Saturday, December 16, 2006

It’d Be A Blue Christmas Without Dreadful Christmas Music.

or Let’s stipulate The Little Drummer Boy and go on from there.

Posted by olvlzl.

Unfortunately, my favorite horrid Christmas album,
Steve and Edie’s Christmas in Las Vegas

is a myth, a threat I thought up to try to clear out a party that was going on too long. Though it would be fun to have in your collection, if it existed.

To get us all in the mood of the season, what’s your least favorite Christmas music? Song, artist, album, genre? There is so much truly awful Christmas music of comic potential that could be mentioned. The only risk is offending someone who might love your choice, but it’s all in fun.

Me? I could mention anything by Elvis or Frankie for the season, though Lou Monte’s “The Little Italian Christmas Donkey” is worth an honorable mention.

Wet blankets might mention their favorites. Though a new thread for that might be a better idea.

UPDATE: I just remembered, Silver Bells in the unique stylings of Regis and Kathie.

Encouraging Brain Damage In Children Is Officially Wholesome. Moral, Even.

Posted by olvlzl, The Heretic.

At a football game last weekend, Mike Vrabel, apparently one of the best liked of the New England Patriots, “got his bells rung”. That incident was newsworthy enough to break through my anti-ballistic defense shield which usually keeps me from knowing anything about sports. Never having heard of Mike Vrabel before seeing him on TV the other day, he seems nice. You certainly wouldn’t want him to damage his brain just playing a game*. And that’s really how this piece started out, with the thought, “They’re destroying their brains. It’s nuts”.

Mike Vrabel is an adult and so has a right to make that decision for himself, I suppose. You might wonder why other adults who choose to damage only their own brains through recreational drug use and not those of other people don’t have that same right.

Underage children don’t have the maturity to be allowed to make decisions like that. You have to wonder how the adults with the authority to prevent behavior this dangerous could allow it to continue. They are risking permanent damage to the one and only brain these children are ever going to have. Encouraging them to risk it is insane and immoral. If it was done in any number of other, very similar activities it would be called criminal neglect, child endangerment or some other crime. But try telling people that.

Rah, rah, glory, the habitual response to football in the past has given way to something much worse and more dangerously dishonest, conventionalized sentimentality. Football, a vicious and violent game, is now presented in the most cloying of celluloid images, soft iris, sappy music, golden lighting, valedictory language**. I once heard a nationally known sports commentator on the radio say that the most archetypical American paternal role model is the highschool football coach. Guess that makes most of us, all women to start with, fatherless. I don’t know about your father but mine didn’t make a living by getting a pack of boys to bash their own and other peoples’ brains out at public expense. Thanks Frank, but I’ll take my own father as a role model, not the one provided by the football industry.


About ten years ago a bunch of our local, small town, police departments hosted an anti-drug event. Apparently they got a grant from the federal government to present positive, safe alternatives to taking drugs. While generally skeptical about the value of one-time events to change potentially harmful teenage behavior, what really got my attention is that things like car racing, sky diving and motocross were featured. While they might be thrilling none of them is remotely risk free. I would be very surprised if there aren’t more children permanently damaged or killed in these activities than, for example, by smoking pot while not driving. Assuming that the pot that is being smoked isn’t adulterated by the illegal trade in it.***

Football is just another officially wholesome activity that is often presented as being more positive than smoking pot or other demimondaine pass times. But almost every year there are school children who die and are permanently damaged by playing football entirely by the rules. The level of brain damage, “getting your bells rung” is almost certainly much higher than is caused by using marijuana. They’ve looked at every straw in that haystack and still can’t find conclusive evidence that moderate marijuana use is all that dangerous.

As for the wholesomeness of football, football players are not famous for their chastity, their sobriety, their kindness. Not that it’s just football. Almost any short, skinny, unpopular person who went to a highschool where there is a sports team can tell you about that. And there are children damaged by being physically and psychologically abused off the field in hazing and other forms of organized sadism. I’m afraid that those activities and the astonishing amount of support the sadistic bullies get in the community say a lot about one of the most unattractive features of American society. In really bad cases it’s the victims who suffer the barbs of community disapproval when a game or the season gets cancelled not their attackers.

While I’m sure there are football players who are models of conventional propriety and some who are actually rather nice guys, there are plenty who aren’t. I don’t think sports had anything to do with the character development of the ones who are nice guys. Maybe I’m wrong and the jocks who are jerks would have been jerks anyway, though the vainglory and pack behavior that sports encourages doesn’t produce positive personality traits in other endeavors, does it?

And football players aren’t famous for long life either. Through combination of obesity, brain damage, other physical damage and, in the greatest of all ironies, steroid and other drug abuse, the average life span of professional football players is more than two decades less than the national average**. The generally known and openly discussed fact of steroid use among these ever more enormous football players is probably one of the more interesting areas of legal hypocrisy. It also might play a part in the aggression that some of them wreak on spouses, girlfriends and other people. Baseball players seem to be returning to normal sizes after those congressional hearings a couple of years back but football players don’t seem to be returning to normal. Maybe if they weren’t so enormous they wouldn’t do as much damage when they smash into each other.

Just how much can the coaches, the trainers, the fans really care about the players when all of this evidence is right out there for anyone to see? Unless that evidence is willfully ignored the answer is that they are just objects to the world of football. They have even learned to see themselves that way. Considering how the game is played, why would anyone expect anything else?


