Saturday, July 08, 2006

Some Things To Read



Seymour Hersh's new piece on the U.S. Iran policies is worth reading if you don't mind getting a tummyache today, from worrying, and in a similar serious vein Laura Carlsen's opinion piece on the Mexican elections is useful.

But it's Saturday and many of you would prefer something funnier. Like this example of a debate between wingnuts and moonbats. It's a good primer on trolling and why "debate" with trolls is not going to take anyone anyplace.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Friday Dog Blogging With A Surprise Guest












This is Doug's dog. A happy Lab whose name I can't recall right now.

Henrietta has had her semiannual physical, semiannual because of her great age. She's fine. Very fine, considering her age. Except for the little question of the six pounds she has gained during the last six months. Yes, I know that this is more than a ten percent increase in her weight, and, yes, I feel guilty. But I couldn't give Hank treats without giving them to Henrietta, too, and Hank had to get any treats she wanted, because there wasn't much time to give her treats. And then Henrietta was depressed and I was depressed and the exercize got played down in our lives.

But a new dawn has risen, a dawn of slim meals and vigorous walking and lots of scrounging activity in rubbish bins (not by me) and lots of desperate eye pleadings for more treats (not by me) and lots of guilt feelings (by me). In short, Henrietta is on a diet. Not a very stringent one because of her age, but a diet nevertheless. - She's already much more active, looking for food.

Who Are You Gonna Call?



Barbara Ehrenreich has written a good response to the Wonkette review of Katha Pollitt's book. You might also want to see my earlier response to the same review. Ehrenreich defends the need to keep feminism serious, because:

I've always liked to think that feminism is the West's secret weapon against Islamism. How can an ideology that aims to push half the human race into purdah hope to claim the moral high ground? Islamic feminists would fight Islamism, and we Western feminists would offer our sisterhood in the struggle. But while Muslim women are being stuffed into burkas, American post-feminists are trying to stuff their feet into stilettos. Who are you going to call when the morals police attack you for wearing eye shadow in Kabul or flashing some ankle in Teheran -- a wonkette?

May I also point out that the same applies to women in South Dakota and Louisiana, both states where the plan is that women can't get abortions if they are raped; the plan, because these laws will only take effect once Roe v. Wade has been demolished.

This is all very sad, of course: that the rights of the majority of this world's humans should be seen as something only feminists care about. But so it goes. And that's why feminism must stay serious, focused, on topic and (well, I can dream) powerful.

And of course I'm furious at this all. Feminists are somehow the unpaid cleaning crew (as I've written before), the crew who is supposed to turn up after dark and fix the world so that the attractive nonfeminists can live in it comfortably. So that nobody else needs to spend time or money or their lives in trying to move the almost immovable rock that is public opinion on the so-called "women's issues". So that it's only the feminists who can be painted with the caricature brush as mirthless and humorless, as too ugly to get laid, as man-hating fanatics. Like it would be ok to live in a Talibanized world if you get fucked enough and have pretty toenails and laugh at every single silly joke. Or manage to squeeze your feet into very tiny shoes. Yeah, then it would be perfectly fine not to be able to go out alone or not to be allowed birth control.

Actually, what set me off was one of the first comments to Ehrenreich's post, the one asking about where Gloria Steinem has been hiding all these years. She's been in the overnight cleaning crew, natch, and the cleaning ladies are invisible to the rest of the people.

Did Coulter Plagiarize?



It has been argued that parts of her new book and also some of her columns contain plagiarized material. But I can't get all excited about that. Who in their right minds would admit to have first written stuff like that?

Just joking. But if this is what gets the establishment media upset with one of their favorite interviewees and not her exhortations towards violence or her inability to answer any questions without turning them into some hare-brained accusation, well,...

I forgot how to complete that sentence. I've lived too long in a world where values are upside down.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What To Write...



It's one of those days. No one topic raises its hand to tickle my fancy, and the divorce piece on wingnuttia is not ready for unveiling or deveining or whatever it is one does to blog posts. It would be nice if my muse Erato (a guy; no kin to the other Erato) came back from his most recent soul-searching trip to tell me what to write. He'd probably suggest something like suckjobs which would be the reverse of blowjobs and how to give one without sounding like emitting farts and so on. He's a troublesome muse but I don't want anyone to rid me of him, because then I'd get something even worse, probably. The universe tends to give me the bargain-basement gifts.

