Saturday, November 29, 2008

Viola Uotila Sings and Plays Kantele

A comment on another blog last night reminded me of these You Tubes. The little girl is very talented. I have no idea what the words of the folk songs mean but the kid’s got real potential.

Pilvien paimen

Ruoho huojuu tuulessa

In looking for more information, it was odd how Google translation consistently called her “he”. I’d like an explaination, if one is available.

Posted by Anthony McCarthy.

Pursuing Happiness in All the Wrong Places by Anthony McCarthy

Decided to repost this piece from my defunct blog while putting the ads from Friday's paper in the recycling bin. It's a pretty disgusting waste of trees. And that's after the story of the sales clerk trampled to death at WalMart and the shooting in the toy store. What is so wrong is that it is a holiday alleged to celebrate the man who said you could serve either God or Mammon. Clearly America has chosen Mammon, well after it was warned.

The estimable columnist
, Derrick Jackson, has a similar take on this subject.

ou can find happiness in friendship, you find it in friendly encounters with strangers and in your family and friends. We need basic material security to be happy but it isn't happiness. Short of famine relief, happiness doesn't come by truck.

Useless buying and hoarding is a sign of fear, of families and communities failing. This covers everything from trying to buy respect to the exercise machine covered with clothes you can't wear. You aren't any better off than you started out but now you've got another payment to make. Enough turns to more than you want and that turns to more than you can ever use. You have to rent a storage unit to get it out of your house. If you didn't buy it to begin with you might be able to afford basic security and have time to enjoy life with other people.

The McMansion craze that is killing off what's left of the middle class and destroying open land is an attempt to escape the isolated anxiety that life has turned into. Families don't talk to each other in towns full of strangers who are suspicious of each other. And once you're locked in the big house everyone goes off to watch TV in their own rooms. That is until your mortgage rate gets adjusted and you're looking for somewhere you can afford.

Work is even worse than that. It is competitive, cynical and insecure. You are being used and used up. You might not even have the hope that your children can get an education that will give them a better life. They're doomed to even worse than you have it and they resent everything.

You won't find happiness in the package labeled American Dream and the standard alternatives are worse. Forget the myth of the rugged individualist. That is just as phony as the thing they are supposedly escaping. No one is more conformist than those often violent, insecure, tough guys. Look at what happens to one of them who practices real individualism. Their pack turns on them.

The happiness found in decent relations with other people can't be bought or sold, it can't be won by winning. You have to make friends with your family and your neighbors. You can't do that watching a giant TV or DVD. You have to abandon the debt ridden, competitive culture that those continually pitch at us. It's hard to do, especially with children, but it's a lot easier than building a sixteen room house that you'll never own. Debt is a taste of slavery.

When you get your life back you can get past pride. That's a desperate fill-in for self-respect. Self respect comes from getting outside yourself and doing something for someone else. Self-respect gives you the confidence to say no to the sales pitch. Without self-respect no one else is going to respect you, no matter how much stuff you own.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gated communities (by Suzie)

            In a recent thread, someone talked about “gated communities” as synonymous with bastions of rich, racist whites. I’ve heard that a lot in the years that I’ve lived in gated communities.
            To those who say gated communities are elitist and exclusionary, I’d counter that expensive housing keeps poor people out of those neighborhoods, whether there’s a gate or not. I understand that gated communities may function in different ways around the world. In my county, however, they don’t appear to exclude people of color, or hinder people on foot or bicycles.
            In the United States, a lot of retirement centers and apartment complexes are gated, and some residents have low incomes. I live in a sprawling apartment complex separated from other sprawling apartment complexes by fences or small lakes, otherwise known as wetland areas or drainage ponds. Because my complex is near a university and three large hospitals, most of our residents are students or people who work at the university or the hospitals. I moved here because it’s close to the cancer center where I’m a patient. Because it’s a newer complex, the design was the most disability-friendly. Income varies here, and a lot of people have roommates. There are people of different ethnic backgrounds. None are rich, unless they’re anthropologists who have come to study us.
           My ZIP code includes poor neighborhoods with high crime. If people get enough money, they move to an apartment like mine. If a bag of money fell out of the sky onto my lap, I’d buy a house. Few people volunteer to live in high-crime neighborhoods just so they can build community spirit.
           The owners of apartment complexes may install walls, fences and gates in hopes of attracting people who fear crime. But they have many other reasons. In complexes with a lot of young people, for example, a gate can reduce the number of out-of-control parties.
           At my complex, people enter the gate either with a key card, or by calling a resident to buzz them in. Like many gated complexes in my county, our gate is open half the time, and there’s no guard sizing up people to see if they belong.
           Two weeks ago, our gate was broken once again, and young men with guns (such a bad combination!) accosted a woman in the parking lot, stealing her car. Some people say gates don’t provide any extra security, and that may be true. I haven’t examined the studies. Nevertheless, I'm glad the gate got fixed. 

