Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Polar Wind from Congress

That blows nobody any good.

I gotta digest this article on the increasing polarization of the Congress a bit. It conflicts a bit with what I thought before -- indeed, I read an article years ago in the NYT talking about the decrease in moderates in both parties -- problem being that it treated both parties the same while the article's data showed that Republicans went from perhaps 1/3 or 1/2 moderates to like 90% farther right, while the Dems went from something like 1/2 moderate to 60% polarized farther left -- meaning they still had more moderates than the Republicans.

Of course, judging where someone is in a spectrum in a specific way against a static measure is almost meaningless by definition, as knowledge and times change. Nevertheless, I hardly feel like the Left has gotten More Left as much as the Right has gotten More Right -- and though it's easy to just say that's my own bias or lack of self-insight, I didn't make up that NYT article (I just don't have time to find it.)

Anyway. Read the article.


N.B. I really don't feel like finding the links, but it seems like Sarah Palin might be, oh, let's say 80 or 90% not to blame for the "Wasilla charging rape victims for their rape kits." One can, and many do, argue that she had the responsibility to know about it and stop it, and that she hired a sheriff who she should've known was going to do this, but it's far from as if she ordered it, and there's no direct evidence she knew about it. So she can at least plausibly by thought to not have paid adequate attention to the details of her (not overly large) town as Mayor, but she's hardly the seeming monster that one thinks of when one thinks of someone purposefully instituting a policy like that. It doesn't change that I think she's utterly unqualified, but it's important to dislike people for the right, facts-as-well-as-you-can-determine them reasons, rather than for expedient or truthy reasons.

Reason #Eleventy-One why Obama's "inexperience" is not the same as Palin's

Interesting article here from Ruth Marcus of the WaPo (Washington Post). "McCain vs. Palin" is the matchup she envisions, although that delightful debate mental image is actually just a vehicle to talk about Palin's qualifications (achem, lack thereof) and doesn't actually stage a hypothetical meetup between the two parts of the Republican ticket. Sure, what she actually wrote might be more informative, but why break with MSM tradition and inform us?

Anyway, cynicism aside, she makes the point about Palin that I think people, especially the "liberal media" and liberals themselves have been scared out of making: Palin isn't just inexperienced, she's not... um... worldly, let's say. Well-read, let's say. Well-traveled, let's say.

Ok, let's say it: she's not the brightest Cougar in the pack.

This is not to say that she's dumb in some sort of, um, "below average" way -- just that she's too dumb to be Vice. Her statements to Katie Couric that continued to support the idea that somehow Russia's physical proximity to Alaska is relevant to foreign policy -- "It's very important when you consider even national-security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America. Where--where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to--to our state." -- as Fareed Zakaria says in his rather good article on Palin,
There is, of course, the sheer absurdity of the premise. Two weeks ago I flew to Tokyo, crossing over the North Pole. Does that make me an expert on Santa Claus? (Thanks, Jon Stewart.) But even beyond that, read the rest of her response. "It is from Alaska that we send out those ..." What does this mean? This is not an isolated example. Palin has been given a set of talking points by campaign advisers, simple ideological mantras that she repeats and repeats as long as she can. ("We mustn't blink.") But if forced off those rehearsed lines, what she has to say is often, quite frankly, gibberish.
I might amend myself and say Palin is simply inexperienced or unknowledgeable -- except it seems to me that anyone with half a mind would've given up the "we're close to Russia" talking point long before now, which several commentators have pointed out. Someone smart would've made it a soundbite -- "Well, I did say that we were close to Russia, but that was tongue-in-cheek," and then made a politically plausible if still ultimately untrue argument, like "The real point is that, having been so close to Russia, it has been quite an inspiration to deeply study what's going on there, having that presence there makes one curious about the world, and as a result I've felt compelled to read up, to understand our neighbor there." This seems self-evidently not true, as she hasn't shown any special real knowledge of Russia, but if they gave her a crash course and a couple of plausibly deep conservative observations on Russia, they'd have fixed a lot of their problem there, thinkst I. It seems to me that both Palin and her handlers must be incompetent not to have caught that -- or better prepared her questions on the bailout! Instead of what Zakaria described as "This is nonsense--a vapid emptying out of every catchphrase about economics that came into her head..."

BUT, we can't make any of those arguments, because of the worries of anti-intellecutalism and the foul cries of elitism that would come from the Republicans. But it's not -- or doesn't have to be. Traveling abroad is a bit of a luxury for many Americans and simply not on the radar of many others that could afford it -- a discussion for another time. But I could plausibly give you "She hasn't been abroad" -- I could grant someone that -- if she was obviously some sort of student of history. If she'd shown mastery of a subject besides political craftsmanship (her "skills" in which are actually whithering under national attention now), being a working mother, and outdoorsiness. All of those are valuable skills -- just utterly irrelevant ones for national office.

The thing is, in a certain way, the cries of elitism from "the masses" are valid. Getting into top US universities takes ability, LUCK, and, on average, big money. And these top schools are still entrée into elite circles like politics and the top of the business world. We do have terrible problems with class in the US, and our politicians are mostly Patricians who have made their fortune, or are making it from legal and illegal graft in the national government, and the rich and Ivy League educated do dominate the upper echelons of power in the US. Liberals -- and recently, conservatives berating the lack of a deal for the bailout going through -- decrying the idiocy of the common American does nothing to change things for the better. The problem is, when you don't have access to the abilities to better yourself -- good schools for your children, job retraining, and say, free tuition to higher education (see, i.e., a number other countries) -- psychologically, what can you do except belittle the need for them, if only to stay a bit more sane and able to live your day-to-day without never-ending angst? I'm being a bit melodramatic here, but it's true that getting ahead, the "American Dream" is the American exception; most poor stay that way. Many, if not most of the rich are born into privelege. Can you blame people for hatred against the elites? It's the same anger that Edwards was stirring up -- among these same types of people we now berate as "dumb."

The problem is, somehow the Republicans have the corner on a large segment of this class anger, and channel it into counter-productive reactionism. (Another tie to the Southern Strategy, perhaps?) What we need is to stop, as it were, blaming the victim of those Americans in poor schools that are utterly failing to teach critical thinking, and give people the credit for the agency they have. (This is a longer conversation, but I've been against the "people are dumb" meme since I read the excellent "Trust Us, We're Experts" on how that meme started and continues to be used to betray public interest, like in asserting GM foods are fine.) With both the Media and the Schools failing people, well -- garbage in, garbage out. Without adequate training (i.e. GOOD EDUCATION) and good information (which, as I've said, requires me to read an hour+ of news every day, hardly possible for every American), it's not as simple as dumbness.

Nevertheless -- back on topic -- Obama is intellectually curious, well-read, well-traveled. People, for I think not outrageous resasons, want a president that understands them, that is not in the self-sustaining elite class. The fact that there aren't, percentage-wise, that many people who are both well-educated and from humble background (and not sold out to corporate greed) is a failure of the system and not just the individuals. But we need to understand that before we make the argument that Palin is dumb and ill-read -- which she is. That judgement comes from education both from books AND "from the street" -- where Obama also worked, if they'll recall. (Of course, he'll never be "just one of the guys," because most of "the guys" in the US aren't, you know, black.) It's not a judgement of Palin as a person to say that she is not well-read enough to be Vice. And it's not just that she lacks executive experience, which they point out, to some extent accurately, that Obama lacks, too. It's the will and desire to learn about issues outside of herself, that challenge her and her world, that she lacks and Obama has. And we need to find a way to say that that at the same time is not accusatory to the thousands, millions of Americans who, for no fault of their own, were not able to succeed as Obama did, from humble origins. If we forget that it is not just skill that got him where he is, but no small amount of luck, then we are guilty of that elitism, and we're telling people the same tired and wrong message as the Republicans: if you didn't get ahead and get the American dream, it's all your own fault.

