny, too, to think that one of the best ways to subvert this system is reality television - especially one of the many talent contests associated with the prolific Simon Cowell. But Paul Potts, the insecure, unassuming, not-very-successful-or-popular cellphone salesman, has managed to upend the normal ways of doing business. He not only broke out of his own shell, but he managed to break through the layers and years of conditioning the public has received that entertainers must be beautiful and young.

And he did it with opera. No one likes opera anymore, least of all me. But I'm captivated by the man's voice, by his presence on stage, the way he is transformed from some guy to a towering Colossus who sings with power and grace. And his voice would not work for any other style of music.

Well done, Mr. Potts. I'm buying your CD.

Here's Paul Potts' final contest performance and when he won Britain's Got Talent. Great stuff:

via Shakes.

(11:12 AM) | Stephen:
Casualties Of War

From the WaPo comes the story of Army Specialist Jeans Cruz, one of the soldiers who captured Saddam Hussein. He was hailed as a hero, the toast of New York City and even his parents' hometown in Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately, the parades and honors haven't driven the images of dead children from his mind. He started cutting, scarring his forearms. His life fell apart, and he went to the VA, where he was diagnosed with severe PTSD.

The VA denied the request for benefits and even further treatment because, "The available evidence is insufficient to confirm that you actually engaged in combat." The rejection also claimed that his psychological problems existed before he joined the Army.

I could go on for thousands of words about the level of pure evil represented by the way the Bush administration treats our soldiers. If you have any common human decency, however, you will be able to supply your own outrage just by going to the link and reading the article. What's clear is that our soldiers are to be publicly honored and feted when it's politically useful. But when they're no longer useful as state props, they're treated like just another schlub looking for a handout from the government.

If Spec. Cruz was so psychologically disturbed, he should have never been let into the Army and sent to combat. But it's clear that the rejection letter was a tissue of lies sent in the hopes that it would discourage Cruz from taking any further action. Bush doesn't want to fund the VA, he doesn't want to pay our soldiers a living wage, he doesn't want to increase the benefit paid to families of soldiers who die in combat, he doesn't want to give our soldiers proper equipment, and the list goes on and on.

It's far past time for Americans to grow up and cease supporting cowardly politicians who will publicly fellate the image of the American soldier while privately consigning our actual sons and daughters, mothers and fathers to the literal garbage heap. Get our troops out of Iraq and take a big part of the hundreds of billions of dollars this mess is costing us and put them to good use in our VA system to treat the countless physical and mental injuries inflicted upon our men and women. That's how you support the troops.

(10:45 AM) | Stephen:
Behold The Enemy

Via Matt Yglesias, here's some photos of Teheran, candid shots of an entirely normal city:

Joe Lieberman, John McCain, Dick Cheney and assorted neocon "strategists" are all calling for the US to initiate hostilities with Iran, to bomb them or send in troops. Take a look at those photos, and remember them whenever you read about "islamofascists" who "hate us for our freedoms."

In a war, people die. Buildings are destroyed. Children die. That's the reality of war, a reality that the people of the United States have not fully felt since the Civil War, and not felt even partially since Pearl Harbor. Even the attack of 9/11 doesn't compare to systemic destruction of a nation's people, infrastructure and resources like has happened in Iraq. We have 150,000 troops in Iraq right now. They don't have enough body armor. They don't have enough armor for their Humvees. Many of them are on their 3rd and 4th consecutive tours of duty. They don't have a clear mission. They train and arm Iraqi military and police units only to see their former students and equipment used against them.

And now powerful forces in our government want to expand the situation in Iraq to Iran. We're hearing the same claims of terrorist sponsorship, but I don't buy it. I don't even buy the idea that Teheran supports Syria which supports Hamas which supports Osama or Venezuela's Chavez or Michael Moore.

Pakistan is, if anything, a more repressive society than Iran. Pakistan is sheltering the Taliban and assisting their attempts to retake control over Afghanistan, and Pakistan is in continual armed conflict with India. Both of those nations are in possession of nuclear weapons. Several of the former Soviet Republics are in chaos, and we don't really know where a lot of their nuclear weapons are.