And with football there is also the spectacle of cheerleaders. Does the fact that they still keep on a few stitches of clothing change the fact that they are bumping and grinding in exactly the same style as strippers? Gyrating on the sidelines in order to further increase the glory of the boys on the field and the sexual arousal of their audience? What kind of a message is that to girls and young women? What attitude does that promote in boys and young men? And THEY are also getting killed and injured in the process of doing their own “sport”*****. That is a whole topic in itself, one which I’m researching.

As you can see I don’t much like football, the favorite game of American patriarchy. This might be the most heretical post I've ever done.

* One of the more common results of permanent brain damage is personality change, not for the better. Risking permanent brain damage for the sake of playing a game is immoral, I can’t in good conscience not point out that being a supporter of an activity that carries this as a guaranteed result is immoral too.

** There is a really disgusting example to be seen on a TV commercial running right now, for those of us who just will not sit through another one of those gawdawful football movies ever again.

***Marijuana use should, of course, be legalized for adults. Though I don’t like it myself - really messed up my counting during time signature changes when I tried it- it is not sufficiently dangerous to carry criminal penalties. That is if it is being regulated for purity. The sale of genuinely dangerous drugs should be banned though making just the possession and use of them a felony doesn’t seem to solve any problems. It’s a complicated topic, too complicated to be left in the hands of the anti-drug industry.

**** U.S. life expectancy is 77.6 years, the average for NFL players is 55, 52 for linemen.

***** Methods: We reviewed 29 of 39 incidents of cheerleading injuries reported to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research from 1982 to 2002.

Results: Twenty-seven of the injured cheerleaders were women. There were 1.95 direct catastrophic injuries per year or 0.6 injuries per 100,000 participants. The rate of injuries among college cheerleaders was five times that of high school participants. The most common stunts performed at the time of injury were a pyramid (9) or a basket toss (8). Catastrophic injuries included 17 severe head injuries, resulting in 13 skull fractures and 2 deaths; 8 cervical fractures or major ligament injuries; 3 spinal cord contusions; and 1 concomitant head injury and cervical fracture.

Are Weathermen Screened for Their Stupidity?

Posted by olvlzl.

hat did I tell you? I knew Echidne’s post about dislikes would be a roaring success, 77 comments by the counter.

In a shameless attempt to fan the flames of discontent and mostly because I’m already smoldering over it, what the hell is wrong with TV and radio weathermen?

“It’s another GREAT!! day of fabulous record breaking high temperatures!”. And this on public radio.

The idiocy of this and similar lines are, at worst, part of the corporate-oilgarches brainwashing of the American pubic to not do anything to limit greenhouse gasses or they are more evidence that being addled is a requirement to work in the American “news” media. Is it a requirement for weathermen that they have the intelligence of James Inhofe or just the dishonesty of his star witnesses?

Sorry about the Cheney-Poe Baby,

How Do You Feel About The Other Children?

Posted by olvlzl.
he Boston Globe printed an editorial on Wednesday calling for the privacy of Mary Cheney and Heather Poe as they become the parents of a baby. The editorial praises Dick Cheney for not being a Republican morality policeman on the issue of gay rights while attributing this lone spec of light to his having to deal with his daughter’s sexuality.

Sorry, Boston Globe but wrong, wrong, wrong on all counts. Mary Cheney campaigned to put the Republican party in power, the party that has been using hatred of lesbians and gay men as one of the pillars of its frighteningly effective electoral strategy. The Republican Party, with the Log Cabin dupes, is the home of hatred, the epicenter of the attack on all of us who go into the category.

Mary Cheney and Heather Poe gave up any right to privacy on this issue for themselves when they supported putting people in power who were dedicated to taking the same rights away from the rest of us.

It is one of the favorite gambits of wealthy, powerful conservatives to carve out these zones of personal privilege for themselves, even islands of alleged enlightenment as they support those who turn out the lights and break down the doors for those without power and protection. That tactic of “moderate” Republicanism is over. With the defeat of Lincoln Chaffee it is so over. If they don’t like where it leaves them, well isn’t that just too bad. The rest of us are even more inconvenienced by the hate campaign that the stinking Republican Party has waged against us. You don’t like it, Lincoln, Mary, Heather, choose sides but don’t expect us to make any concessions to your other loyalties. If your families and party weren’t using the politics of hate to begin with we wouldn’t even be talking about them.

As for Dick and Lynne Cheney, two bigger hypocrites are seldom to be seen in one marriage. Going so far as publishing, one expects perhaps even profiting from, very badly written lesbian sex scenes while campaigning for the party of gay baiting, campaigning for “traditional morality” against just such sex scenes and while insisting that out of all possible targets of their parties and their own hatred that their child have a place of safety? They are the poster couple of Republican-fascist degeneracy, “The Damned - America 2000 ".

The well positioned in the media, in academia, in the law talk about a lot of different, valued rights. Freedom, privacy, free speech, etc. But they don’t seem to be very much interested in that one value that gives everyone an ironclad incentive to not violate the most cherished rights of other people. EQUALITY, the absolute and firm requirement in the law and in society that rights and liberties that one person or one group is allowed to exercise are exactly the same for every single other person. Equal rights, equal exercise of rights goes to everyone or no one gets to exercise them. Mary and Heather don’t deserve privacy when they, their parents, their party actively violate the privacy of numerous other people and not just gay people and lesbians. They don’t get to promote bigotry while enjoying a sort of social Ziebart to protect themselves.

If you ask what about their child when it is born, what about it's rights and feelings? Well lots of other lesbians and gay men have children. What about them?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Night Movies

Don With The Wind is a good one to watch. It also shows when profanities are useful.