How I feel (by Suzie)

Oh, no, the compulsory Christmas season has begun, even before we can finish our Thanksgiving leftovers. Neighbors already have put up their tree.

This is a photo of a crying Cassie Koehn, whose mother, Donna, blogged about how to keep Santa from terrifying your toddler. Doesn't this Santa look like Uncle Sam in the old recruitment posters?

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

          In July, I wrote:
Mark Derr says small dogs are stigmatized as women’s pets. Bigger dogs are associated with men and work, such as herding sheep or finding prey for hunters. But a Chihuahua? It's just a companion, and being a companion has little value in our society.
          In Barbara Walters' interview with the Obamas, Barack says he doesn't want a small "girly" lap dog. The family must have a "big, rambunctious dog." My Chihuahua and I are growling. 

Thursday, November 27, 2008

More Nice Stuff

This video about snow in Helsinki brought back memories of going out late at night when I was the first creature to meet the new snow. Magical moments, those. (video link courtesy of Gilly Gonzales)

The Last Winter from Ilmari Aho on Vimeo.

And here's a fun website for cat lovers and others, too.

A Nice Picture

The world can be a beautiful place.

And Butterfly by Rajaton

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Opposition Research

Here's a funny wingnut article for you to read:

The four-year ascent of Barack Obama from state senator to president marks not just the triumph of a man, but the coming of age of a movement.

That movement belongs to liberal (or "progressive") Democrats, who in less than a decade have remade themselves. Once respected only in academia and the news media, they have become a fighting force. They systemically digitized the means of political organization and strategy, with the ultimate goal of dominating the political system — "Crush their spirits!" was Daily Kos blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga's pre-election rallying cry.

The Left's online movement is consciously modeled after the Goldwater-and-Reagan-era conservative movement. To those trying to build the Left, the vast right-wing conspiracy was an object not of scorn, but of admiration. They studied the Right's network of think tanks, issue groups, and talk-show hosts, looking for clues on how to push a message with brutal efficiency. They took these lessons to heart and shaped them to fit the web. Ironically, today's Right has much to learn from them.

The Left has created not just a collection of unshaven bloggers but a machine that beat the Right at its own game.

And so on and so on. We get to meet the big unshaven blogger boyz of the left blogosphere and we get to learn their great secret: Give people news, not opinions about the news!

And I guess, don't shave!

Thousand Leaves Torte

My bravura baking number. Don't start it now for Thanksgiving. It requires more time than you probably have.

You need:

Cinnamon Pastry (recipe to follow)
Custard Filling (recipe to follow)
6 tbsps sugar
1 cup applesauce
1 tsp lemon juice
sliced almonds or grapes or chocolate buttons for top decoration (or all)

Cinnamon pastry:

3/4 cups butter
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3-4 tbsps cold water

Cut butter into flour, salt and cinnamon until the batter looks like little droppings. Sprinkle in water, a little at a time, and toss with a fork (or scrunch in your clean hand) until all flour is moistened and pastry almost cleans the sides of bowl. Add more water if this doesn't happen. Gather pastry into a ball. Chill it in the fridge for half an hour or more.

Custard Filling

1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp corn starch
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, slightly beaten to make it all gooey
1 tsp vanilla (or use vanilla sugar as part of the 1/4 cup sugar)
1/2 cup chilled whipping cream

Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in saucepan. Stir in milk slowly. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens and boils. Keep boiling and stirring for about a minute longer.

Stir at least half of the sauce slowly into the egg. Then reverse by stirring that mixture back into the saucepan. Let come to a boil and stir for about a minute. Remove from heat and add vanilla (if you use vanilla sugar you can add it here also).
Cover and let cool. Put into the fridge to get chilled. Beat the whipping cream until stiff and fold into the custard. Do the last part (with the cream) just before you are ready to decorate. The custard you can make up to a day earlier.