That's why I blog. These quotes are from a Boston Globe article on blogging:

``The blogosphere has always been mainly about scrutinizing everybody else and expressing violent opinions about them," said Alex S. Jones , director of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. ``Kos is a very powerful blog, so in that sense it's taken on the vulnerability of one of the [political] leaders."

...

And Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic, said he was not impressed with the Daily Kos crowd.

``The liberal blogosphere are a group of people who feel incredibly disenfranchised. They feel their country's been hijacked and they're essentially powerless and the only way to stop it is to scream as loudly as you can," Foer said.

Imagine that I would have had to pay at least a hundred dollars per hour to get equally concise diagnoses from a shrink. Isn't the internet wonderful?

Notice the hierarchical thinking in the criticisms of the blogs? It's all about Markos of the Daily Kos, because he is BIG. The establishment media just can't wrap their brains around the idea that there are millions of blogs with millions of ideas and that nobody really gets any marching orders from Markos. The criticisms are an attempt to put a framework of traditional politics and reporting on the blogs and it doesn't really fit. So they take out the long, sharp scissors and cut out everything that stays outside the framework.

Not that I really care. I'm more worried about the changes that will come when the big communication companies decide which blogs load fast and which don't load at all.
---
A postscript: Check out this Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Postcards From The World Of Religious Fanatics



In Somalia:

Mogadishu - Radical Islamic militia fighters in central Somalia shot and killed two people at the screening of a banned World Cup soccer broadcast, an independent radio station reported.

The Islamic fighters, who have banned such entertainment, were dispersing a crowd of teenagers watching the match. They opened fire after the teenagers defied their orders to leave the hall in which a businessman was screening the Germany-Italy match on satellite television, Shabelle Radio reported on Wednesday. It said the dead were a girl and the business owner.

Islamic fighters who wrested control of the Somali capital from warlords in June forbade movies and television entertainment in line with their strict interpretation of Islam. The Supreme Islamic Courts Council, originally called the Islamic Courts Union, has expanded its control to other parts of southern Somalia.

That's in Somalia, of course. Far away. But then there's Memphis, Tennessee:

As the congregation of the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church looked on and its pastor, Apostle Alton R. Williams, presided, a brown shroud much like a burqa was pulled away to reveal a giant statue of the Lady, but with the Ten Commandments under one arm and "Jehovah" inscribed on her crown.

And in place of a torch, she held aloft a large gold cross, as if to ward off the pawnshops, the car dealerships and the discount furniture outlets at the busy corner of Kirby Parkway and Winchester that is her home. A single tear graced her cheek.







Did I ever show you my embroidery of the Statue of Liberty? It also had tears rolling down the face. But for a different reason. Poor Lady. Everybody is using her for their own devious aims.

Happy Birthday, George Bush



Hecate has an interesting series of posts on this auspicious event.

Then there's the question which new movie best would match the necessary celebrations of the day. My favorite is Snakes on a Plane, for obvious reasons, but it's coming out too late:

Another with profit potential is ``Snakes on a Plane'' in August, from the New Line Cinema unit of New York-based Time Warner, the world's biggest media company. The over-the-top thriller about poisonous snakes let loose on a passenger jet already is getting good word-of-mouth on the Internet, Pandya said. It's scheduled for release Aug. 18.

The word-of-mouth on the Internet is because it might be a really bad movie and that's interesting. And nobody has given me any money for mentioning this movie.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Dog News



Much gnashing of the teeth and wailing today, because I finally threw out the Beloved Lumpy Dog Bed. It was totally disgusting and yucky, but it's the one Henrietta the Hound loved best. By the way, she has several dog beds.

The Lumpy Dog Bed could no longer be made clean. It may have been green originally, but for some years now it has been an exact color and hair match to Henrietta herself: black with white areas and the white areas have black dots. It's not that it wasn't cleaned. I did wash it occasionally, and then called in the washing machine repairguy. To take out the doghair so that the machine would work again.

The insides of the bed, supposed to be fluffy, had recently decided to create three separate spheres or lumps. Every night Henrietta would attack them furiously, pushing and pulling and biting to make the lumps into fluffiness. Then she would give up and arrange herself to sleep around the lumps. This morning I looked at her sleeping and all I saw was her butt aimed towards the ceiling. The rest of her was hidden inbetween the lumps.

So it was time for the bed to go. A brand new (sort of) and clean (sort of) bed has taken its place. But Henrietta keeps walking around the house and crying, looking for the Old Lumpy. I'm not giving in to her. She's already ruling the roost too much and my interior decorating has suffered too long.