We know better.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Good Points from Fred Kaplan

J-Fave Fred Kaplan of Slate rules in favor of Obama in last night's debate on foreign policy issues. He points out the fantastic -- fantastic in terms of being at utter odds with reality -- portions of McCain's statements and the relatively more informed statements of Sen. Obama. Of course, I still think it was a ridiculously boring debate lacking on important details of any kind, but Kaplan's assessment of McCain's utterly goofy ideas (a League of Democracies that not only might be by definition incapable of meeting its own objectives, but also is not backed by supposed members of a potential league) does show again, at least, that Obama would be the realistically better president (imho), even if he was as politically charmless and substance-free as McCain for the most part last night (again, imho).

Obama avoided any boldness, anything showing how he would fundamentally (not cosmetically) change course (a tax cut for the middle class and under is fine and dandy but hardly revolutionary), and gave a lot of non-answers. I think, at this point, I actually prefer John Kerry's debate performances, purely in terms of content. I often agreed with Kerry, once I deciphered what he meant to say it seemed like a great or challenging idea. When you boil down Obama's "nuanced" responses, they usually came out to something like "we should follow my plan, which is specified in detail elsewhere," or "McCain is wrong about this and I have the vision and ability to be right." That's not all he said, but it's the majority; nuance and substance is one thing, nuance and blather is another. I expected more of him -- though everyone seems to agree, he is a remarkably poor debater simply by dint of how his debating pales in comparison to his oration.

Oh, well. What can you expect from a nation that complains of elitism and punishes people for being or sounding too educated, even among our supposed leaders?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Slate Idiotically Conflates Lack of Style with Substance

Christopher Beam's brief dispatch for the debate exemplifies much of my problem with Slate these days. Depth of analysis, they don't got.

Beam makes the rather inarguable point that the debate was boring, along with the pretty uncontroversial point that boring can be good in comparison to hair-trigger idiotic mud-slinging. He comments that boring is good because, nominally, the evening was heavy on substance.


While substance may be boring (especially to the news media), it is NOT the fact that boredom means you're getting some substance vegetables in your presidential election dinner that you have to finish before you get to the dessert of irresponsible speculation and obsession with personal details. BORING does NOT equal SUBSTANCE!!!!

Is that really all that hard to realize? The fact that they talked a LOT about the issues in excruciating detail doesn't actually mean that they talked about the issues substantively -- the details were puffery, distortions, and contextless factoids. Indeed, I think it was boring largely because they did all they could to not dwell into substance -- despite Lehrer's occasional helpful suggestion of substantive topics, which they talked around such that he returned to his initial question around 5 times subsequently. If you have to say a lot without saying anything, a sure way is to be boring. They didn't tell us their economic strategies (other than "Yes tax cuts" "No on loopholes" "His plan is more expensive" "No, HIS plan is more expensive" "Freeze spending" "Invest in our future and alternative energy" -- nothing I couldn't have guessed or told you about BEFORE the debate). Bland generalities is not wonky, it's politically expedient.

I'm sorry. It just drives me crazy -- the immediate assumption that substance is hard and boring and that's why it's avoided so much by the mainstream news, all the more reason to avoid it in favor of "Gotcha!" news reporting, except for the fact that, at least Christopher Beam, doesn't even seem to understand what substance is. I'll give you an example -- saying that you might meet with Iranian President Ahmedinijad, but might not, as the situation calls for it, is not wonky, substantial, or interesting. Saying, for example, that there is much pro-American feeling in Iran, but far far more anti-intervention feeling, and as such you will be pushing for cultural missions and person-to-person exchanges in return for trade concessions (something I just made up whole cloth and not necessarily suggesting) would be substantial -- it's a plan, with details, that you can then debate. Whether or not Obama's theoretical plan that is only referred to obliquely despite the fact that I doubt the general public is familiar with it is better than John McCain's theoretical plan that is only referred to obliquely despite the fact that I doubt the general public is familiar with it is not vegetables. It's just really, really, REALLY bad tasting fast food. The fact that one would even briefly confuse the two is the most distressing thing I've heard all day.

M & O Slip Me a Mickey

Good god, this debate is soporific.

It's hard for me to judge what's going to come of this, but my prediction as an armchair gadfly is that this will swing in McCain's favor. He landed some hits -- the $932 million in supposed pork barrel, that went unanswered and not even indirectly refuted -- he got call himself a maverick and a reformer a couple times, and though it sounded scripted, and isn't, I believe, true, it sounded effective.

Obama actually raised his hand (or actually did that sort of "Waiter -- oh, waiter? Excuse me?" thing) at the beginning of the debate to try and get moderator Jim Lehrer to, well, moderate. He needed to come off as commanding and forceful (without, I suppose, coming off as a threatening black man, ), but he came off still as incredibly schoolmarmish. And actually, his answers were so bland and diffuse that I can't remember any specific thing he said (though the jist of it abides -- things like the fact that McCain was speaking of not "showing your hand" when speaking of attacking a country ("You don't say that aloud."), Obama pointed out that McCain had sang the infamous "Bomb bomb bomb Iran" song -- hit!).

Overall, though, they both bore me, neither said anything bold, both told some lies, and only McCain really had anything soundbite-like. Now, I don't believe in soundbites, but the actually legitimate need they may have arose from was from clarity. Both of them talked around and around and around issues so as to not to commit to anything. Lehrer couldn't even get them to say anything remotely resembling an answer about what they would do or change because of this crisis. ARRGH.

Oh, nice -- Obama just pointed out the McCain is chiding Obama for something his (McCain's) advisor, the war criminal Dr. Henry Kissinger, recently endorsed. But you know -- despite the cheesiness of canned quips and put-downs, this debate REALLY needed (well, needs) some pithy insults.

Oh, for god's sake -- this whole "talking to them legitimates them" thing. Ok, that's it. I'm out. I'm playing some video games.

Paging Dr. Madison...

"At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Welcome to your aspiring fascist state

I hadn't realized that Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman, Nicole Salazar, and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, along with many other journalists, were arrested at the Republican National Convention, despite being credentialed reporters (reporting a nominally "unlawful assembly" -- aka the RNC protests).

This is similar to what happened four years ago at the conventions, with many being baselessly arrested only to have their arrests overturned, and in some cases paying damages to arrested protesters and journalists for the overzealous and repressive police actions.

This also happened at the Miami anti-WTO protest that took place years ago -- 2002 I think -- that faced a near-media blackout, despite a number of people being beaten and arrested by the police, and a number of protesters outside the meetings, and actually there might still be extant lawsuits from the case, as several protesters were quite severely beaten.


In other (old) news: J-Reason #76 Why Proportional Election of Legislators is a Good Idea: Listening to the December 20, 2007 podcast of Democracy Now!, John Conyers argues Ray McGovern on why impeachment is impractical. I agree with Conyers that it is (politically) utterly impractical -- but I also agree with McGovern that the Constitution is declarative in the pertinent section. That is, the Constitution states: "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." That is, it's a command, not a request. It's at least a reasonable common-sense interpretation to say that impeachment is not meant to be done when convenient, but rather that it is a responsibility the same as any other for Congress. This indicates why multiple parties might be better in that the electoral politics changes: one party's loss is not immediately the gain of one other opponent, and thus the coalitions formed between left/center left/moderates/whatever are usually more fluid. That is, while it makes no political sense for the Dems to even whisper impeachment these days, with multiple parties, the risk would be spread and the possibility of a coalition to do it possibly greater (though also, perhaps, more complicated and not in any way a fait accompli).