Apple sauce recipe (right before the decorating moment):

Open a jar of the apple butter, add the 1 tsp of lemon juice to it. Taste-test. Adjust if needed.

Putting it all together:

Heat the oven to 425 American degrees. Divide the cinnamon pastry into six equal parts. Roll each of these out into a round circle (about seven inches in diameter). Place on cookie sheets and prick the circles all over with a fork. Sprinkle each with one tablespoon of sugar. Bake until light golden brown (watch them, they burn fast). About 12-15 minutes. Cool on wire racks (or if you don't have them you are in for a hell of a struggle and lots of broken pieces but they taste as good broken). Note: Unless your oven is vaster than mine you have to do these in relays and it takes quite a lot of time. A day before the planned eating is best.


Get a nice cake stand (flat-bottomed) and put the ugliest of the pastry circles on it. Spread with 1/3 applesauce mix. Add a second layer. Spread with 1/2 cup of custard-cream mix. Continue this way until you have no more pastry to add to the stack. Use the remaining custard sauce to cover the top before decorating it with almonds or such. I also cover the sides because mine are always ragged. Refrigerate before eating at least two hours. This is important.

Serve and watch it disappear in one second. Weep because of the work involved. It's very rich, by the way, so slice into very thin slices.

Whose Children Are They Anyway?

Ruth Marcus has written a column in the Washington Post about the gendered division of labor in the Obama household. It sounds like many, many similar columns and books I've read about during my feminist years: It points out the problem and then sort of hides behind the back of the idea of general confusion felt by all women (read: all upper-middle class women who have careers) about how to balance family and work and the writer's great identification with women confused in that manner:

When Michelle Obama took to describing her new role as mom in chief, my first reaction was to wince at her words. My second reaction was to identify with them.

I was okay, actually, with what Obama said. But I worried: Did she have to say it out loud, quite so explicitly? Is it really good for the team -- the team here being working women -- to have the "mommy" stamp so firmly imprinted on her identity?

And most of all: What does it say about the condition of modern women that Obama, catapulted by her husband's election into the ranks of the most prominent, sounded so strangely retro -- more Jackie Kennedy than Hillary Clinton?


"My first job in all honesty is going to continue to be mom in chief," Obama told Ebony magazine, "making sure that in this transition, which will be even more of a transition for the girls . . . that they are settled and that they know they will continue to be the center of our universe."

Note the very beginning of this quote: It's not really possible for a female columnist in public just to say that she winced at Michelle Obama's words, because of what they meant from the wider angle of taking women's professional achievements seriously. She also has to say that she identifies with those concerns.

And of course she does. And if she did not, her column would be interpreted as an attack against all those women who struggle with the problem and who have solved it by cutting back on their own ambitions. So then Ruth Marcus had to add a bit about how she is facing the very same problem and appears to be ready to give in on her professional ambitions. That's what good women do, you know.

I understand the difficulty women have when writing about topics like this one. I even agree that the children should come first for Michelle Obama during the transition, because Barack certainly won't spend time with them. But it's really very unfortunate that these types of columns always shift around in this way, because we as readers end up discussing the question of how ambitious women can balance work and family, and then we fight over whether they should have careers at all and so on, when really what Marcus is talking about is this:

Obama seems comfortable, now, in the back seat, but that seeming serenity did not come easy. In "The Audacity of Hope," Barack Obama offers a glimpse of an earlier, more conflicted Michelle, whose "anger toward me seemed barely contained" as she struggled with the pull between work and family while her husband launched a run for Congress.

"No matter how liberated I liked to see myself as . . . the fact was that when children showed up, it was Michelle and not I who was expected to make the necessary adjustments," Barack Obama writes. "Sure, I helped, but it was always on my terms, on my schedule. Meanwhile, she was the one who had to put her career on hold."

Expected to -- by whom? Had to -- says who? I remember reading this passage two years ago, when the book came out, and thinking: Hey, buddy, she has to scale back only because you're not willing to.

And yet, Barack Obama could have been describing so many women today when he explained that, for Michelle, "two visions of herself were at war with each other -- the desire to be the woman her mother had been, solid, dependable, making a home and always there for her kids; and the desire to excel in her profession, to make her mark on the world and realize all those plans she'd had on the very first day that we met."