Deep Thought Of The Day



This just occurred to me: Pat Robertson's god is a terrorist. He struck on New Orleans because of its godless partying and killed thousands of innocents; just to strike the fear of god in the hearts of the Christians still alive. This is a terrorist tactic, isn't it?

Blog Are Famous Now



You know that already, of course, being one of the movers-and-shakers of this world yourself. Blogs are maligned and ridiculed in the establishment media (new framing, heh). But that's not the end of the attention we are getting. We are also judged to be most unreliable and ethically corrupt:

Murphy is launching PayPerPost.com, which will automate such hookups between advertisers and bloggers and thus codify a new frontier of product placement. Advertisers pay to post details about their "opportunity," specifying, among other things, how they want bloggers to write about, say, a new shoe, if they want photos to be included, and whether they'll pay only for positive mentions. Bloggers who abide by the rules get paid; heavily trafficked blogs may command premium rates. Those seeking to subvert PayPerPost from within can't: No pornographic or "illicit" content is accepted.

...

IT'S BETTER FOR A BRAND to get into a blog than to surround it as a banner or text ad, says Murphy. Unlike ads, blog posts live on in search engines and through links from other sites. "A couple thousand" bloggers have participated in Blogstar Network, he says. As for disclosure, "it's up to [bloggers] to be their own morality police," he says.

So don't believe anything I say. I'm probably getting paid by the chocolate manufacturers for declaring my love of that substance all the time. (Now that's an idea!) But more seriously, forget about trying to corrupt me with money. Now, if you were willing to come over and wash my windows, you dear little corpocrat, then we might be speaking. Even in that case I'd footnote the rave I'd post and the footnote would clearly say "thanks for the windows, smooch".

Not that I mind taking ads as you may have noticed. I pre-screen even them and I only post ads which I believe advertize a product someone reading me might be interested in. Some of the advertized products I've bought myself. But the ads are ads and the blog posts are posts and never the twain shall meet. Or that's the idea.

What else is drawing attention to blogs? The information warfare! There's even a government grant to study blogs:

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research recently began funding a new research area that includes a study of blogs. Blog research may provide information analysts and warfighters with invaluable help in fighting the war on terrorism.

Dr. Brian E. Ulicny, senior scientist, and Dr. Mieczyslaw M. Kokar, president, Versatile Information Systems Inc., Framingham, Mass., will receive approximately $450,000 in funding for the 3-year project entitled "Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information."

"It can be challenging for information analysts to tell what's important in blogs unless you analyze patterns," Ulicny said.

"Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information." Reminds me of the good ole times of academic writing.

Linking to that article was probably a mistake. I might have to answer questions now about "Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information". Life is too short for such long words.

On The March Northward






Many plant and animal species are doing just that to escape global warming in the Northern hemisphere. They march the other way in the Southern hemisphere. This is an interesting review of some of the pertinent issues.

The only people who are still unpersuaded on the question of global warming are American wingnuts. Really. I'm not exaggerating. Everybody else on this earth is on the other side of the issue. This is yet another very good reason to get the wingnuts out of power.

I've kept a garden diary for roughly ten years. There is a clear trend in the flowering times of many plants towards earlier times, and a clear trend for some species to start thriving when at first they didn't do well at all. These would be species that the books tell me should like it hotter than my Zone 6a garden. On the other end of plant preferences, I no longer can grow lupines. They need a cooler summer.

This is not a scientific study and I have not controlled for other variables that might be changing (like my neighbors' trees growing and giving me more shade). But I'm not alone among gardeners to spot similar changes in a very short period of time.

Where In The World Is Osama bin Laden?



We don't care. Not even the Bush administration really cares:

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has closed a unit that for a decade was charged with looking for Osama bin Laden and his senior lieutenants, The New York Times reported.

The unit, known as Alec Station, was disbanded late last year and its analysts were reassigned within the CIA Counter-terrorist Centre, intelligence officials told the newspaper.

The officials said that the move reflected the view that al-Qaeda is no longer as hierarchical as it once was, as well as a growing concern about groups inspired by al-Qaeda that had started to carry out attacks independent of bin Laden and Ayman alZawahiri, his second in command.

This move may make sense, or it may not. But what doesn't make sense is the way bin Laden has been used as the embodiment of All Evil for publicity purposes, but only when it benefited the local political calculations of the Republican party. Really, Americans deserve better than that.