One might wonder why I still give a shit -- they're almost out of office and it certainly would be bad politics to push for impeachment. But, I feel that leaving those who I think (and many others think) have committed grave crimes in office for expediency's sake is itself a crime against the Constitution, and sets (or rather, continues) a very, very bad precedent for all other presidents.

Basically, it's going to be (for I have no doubt impeachment will not be broached, and, as I said, I sympathize and can agree with this to a large extent) the Constitutional equivalent of screaming "Put it anywhere you want". this past decade will scream to future Americans, especially future presidents, that there are no holds barred in fucking the Constitution, because if you can do what these guys did and get away with it after a senseless show-impeachment like Clinton had (for perjury committed by lying about his sex life in the process of an investigation of something that didn't even turn out to be criminal), there's not much left to do but turn the Constitution into Monica's dress in a direct and literal way.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Slate: Socialism not pure evil!

Who knew that an outlet that could even be vaguely considered mainstream media would advocate a rational conversation on socialism, and the possible compromises between capitalist purity and actually caring about people and the world. (Much less in a Slate-spawned outlet called "The Big Money".)

So anyway, read this. Pretty darn good article, as far as the mainstream goes.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Anekantavada: J goes in for Jainism. Plus: The De-apotheosogenesis of the J Continuum!

Today's featured Wikipedia article is Anekantavada, the Jainist concept that, Wikipedia says,
"refers to the principles of pluralism and multiplicity of viewpoints, the notion that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth. Jains contrast all attempts to proclaim absolute truth with adhgajanyāyah, which can be illustrated through the maxim of the "Blind Men and an Elephant"... This principle is more formally stated by observing that objects are infinite in their qualities and modes of existence, so they cannot be completely grasped in all aspects and manifestations by finite human perception. According to the Jains, only the Kevalins—the omniscient beings—can comprehend objects in all aspects and manifestations; others are only capable of partial knowledge.[4] Consequently, no single, specific, human view can claim to represent absolute truth."a
While J is not going in for the Kevalins -- that is, I'm not suddenly a Jainist rather than an agnostic atheist who thinks it might be nice if some mystical/spiritual elements were real, but mostly unconcerned from day to day if they are since philosophical materialism seems to work well for explaining things a healthy bit of the time -- Anekantavada seems to express perfectly the ideas behind why I started this blog. I have ideas. Many of them. Too many perhaps. And I want share them, and develop them, and get to know others' ideas, and talk and argue and laugh about it all... very few things in life make me happier than exchanging ideas and learning about things together with people in convivial environs. I'm not willing to wholly give up the name of the Continuum yet; the name first occured to me as an undergrad when I first learned about HTML and made my own homepage. For those that didn't get it, it's a not-overly-wry reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation, after the nigh-omnipotent Q Continuum. Without getting too nerdy, the Qs sort of claimed to be omnipotent and omniscient, but mainly one of them in particular spent a lot of time creating contrived and annoying problems for the Star Trek crew such that interesting things could happen to people that nominally no longer had internal strife or disagreements (Gene Rodenberry's dream for future humans -- a nice idea, but makes for somewhat stilted plots). So I liked the idea of taking these Godly Beings and implying that J & J Friends were a special group of beings somewhat rather lower on all-knowing-all-powerful scale (the "de-apotheosis" referred to in the title -- the UnGodding of the Q) but still pretty awesome (and sarcastic and mischevious, a la John De Lancie's portrayal of Q).

Anyway, that oh-so-geekly origin is probably actually a great reason to completely change the name, now that everyone knows the too-clever-by-not-even-a-half joke behind it, but still, I like it. I also like the serendipitous find of Anekantavada. So, I guess for the time being, I'll keep both. If my literally threes of readers uprise, I'll deal with it then.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Is this a warranted case of guilt by association?

On old-timey J-fave Counterpunch, defense attorney Tiphaine Dickson talks about the anti-semitic, red-baiting, racist, absolutist author who came up with a passage Palin has been quoting repeatedly, about how "we grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity," came from one Westbrook Pelger, who doesn't seem to have been a very nice or good person. (Bigotry was, according to him, a duty of Americans, and political correctness shouldn't keep Americans from loudly and proudly being bigots, despite the wrong-headed New York pinheads who associated it with Nazism.) He originally wrote the quoted passage about Truman -- a bit of time after he apparently said of the same man: "This Truman is thin-lipped, a hater, and not above offering you his hand to yank you off balance, and work you over with a chair leg, a pool cue, or something out of his pocket." (Flip flop? Nuance? Changing your mind with new information?)

The significance, of course, is that, as Dickson points out, campaign speeches are meticulously planned and (usually?) well-researched. The McCain camp has tried to re-habilitate Pelger in order to use his quote endorsing good, small-town folks. Maybe it doesn't mean anything in the larger scheme, but it certainly seems impolitic to use such a hateful person's words to try and proclaim the goodness and wisdom of small-town US; one could go back farther to Will Rogers perhaps -- except he ended up a Democrat and Roosevelt supporter; one could appropriate the words of seemingly gentle humorist, womanizer, creepy-ish old guy and oddly polarizing (and at times oddly vitriolic) radio personality Garrison Keillor, except for -- well, except for all that stuff I just wrote about him, AND the fact that he's a Democrat; one could go for Jim Hightower or the late and dearly lamented Molly Ivins, but daggum it, doesn't it just figure -- they are/were Democrats as well.

Of course, it'd be silly to maintain small-town people are all Democrats, or that folksy wisdom is a Democratic monopoly -- sort of like how it'd be silly to maintain that Republicans are all cigar-smoking, wine and brandy drinking, rich self-centered people who pretended to be folksy in order to convince people that, despite Ivy League educations or great wealth, they're all down-homey, too. No, that's just all the leaders of their party. (One good stereotype deserves another).

Anyway, Counterpunch is an online magazine more like Newsweek than Slate or a scholarly journal, where things tend to be better sourced, so I always approach their articles with a sort of eagerness with a thin slice of dubiousness on top -- so go check it out for yourself.

Wherein Everyone Looks Bad

In today's installment of the J Continuum, two quick bits from Slate's spin-off site, "The Root," a

daily online magazine that provides thought-provoking commentary on today's news from a variety of black perspectives. The site also hosts an interactive genealogical section to trace one's ancestry through AfricanDNA.com, a DNA testing site co-founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who is also The Root's Editor-In-Chief.
<digression> I present here their first paragraph from their "About Us," because just saying it's Slate's "Black Issues" online magazine diminishes it, the effort, and the intention too much (i.e. it makes it sound like it's a specialist magazine, whereas it's actually general commentary, just oriented around race in America; it makes it sound like stories by or about black people are just FOR black people, and insinuates that "black issues" or race issues only concern black people, where in reality, race is a dynamic between multiple groups, and therefore "black issues" are actually "societal issues" that we all should be concerned with).</digression>

So anyways. Voter disenfranchisement, Republican dirty tricks, right here in my own backyard in Michigan: unimaginable, I know.</sarcasm> (It's worth noting that in the last link there, under the "know", Greg Palast points out that it's not a strictly party thing, he argues that in Cook County, Ill., -- County-of-J's-youth -- black disenfranchisement helps keep the Daley machine in office (which is rather totally believable).