You may have not noticed it but I've been posting less this week. I found a new addiction, and I hope it's going to be temporary. It is weffriddles. There are probably many similar games on the net, but I usually avoid games because I tend to get hooked so easily.

Anyway, these riddles did nothing for me until Batch 3, but then I got addicted. So I give you the link here to spread the pain. Heh.

Why is problem solving so enjoyable? It shouldn't be. When I have a financial problem I hate to solve it, though I always do. Doing these games reminds me in some ways about the reason why I read so many detective novels at one point in my life: it's a way of channeling various worries and feeling a resolution at the end. Though nothing actually changes, the belief that good endings are possible gets reinforced. Not to mention the vicarious revenge one can experience in detective novels. Or the brain workout, which is always nice.

The Other Side

I sometimes get nasty e-mails from people who hate feminists, and these tend to attribute very odd interpretations to my behavior. Something that Feministe linked to a couple of days ago made it all much clearer to me. If you want to understand what the other side thinks, read the comments thread attached to this post about single women buying houses and apartments.

It's not fun reading as ninety percent of the comments (perhaps by just a few men, though) are extremely misogynistic. But there is learning to be had almost everywhere, even by shifting through crap, and this is what I gained from that thread: The men who most hate or fear women have been personally rejected or damaged in a way which they then attribute to all women. They also tend to take the worst stereotypes of traditional women (seeking a mealticket for life) and the "new" women (seeking to outperform and dominate her partner) and they combine these two into something they view as an actual living creature, called "all women". And this creature is then labeled stupid, too. Interestingly, one commenter there compares women to cars and other gadgets which goes nicely with my earlier post about women as property.

Now, that is misogyny. It wouldn't be surprising to find it on one of those Men's Rights sites, but I was a little startled to see it so freely flowing on a site about real estate.


This is pretty frightening stuff:

The Bush administration is clamping down on scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the latest agency subjected to controls on research that might go against official policy.

New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists who study everything from caribou mating to global warming. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Top officials at the Interior Department's scientific arm say the rules only standardize what scientists must do to ensure the quality of their work and give a heads-up to the agency's public relations staff.

``This is not about stifling or suppressing our science, or politicizing our science in any way,'' Barbara Wainman, the agency's director of communications, said Wednesday. ``I don't have approval authority. What it was designed to do is to improve our product flow.''

Product flow? That term tells you all about how science is viewed by this administration: as a product, something to be tinkered with, depending on the demands of the market which in this case is the wingnuts.

And it gets worse:

The new requirements state that the USGS's communications office must be ``alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature.''

The agency's director, Mark Myers, and its communications office also must be told - prior to any submission for publication - ``of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed.''

Patrick Leahy, USGS's head of geology and its acting director until September, said Wednesday that the new procedures would improve scientists' accountability and ``harmonize'' the review process. He said they are intended to maintain scientists' neutrality.

``Our scientific staff is second to none,'' he said. ``This notion of scientific gotcha is something we do not want to participate in. That does not mean to avoid contentious issues.''

It used to be called censorship. But wait, there is more:

At the Environmental Protection Agency, scientists and advocacy groups alike are worried about closing libraries that contain tens of thousands of agency documents and research studies. ``It now appears that EPA officials are dismantling what it likely one of our country's comprehensive and accessible collections of environmental materials,'' four Democrats who are in line to head House committees wrote EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson two weeks ago.

Democrats about to take control of Congress have investigations into reports by The New York Times and other news organizations that the Bush administration tried to censor government scientists researching global warming at NASA and the Commerce Department.

Sounds like the old Soviet Union, it does.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

From The Archives of Odd Dislikes

Probably most of us have those, things they dislike, instantly and strongly, for no obvious reason. One of mine is hearing someone say "inner-resting" for "interesting". I don't know why it grates on me so. I know what the spoken word refers to, so it's not because I'm asked to work on getting it. I just find it as irritating as long nails scraping on a blackboard.

Sometimes these odd dislikes have to do with half-forgotten childhood events, though not in the case described above. And yes, this is a totally pointless post. Totally pointless posts are the new fashion in blogging.

Misogyny and Fundamentalism

Philip Slater has an interesting post on this at Huffington, entitled "'Morality' is What Right-Wingers Call Misogyny":

UNICEF reports in a new study that children suffer in a variety of ways when women are discriminated against. Big surprise. Let's face it. All over the world, male-dominated societies tend to be thug-dominated societies, violence-dominated societies, war dominated societies. They're also religion-obsessed societies.

Last October Australia's top Muslim religious leader said women without headscarves were like uncovered meat to a cat, and men couldn't be blamed for raping them any more than cats could be blamed for eating the meat.
This attitude shouldn't surprise anyone. Fundamentalism--in Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, or any other guise--has nothing to do with religion. The primary distinction between fundamentalists and all other religious groups is their attitude toward women. For the fundamentalist, women are inferior creatures who should be rigidly controlled and prevented as much as possible from exercising free will. Fundamentalists are not merely anti-choice when it comes to abortion. They are anti-choice of any kind.

Read Slater's whole post. He refers to several theories that have been going around within the feminist literature on the connections between male-God religions and male-dominated societies, and he has several valid points to make. At the same time, the connections between misogyny and fundamentalism are trickier than he describes.