But Iran is the target, because it's easier to whip up fear and nationalistic fervor over the threat of "radical Islam" involving a well-known, fairly prosperous country than it is over little-known and highly chaotic small nations in Eastern Europe or Central Asia.

Just look at those photos and browse the others in the collection. Be sure to understand that the vast majority of the millions of Iranian citizens don't "hate us for our freedoms," and in fact even the Iranian government is not what Dick Cheney would have you believe. Remember that there are far greater nuclear threats out there than Iran, but Bush, Cheney and the neocon cabal still want to do business with them, so they will be ignored or even protected by the American government.

(10:01 AM) | Stephen:
An Inside Peek Into Healthcare

New York Magazine recently put together a panel of doctors to anonymously talk about mistakes, why patients wait so long, hospital conditions and similar subjects. It's interesting stuff, especially this part about the relationship between healthcare providers and Big Pharma:

Are doctors unduly influenced by drug companies?

Dr. Virus: I don’t think that doctors make dangerous decisions because of the influence of the drug companies. But I think we make very expensive decisions. There’s an antibiotic for $10 and there’s an antibiotic for $150. I had dinner last night with the $150 guys, and it might be theoretically marginally better. There might be reasons that I prescribe it, and one might be that I liked my steak dinner. You’ll get well either way on the cheap one or the expensive one, but this way I’ll have another steak dinner. It’s low-level bribery—there’s no question about it. I used to go out to dinner with these guys, and I stopped because I found it too gross for words.

Dr. Lung: I used to be in charge of a department, and I told my unit that I’m not going to support big dinners where they take twenty doctors out. If you’re friends with one particular rep, then you can go as friends. But I’ve always felt that they’re expecting something in return.

Dr. Heart2: I am wooed. You know, all doctors are wooed. But the true excess is not in the pens and the steak dinners. It’s the relationships pharmaceutical companies develop with hospitals that are much more nefarious than buying a doctor a steak dinner. Companies strike deals with hospital pharmacies to provide their drugs at a low cost to get patients using them. Then they price the drug at a later date any which way they want.

As much as I can't stand the way Big Pharma uses perks and freebies to make doctors like them, "Dr. Heart2" is correct that the real issue is when a pharmaceutical company makes a deal with a hospital that effectively locks a hospital into using a particular drug for economic reasons - and only short term gains at that.

What really stood out to me, though was the last question:

What could be changed about the health-care system to better help patients?

Dr. Baby: Universal health care.

Dr. Heart1: But you’re talking from a public-health perspective. If you are an individual … if your dad is sick and he has access to insurance and money, do you want him to live in the country with universal health care or our kind of health care? Our kind of health care.

Dr. Virus: The only place I’d defend American care is for the catastrophically ill, where there are miraculous outcomes still.

Dr. Heart2: If you’re talking about separating Siamese twins, yes, I’d want to do it in the United States rather than anywhere else in the world. When money is not an issue, I would still contend that we have the worst, because we get overtested. We chase incidental diagnoses that might not affect the patient’s health.

Dr. Virus: With universal, you’d get the same kind of mediocre shittiness that you’d get in all other kinds of standardized approaches. But for millions of people, that would be a big upgrade.

It's funny to that doctors who have been having an in depth conversation about the massive shortcomings of our health system - not enough nurses, shady financial dealings from hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, etc., all the sudden shift gears when the subject of universal healthcare comes up. "Oh no, quality of care will go down!" I suppose if you believe that universal healthcare means, instead of only one nurse for an entire floor of acute patients, there won't be any nurses in the hospital at all.

The evidence is of course quite different, with the crazed stories about Canadians waiting 14 years to be seen for a sore throat and the French, I don't know, surrendering all the time just to get foreign doctors in the place or something, shown over and over to be merely scare tactics and propaganda. It just shows that doctors are not infallible gods, and an MD or DO does not bestow expert knowledge about everything, not even every aspect of healthcare.