The other bit for today, to cut the other way, are two articles critiquing Obama -- or really, the important one is the one in the Houston Press News (that I found via this article) about what the reporter sees as Obama's long-established careerism and political aspirations keeping him from doing as much as he could to help his own district in Chicago, as a community organizer and as a politician, and it's the first actually somewhat concrete proof of what I've heard several times: that he rose in no small part (as anyone in that climate would have to) through the Illinois' political machine's machinations. Interestingly, the reporter still finds him inspiring, even after being chewed out and fair-weather-unfriended by Obama. Of course, I guess I should be understanding -- I think Obama's going to be/is as much of a politician as anyone, and I still find him inspiring. I may even vote for him yet -- McCain is growing scarier by the day, and it would be nice to have someone in the White House that says the things I believe in, even if -- and this is my basic analysis of Democrats -- they continue to DO all the things I don't believe in. At least they can make it sound good. (And please note: McCain's increased scariness is pushing me more towards the "safe" option of Obama, but it's not as if I've even briefly considered voting *for* McCain in 2008; not to shock everyone, but I just hadn't previously planned on voting Democratic either. Guess I'm that all-important political independent... funny, for some reason the news doesn't usually characterize independents as being socialists...)

(Extra super special duper side note: I can back up the Houston reporter's reporting of Obama chewing him out, swearing at him, etc. -- an acquaintance of mine worked relatively high up in the Clinton campaign, and the acquaintance tells me that when she met Barack Obama, he said something to the effect of "Why the fuck are you working for her?" -- being that, I guess, she's black. This was without provocation, and wayyyyy before Hilary looked out of the race and was staying in by the skin of her teeth. I know this acquaintance pretty well and have no reason to disbelieve her. She, having been in DC a long time, said that in person, behind-the-scenes, he's not actually that nice of a guy. There's no reason to think he's any less nice than many other politicians, among whom there are undoubtedly many SOBs, I'm sure, but still...)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

White Like Him

Read this great post on Buzzflash by the appropriately named Tim Wise.

by Tim Wise

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a "fuckin’ redneck," like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll "kick their fuckin' ass," and talk about how you like to "shoot shit" for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re "untested"...

You really should read the rest.

Readers, especially my white readers, should perhaps note that White Privelege is not, in itself, an accusation or indictment. I learned in some valuable diversity seminars (seriously, they were good) at my old job that it takes quite a bit of work for a group of people of different races and backgrounds to come to believe and understand simultaneously that: a) there is still racism, which has likely negatively affected minorities in the group (including women -- "minorities" in this sense means groups whose sociopolitical power is "minor to" their proportion in the population), and b) it is not personally accusatory for it to be said or believed that racism is still at work within an institution. Indeed, there's a phrase for it: institutional racism.

As with White Privelege, the point is not that White People Are Bad or some similarly simplistic message ("This Is Your Fault"), but rather that the system we've inherited, incontrovertibly, was built on a racist heritage. White people, normatively speaking (being that they are normatively better off) are better off in no small part because of past discrimination. I think of it this way, in part: if my grandfather stole your grandfather blind, and was able to raise my father in a better environment and send him to a better school (or was able to help found, support and build a better school), then I have benefitted from the ill actions of my grandfather, and your family has been hurt by it. Property law certainly can be interpreted to mean that I owe you what was stolen, since I have gained from it -- whether or not it was my fault, my success is in at least some part due to an ill-gotten heritage -- but more important than property law is, I believe, an obligation to help those who are worse off, especially if the source of their difficulties is in some part tied to the source of my advantages.

The point of all this is that responsibility doesn't start, or end, at guilt, but rather that fighting racism doesn't simply mean not being actively racist oneself, but also fighting the vestiges and inequalities today that it generated. The fact that one is Priveleged does not mean one is Guilty, but I would argue it does morally impel one to Responsible Action to work to remedy the source of such privelege, regardless of personal, individual responsibility for that source. Some people (achem, i.e., libertarians) ignore or disagree with these view to responsibility, as apparently there is a statute of limitations such that if I can rip you off and get away with it, once I can pass it to my kids, it's not their problem and you or your kids don't deserve anything despite the wrong against you (see Dick 2, 2 Hank 4, and Hank 5 -- that is, Shakespeare's Richard II, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V).

Anyway. Sarah Palin. More bad stuff. White privelege. And did you freaking hear about the rape kits -- Palin's city of Wasilla's former policy of charging raped women for their rape kits? Even the conservative National Review Online sees this as pretty egregious, and though it argues that there's no evidence Palin knew about it, they do concede that she had a responsbility as mayor to have known what her Police Chief was doing and put a stop to it. It is interesting that the NRO reporter engages in what can only be called moral relativism, in that he tries to excuse the situation by saying: other places have charged for rape kits, and (more non sequitirly) Obama voted "present" on an importnat bill on child abuse. (I was inclined to examine and defeat that last claim by the NRO, but for now it suffices to say that this is irrelevant as to the question the article is nominally about -- Palin, Wasilla, and rape kits -- and that I somehow doubt that the implied characterization of Obama's vote is wholly accurate or impartial.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Oh, Barf. And I'm not talking about the famous Mog played by the late John Candy.

"Politifact" reviews lies, distortions, pants-on-fire lying by McCain.

I'm sure one can find similar items in Obama's campaigning -- indeed, I think PolitiFact itself does if you explore the website -- but of course, a) it's not like I think O's a saint, and b) saying everyone who may be president tells outrageous lies is not a defense, it's a cause for seppuku.

But seriously: ew, just, just, ew. Jonny Mac should be ashamed of himself; if he ever did think of himself as an honorable politician or a reformer, he shouldn't now. But I guess if you spend that much time up Bush's ass, you're bound to end up covered in shit.

Oh noes.

Charlie Gibson's interview of Sarah Palin shows that she seems to agree that being able to physically see Russia from Alaska is a valid foreign policy qualification; she didn't know what "The Bush Doctrine" was before Gibson told her, and that despite all this, she didn't hesitate to think that she was experienced enough for Veep when McCain called her. I think this last bit is a lie, actually, but either way, she apparently wants us to think that not blinking, reflecting, or cautiously considering when someone asks you "Can you do a job on which lives depend?" is as morally essential as not blinking when looking into the eyes of, I guess, Putin or foreign aggressors -- rather than cocky, careless, cavalier, and borderline negligent.

Gumshoe Jack Shafer at Slate has a good analysis -- but the question is, will people care? Probably those who already like her -- no. But there's a good chance those on the fence who aren't already swayed by her "Leave it to Beaver" aw-shucks "charm" will, you know, actually care about the substance of what she's saying and this virtuoso performance of lack of substance (unless by substance you mean "politically savvy in obfuscation and answering a different question than you were asked, intentionally and repeatedly) should help sway such Independents and Doubting Clarence Thomases* away from her...

(Disclaimer: I say this because the pun appealed to me, and not because I have for one moment swayed in my belief that Thomas is an apparatchik nubbin on the deformed judicial flipper of the Republican machine.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Its You're Problem

Hee hee. Too true.

I'm kind of a spelling diva, but I usually at least manage to keep it to myself, since it matters naught 75% of the time, and barring rampent crayzee miss pellyings, it doesn't (in my at least circles) correspond with a lack of erudition or learning, and the meaning is usually clear nonetheless, so why worry about it unless you simply enjoy worrying for its own sake? As Language Log often points out, "It's just the rules!" by itself is an unconvincing and senseless argument (not to mention whenever people say that about grammar at least, they seem to usually be wrong, in accordance with Muphry's Law).