Marcus gets my admiration, actually, for daring to write on this topic at all. But still. See how that "Hey, buddy, she has to scale back only because you're not willing to" leads to a sudden escape back into putting the whole problem on the laps of women. I don't like it, because there's no way in hell women alone, without any change in the society or in the role of men can solve that problem. It. Cannot. Be. Done.

To pretend that it can be done only tells us that women can be a little more than the ever-hovering but silent and undemanding female angels traditionally assumed to take care of every successful man: they can also be the junior assistant office managers in the families of famous men.

Women can balance their own work, their partners' work, the children, the parents and grandparents, the Thanksgiving turkey, the birthday cards, the care of the sick, the need to look young and sexy, the dustbunnies under the beds, the school menus, the parental chauffeuring services. They can balance all that, somehow, while walking on the tightrope of cultural femininity, the demands of a labor market which still assumes that every worker has a little lady at home to give succor and psychological counseling and cleaning services. And then the woman-haters write how women don't have the same genius as men do, how no woman has ever invented something like the automobile or designed a great church, how women therefore are obviously biologically incapable of anything but -- well --- playing the role of Girl Fridays for famous men.

So I'm angry. How very awkward for me. But really, why can't we keep the limelight on the real question Ruth Marcus asked, for longer than one fleeting second: What can be done to make the sexual division of labor within families more egalitarian? And if we don't want to make those changes, how do we provide women with equal opportunities in other spheres of life? The answer must not focus on all the ways that women alone could somehow achieve that. Days are still only twenty-four hours long, even for us of the girly persuasion.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From The Diaries of Thad Tough. A Man About Town.

I just began my great novel. What do you think?

As I exited the men's room at the night club, I enjoyed the shine of my shoes. They even reflected the diamonds in my cuff links. My eyes slid down my impeccable front: Leather, silk and linen covering a perfect body. Don't hate me just because I'm perfect, I muttered gruffly, while unbuttoning my jacket to show the admiring masses what they envied about me.

But what is that pink spot? There, further down my front?

It was the tip of my penis peeking out through the broken zipper of my pants, like a blind snake tasting the air.


It's a joke! Just a joke.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (by Suzie)

The United Nations chose today because it's the anniversary of the assassination of Patricia, Marie and Minerva Mirabal in 1960 in the Dominican Republic. (Photo taken from this site.) 
The sisters, known as the "Unforgettable Butterflies," became a symbol of the crisis of violence against women in Latin America. November 25th was the date chosen to commemorate their lives and promote global recognition of gender violence, and has been observed in Latin America since the 1980s.
For more information, go to the UNIFEM site.

More Silliness

I've been baking pies and having deadlines.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I Love This Picture

It's from Paul Krugman's blog at the New York Times, and shows the great merriment that was felt when the financial markets were finally liberated, yes, liberated from that horrible straight jacket of government regulation. To make the meaning more obvious, a chainsaw was used to cut through all that red tape.

Something for all of us to be grateful for, this Thanksgiving season, right?

Well, it gives us a few cynical lols. And a reminder that we must not lose our collective memory.

A Letter From Prison

By a woman who was initially sentenced to like four lifetimes for running errands and wiring money for her cousin's crack cocaine business:

Her cousin was dealing crack cocaine at the time. While she never sold drugs, Lomax wired money and ran errands for him. He was arrested, and Lomax was charged as a co-conspirator in the drug-selling operation. Around this time, she converted to Islam, choosing the name Hamedah ("one who praises") Hasan. Refusing an offer of a lighter sentence if she testified against her cousin, she was found guilty and given two life sentences, two 40-year sentences, two 20-year sentences, a five and a four year sentence—despite the fact that she was a first time non-violent offender. Federal Judge Richard Kopf stated publicly he would have given her a fraction of that time had he not been bound by harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines, which had been rushed through Congress in the 1980s.

Her sentence was reduced to 12 years, then increased on appeal by the government to 27 years. So that's what it is, right now. There are first-degree murderers who get away with a shorter sentence.

The lessons to learn from Hasan's story are many, of course. But note that bad laws tend to stick around for a very long time. It might be a good idea not to rush them through so very fast in the future.