For example, my family doctor is an excellent doctor. We've been her patients for 12 years now, and we love her. She's the best doctor I've ever seen or heard of. But I know more about health insurance than she does, both in terms of the present system and in terms of what universal heath care means in other countries and what it would mean here.

When it comes to crafting a healthcare policy for this country, doctors should be consulted about methods and levels of care, that type of thing. But they're practitioners, and should only be considered as such, not experts in paperwork, bureaucracy, delivery systems and similar issues. This country would be well served to remove doctors from the enormous pedestal upon which we've placed them.

Sunday, June 17, 2007
(9:38 AM) | Stephen:
Father's Day

Today is Father's Day. It's a fairly bogus holiday when you think about it. Mother's Day, at least, had fairly noble origins in this country, promoted as a way to unite women in a cause against war. But according to Wikipedia, at least, Father's Day seems to just have been started in order to make sure that fathers didn't feel left out of the holiday allotment.

Oh, and remember kids, every day is Children's Day.

There are dads out there, of course, who could use a little bit of recognition. Unfortunately, the way our culture works means that there's a whole lot more dads out there who could be reminded on this Father's Day that they have responsibilities to their families that go far beyond earning a paycheck and taking out the garbage.

What bothers me the most is that this holiday, like Mother's Day, is not only an excuse for a consumeristic frenzy, but a frenzy based entirely upon the worst gender stereotypes our culture has on offer. So for Mother's Day we get advertisements for flowers and bedding, and for Father's Day it's all about power tools and fishing equipment. Even the dads I know that are really into power tools - and actually know how to use them - would still be pretty happy with a new blender or better food processor or something like that. I've found that individuals can be pretty adept at dismantling gender myths and barriers even as our society grips them ever more tightly.

All of that to say, I do hope that today is a good day for dads and their families, where neither one nor the other feel resentful or put upon, where both can show appreciation and love to one another. My daughter made a card for me upon which she actually wrote "Happy Father's Day," her name and those of my wife and son, and drew a picture of all of us. Complete with backwards "a" and "s."

Also, my dad reads this blog every once in a while, and your granddaughter also signed a card from her and your grandson, and there's even a card from me. I bought them early this last week, and they're signed, addressed, stamped and sitting on my desk. Oops. But then, if I've never sent a card on time before, why start now, right?

Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 15, 2007
(11:14 AM) | Stephen:
Boys And Girls

Melissa sent me the link to an interesting article in the Opinion Journal - I know! something not completely worthless from the WSJ editorial pages! - about a guy trying to be a good father to three boys. My daughter gets most of my worry time right now because she's 5 years old, and my son is only 9 months old. But as he moves from being a squirmy little worm to a real person with a real personality, I'm starting to shower him with the kind of worry that he deserves as well.

Tony Woodlief, the author, and I have several things in common. The following sentences could have been written about me:
I'm not what you'd call a master of the manly arts. I can't start a fire without a match, or track a deer, or ride a horse. I don't know how to fix cars, and my infrequent forays into home repair usually necessitate medical attention.
Well, I'm a little better off. I can ride a horse, and I'm at least learning how to do stuff at the house; it's amazing what the cost of hiring a plumber can teach you. But I'm not very athletic, I hate camping, and you won't catch me out in 10 degree weather laying in the snow waiting for some deer to come along, hoping that all the drunk numbskulls I'm sharing the forest with don't mistake me for something worth shooting.

Woodlief goes on to talk about the ways in which boys have been negatively stereotyped by this society. In this, he's half right. There is a tendency to demonize normal boy behavior, especially in schools. I'm not trying to say that all girls are this, and all boys are that, but there are some hormonal differences, you know, and those do affect behavior. Schools have become way too interested in forcing total compliance from children and their teachers, with "zero-tolerance" policies and a lessening of teachers' abilities to handle situations with their own best judgment. And to be clear, this is not the fault of psychologists or administrators, but the current trend to blame schools for every problem in this country, to institute standardized testing at every grade and to insert the judgment of the school board and parents into every decision instead of allowing professionals to do their jobs.