Damned Tootin'

Found while thesis writing:

Safe at any scale? Food scares, food regulation, and scaled alternatives

Author(s): DeLind LB (DeLind, Laura B.), Howard PH (Howard, Philip H.)
Source: AGRICULTURE AND HUMAN VALUES Volume: 25 Issue: 3 Pages: 301-317 Published: SEP 2008

The 2006 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, traced to bagged spinach from California, illustrates a number of contradictions. The solutions sought by many politicians and popular food analysts have been to create a centralized federal agency and a uniform set of production standards modeled after those of the animal industry. Such an approach would disproportionately harm smaller-scale producers, whose operations were not responsible for the epidemic, as well as reduce the agroecological diversity that is essential for maintaining healthy human beings and ecosystems. Why should responses that only reinforce the problem be proffered? We use the framework of accumulation and legitimation to suggest corporate and government motives for concealing underlying problems and reinforcing powerful ideologies of individualism, scientism, and centralizing authority. Food safety (or the illusion of safety) is being positioned to secure capital rather than public welfare. We propose implementing the principle of subsidiarity as a more democratic and decentralized alternative. Because full implementation of this principle will be resisted by powerful interests, some promising intermediate steps include peer production or mass collaboration as currently applied to disease prevention and surveillance, as well as studying nascent movements resisting current food safety regulations.

The journal can be found here: Agriculture and Human Values, though I'm sorry to say it's behind a subscription wall. Your tax dollars at work -- keeping you from knowing the research you've helped subsidize. =]

The article seems to be following the tact suggested a while back by noted political scientist and food policy researcher Ken Dahlberg of Western Michigan University and more recently by Michael Pollan of The Omnivore's Dilemma fame. (Yes, I'm too lazy/busy to look up the link to Amazon or whatnot for The O's D for you. Deal. =) That is, local food isn't just better for the environment, it's better for food safety -- because with centralization, an outbreak at one center could mean the whole Eastern Seaboard gets salmonella poisoning; if you get your meat from John or Joan the Butcher or Jacob or Jackie the Farmer, if they fuck up, perhaps tens, hundreds of people are affected, max -- and they also know where to look. That is, the accountability structure doesn't break down. Either John, Joan, Jacob and Jackie were negligent -- in which case, they're going to lose a lot business, and rightly so -- or it was a legitimate mishap beyond their controlling or at least within reasonability, and their customers will stay loyal out of personal faith and trust that this was an exception. (Plus, the 4 Js will probably give you a discount for a while.) Meanwhile, accountability for recent break-outs has been diffuse, confusing, uncertain, and hard to follow, to the point where it's mostly gone from the public mind again, yet I doubt many think the system that produced such an outbreak has substantively reformed (much less a negligent company going out of business, or firing anyone for the mistake other than the lowest people on the line).

Schlosser, Pollan and others attempting to be the Upton Sinclairs of our times seem to have made an impact, but we're still not getting it. Perhaps they're not socialist enough.

Oldies by AAAAAAHHHies

Old news, but important to know, and remember (and remember that these types of things are not at all limited to Republican administrations) (well, maybe, maybe except for the deputizing thing):

From Democracy Now!, February 11, 2008

Report: Over 23,000 Business Leaders Working With FBI and Homeland Security
The Progressive magazine is reporting that more than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The business leaders form a group known as InfraGard that receives warnings of terrorist threats directly from the FBI before the public does. We speak with the the reporter who broke the story and the editor of The Progressive, Matt Rothschild.

US Embassy in Bolivia Tells Fulbright Scholar and Peace Corps Volunteers to Spy on Venezuelans and Cubans in Bolivia (Which is patently unethical and against the spirits, and the exact signed agreements, at the core of these programs -- J)
An American Fulbright scholar and Peace Corps volunteers in Bolivia say the US embassy told them to spy on Venezuelans and Cubans in Bolivia. We go to Bolivia to speak with the Fulbright scholar Alexander van Schaick and Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, the reporter who broke the story for ABC News.

Report: U.S. Funding Opposition Groups in Bolivia
The US embassy in Bolivia has been using American taxpayer money to help fund opposition groups, according to an article in The Progressive magazine. We speak with journalist Benjamin Dangl, who broke the story.

It's worth quoting this last report at length, and noting that this is definitively the same type of thing you see from the US, under Democratic OR Republican presidencies -- and it's the type of thing that shows me that Barack Obama's rhetoric doesn't match his stated principles. Because if it did -- these common practices are something he would have to, imho, focus on, castigate, and promise to stop... instead, I hear mainly crickets in that area.

BENJAMIN DANGL: Right. In the four main rightwing-led departments in Bolivia, which geographically looks kind of like a half-moon on the eastern part of the country, they’re very rich in natural resources, gas wealth. A lot of the land that’s set to be redistributed by Morales is based in Santa Cruz. And these leaders in these departments are working to decentralize the power of the government and work to redirect the funding, the profits from a partially nationalized gas reserve, to their departments. The constitutional—the changes in the new constitution have also been protested by this rightwing, and the various demands for autonomy are pushing for—against the changes that the government is advocating. And the main banner that these rightwing groups are holding up is this demand for autonomy, which USAID has explicitly supported.

AMY GOODMAN: You say, Benjamin Dangl, in your piece in The Progressive, “Undermining Bolivia”—your conversation with Raul Prada, who’s sitting with you eating ice cream. His face is black and blue. What happened to him? What’s he saying?

BENJAMIN DANGL: Well, he had been beaten up in Sucre while the constitutional assembly was meeting there. And Sucre was the place of—was the site of a lot of violence in November of last year, where rightwing groups were attacking MAS assembly members, like Raul Prada. And he explained to me that he believed that the USAID was also—has also been organizing with rightwing governors, working to build the infrastructure of these governor positions and basically empower them in this very polarized political setting in Bolivia, and in some cases capacitate assembly members for their work in the assembly.

AMY GOODMAN: You quote Evo Morales at a diplomatic gathering in La Paz, saying, “I cannot understand how some ambassadors dedicate themselves to politics, and not diplomacy, in our country. . . . That is not called cooperation. That is called conspiracy,” says the Bolivian president.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Cogent Analysis of MSNBC's Olbermann/Matthews Bullshit

Read here.

And of course, the worst of it is that the most rightward folks, from the Falwells and Dobsons and Norquists through the David Brookses of the world gets time on TV, far more often than the Amy Goodman, Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, or Ralph Naders of the world. As I've long maintained, there is no far that is too far Right to be on TV (except, I suppose, people who openly advocate killing, say, blacks, Jews, and gays -- though especially the latter is only sometimes considered unacceptable), but woah-ho-HOOO! Chris "Mission Accomplished Gave Me a Woody" Matthews and Keith Olbermann -- left and an intelligent and sharp critic, but no Goodman, Ali, Chomsky, Nader or Moore -- they got to GO! Way too left!

What the fuck.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Random Bit from the Internet

This guy, talking about Livonia, "whitest city in America." It's a good piece, and I'd only want to point out that the dude may be right about the binary nature of the comparison being (somewhat) unfair ("cities" being 100,000 people+, the ranks of which Livonia joined in the last census), since it actually may be better than the richer and more gated communities not far from it and all over the Detroit area. (Which is not to say Livonia is not also relatively well-off as a city, it's just no Grosse Point Blank.)

Radically Elementary Wisdom on Education

From that hotbed of insane communist pinko-socialism, Britain, comes this idea: spend more per student on kids in poor public schools than on kids in better public schools.