Then there is the whole question why al-Qaeda now has so many copy-cats, and the role that Bush's foreign policies have had in making them popular among certain factions.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth Of July



I'm taking today off from serious blogging and so should probably you, too.

This is something I wrote in September 2005, but it is still valid:



America Haters

The radical right calls me an America-hater almost every day. The idea that anyone criticizing this administration hates America and plots treason is spread all over the net and the traditional media. The intention is to make us critics ashamed and fearful of saying anything. The intention is approving silence, the only love that is acceptable to the most extremists on the right.

But it is we, the noisy and complaining ones, who really love America, love her as she is, a gangly teenager with acne and furious dreams and occasional bad mistakes which she then corrects. Love her beautiful mountains and rivers and prairies and wetlands and deserts and cities and all the people that inhabit these, even the ones who think differently. It is we who love what America was, what she had grown to, her promises and her frailties, her ability to learn from errors, to become better, to promise to try, her genius, her optimism, her determination to follow the arc of justice, ultimately.

Yes, we would complain about her teenage fads, about her shallowness, about the serious problems which she didn’t know how to correct: the role of race, the role of poverty and the role of violence in a society. But she tried, however unclearly sometimes, and all the voices, even the conservative ones, participated in this trying and made the country ultimately better, closer to maturity, without any loss in the optimism and sunniness that we all prized.

This is the America that was and still is, at least partly, and this is the America that the current administration and the radical right want to destroy. We love her too much to want to see this young country clad in a burkha, to want to see her bent over to carry the heavy moneybags of a few greedy capitalists. We love her too much to want to see her poisoned by mercury and arsenic in her beautiful oceans and lovely lakes. We want her to learn and to grow, not to be forced to sit in a solitary silence, reading over and over the same “thou-shalt-nots” of the conservative bibles.

We critics don’t want our America to rampage across this globe, grabbing money and power and leaving behind destitution and death. It is not good for the world and it is terrible for the young country we still are. We are like the parents who love their children, yet see clearly where their frailties lie, and as good parents we tell how to fix those frailties and how to grow stronger while retaining the essential greatness of the child, the teenager, this glorious country of many songs.
How to be mature.

The radical right wants none of this. It wants a country with no kindness, no shelter, no common squares where people can meet. It wants a country in perpetual war, a country where mercenaries and corporations are cared for, where America is but their feeding ground, the silent congregation in some monsterous church for money.

We critics are needed, because we indeed love this country. Our tough love is needed, because it sees with clear eyes. Our patriotism is needed, because it is untainted with false beliefs and childish assertions of how much greater America is than the rest of this earth. We are needed for the very love that makes us named the haters of America.



Monday, July 03, 2006

Joe Lieberman - The Independent Democrat



Joe Lieberman, the running mate of Al Gore in the year 2000 and currently a Democratic Senator from Connecticut, is facing a primary challenger in this year's elections. Ned Lamont is taking Lieberman on, and the reason is that our Joe has odd ideas about what the Democratic party stands for. He seems to think that George Bush is the embodiment of all Democratic values, and he and George are Best Friends Forever.

Today Lieberman held a press conference to tell all of us that if he loses the Democratic primary he will run anyway, as an independent. Or rather, as a Democratic Independent, a quite new type. As Jane Hamsher states:

Ned had a press conference today in which he made the point — and I think quite forcefully — that Lieberman wants to "have it both ways." Absolutely. He's trying to walk out the back door of the party but still be considered a Democrat. He said it over and over during the press conference today — he believes in the values of the Democratic party, and he'll run as an "independent Democrat." Hogwash. As Digby reminds us, this is what Chuck Schumer said recently:

Schumer said that the DSCC "fully supports" Sen. Joe Lieberman in his primary bid, and he refused to rule out continuing that support if Lieberman were to run as an independent.

There were degrees of independence, Schumer said. "You can run as an independent, you can run as an independent Democrat who pledges to vote for Harry Reid as Majority Leader."

Which says to me that they've been coordinating this little hair-splitting act for quite some time. If Joe wants to run as part of the "Independent Democrat" party, he has to gather signatures to create such a party (and I'm not even sure he can). He won't. If Joe bolts the party, he will be an Independent. Period. There will be no "Democratic" about it. I'm sure his internal polling tells him that if people don't consider him a Democrat any more his numbers abjectly suck, and he certainly wants to retain all the perks his seniority in the Senate would grant him as a Democrat. But why does anyone believe he would do anything but auction himself off like a two-dollar whore to the highest bidder once elected? If we're counting on his principled commitment to the Democratic party, color me skeptical.