For instance, think of a misogynistic society in general. In such a society, fundamentalism can actually provide a haven for women. At least they won't be hated on randomly, and if they follow every command carefully enough they may even semi-thrive. The point I'm trying to make here is that the realistic choices have seldom been between women and men living as equals or some sort of a fundamentalist woman-hating system. The realistic choices may well have been between a Playboy-magazine type of society where every woman is meat for the cats and a fundamentalist society where some cats are locked out. This is not a defense of fundamentalism, which I see as one of the major threats against women's equality today, but an attempt at understanding why some people, including some women, defend fundamentalist religions as protectors of women.

Or think about this in terms of property rights, the rights that someone has over a commodity: to buy it, to use it, to sell it or to destroy it. In the past (and even today) human beings have been property and other human beings have had the property rights over them. If women are seen as a commodity (for the use of making children and for having sex in general) then the fundamentalists usually say that the property rights to this commodity (oh so valuable! oh so revered!) belong first to the woman's father and then to her husband and finally to her sons, though the property rights of fathers and sons are limited to monitoring the uses of the woman. A Playboy-magazine based world would have these property rights attached to any and all men in the society, which is not necessarily good news for women. Feminists tend to argue that women themselves should have the property rights to their own persons, but feminists have never had the opportunity to actually determine how societies see women, which means that the relevant choices may well have been between different types of men owning a woman. From this point of view fundamentalism may indeed have been preferable to other systems of ownership, if for no other reason then for the simple one that a woman has many more opportunities to influence her fate through her power over a close family member.

All of this is a long way of stating that I think Slater oversimplifies a little in his post, even though his basic argument about the control of women being the essential part of fundamentalisms of all types is very valid. At least I can't think of a single fundamentalist type of religion where women have equal rights.

Added later: This old embroidery of mine may explain the point better. Or its name, "Choices", may do so, in a world where someone else defines the acceptable choices:

On Phill Kline

Does the name sound familiar to you? In that case you might live in Kansas or you may have read about Kline's crucade against abortion. He's the guy who as Attorney General wanted to mine the medical records of women who have had abortions for any potential crime that he might then prosecute. The voters gave him a kick in the butt but the wingnuts had different ideas:

Republican activists chose Attorney General Phill Kline as Johnson County's new district attorney Monday night to replace the Democrat who ousted him from statewide office last month.

The tally among Republican precinct committee members who gathered at a Lenexa church was 316 for Kline to 291 for Steve Howe, who is an assistant district attorney in Johnson County.

In the attorney general's race last month, Kline received just 35 percent of the vote in Johnson County against five-term district attorney Paul Morrison, a former Republican who became a Democrat to challenge Kline for the statewide office.

Despite serving four years as attorney general, Kline has almost no experience prosecuting criminal cases in District Court. But he retained support of many of his fellow conservatives and abortion opponents.

"I'm not new to the cause," Kline said in a speech Monday night before the vote. "I have been tested in leadership, and you know I will stay the course."

And we know what that course is, don't we? The wingnuts are still playing hardball.
Link via this blog.

On Senator Tim Johnson

He is in critical condition after brain surgery:

U.S. Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson was in critical condition after undergoing brain surgery, the U.S. Capitol physician said on Thursday, an illness that could deprive Democrats of their precarious hold on the new Senate.

The party narrowly wrested control from President George W. Bush's Republicans in the U.S. Congress in last month's elections, gaining just a 51-49 majority in the Senate when it convenes on Jan. 4. However, if Johnson, 59, were to leave office, Republicans could gain control of the Senate.

I'm sending good energy to Senator Johnson. Governor Rounds (of the rapists' fatherhood rights school), not so much.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On Truthiness

Stephen Colbert hugs this word against his chest, shouting "MINEmineMINE!" whenever anybody suggests that he didn't invent it. So I'm going to go with the flow and call the term "truthiness" Colbert's creation. It might well be his creation. He was certainly one of the first to popularize its use:

Colbert introduced the word truthiness on the premiere episode of The Colbert Report, on October 17, 2005. According to Newsweek, he came up with the idea of truthiness just moments before filming for the show began.[1] He used truthiness in a monologue that emphasized its role as an ironic political polemic compressed into a single word, as demonstrated in the following excerpts:[4]

I will speak to you in plain, simple English. And that brings us to tonight's word: 'truthiness.' Now I'm sure some of the 'word police,' the 'wordinistas' over at Webster's are gonna say, 'hey, that's not a word.' Well, anyone who knows me knows I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books.

I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart. And that's exactly what's pulling our country apart today. 'Cause face it, folks; we are a divided nation. Not between Democrats and Republicans, or conservatives and liberals, or tops and bottoms. No, we are divided between those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart.

Consider Harriet Miers. If you 'think' about Harriet Miers, of course her nomination's absurd. But the president didn't say he 'thought' about his selection. He said this:

(video clip of President Bush:) 'I know her heart.'

Notice how he said nothing about her brain? He didn't have to. He feels the truth about Harriet Miers.

And what about Iraq? If you think about it, maybe there are a few missing pieces to the rationale for war. But doesn't taking Saddam out feel like the right thing?

The word "truthiness" has had a great honor dumped on it: it is the Word for the Year 2006:

An online poll run by US dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster has found Colbert's term, 'truthiness', best sums up 2006.

The satirist, who stars in The Colbert Report and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart as a not so sharp right-wing commentator, has defined the word as "truth that comes from the gut, not books".

I have trouble with "truthiness" because it sounds like "toothiness" to me and then I start thinking about chewing things quite thoroughly and ripping them apart fiercely and that has contaminated my ability to analyze truthiness with my usual analytical clarity. Luckily Colbert can be used as a sturdy crutch here*:

Colbert gave an out-of-character interview with The Onion's A.V. Club, in which he responded to the question, "What's your take on the 'truthiness' imbroglio that's tearing our country apart?" by elaborating on the critique he intended to convey with the word truthiness:[5]

Truthiness is tearing apart our country, and I don't mean the argument over who came up with the word...