It's just crazy enough to work -- and to never, ever get tried, broached, or seriously considered in the way the linked Slate article implies happened in Britain, here at home. (And yet more evidence that our Democrats are what would be considered "Center Right" politicians in almost everywhere in the world but here, leaving us without what would be a more universally understood "Leftist" politics.)


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hah! For all my Melittologists, what what! Plus: Apis Samanthas

Hat tip to Daktari:

Bee Dance

(Though should really all be chicks. Chick bees, that is. You know what I mean.)

And speaking of Anthophila, our favorite Apis via Feministing, Samantha Bee on... um... decisions... um... what was it? Alternatives?... for Bristol... at the RNC...

Why the impulse to vote for "That dude/tte I can have a beer with" makes sense: a progressive perspective

I've just been thinking about, and talking about with J-Mom, the whole "I'mna vote for a normal guy/gal, cuz I don't want no uppity folks with no horse sense makin' decisions for my country," phenomenon of the past few election cycles (or at least, the perception of the increase in this impulse in the past few elections).

Now, certainly this comes in part from the anti-education strain of "progressiveness" in the Republican propaganda, and some of it is a naive "he's a person, just like me, who understands my troubles." (And certainly, in the case of, say, Bush, it's completely artifice since he comes from a family with deep roots in Eastern elitism, wealth, Ivy League, etc.)

But in talking to J-Mom, I remembered myself of just eight years ago; before I became a news junkie, I assumed that basically the US system was ok, and just needed some mild reform to fix. Sure, politicians were politicians, but there wasn't a rot at the core. And I don't think I used to be a purely dumb person -- I just hadn't done the research, in effect.

Just like it takes a certain disposition to be ok with atheism -- to come face to face with that existential crisis of "this is all there is" and to accept it -- it takes a certain disposition (and exposure) to be ok with the fact that our government really, really ISN'T basically ok. That is, pretty much all of our politicians are out for themselves, and not the public good, to a greater or lesser extent. AND, our government has done some pretty horrific things in our names (Iraq is just the latest; cf. the Contra War/Iran-Contra, overthrowing Mossadegh and installing the Shah in Iran, intervention in Haiti, the "Spanish-American War," support for Augusto Pinochet, the Viet Nam war and the Gulf of Tonkin, etc. etc.). (This is not to say that people are inherently out for themselves; I don't believe in "human nature" in that manner of speaking (we're also not inherently cooperative; we're both at the same time, far more complex and more/less reassuring) -- but politicians, by the nature of what they have to do to get where they are, are overwhelmingly out for themselves, imho.) Having taught a class highlighting these actions by our government (as well as going through my own realizations) I know how hard it is to accept that the US is not "#1", unless we mean "#1 at looking at for ourselves using heavy artillery." We're just not a nice people on the world stage.

Any road -- it's much easier to accept that our government is made of good people who occasionally err, than that the elected politicians are basically out to preserve the status quo of American Empire. And if you do believe that there are forces out to preserve the advantages of the elites, it makes far more sense to try and find someone "normal," who won't betray your interests, because they share your optimism, your jingoism, your sense of being slighted, your religion. Basically -- Republicans. It's not just an appeal to prejudices (though that's part of it) -- it's an appeal to the belief that we are in control of our own government; that we can believe in something, and that the scary prospect of fundamental change in the system needn't be so seriously considered. After all, if our government is so cynical, we are complicit in it -- and who needs that on top of other problems?

So I get it, on a certain level. It requires me to remember who I was before, when I was an occasional news watcher, and didn't realize "how deep the Rabbit Hole went". As I've said to many people, I read several hours of news a day to get the understanding I have -- who among us can do that? Of course people buy a lot of bullshit, I'm sure I do too, but being a professional researcher with more flexibility than any non-academic worker, it's not that I'm smarter, it's that my training is in doubting everything and verifying it with 8 sources. (It is true that we are trying to avoid teaching critical thinking to our kids -- as Paulo Freire said -- paraphrased -- you can't expect the system that oppresses people and uses them as workers to educate these same people about the true nature of the system and how to fight it. So while we're all complicit in this, and every person has some responsibility to educate themselves, there's also the odds stacked against them.)

I came to these ideas in part because it also explains the PUMA phenomenon, that is, those that identified Hillary's struggles with their own and thus continue, or continued to support her, despite the fact that their background is as similar to hers as Bush's is. What they shared was a sense of aggrievement -- and it seems to have clearly (from non-PUMA's perspectives) overshadowed all of their goddamned sense, since the last thing a Clinton stood for was real change. (Implicit in all this is my belief that Obama won't, alas, bring real change either, but at this point, it is refreshing to hear someone voice true ideals I believe in, even if I am extremely skeptical they'll follow them.)

Of course, this strain of discourse flows from, I believe, a deeply cynical place, a place right at our founding where, Howard Zinn convincingly argues, there was not the same strain of deep racism, as class lines held people together more closely. He gives evidence in his fascinating (if hard to slog through sometimes) People's History of the United States that the Color Lines separating the interests of poor whites and poor blacks were not only not preexisting, but consciously constructed, rather than the result of some kind of natural racial antipathy.* This is, interestingly, possibly the same font as the invention of "White Trash," a construction I read about briefly from a book on the floor of J-Friend Lindsay's place, left there by one of her roommates. Knowledge comes from the darndest places -- it argued essentially that White Trash was a consciously employed derogatory term to further separate White and Black class interests in common. But... digress.

So I can understand the impulse to have someone "just like you," rather than an elite who will preserve elite interests, as they always have. And I understand the willfull self-delusion to construe political figures as being normal folks, rather than believing the alternative -- that they're deeply cynical, self-serving elites deploying cultural signals to appear like you, though they are not you. It's hard to admit that, and not forget that -- because doing so gives up the last vestiges of easy control over a system gone awry, and few wish to look into that abyss...

And seriously, PUMAs? If Dems can convince themselves that the real sexism Hillary faced means her elite background has something in common with the trials of everyday women/folks, then I can have some sympathy for the delusions necessary to believe Palin's moose-skinning is pertinent to the dream of having someone who knows your troubles be in charge. (Even if I believe in the end that it is deeply, deeply... wrong.)

* From Zinn's People's History, Chapter 2:
In spite of such preconceptions about blackness, in spite of special subordination of blacks in the Americas in the seventeenth century, there is evidence that where whites and blacks found themselves with common problems, common work, common enemy in their master, they behaved toward one another as equals. As one scholar of slavery, Kenneth Stampp, has put it, Negro and white servants of the seventeenth century were "remarkably unconcerned about the visible physical differences."...

...[Historian Edmund] Morgan concludes: "Once the small planter felt less exploited by taxation and began to prosper a little, he became less turbulent, less dangerous, more respectable. He could begin to see his big neighbor not as an extortionist but as a powerful protector of their common interests."
We see now a complex web of historical threads to ensnare blacks for slavery in America: the desperation of starving settlers, the special helplessness of the displaced African, the powerful incentive of profit for slave trader and planter, the temptation of superior status for poor whites, the elaborate controls against escape and rebellion, the legal and social punishment of black and white collaboration.
The point is that the elements of this web are historical, not "natural." This does not mean that they are easily disentangled, dismantled. It means only that there is a possibility for something else, under historical conditions not yet realized. And one of these conditions would be the elimination of that class exploitation which has made poor whites desperate for small gifts of status, and has prevented that unity of black and white necessary for joint rebellion and reconstruction.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Why Tuesday is Worth Thinking About

Something brought to my attention by the Webshow EpicFu, the website WhyTuesday.org. There are any number of election reforms we need, but an election day holiday and/or weekend voting would be a great start and would end at least one needless discrimination against working voters. And nominally, it wouldn't be that hard (though I know everything always ends up being harder than it should).