Or more succinctly, as Crooks&Liars report:

The Lieberman presser just ended in Hartford, and I just got off the phone with Jane. She and Paul Bass and the poodles are back in the car and driving over to a Ned Lamont presser. But she had time to relay this quote from Boltin' Joe:

"I have loyalties that are greater than those to my party."

And what might these loyalties be? Do they have anything at all to do with the fact that Joe Lieberman is Michelle Malkin's favorite Democrat? Remember Michelle put-all-dusky-hued-people-into-concentration-camps-except-me Malkin? Yes, that one. She likes Lieberman a lot.

And then there is Sean Hannity. The fire-breathing wingnut dragon of Fox News, the one who hates us liberals so much that he tends to lose coherence every few seconds or so. What does he think of our Joe? He likes Joe a lot:

Hannity:I need to know, do you want my endorsement?

Lieberman: Well, it's good that you asked me in private like this [yuck, yuck]. I appreciate your friendship and I appreciate your support.

Hannity: If you want me to do it, then I'll do it.

Lieberman than requested that Hannity endorse his primary challenger, in a joking manner.

Or how about that most moderate of all Republicans, Ann Coulter? This is what she says about Lieberman in an interview about a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq:

CAVUTO: So you would admire more at least the politician that says a timetable to get out than going back and forth?

COULTER: No. I would admire a politician, not as much as basically your run of the mill garden-variety Republican, but as far as Democrats go like Lieberman, who apparently does want to defend America and fight the war on terrorism. He is the one facing a primary fight.

CAVUTO: You know, there is talk about him maybe bolting to a third party. The seeds are there for a third party movement. Do you buy that?

COULTER: I think he should come all the way and become a Republican. He wouldn't be our best Republican but at left he'd fit in with the party that wants to defend the country.

These wingnuts sure seem to like Lieberman and his higher loyalties. And what about George Bush's views on our Joe? Check them out. Heh.

The Strange Tale of German Sterligov



German Sterligov is an interesting man. In some ways this Russian is the embodiment of all American wingnuts in one package:

German Sterligov was one of post-communist Russia's first multi-millionaires. By the age of 24, he had built up a financial empire with offices in London and New York. He is now 39 - but no longer a jet-setting financial whizzkid. With his wife and five children, Sterligov decided to adopt a traditional peasant life-style deep in the Russian countryside. And on one of his now rare trips to Moscow, he told Fred Dove why he could not be happier.

This is from the BBC program(me) Outlook. I listened to the interview with Fred Dove in the middle of last night (it's hot and humid here and my scales itch), and found out that Sterligov is also a religious fanatic, of the Russian orthodox type. Inbetween making millions and turning into a peasant he also tried to run for political offices:

A member of the Orthodox church with strong nationalist views, he entered politics, running on an anti-abortion and pro-death penalty ticket for governor of a Siberian region in 2002 and then for mayor of Moscow. Both attempts ended in failure. Three years ago he tried to run for president but the Kremlin barred him.

Sterligov said he had lost a fortune on his three doomed campaigns but denied this was the reason for his radical change of lifestyle. "I moved not because of financial problems but because I don't want my children to be exposed to the morally bankrupt society we used to live in," he said.

Doesn't he sound like all the wingnuts packed into one? All that greed for money and shady relations to the Russian Maffia, being pro-life and pro-death at the same time, and then the decision to pack it all in and live isolated from the morally bankrupt society in some sort of a fundy idyll.

And what is this idyll like? This is a fairly close description of what I heard on the BBC:

AFTER becoming one of post-communist Russia's first millionaires at the age of 24, German Sterligov lost no time building a financial empire with offices in Wall Street and Mayfair. Now, at 39, he has tired of life in the fast lane.

He has given up the two private planes and the fleet of luxurious cars, the four-storey Moscow mansion and the Manhattan penthouse.

In their place he has acquired a horse and a tractor, and moved his wife and five children into a three-bedroomed wooden house with no electricity or gas on a patchwork of fields surrounded by forbidding forest. Sterligov the international whiz-kid has become a humble peasant.

Until recently he brokered lucrative deals and tended a fortune which, at its peak, stood at hundreds of millions of dollars. Last week he was looking after pigs and sheep.

The family bakes its own bread and instead of champagne, Sterligov and Lena, his wife of 17 years, drink milk from their own cows, and kvas, a brown alcoholic brew made with birch-tree juice.