Boys are prescribed Ritalin at way higher rates than girls precisely because Ritalin suppresses the types of behavior boys are more likely to evince, and even beyond prescriptions boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls.

But Woodlief takes these things and heads down the wrong path entirely, using them to justify a call to some old idea of "manliness" as espoused by people who lived and died 100 years ago. Certainly we have advanced enough that we're not left with some false dualism, some silly idea that one can be "manly" or "womanly" and that those words are to be defined according to 10,000 year old traditions.

I'm glad that he wants to allow his sons to simply be who they are. Where Woodlief goes wrong is in the way he denigrates his own personality in the process. Somehow he's internalized the idea that he isn't a good role model for his sons, so he has to make sure they get exposed to "manliness" and can grow up to be different than him. It's a shame, really, that he doesn't think highly enough of himself to just be who he is rather than trying to fit himself into an outdated mold like Teddy Roosevelt.

See, that's the real secret of parenting. If my son grows up loving the outdoors, sports and inherits his granddad's massive talents for working with his hands, then I want to encourage that. If he loves to paint, or read books, play musical instruments or the ballet, I'll encourage that as well, without feeling like I'm obligated to push him one way or another.

My daughter currently loves dolls, the colors pink and purple, anything that has a Disney princess and playing dressup. That's all great. She may stay "girly" forever, or she might head off in another direction. And my job will be to continue to accept her and encourage her in who she is, not who I think she should be.

Woodlief also talks about teaching his sons morality, but in a fairly ridiculous way:
Maybe the problem isn't that boys are aggressive, but that we've neglected their moral education. . . . .Manliness, then, is not the ability to survive in the wilderness, or wield a rifle. But having such skills increases the odds that one's manly actions--which Roosevelt and others believed flow from a moral quality--will be successful.
If it's what my son will respond to, then I'll tell him that moral virtues are "manly." But I'm not going to buy into the idea that being able to survive in the wilderness will make a boy moral.

In fact, morality is a fairly universal idea. An action should not be moral for one person and immoral for another. My daughter and my son will not be raised according to different moral codes. Both of them will be raised to respect others and treat them with dignity. Both of them will learn from me the difference between right and wrong, the value of compassion, their obligations to those in need. I cannot comprehend the idea that there are moral values which apply to my son and not my daughter just because one of them has more testosterone than the other.

And that's the other half of the equation, the part that Woodlief gets wrong. Girls are also negatively stereotyped, of course. They aren't good at math, they cry easily, they're not strong, they're moody, they can't make their own decisions. As they get older, they aren't to be trusted to safeguard their own sexuality, they're deceitful seductresses who deserve what they get, they're targets for psychos' suppressed rage, they shouldn't be allowed to make their own reproductive decisions from birth control to whether or not they can successfully raise a child.

While Woodlief is raising his boys to be manly and that manly is moral, is he unconsciously teaching them that not being manly is immoral? What will that do to his sons and the way they interact with women, if they have been taught that they are men, they are manly and that is the source of their strength of character and morality? Will that not mean that women, who are not manly, are therefore immoral?

Raise your children as people. Let them be the individuals they are, without judgment, without projecting your own inadequacies and society's dysfunctions on them. Let them explore that which interests them and encourage them to learn, to play, to be active and thoughtful. That's all they require, really. The rest is just extraneous worry, and take it from an expert, we can all do with less worrying about nonsense.

(10:41 AM) | Stephen:
When Liberals Fight Back

Matt Taibbi wrote a truly horrendous article about the "victim complex" of the Left. If I had written such easily disputed, poorly-sourced nonsense in either my undergraduate or master's programs, I would have earned a failing grade. In graduate school, something so utterly ridiculous would possibly have inspired a private conference with the professor during which there would be a suggestion that I was simply not intellectually up to the task of thinking critically - at least at the level required to be successful in the program.