But anyway, give it a look, see what you think.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Am I on to something?

A thought just occurred to me, and I wanted to get it down quick before I went back to studying. I've been reading about a specific kind of nonparametric statistical testing, resampling, which led me to thinking about false positive and false negatives (Type I & II errors), which *somehow* made me think of food allergies (somehow I ended up at the Wiki for phenylketonuria, don't know how that one happened), and reminded me of hearing Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food recently. Any road, I feel like I can't've been the first person to think of this, but there's been much talk of growing rates of food allergies and other maladies, and various possible factors, like growing up in too-antiseptic environs and pesticides and such. Which may indeed have a part in it; but it reminds me of Pollan's simple admonition on how stay healthy, "Eat whole food, not a lot, mainly fruits and vegetables." Part of this -- the whole foods part -- is not a product placement, but rather advice to avoid processed foods (which he talks about in Omnivore's Dilemma, and possibly IDoF as well). Processed foods, besides having extra fat and salt to make up for the taste-reduction resulting from processing perfectly good food into O-shapes and for shelf life, also many times include label ingredients (Now with Vitamin C! And retsin! And Omega-3-fatty acids!!!!) that reflect today's understanding of the nutrients we need (and aren't getting). Pollan's point in respect to this was what he calls "Nutritionism" -- the idea of food as medicine, to deliver specific benefits. The problem is that we really don't understand food -- wild admixtures of chemicals they are -- and exactly how these nutrients work together. Turns out a lot of them (nutrients) don't work in their isolated forms -- or at least work better when they're in their original "delivery good," i.e. a fruit or a fish. That is, omega-3 in, say, yogurt, doesn't seem to work the same or nearly as well as omega-3 in, say, the fish it came from.

Perhaps besides from lowering their efficacy, all this separating out and dosing of processed foods with exotic and/or heavily re-processed and purified nutrient isolates, as well as all the derived flavor/color/etc. isolates, is part of the problem. That is, as part of its whole, original food given potential allergens wouldn't be recognized as such, but isolating and re-introducing them into different food contexts decreases the body's adaptive mechanisms of recognizing appropriate and not-appropriate antigens? (Or simply, perhaps, the number of spices and veggies that we're not eating as much and instead are getting in processed or nutrionized extract forms are undermining various and many yet-to-be-understood detox pathways? Cf. aflatoxin and apiaceous vegetables?)

I may be off base, or maybe onto something I'm not enunciating well. Or maybe I'm crazy like a fox... in any case, gotta go.

Vasopressin made me do it, baby -- NOT.

Excellent post over at Language Log about the so-called news from so-called research on male fidelity. If you haven't heard about it, they found the "gene for" male infidelity in relationships; except, as you will see on Language Log, not so much.

LL had one of the most sensible suggestions EVER for reporting on genetic studies. Read it. Read it NOW.

Essentially, like the post on infidelity, they point out that so-called science journalism should point out, when they find a "gene for,"
[a]) the proportion of the case subjects with the genomic variant in question; and ([b]) the proportion of the controls with the genomic variant in question.

If you know what "effect size" means, you'll recognize that [the BBC's reporting on the study] can be translated as

"If you pick a random man with the 334 allele of the AVPR1a gene and a random man with a different allele, the 334 guy will get a higher score from his partner for strength of relationship bond about 47% of the time, and a lower score about 53% of the time.
That is, the research on infidelity showed that guys with The Gene (334 allele of AVPR1a) will be perhaps 6% more likely to be be rated as having a worse relationship with their partner than average guys without the gene. 6% more likely. That's the state of "gene for" research and reporting these days, folks. Sigh. 6% more likely to get a lower score on one particular evaluation of relationships than people without the gene. (And this was the result from the 41 (out of 1,104) guys who were homozygotic -- had two copies of this gene -- for ONE of the ELEVEN different types of this gene (alleles) at ONE of THREE areas in the genetic makeup that the scientists examined.

Genetic determinism, my left detached earlobe.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sarah Palin just made me barf. Plus: French ticklers!

She was fine and unoffensive -- in the sort of literal way of being bland and predictable in her attacks and jokes -- until she belittled community organizing as compared to being Mayor (of a town of "less than 7,000" no less), saying that in small towns they're not exactly sure what community organizers do (I think) and definitely saying that being Mayor involved real responsibilities, unlike community organizing. (??)

WTF? When was being a community organizer a crazy socialist idea? Isn't the Republican ideal a "welfare" system based entirely on the goodwill (or lack thereof) of your neighbors to get together and build the less fortunate a house? I mean, that's what they SAY, that communities should take care of such affairs, not the state, but apparently DOING it is just SILLY. It's one of those things you just say and don't mean, like "I'll call you back," or "I'll get lavish federal funding to help you out here by building a very expensive bridge to an airport on a road that doesn't exist yet."

Oh, wait:
One year later, Ketchikan's Republican leaders said they were blindsided by Palin's decision to pull the plug... Palin's 2007 press release announcing her change of course came just a month after McCain himself slammed the Ketchikan bridge for taking money that could have been used to shore up dangerous bridges like one that collapsed in Minnesota... Mayor Weinstein said many residents remain irked by Palin's failure to come to Ketchikan since that time to defend her decision -- despite promises that she would.
And this is the same woman who just criticized Barack Obama for saying one thing to small town Americans and then doing another.


Republicans aren't just not bothered by hypocrisy. They pull hypocrisy on like a French Tickler and go at Truth from behind while sticking a finger in her ass. (Don't ask how long it took me to come up with that. But I think it was worth it.)

I'm (still) afraid of Republicans...

Watching Rudy Giuliani's speech to the Republican Convention, it is awesomely scary -- awesome in its original sense -- to see even Giuliani taken aback by the Republican Delegate audience. Giuliani launches into attacks on Barack Obama, with the same types of caveats the Dems made about Republican John McCain being an honorable man or whatever before they attacked him; ok, fine. But he stumbles several times -- because, for one, as he tries to say how admirable Barack Obama's work as a community organizer was, it wasn't executive experience. But he was cut off as soon as he said "He was a community organizer," and people started chuckling, and chuckling, and chuckling. Giuliani laughed confusedly, just like I threw up in my own mouth confusedly, and then he sort of did the David Letterman thing, looking to the side of the stage and mouthing "What the hell?" (I may be exaggerating a bit.) But he did seem confused as he tried to get through what he thought was a laudatory part of Obama's life, as the crowd laughed -- I can only guess that they laughed because helping people is silly...? Organizing community is a worthless endeavor...? Sure, they may think his experience is laughable as qualification for the President, but it seemed to me more mean-spirited than that. Perhaps I'm just being uncharitable.

But I don't think so... especially when Giuliani praises how Obama was able to make himself a successful man, something "that could only happen in America" -- and everyone laughed. They laughed -- because...? I got the vague impression it's because they view his success as not due to his skill but, what, his luck at being black? Or perhaps his luck at being black in America? Cuz, yeah, that's great shakes. (There're worst places to be, but it's not for nothing that noted black intellectuals and performers moved to Europe when they could naught but a couple decades ago, when either you or your parents were undoubtedly already around.) In any case, RG seemed as confused as I was, and sort of shrugged and moved on.

This redmeat red-state crowd scares the fUCK out of me.

RG complains that the Dems have rarely mentioned 9/11 in this campaign... YIKES. I know 9/11 was the centerpiece of his campaign, but way to turn your demagoguery into a flaw on the other side. Yikesy McYikeserson.