It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty. People love the President because he's certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don't seem to exist. It's the fact that he's certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?...

Truthiness is 'What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.' It's not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There's not only an emotional quality, but there's a selfish quality.

This is interesting. Think of facts as the foundation for what we usually think of as truths, to be called brain-truths here. Then what is the foundation of emotional truthiness, or heart-truths? And what is the foundation for gut feelings or bowel-truth? I think the last one refers to the selfish quality Colbert mentions in the above quote, because gut judgements tend to be quick and easy and rarely require wrestling over difficult issues. A lot of prejudice comes from the gut, though good judgements may, too. When I feel something from the gut it makes me feel...more me, more open, more honest, even if I'm completely in the wrong.

It is this feeling of genuiness that people mistake for truth, I suspect, and it also applies to the heart-truths or emotional truthiness. There is something wonderful about decisions made from the heart, because they so often fight that fairly self-centered call of the gut and also the cold calculations of the brain. And I think humankind would be poorer and meaner without the emotional and physical reactions I've described.

But they are not facts, and that is where the importance of a ridiculing term such as "truthiness" comes in. It's not enough to make emotional or gut assessments about a phenomenon without understanding or studying it, not enough at all. Those assessments are based on sloth and laziness and inertia and they result in silly but sweeping generalizations. The last six years should have proven for good that intellectual sloth is a sin however well it may be wrapped in pious sentiments.

But of course truthiness isn't that new. It's what advertising has used for decades if not centuries, and that is why I'm not willing to forgive the sin of truthiness quite as easily as I might otherwise be tempted to do. For we all know that ads lie and they do it more convincingly than the current political regimes of this world.

*As an aside, the penultimate sentence in that quote might have a typo, because it would make more sense if the second "feel" was replaced by "want". Or we miss vocal emphasis.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Meanwhile, in Nigeria

Same-sex marriage is going to be banned but not only marriage: almost all forms of association between homosexuals are going to become illegal:

Lawmakers in Nigeria are debating a bill that would ban same-sex marriage and any form of association among gays, even sharing a meal at a restaurant.

Few in Nigeria's deeply closeted gay community have publicly opposed the legislation, which proposes penalties of up to five years in prison and is widely expected to pass.

Engaging in homosexual acts is already illegal in Nigeria, with those convicted facing jail terms in the mainly Christian south and execution in the mainly Muslim north.

"This meeting, right here, would be illegal," said activist Bisi Alimi, stabbing the air with a French fry for emphasis as he sat at a table with three gay friends and a reporter.

Other activities prohibited under the proposed law include belonging to gay clubs or reading books, watching films or accessing Internet sites that "promote" homosexuality.

Alimi has been trying to drum up opposition to the legislation, but says Nigeria's gay community is too far underground and the subject too taboo.

Even accessing Internet sites that "promote" homosexuality? Hmmm. I will take up promoting homosexuality as the new neat way to spend your vacations. I will even offer discounts for first-time visitors to Homosexualia.

Jokes on this topic don't really work. If you read the above quote carefully you may have noticed that homosexuality in the Muslim north of Nigeria is a crime punishable by execution. Stoning, perhaps? It used to be burning in England, once. What vile creatures we humans can be when we put our mind to it.

It isn't an accident that a society's views on homosexuality correlate with its views on the equality of women and men. You can even see that correlation in microcosm inside the United States: the most fervent opponents of same-sex marriage are also likely to be the most fervent supporters of patriarchal male-dominated customs in general. The hidden threads that tie these topics together are not only about sexuality and what one finds repulsive or appealing in that dangerous field but also about the proper way to have sex and the proper person to be the bottom in the act, and that person is always supposed to be a woman. That's what women are for, in the minds of lots of people.

Even the possibility of homosexuality turns the patriarchal applecart (or perhaps the patriarchal bed) upside down, and that is why it is so threatening to so many. But we are not just discussing sex here. We are discussing the hierarchies and power structures of the society in general. If we are discussing anything at all. The Nigerians don't seem to be able to even allow that to happen.
Want to read something hair-tearingly funny on the topic of wingnut theories of homosexuality? Check out this.

Rumsfeld Unmasked

It's like the time at the end of a children's game, the time when everyone tells where they hid or what they pretended to be. Only it's not a children's game, of course, but thinking in those terms keeps my head from exploding, given that I'm a somewhat idealistic goddess.

I'm talking about Donald Rumsfeld, of course. He's coming clean now that not coming clean doesn't benefit him. First, he has a different interpretation of his resignation than our Dear Leader. Remember that Bush argued Rumsfeld was going to go whatever the election results might have been. But this is what Rumsfeld himself said to Hannity (a wingnut pundit on Fox):

HANNITY: What happened this time, though?

RUMSFELD: I think that this time the outcome of the election, just to put it right up on the table, created a situation where I personally believe, and the president agrees, it is better for someone else to be leading this department with that new Congress. And it's better for the military; it's better for the department; and it's better for the administration. And I feel comfortable with that.