In summer their small corner of countryside 100 miles south of Moscow is infested with mosquitoes and in winter, when temperatures can drop to
-45C, the house is heated by a wood-burning stove and lit with candles.

...

His quest for a simple life is uncompromising. There is no road to the Sterligovs' house — only sprawling fields and dense fir and birch. It is so remote that in snow it can be reached only by horse sleigh. A fence surrounds the house and three stables to keep out wolves.

In a muddy garden where geese and chicken roam, Sterligov has had a lavatory built. There is no radio in the house, let alone television. The floor is made of dusty planks.

"It's been quite a change," said Lena Sterligova, 38, her hair covered by a scarf as she toiled in the kitchen. "When German was a millionaire I was the wife of a millionaire, constantly shadowed by bodyguards. Now that he is a peasant I am the wife of a peasant.

"When we married he promised an adventurous ride. It certainly has been that, but I think our life now is great. The only thing I miss is a hot bath." Last winter she briefly went back to her mother in Moscow with Mihey, her 18-month-old baby.

Sterligov, who once employed more than 2,500 people and now has three, said he had not asked his wife's opinion before changing their lives. He claimed friends who thought he had gone mad had come to envy his uncluttered existence.

"He had not asked his wife's opinion before changing their lives." In the interview I heard he was asked whether he discussed the change with his family beforehand. He answered that it was a crisis and there was no time to communicate. At such times it is the man, the head of the family, who makes the decisions. The wife must bend.

Hmmm. This guy could really stand for the whole Wingnuttia. Note that the children are home-schooled:

Instead of attending a private school, Pelageya and her brothers Arseniy, 9, Sergiy, 5, and Panteleimon, 3, play in the stables and are taught at home by village teachers in exchange for a turkey or goat. In the evenings their father reads them religious and historical texts. His mobile phone and the brass bell that Alisa traders used to mark the end of a day's trading are the only reminders of his past life.

In the BBC interview Sterligov stated that he will not let his children attend universities, either, because universities are morally corrupt. He plans to keep his children at home for ever, it seems, in his little realm where he is the absolute monarch.

I'm not very surprised that the local peasants burned down his house. It's an insult for a rich person to come and play peasant like this; an insult to all those who actually are peasants and who would prefer an easier life. Like Marie Antoinette playing milkmaids with her ladies of the court.

This is not to sneer at the desire for a simpler and more spiritual life. Many people share that desire. But it sounds to me as if Sterligov is not trying to integrate his family with the local peasantry. Neither does he seem to really simplify his existence. He has just changed one way of being extremely busy with another way of being at least as busy.

But it's the wife's work my beady feminist eye notices. Do you know how much harder peasant women work than the men, most of the year? Given Sterligov's belief in male dominance I doubt that he helps with any chores traditionally regarded as female.

Imagine a house with no electricity and no hot water. Imagine five children to care for, bread to bake from scratch. Imagine a small baby in the middle of it all and the winter outside gives you a temperature of -45 Celsius (-49 Fahrenheit). How does she do the laundry? By hand? In cold water? Imagine how long everything takes and imagine how isolated you are in a house with no road to it.

For her sake I really hope that her statement of now being happy with her husband's choice is true.

On The Doughnut Hole




I've done a little more research on the famous doughnut hole in the Medicare prescription drug program. The doughnut hole refers to the range in a person's drug expenses where Medicare suddenly stops covering any of the costs. After some more money has been spent Medicare once again chips in:

When Congress created the Medicare prescription drug program, it adopted an unusual idea to hold down costs: the so-called doughnut hole.

The program pays most of a participant's drug bills until expenses reach $2,250 in a year. Then it stops paying until costs exceed $5,100. That leaves a hole of $2,850 that seniors with serious prescription needs are expected to manage on their own.

Now, six months into the drug program — the first new major healthcare benefit for the elderly in decades — 3.4 million seniors are approaching the doughnut hole.

Most of them are middle-class seniors with multiple chronic illnesses. (The poor are exempt from the gap.) Some have already experienced an abrupt surge in prescription costs.

Think about the incentives in all this. Every year the first 250 dollars of your drug expenses are yours to pay. Once you have spent that much, the next 2000 dollars of expenses will cost you only a quarter of that, or 500 dollars, because Medicare pays three quarters of that part.