I'll let others, such as Melissa, do the job of taking the article apart. I just want to point out that this article, the silly attacks on John Edwards seeking to feminize him, the books about Hillary Clinton and all the other nonsense coming out of the Right is indicative of the desperation they're feeling right now. Their presidential juggernaut, John McCain, has completely gone down the tubes. Rudy Giuliani is soon going to suffer the same fate, count on it. Let's face it, when a minority of GOP voters don't know your stance on abortion, you won't last long once they find out - and the other GOP candidates are the ones to make sure that those voters will find out.

They're left with Mitt Romney, who similarly won't last long, and Fred Thompson, whose friends talk about how lazy he is. I know that Reagan was an actor, but he was also the current Governor of California when he ran for President. And as poor an actor as Reagan was, he did have the type of on-screen persona that played well as a politician. Fred Thompson is no Reagan in that regard.

Add to it that the Democrats will defend far fewer Senate seats than Republicans next year, the abysmal fundraising numbers for every national Republican committee, and the GOP's difficulty in actually recruiting candidates to even take on Democrats representing red districts, and you have a big steaming mess.

So they'll just use the exact same tactics they've been using for years: unfounded smears, lies, race and gay-baiting, dirty tricks like phone-jamming, every other immoral and illegal strategy that Karl Rove can come up with. What will be interesting to see is the affect that us vituperative bloggers can have as we call out the lies and smears, organize letter-writers and campaigns to put pressure on advertisers. The huge lead the Left has in online organizing was a big part of the 2006 victories, and we're better set up now than then to take on the Right Wing Noise Machine.

And really, that's all it takes: people who are willing to take a stand through letters, phone calls, speaking to friends, pressuring advertisers and media outlets. Especially when the Republicans are lashing out from a place of fear rather than strength. For the first time, the Left is not only going to fight, but is ready for the fight. Beyond proving Taibbi wrong, we just might destroy enough of the Right Wing Noise Machine to mute it forever.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007
(8:53 PM) | Stephen:
This Is The Greatest Commercial Ever


It's a poetic comment on the advertising industry as a whole. Just wonderful.

(4:31 PM) | Stephen:
It's Easy To Not Care

I don't swim. I don't like getting in water that reaches up to or above my chest, because it reminds me too much of the beginning stages of an asthma attack. In fact, the type of evenly distributed pressure upon the chest that one feels while submerged is probably the closest that a non-asthma sufferer can get to feeling like an asthmatic.

When you have an asthma attack, the muscles lining the bronchial tubes in your lungs rapidly constrict, reducing your ability to take in air. At the same time, inflammatory cells accumulate on the inside of the tubes, further shrinking the available space for air. Asthma is an evolutionary legacy from the distant past, when our only defenses against illness were the methods that our own bodies developed; it's a sign of a hyperactive immune system.

An asthma attack is suffocation from the inside out. When one occurs, your body starts to ramp things up in order to get more air inside the lungs and keep the oxygen flowing throughout your system. But as you take more and faster breaths, whatever it was in the air that triggered the response in the first place is just being brought into your system in greater and greater amounts, resulting in your body's attempts to save itself actually causing greater distress and danger.

Sooner or later your body will produce mucus in order to protect your lungs from the irritant. As you aspirate the mucus, you are forced to cough, often uncontrollably. Your heart is thrown from its normal rhythm, your diaphragm is worked past exhaustion. Sweat breaks out along your forehead, and your eyes become extremely bloodshot. The more you cough to remove the mucus in order to breathe clearly, the more your body senses the need to produce mucus. The vicious cycle becomes worse with each quasi-breath, each cough, each wheeze.

When you are able to take in a breath without causing a coughing fit, it's impossible to inflate your lungs, no matter how hard you try. The air feels cold coming into your system, your chest aches with the effort of drawing in a breath that might be 1/5 of normal. As the attack progresses, your ability to breath diminishes, your body starts to ache, you start to lose your physical strength as your body, now fully in a panic, pulls resources away from your limbs in order to preserve your heart, your chaotic lungs, ultimately your brain. If the attack is severe enough, then your body will just continue to shut systems down, one by one, as the amount of oxygen you're capable of taking in declines. Ultimately you will reach the point that your oxygen intake is insufficient for keeping your key systems alive, and you will die, squeezed to death by your own body.