Ok, so this is fairly trivial. But note that Rumsfeld has been making other contradictory statements, too. Such as these:

In a new interview posted on, conservative columnist Cal Thomas asks outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "With what you know now, what might you have done differently in Iraq?" Rumsfeld offers a remarkable response:

I don't think I would have called it the war on terror. I don't mean to be critical of those who have. Certainly, I have used the phrase frequently. Why do I say that? Because the word 'war' conjures up World War II more than it does the Cold War. It creates a level of expectation of victory and an ending within 30 or 60 minutes of a soap opera. It isn't going to happen that way. Furthermore, it is not a 'war on terror.' Terror is a weapon of choice for extremists who are trying to destabilize regimes and (through) a small group of clerics, impose their dark vision on all the people they can control. So 'war on terror' is a problem for me.

Click on the link to find Rumsfeld saying the exact opposite umpteen hundred times in the past.

Isn't it odd how quickly things change in the faith-based reality? And how very hard it is to tell what the conservatives actually think? If they think, that is.

Still Staying The Course In Iraq

Yet another event like a mini-9/11 took place in Baghdad:

A powerful car bomb exploded in central Baghdad early this morning near a crowd of mostly Shiite day laborers, killing 59 people and wounding 149, Lt. Col. Mahmoud Abdul Aziz of the Iraqi Interior Ministry said.

Major Gen. Jihad Habri said on state television that the blast came from 120 kilograms of explosives packed into a Chevrolet pickup truck. The bomb was detonated in Tayaran (Aviation) Square about 7 a.m., a time when scores of day laborers gather looking for construction, cleaning or painting work.

Britt Hume sees no reason to change the policy in Iraq:

On the December 10 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume falsely characterized the Iraq Study Group's report as a "stay-the-course document" that "did not reject the president's policy on Iraq," and said its only recommendations for change were "at the margins." In fact, the report issued by the ISG specifically states that "[c]urrent U.S. policy is not working, as the level of violence in Iraq is rising and the government is not advancing national reconciliation," and adds that "[m]aking no changes in policy would simply delay the day of reckoning at a high cost."

But American citizens don't agree with him:

Americans believe the war in Iraq is going badly and getting worse, and think it's time for the U.S. either to change its strategy or start getting out, according to a CBS News poll.

Forty-three percent say the U.S. should keep fighting, but with new tactics, while 50 percent say the U.S. should begin to end its involvement altogether. Only 4 percent say the U.S. should keep fighting as it is doing now.

You figure it all out. But it looks to me as if those in power are the only ones who refuse to see the truth.

Haloscan Is Down Back Working

Sorry about that. If you wish, you can e-mail me with your comments and I can put them in when Haloscan is all better. Click on the website mentioned at the top of this page for e-mail addresses. You can also tell what you think of the statistics primer under construction there.
I failed to make a note of the website where I got that wonderful picture of frustration from. Apologies.

Monday, December 11, 2006

No Wheels For Meals

This story about the difficulties of the Meals On Wheels program serves as an example of stupidity in policy making:

Meals on Wheels, which has delivered food to the elderly and disabled since 1954, is experiencing shortages of volunteer drivers and about four of 10 programs have waiting lists of needy clients.

The rapidly growing population of Americans age 85 and older is increasing the need for nutrition programs and high gasoline prices make it harder to recruit volunteers, says Peggy Ingraham of the Meals on Wheels Association of America.

Houston's largest Meals on Wheels provider has 700 people on its waiting list who can wait six months or more before they can get food, says David Roberts, director of senior nutrition at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, which runs the program.

"It's just a hard job some days," Roberts says. His program delivers meals to 3,200 with paid drivers because volunteers are scarce.

Why stupidity? Because programs such as Meals on Wheels are much, much cheaper than institutionalizing the elderly, and often all that is really needed to avoid or delay the institutionalization is that someone looks in once a day and brings a warm meal or two. And of course people prefer their own homes to nursing homes.

So due to the want of a few dollars we are going to see the nursing home expenses skyrocket. Where's all that money that was spent for abstinence education, by the way? Perhaps some of those abstinent teens could be talked into delivering meals instead.

God And Government

Two news stories give us further evidence of the ways in which religion is working in the public sector. The first one is about prisoners getting more amenities if they go along with some religious indoctrination:

Life was different in Unit E at the state prison outside Newton, Iowa.

The toilets and sinks — white porcelain ones, like at home — were in a separate bathroom with partitions for privacy. In many Iowa prisons, metal toilet-and-sink combinations squat beside the bunks, to be used without privacy, a few feet from cellmates.

The cells in Unit E had real wooden doors and doorknobs, with locks. More books and computers were available, and inmates were kept busy with classes, chores, music practice and discussions. There were occasional movies and events with live bands and real-world food, like pizza or sandwiches from Subway. Best of all, there were opportunities to see loved ones in an environment quieter and more intimate than the typical visiting rooms.

But the only way an inmate could qualify for this kinder mutation of prison life was to enter an intensely religious rehabilitation program and satisfy the evangelical Christians running it that he was making acceptable spiritual progress. The program — which grew from a project started in 1997 at a Texas prison with the support of George W. Bush, who was governor at the time — says on its Web site that it seeks "to 'cure' prisoners by identifying sin as the root of their problems" and showing inmates "how God can heal them permanently, if they turn from their sinful past."

One Roman Catholic inmate, Michael A. Bauer, left the program after a year, mostly because he felt the program staff and volunteers were hostile toward his faith.

"My No. 1 reason for leaving the program was that I personally felt spiritually crushed," he testified at a court hearing last year. "I just didn't feel good about where I was and what was going on."

For Robert W. Pratt, chief judge of the federal courts in the Southern District of Iowa, this all added up to an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money for religious indoctrination, as he ruled in June in a lawsuit challenging the arrangement.