Are you still with me? Good. So far you have paid at most 750 dollars for your drugs during the year. What if you need more medications than this got you? This is where you fall into the doughnut hole. The next 2,850 dollars of expenses will all be yours to pay. This smells very funny to me, because someone needing to spend more than the 750 dollars per year is now punished by having to return to paying the full price, for being sicker. Only after all the extra 2,850 dollars have been paid will you be once again insuring Medicare benefits, and now they pay all but five percent of the costs of medications.

I bet your eyes got all glazed over while reading that. Another (though perhaps equally glaze-inducing) way of thinking about this is to ask what happens to the actual price of medications the Medicare beneficiaries are paying. For simplicity, think about a bottle of pills that has the market price of $100. Then the price of the first two-and-a-half bottles each year is the actual market price of $100, but once you have bought that amount the real price to the buyer falls. You can get the next twenty bottles for paying just $500, so that the price for you is now $25 per bottle. But the next twenty-eight-and-a-half bottles will once again cost you $100. If you need more than 51 bottles of the medication a year, you will get all additional bottles at the out-of-pocket price of $5 per bottle.

This is a very odd insurance scheme. It first has the part where you pay everything, your deductible. That is usually included to discourage unnecessary expenses by the very healthy, and mostly deductibles are not large enough to discourage use by those who are more seriously ill. The annual $250 deductible seems fairly acceptable. Then the insurance kicks in, but the consumer is still expected to pay a coinsurance rate of 25% (the percentage the patient must pay). So insurance is subsidizing the costs of care and that makes sense, but the consumer is still taking some financial responsibility. Now we come to the doughnut hole. It's like another deductible, an amount you must pay in full to get any further benefits. This makes very little sense, because the previous expenses have already established that the person is ill and is in need of medications. I can see some serious health consequences with this sudden raising of the price for those who are already ill. Of course, if they manage to struggle through the doughnut hole they can then "enjoy" cheap drugs for the rest of the year.

And remember that this scheme is repeated every single year. First you pay the full price, then a quarter, then the full price and then only five percent of the price. It's like a seesaw. It makes no medical sense.

What about economic sense, then? The only way I could figure this out was by thinking that the whole plan really is two insurance schemes. First you get the scheme for the fairly healthy elderly. Then you are dumped from that, should you be sicker, and you start from the beginning again in the scheme for the sicker elderly. And indeed, this is sort of the explanation some offer:

Economist Jack Rodgers of PricewaterhouseCoopers likened the Medicare benefit to two plans rolled into one: The first offers limited coverage of medication, with a cap at $2,250; the second provides a more generous benefit for higher bills. In between is the doughnut hole.

"A lot depends on whether you look at the doughnut or you look at the hole," said Rodgers, adding that he believed the availability of enhanced plans, albeit for higher premiums, would soften the impact of the gap.

The glass is half-full or half-empty, I guess.

Yet another way of looking at the doughnut hole is to ask what the impact is on the average amount a person pays per bottle of pills. This average amount, each year, declines at first, then rises, and then drops again. So the consumers who get the most help are those whose expenses are at most $2,250 and those who spend more than $5,100 a year. This has some odd built-in incentive effects, because you don't want to be in the doughnut hole. If you can afford it, you are quite likely to try to spend past it rapidly. If you can't afford it, you will end up taking less of your medications. Neither of these makes any medical sense.

Now that I've bored everyone to near-death I can declare my conclusions. The doughnut hole was put into place for political reasons. The idea was to give some benefits to a large number of the elderly, even those who don't have high medical expenses. This to court the votes of the elderly. But offering such wide-spread benefits is expensive even if the individual amounts are small, and the program would have cost too much without the doughnut hole. That the doughnut hole punishes the elderly who probably need the medications more than those who didn't fall into it doesn't seem to matter.

Make Bush Speak



This is a fun site. You can make up your own speech and have it delivered in Bush's voice. I got the link from Al Swearingen on Eschaton threads. Interesting how the constraint of so few available words and sentences actually enhanced my creativity. You might find the same thing happens. The sound effects are fun, too.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer And Some Books for Them



You could always go to the beach with Karl Rove's thoughts on Theodore Roosevelt in this short piece. I'd give it a B- if I was teaching writing to pre-teens.

You could do a lot better by taking with you The Abortionist's Daughter, by Elisabeth Hyde. It's a thriller and it also has interesting things to say about the pro-choice and pro-life camps, about sex and the teenage girls and so on. Hyde makes the little town she writes about come alive and the people in it read like real ones.