Piglets At The Teats of the Government

Remember that phrase or something similar from the 1990s welfare debate? The poor were piglets sucking at the teats of the greatest mummy sow of them all: the federal government. That's how Bill Clinton ended up ending welfare for good and all that, after the Republicans took over the Congress and needed their own blood-red meal: the poor.

Except that welfare was never ended for the rich:

The U.S. government is prepared to provide more than $7.76 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers after guaranteeing $306 billion of Citigroup Inc. debt yesterday. The pledges, amounting to half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, are intended to rescue the financial system after the credit markets seized up 15 months ago.

Following the discussion about who deserves a bailout is fascinating, because Detroit and its car-makers don't deserve one, never mind that the industry is one of the largest employer in the country, but banks, those halls of marble and pillars, do deserve one, because they have us all by the short and curly. They are too big to fail! Or rather, their failures will hurt all the little gals and guys much more than it will hurt the rich, and that is how the rich got saved, once again.

I am not belittling the need to do something about the economic recession, because the financial industries do have us by the short and curly. I just want to point out that when we ended welfare for all times we added lots of stuff about the poor having to work to get welfare payments and lots of time limits on how long any one family could stay on welfare. And all this for an expense that was around one dollar out of each one hundred dollars the federal government spent then! Now we are willing to hand over brazillion dollars and ask nothing back in terms of good behavior. Indeed, we are not even demanding that those in charge would be demoted, because we want stability in the banks! Nobody worried about the stability of families on welfare in the great and roaring nineties.

If you don't think that power goes with money in this society you are probably not a member of this society. And yes, Larry Summers got a cushy job in the Obama administration. He's a good economist and perhaps the country needs him. But slurs about us wimminfolk still only cause a hickup on the career rises of our boyz.

Some Fun

This is Julia Nunes singing "Accidentally in Love". Note the use of a tissue box as a percussion instrument.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Racism, Homophobia, and Prop 8 (by Skylanda)

The dust is settling on the California proposition, and with some degree of retrospect (and distance - California will always be my home state, but hasn't been my home for a good six or eight years now), it's tempting to try to start untying the thorny knot that is diversity in America.

I am certainly not the first to give a stab at that knot, and I imagine I will be eons from the last. Nor do I possess any particular insider knowledge; I am both white and unabashedly straight, sympathetic to all comers, but also not prepossessed toward one side or the other. So, dangerous turf. Let me tread lightly, please-I-ask-of-myself.

This much is clear: Barack Obama's nomination brought out droves of voters from minority groups who have traditionally been less than entirely franchised; that force of legions brought victory for just about every progressive cause besides gay rights. The Prop 8 campaign is perhaps the most talked of but certainly not the only popular legislation that took advantage of this timing to spoil in favor of a very conservative social notion that retains a curry of favor among groups who are notably liberal on just about every other topic (even abortion: every state prop on abortion went down in resounding defeat, in states far more conservative than California). Prop 8 was largely funded by that unholy alliance of the Catholic and Mormon churches; it was duly supported by conservative black churches across the state, even as they spoke for a rather more liberal candidate in Obama. The split among black voters favored Prop 8 by some enormous margin - a forty-point tilt toward banning gay marriage, by some polling estimates.

So. Righteous anger, both sides: from gay rights community who (entirely rightly) protest that they alone have been left behind in the progressive sweep, that the party around the Obama victory reveals an even deeper homophobia - that sudden understanding that as long as a bunch of other progressive causes take home the cup, no one really cares about gay rights. Even in California. Flip side: from the African-American community that is fed up with decades of backsliding against the gains of the civil rights movement (to the place where we find increasing rates of incarceration among black men, and sky-high perinatal mortality rates among black women and infants) and which has expressed at times a whole lot of disinterest in being pinned with the responsibility for every civil liberties issue when this community is still one of the most beleaguered demographics in the United States.


Ignoring for a moment the fact that there are gay black people (which appears to have been totally lost in almost every public debate on this topic), some core issues have arisen that make the debate more bilious that it might need to be.