The Iowa prison program is not unique. Since 2000, courts have cited more than a dozen programs for having unconstitutionally used taxpayer money to pay for religious activities or evangelism aimed at prisoners, recovering addicts, job seekers, teenagers and children.

Is this what Bush meant when he said that his government wouldn't discriminate against religious groups?

The second story has to do with the military:

A military watchdog group is asking the Defense Department to investigate whether seven Army and Air Force officers violated regulations by appearing in uniform in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization.

In the video, much of which was filmed inside the Pentagon, four generals and three colonels praise the Christian Embassy, a group that evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Some of the officers describe their efforts to spread their faith within the military.

"I found a wonderful opportunity as a director on the joint staff, as I meet the people that come into my directorate," Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr. says in the video. "And I tell them right up front who Jack Catton is, and I start with the fact that I'm an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family and then country. I share my faith because it describes who I am."


Weinstein, a White House lawyer in the Reagan administration, cites Defense Department regulations barring personnel from appearing in uniform in "speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies or any public demonstration . . . which may imply Service sanction of the cause for which the demonstration or activity is conducted."

All the officers are identified in the video by their Defense Department positions, "yet the video failed to include any disclaimers indicating that the views expressed were not those of the Department of Defense," the letter says.

Sounds iffy to me. But at least the military is not discriminating against Christianity, I guess.

What these two stories share is the implied use of power in the hierarchy to benefit Christianity or some sects of Christianity. The power is more than implied in the first example, because the prisoners are provided with material incentives if they join a religious group, which means that those who won't join are punished by the absence of these material comforts. But the second example links to power, too, as any grunt watching the video would know. How do you refuse to listen to your superior in the military, even if he or she is preaching religion?

I recently read that the Pope wants religion to be present in the public sector and the same argument is not uncommon in this country. But to be "present" is a very different thing from fairly forceful conversion efforts, and to me these two news stories are about conversion.

Crime And Punishment

It's somewhat shocking that one in every 32 Americans is behind bars, on probation or on parole. This is not an international ranking the U.S. probably wants to lead, but there you go:

According to the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College in London, more people are behind bars in the United States than in any other country. China ranks second with 1.5 million prisoners, followed by Russia with 870,000.

The U.S. incarceration rate of 737 per 100,000 people in the highest, followed by 611 in Russia and 547 for St. Kitts and Nevis. In contrast, the incarceration rates in many Western industrial nations range around 100 per 100,000 people.

Groups advocating reform of U.S. sentencing laws seized on the latest U.S. prison population figures showing admissions of inmates have been rising even faster than the numbers of prisoners who have been released.

"The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population. We rank first in the world in locking up our fellow citizens," said Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports alternatives in the war on drugs.

"We now imprison more people for drug law violations than all of western Europe, with a much larger population, incarcerates for all offenses."

There are other reasons for the greater incarceration rate, too, having to do with how crime tends to rise with income inequality and such.

It's an interesting topic. One of those invisible elephants in much public debate. For example, when the fashion in the 1990s was to attack poor single mothers on welfare as the source of all our problems very few voices pointed out how much more expensive the prisons are for taxpayers to maintain. I chose that comparison, because incarceration is predominantly a male problem, and that may be why it is an invisible one.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Commies Under The Garden Beds?

Posted by olvlzl.

Have you ever had a seed catalog that prints letters from customers warning that it is too leftist?

“When you stick to facts and seeds, I am in your camp.... but when you run babbling off into the leftist dogma wilderness... you are close to losing me as a customer,” Customer from Shrewsbury, VT

But the response isn’t all that way. Right below that they printed: “ I love Fedco. The cooperative. The politics. The information. The prices. The catalog!” Customer from Plainfield, VT
You can look at page 55 of the Fedco 2007 Seed catalog to see.

The Fedco Cooperative is my favorite source for seeds and growing supplies. Its catalog is, well, to quote another customer: “This catalog is more engaging than most novels: all those intriguing characters. Who should I root for???” (Page 40)

There are a few other seed catalogs that come close to matching the number of varieties but none that match the Fedco catalog for its informative and entertaining descriptions and boundless asides.

Here, from a sidebar on it’s essay on global warming, Top ten reasons for not curbing global warming:
8. Does evolution really work? - we’ll soon find out.
5. No more Florida election surprises.
1. Maine-grown coffee at MOFGA’s Common Ground fair.*
All joking aside, the essay on page 6 is serious and worth reading.

The pictures, all black and white on newsprint, are funny and beautiful and make wonderful coloring books. It is one of the few seed catalogs that I’ve seen children who are uninterested in gardening leaf through.

Other than being a customer and an admirer, I have no financial interest in Fedco Seeds, Moose Tubers or Organic Grower’s Supply. If you are interested they have a website but the paper catalog that carries the mystique. There is nothing like picking it up on a snowy January day when the power is out and imagining the garden in August. To conserve paper, you can download it. All seed is untreated, many heirloom and open varieties are sold and all of them are worth considering if you have a garden.

* The Maine Organic Farmer’s and Gardener’s Assoc. fair’s “no coffee because it’s not a Maine grown product” fight is one of the most enduring controversies up here. Ok, so it’s an inside joke, unless you get stuck at the fair with caffeine withdrawal.

Goodbye, Patchwork Cat

he Patchwork Panther is too cool to be contained.
You try to hold her, the cat just won’t be restrained.
The Patchwork Panther is so free (four and a half beats rest) she won’t be chained.