There's treatments, of course, for asthma. When I was a child, the best treatment available was, I kid you not, to eat 2 teaspoons of local honey each day. I did also start to get antihistamine injections, done at home by my sainted mother, to the tune of 3 each week. Finally, cromolyn sodium came on the market, a horrible, horrible capsule full of dry, gritty powder. This capsule was placed inside a device that resembles modern inhalers, except that it contained two needles that were used to pierce the capsule when it was cocked, and a fan on the end that would help to distribute the air and therefore the dry powder evenly when you inhaled it into your lungs. It's not as fun as it sounds, trust me.

And then there was albuterol, which has saved my life on more than one occasion. Take a puff, hold it in as long as you can, exhale and do it again. Your bronchial tubes open up, your lungs stop producing mucus, all is well. Except that your heart starts racing, but that's a small price to pay.

If things get really bad, then a hospital or paramedics can inject you with straight adrenaline. From my personal experience, at least, once that happens it's over and everything will be fine.

Albuterol is fairly cheap, less than $20 for a good supply of it without insurance. Depending on the severity of one's asthma, an inhaler or nebulizer can last for a month or a couple of years. Adrenaline, especially since it has uses outside asthma attacks, is standard-issue for paramedics and of course emergency rooms. These in particular are well-known, tried and tested medicines, mass produced and available in a myriad of places.

Which is all the more reason to be outraged at the death of Lavonda Kimble, a 30-year-old St. Louis resident who was jailed for failure to appear over 2 traffic tickets. While in jail she had a severe asthma attack, and someone did call 911. But when paramedics arrived, no one was around to take them to Ms. Kimble. It took them 8 minutes after arriving to get back to her, 8 minutes during which her body finally lost its ability to survive under its own relentless attack.

This is not a new problem with the jail. The responding paramedic wrote in her report that
Every time I’ve been to the justice center it takes 10 to 15 minutes to even get to the patient. There is never anyone to guide us and never any sense of urgency.
I'd like to know what moron thought it would be a good idea to not have some basic medical supplies and people with a bare minimum of emergency training on hand for situations just like this. What's probably more likely, though, is that there was some moron who sold the outsourcing of inmates' medical care as a way to "shrink government" while lining the pockets of various business associates.

So because of a lack of an inhaler or at most an individual dose of adrenaline, an innocent woman died. But wait, you say. She wasn't innocent! She was in jail. Except that most people in jail are innocent, because that is where they wait until they have their trial, unless of course they can come up with their bond money. And while providing for the detention of suspects considered a flight risk or a danger, the law says that anyone who has not had a trial is innocent.

That's the deeper issue here, the real cause of stories like these. Americans have forgotten that the people who are arrested are not guilty of anything, at least not yet. Their fellow citizens sitting in jail cells have not been found guilty of any crime. And if they are convicted, once their sentence is done, once their "debt is paid to society," then they are supposed to be citizens again. But that has become not good enough for this society. Those convicted of crimes must pay for the rest of their lives, by forcing them to report convictions on applications, by permanently taking away their right to vote, by not caring enough about our prisoners to make sure that when they do get out they've had opportunities in prison to improve more than their ability to do violence and their sense that society will never have a place for them to make a living honestly.

We dismiss the casual sadism of jailers who don't care enough about their charges to make sure that paramedics can reach them in time to save their lives. We joke about the violence that takes place in prisons, and always, we always clamor for more penalties, more activities to be made into crimes, more felonies, more jails, more prisons, more violence, more sadism, more Lavonda Kimbles lying on the cold tile floor of the St. Louis Justice Center struggling to take in even one God damned breath as their bodies slowly and inexorably squeeze themselves to death.

Some day you're going to breathe your last breath, and when you do you'd better hope with all your might that St. Peter standing at the Pearly Gates has a more lenient attitude toward your crimes than you did toward Lavonda Kimble.

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