A writer with progressive/liberal blogosphere links is Bob Hoffman. His new novel Challenge starts with a professor committing suicide in front of his freshman class. Or is it suicide? And what does all this have to do with who controls the media and the topics it covers? It's a fun read.

Those were fiction. If you are not into fiction you could always read F.U.B.A.R. : America's Right-Wing Nightmare by Sam Seder and Stephen Sherrill. It's the topic of discussion today on Firedoglake.

More on The Nuttery Of Wingnuttia



There is something that I want to add to all the outrage about a wingnut blog "outing" a photographer of the New York Times as a revenge for a vacation-living story that the Times did on Cheney and Rumsfeld and their residences. This photographer worked on the story. You know, the way we all do stuff when the boss tells us. She has nothing to do with the decision to make a certain story. She's making a living.

It's preposterous to argue that giving information on someone like that is ok because "what is good for the goose is good for the gander". Just think of what it means to be a person in a dominant position in the public sphere. Just think of the number of agents working to protect such people and the amount of money they have to protect themselves further.

The Wingnuttia has Gone...Nuts



Just read this post by Glenn Greenwald and the attached comments thread. Greenwald links to this pearl of utter beauty by one David Horowitz:

Make no mistake about it, there is a war going on in this country. The aggressors in this war are Democrats, liberals and leftists who began a scorched earth campaign against President Bush before the initiation of hostilities in Iraq. The initiators of this war were Al Gore and Jimmy Carter who attacked the president's attempt to rally the world against Saddam's defiance of international law in September 2002 just after his appeal to the UN General Assembly. Coming from national leaders of the opposition party these were attacks unprecedented in the history of post-Civil War American politics. Carter's perfidious decision to accept a Nobel Peace Prize designed to attack his own president followed shortly after.

The topic of Greenwald's post is a story in the New York Times Travel section about the vacation homes of Rumsfeld and Cheney. The wingnuts argue that this means the Times tries to get Rumsfeld and Cheney killed. How else to reconcile the dating of this story? It's payback for the government's anger towards the Times for writing about the secret administration program that oversees financial transactions.

That information on these same residences has been readily available in other sources appears to make no difference, because the terrorists only study the NYT Travel section for information. That the story was probably written a long time ago and has nothing to do with any current political quarrels doesn't matter, either.

But this is not why I titled this post as I did. Read Greenwald to find out. And no, these are not some crackpot far-righters. This is today's Republican mainstream. Which makes me very worried about the future of the country.

What The Independent Women Think



This refers to the right-wing girl's auxiliary called The Independent Women's Forum (bankrolled by the Scaife Foundation) and the thoughts are about Gardasil, the vaccine that just might save women from cervical cancer. As the virus Gardasil attacks is sexually transmitted, these ladies appear to oppose the vaccine's wide availability. Or at least they let one Charlotte Allen oppose it on their blog:

Here's the New York Times report:

"The vote all but commits the federal government to spend as much as $2 billion alone on a program to buy the vaccine for the nation's poorest girls from 11 to 18.

"The vaccine, Gardasil, protects against cancer and genital warts by preventing infection from four strains of the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted disease, according to federal health officials. The virus is also a cause of other cancers in women."

If you think 11 sounds young for sex, how about age 9--the recommended age in some cases?

But there are a few hitches--such as parents who, uh, balk at the idea of telling prepubescent girls that it's just fine for them to have all the sex they want, 'cuz now they'll be vaccinated! And isn't it against the law to have sex with children?

Such nasty minds wingnuts seem to have! To equate getting the vaccination young with the idea of getting right down to the business of sex! I'm not certain what else to say about that bit.

She goes on, first quoting the New York Times report:

"Another challenge is Gardasil's price. At $360 for the three-shot regimen, it is among the most expensive vaccines ever. Because cervical cancer is mostly a disease of poverty, those in most need of the vaccine will be the least able to afford it. State vaccination programs, already under financial strain, may refuse to provide it."

I hope they do refuse. How about telling young teen-agers instead that sexual promiscuity is not only a bad idea but actually dangerous to their health?

How about that? You could tell your children that there is a vaccine which might protect them from cervical cancer, but you're not going to get it for them because you like the idea of having them worry about cancer should they start feeling all sexual. - It's really hard for me to understand the kind of dysfunctional families that would like such a message.

More generally, abstaining from teenaged sex might not protect young women. For one thing, they can get raped. For another thing, their future husband-to-be may be sleeping around and then bringing home the virus on wedding night. It seems sensible to protect a young girl against such possibilities. Really.
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Link via feministing.com.