Well, it's back to work. I can't handle looking at the blinding Whiteness on screen jeering at things I believe in and chanting something like "Drill, baby, drill! Drill, baby, drill!"... for energy independence. (Essay question: better or worse than their "Zero" chant for Obama, assumedly representing his supposed zero experience and qualification? How about the "USA USA" chant? Do they think we don't realize it? Are they under the illusion that we're the only democracy and need to celebrate our fortune at not being French. (Probably.))

So true...

Is Susan Stamberg on Crack?

This is perhaps a most trifling note, but listening to reports of the Republican Convention this morning, and being reminded of how effective sounding tough can seem to be to Americans -- Fred Dalton Thompson rallying against Obama as the most liberal, least experienced candidate for president ever [sigh] -- it was crazy-making to have that followed up by NPR's Susan Stamberg wondering at the exotic wonderland that is Wyoming.

Now, there's nothing wrong with being enchanted by Wyoming; every state has its charms. And Stamberg had apparently visited all other 49 states, but had never been to Wyoming in her years of travel, for journalism or otherwise. Ok -- great -- sure. But she got there, and thrilled on-air to hear those three words she'd been waiting for decades to hear -- "Well, howdy, ma'am."


Apparently, Wyoming = Old West to Stamberg, and she was charmed to have her feelings confirmed. She went to some small town that had a stagecoach and Westy-type stuff "for tourists," and was told that the town wasn't really Wyoming, but it was the closest she'd get. Huh? Presumably, the closest to some imagined Old West Wyoming, since it was in the state of Wyoming after all -- so I'm pretty sure that counts. But certainly, if you want to go get a tourists'-eye view of your preconceptions of a state, your options are limited to certain tourist spots disdained by all the states' "real" residents. (Heaven forfend you, as a journalist, stretch yourself and report on anything about the rest of the state, rather than a navel-gazing travelogue purely about your own reaction to the state, not about the state itself.)

She was thrilled to -- what the hell? -- go to a "roh-DAY-oh," she said, only realizing afterwards that it was pronounced "roh-DEE-oh." She explained to those Wyomingites that heard her mispronounce "rodeo" that she "was from the East," which she said she ended up having to explain a lot, she said. Umm... I've been to the Wild East Coast of this here nation, and I didn't notice that ro-day-oh was the accepted pronunciation. Or that Stamberg had apparently never watched any show about ANY western/southwestern state for more than 5 minutes, with the sound down. Ro-day-oh? Who is she, Paris Hilton? I mean, sure, there's California's "Ro-day-oh" Drive, but, um, Stamberg's not from California... plus she supposedly had visited 49 other states, of which I'm thinking at least several of them pronounced it with the "dee" sound. (It is "roh DAY oh" in Spanish, but as far as I know, we don't all pronounce our appropriated words in the original tongue here in the Civilized East, or, er, Midwest either.)

She followed this with wondering at the buffalo walking across the road, just hanging out, eagerly pointing and asking her hostess to slow down so she could clearly see them. She may have never seen them, but it's still clearly weird to me that that was a big part of her "Wyoming" experience -- considering Bison have more famous herd/enclaves/protected populations in various other states.

Why am I going on about this? Just because the juxtaposition of Fred Dalton Thompson's Southern drawl and Stamberg going "Oooo! He called me 'ma'am'! Can I take a picture of him in front of that buffalo?" was a bit too much -- it was the ultimate in the portrayal of the East and West...ern United States as foreign Others. And her excusing her practical ignorance with "Sorry, I'm from the East," seems support attempts to show that the East and The Liberal Media are elitist, out-of-touch, and out-of-step with "real" people. It's the ultimate "East Coast Liberals are wide-eyed and totally out of touch with reality, too busy sipping their lattes." Now, it's not Stamberg's fault that there's that perception, or that she had glee at Wyoming's, um, perceived stereotypical quaintness I guess, but seriously... was she THAT out of touch that buffaloes, sheriffs, rodeos, and "Howdy ma'am," was the Wyoming experience she wanted, that she'd REALLY never found anywhere else in the US? It's not just a little disheartening, it seemed like bad journalism to go somewhere just to have your cookie-cutter images of someplace confirmed, and play out the segment with "Happy Trails." There's so much else that could be learned about or commented on from Wyoming, but apparently, it really IS just Big Sky Country... oh, wait, that's Montana. So Stamberg experienced the REAL Wyoming the... um... Equality state. Er, um, the Park state. Oh, oh! Ok, it's ALSO the "Cowboy State." Apparently, of the three state nicknames, Stamberg had to choose one and just go with it. So thank goodness we got to confirm our biases, and not learn anything new in that 5 minute segment. Thanks NPR, I had nothing better to do than learn that Stamberg has remained incredibly naive for someone who visited 49 states already, and then to, er, grouse about it for 15 minutes.

Seriously, if this is the Red State/Blue State divide, I am living in an entirely different set of states from everyone else, cuz I can pronounce rodeo AND drink lattes...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The VP to Nowhere

Wow... So, there's a cornucopia of news and items to talk about, but so little time... But this just had to be linked to.

I was watching CNN last night (a truly rare occasion), and on Larry King Live, there was James Carville, DNC strategist and the voice of Foghorn Leghorn*, and some Congressional Republican woman with a face so immobile she made Nancy Pelosi's look life-like, debating about Sarah Palin, McCain's VP pick.

Carville kept pointing out that Palin was neither experienced nor qualified to be a VP, having only been governor of Alaska for less than 2 years, and having been mayor of a town of 7,000 people. (Someone had given him a copied or faxed picture of the town hall of Wasilla, the town, which was a modest one-floor building resembling a mini-mall outlet. Carville sputtered, at his most Foghorn-Leghornest, "It, it, uh, it, uh, it looks like a BAKE SHOP, for Pete's sake!") The Republican womanimatronic kept saying she was eminently qualified, tough, and a reformer -- one who had cut budgets and gotten rid of the outrageous Bridge-to-Nowhere, baby of Alaskan Sen. Ted "Indictment Smash!" Stevens.

Well, turns out that actually:

Weinstein noted, the state is continuing to build a road on Gravina Island to an empty beach where the bridge would have gone -- because federal money for the access road, unlike the bridge money, would have otherwise been returned to the federal government.
Because, you see

Congress eventually removed the earmark language but the money still went to Alaska, leaving it up to the administration of then-Gov. Frank Murkowski to decide whether to go ahead with the bridges or spend the money on something else.

In September, 2006, Palin showed up in Ketchikan on her gubernatorial campaign and said the bridge was essential for the town's prosperity.

She said she could feel the town's pain at being derided as a "nowhere" by prominent politicians, noting that her home town, Wasilla, had recently been insulted by the state Senate president, Ben Stevens.

[...] "I think we're going to make a good team as we progress that bridge project."

But, then
One year later, Ketchikan's Republican leaders said they were blindsided by Palin's decision to pull the plug... Palin's 2007 press release announcing her change of course came just a month after McCain himself slammed the Ketchikan bridge for taking money that could have been used to shore up dangerous bridges like one that collapsed in Minnesota...
Mayor Weinstein said many residents remain irked by Palin's failure to come to Ketchikan since that time to defend her decision -- despite promises that she would.
So... tough... reformer... how? Er, yeah... about that...

Now, since I've made such expansive use of the article in a bit of a stretch of fair use, you really should go read the whole original Anchorage Daily News article.

In other news, Daktari asks an interesting question about my views on why a two-party system sucks and a multi-party system would be better, but I'll have to demur to answer any more than I have for today.