But if you are cool too,
and not to eager to hold her.
Just wait and she’ll jump
right into your lap
And if you don’t bait her,
just wait until she’s all settled
The kitty won’t feel like she’s jumped right in to a trap.

The Patchwork Panther is too cool to be contained.
You try to hold her, the cat just won’t be restrained.
The Patchwork Panther is too free.....

to be contained.

Swellfare Cassocked Hacks? Is It Really Charity?

Posted by olvlzl

s the book "Who Really Cares" by Arthur C. Brooks an indictment of stingy liberals who don’t put their wallets where their mouths are or is it yet another in the long, long series of books written to both further the ideological propaganda effort of conservatives and make them feel smug? Is it another fat-cat and wannabe, feel good book? What I’ve seen about it doesn’t exactly put it on the top of my “to read” list.

"Who Really Cares" is creating a stir in philanthropy circles -- and garnering acclaim from conservative pundits like ABC News's John Stossel and the radio host Michael Medved -- but is it to be trusted? At the AEI forum, Alan Abramson, director of the philanthropy program of the Aspen Institute, said that one should treat Brooks's sweeping conclusions with caution, given the "softness of the data" on charity in general. (He noted that Brooks himself concedes that we don't even know with certainty whether 50 percent or 80 percent of adult Americans donate to charity.)

I’ll pass up the temptations presented by the Stossel and Medved acclaim, though their recommendation would be a red flag of fawning that what was contained within was probably predictable B.S.* What really should concern anyone who is interested in the truth is Abramson’s “softness of the data” statement. Soft numbers can’t give you accurate results. They can’t and anyone who uses them should be called on their use. Even professors at Syracuse University. No, make that, especially professors at major universities.

Brook’s concession that there could be as great a gap as thirty percent in such a basic number makes me wonder why he would have gone on to write the book. Even the gap in the value of that variable would be enough to make everything else unreliable. But even if you had a solid value, what does it mean? Would it really show what Brooks and his happy audience of right wingers say it does? It all depends on how you define “charity”, the rigor with which you observe your defined limits and the general agreement that your definition is the right one.

Junk in junk out is the polite way of putting it. You plug in all kinds of numbers collected from various places and dazzle the innumerate press and the side your results are spun for and no one looks to see where the numbers came from and what they mean. When it comes to crunching numbers dealing with complex phenomenon, such as an observable behavior, it becomes a bit tricky to even tell if what the hopeful researcher wants to see is what was really there. If it is something too complex and diffuse to observe, say “charitable giving”, then the numbers can really mask other intentions.

First, what constitutes “charitable giving”? Giving itself can be anything from entirely self-serving to entirely selfless. Is that huge donation, with tax exemption, given to the already obscenely huge money hoard of Harvard to get your name put on a building, or will it go anonymously to pay tuition and instructors at Roxbury Community College? Does the condition and level of need of the recipient matter? Does ten-grand given to the Mercedes fund for the pastor of a mega-church qualify as charity? How about paying for a piece of stained glass in a window of dubious artistic merit? How about giving to an ideological institution which will lobby against the estate tax? Of the above, only the donation to the Roxbury Community College, if it goes to teaching children in need, makes it as charity with me.

Before I’m going to even consider a book about who is more generous I’m going to have to know what the numbers represent in both their raw form and in their refined form. Then we can go on to how they are used. This section of the Globe article raises some other interesting points:

Other scholars, like Paul Schervish, a sociologist and head of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, express doubts about the claims, though he found them hard to check on short notice. "One thing he does do," Schervish says in an interview, "is to go to different data sets depending on what he wants to be proving." Among other sources, Brooks uses IRS data, the University of Michigan's General Social Survey, and surveys conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

This review at brings up some interesting issues. I include it for a reason. **

*Stossel in particular is untrustworthy. A “journalist” who has declared that his job is to promote the corporate agenda is a self-proclaimed propagandist dishonestly pretending to be a reporter. Junk journalism from a junk journalist. Medved, just one of the legion of those Hollywood hangers on who can tell us what Mel Gibson’s shoes taste like. Anyone who wants me to read their book should not use their blurbs on the cover.

**J. Straka - See all my reviews (REAL NAME) In the national press release for this book, the big "news" is that "religious conservatives donate far more money than secular liberals...". What an interesting spin! What makes it especially interesting is that in an October 2003 article by Arthur Brooks in the Policy Review, he states that religious liberals give and volunteer at rates comparable to religious conservatives. Now that is an apples to apples comparison, but not very interesting "spin material". I wonder why the press release didn't contain the findings found on Mr. Brooks' own web page showing that the "working poor" give more to charity than both the middle and upper class. That statistic wouldn't sell books to his conservative audience, I guess. And while Mr. Brooks tries to come off as a neutral observer "shocked" by the results of his studies, all the other articles he has written on the internet shows he has no love for the liberals (one article entitled "The Fertility Gap" predicts the demise of the liberal party because they were having 41% fewer babies than the conservatives!).

I question the need for this book: if you are giving your money and time to those in need out of true compassion, why do you need to compare yourself to others? If you have a need to compare and judge and belittle others, I really question that you are that compassionate. Though I'm sure many conservatives will buy this biased book because it will make them feel good about themselves, they would be much further ahead to donate the money to a charity.

Note: I wonder why only 24 of 126 people found his review helpful. Maybe Brooks is preaching to the choir gloriously robed in his kind of charity. I wonder how many of the admirers of Brooks' soft numbers have uttered the phrase "evolution is just a theory,".