One is the actual effect of the African-American voting block on the outcome of Prop 8. According to the US Census Bureau, black Americans are cracking the demographic ceiling at a mere 7% of California's population. You can split that ninety-nine to one, and you still aren't going to call a majority for a proposition unless a much larger demographic is shoring up the race right behind them. That majority had to come largely from the massive demographic groups that dominate California: Caucasians at 43%, Hispanics at 36%, Asians at 12%. Homophobic African Americans did their part to pass Prop 8; but they could not have done it without the lily-white voting blocks of the inland empire. In fact, every African American could have stayed home on November 4th, and it still would have been a to-the-wire race (it passed roughly 48/52 - this is more math than I'm willing to do in my head, but even if whatever block of that 6% of African Americans that did vote that day had abstained on Prop 8 at that skewed ratio, it's a long stretch to say that would have overcome that gap between the overall yeahs and nays).

So, it's rather unlikely that African Americans alone - turning out in record proportion for their small population size - effected an enormous impact on Prop 8. Prop 8 was passed by the same demographics who always pass homophobic popular law: large blocks of conservative white voters (ya know, the ones who historically turn out to elections) with the backing of deep-pocket churches, solidified by scrapping together pieces of every other demographic they can get their hands on. (Colleen at The Swivet has done a much better job than I pulling the relevant data from the large southern counties - her post is worth a good visit.)

But still, it smarts: knowing that African American voters split so heavily toward the homophobic side. And therein lies the part of the debate that is precisely as bilious as you might expect, and rightly so.

From an outsider perspective, the crux of this hurt lies in the notion that every civil liberties movement has had to mature - usually quite painfully - to the notion the oppressions are bound up in each other. You can't have equal rights for women without having equal rights for blacks, because there are black women out there, and they count too. You can't become a shining beacon of equality for gay people without copping a nod to classism, because there's no kind of oppression like being poor, gay, and from the wrong side of town all at once. And because, from a nebulous metaphysical standpoint, you can't be free if you're still oppressing others. Legions of oppressed people might roll their eyes at the tragedy of the oppressors, but still: it's a nice sentiment, especially when it drives social movements.

Every one of these activist movements has been accused - ever so rightfully, not a doubt under the sun - of privileging their own private oppression over every other. That was the hallmark of race relations during the second wave of feminism: the demand that all women identify as women first in a movement dominated by individuals whose race and class lent lenses of invisibility to the idea that a woman can be raped, beaten, harassed, and discriminated against on the basis of her sex, and still consider race to be her primary oppression, or her primary identity above and beyond a sisterhood with women who don't face racism and classism. That was an ugly fight; it's been re-fought on the grounds of just about every one of these movements. The subsets of folks fighting these fights who haven't faced down this particular ogre yet? Ah, well then, you still have it coming. Good luck to you.

So third-wave feminism - a tenured generation very much wrapped up in this post-millennial era of gay liberation - feels like, ya know, this has been done. We got it: we get on the post for every issue on the block - race, class and gender are just the beginning. We hop to for disability rights, we marshal the battalions for gay rights. We swallowed hard when a woman president slipped from our grasp but we understood that other strides were equally important. We even get a little misty notion of species-ism and make a little noise for animal rights. I'm not making fun, I swear: this is good stuff. Even when we half-ass it, that noble notion is there: our oppressions, your oppressions, all wrapped up into one, my liberation is tied up in your liberation, fight the good fight for all, yadda yadda.

And so we are sometimes very surprised - and feel rather righteously betrayed - when it turns out that some other demographic of historically beaten-down peoples turn out to the polls to support their own causes, and none but their own. African Americans: turning out to root for a hometown hero; not so interested in giving props for gay marriage. It smarts. It really fucking does.

But that again gets to the crux of the matter: does this generation of feminists, gay rights advocates, and the like have the right to demand support from the African American community? Certainly, ya know, it would be real nice. It would be awfully reassuring to know that the years spent building bridges between civil rights advocates wouldn't evaporate the moment that particular demographic puts forth a stunning new landmark in political enfranchisement. One would really hope, for example, that a hypothetical first gay president wouldn't also turn out to be totally indifferent to racism, or worse yet, bring out legions of Aryan Nation warriors on election day to pass state-wide initiatives hostile toward minority rights; but one has no grounds to claim that for certain. We won't know that til we get there, if ever we do.

But thinking about what would be real nice and mediating the reality of what we can expect are two vastly divergent thought processes. At the moment, we are faced with the prospect of that slap-in-the-face reality that push to shove, the minority whose time it was to shine did not benevolently lend out a helping hand to others.

Here's the thing: I'm not sure this is a reasonable expectation. I'm not sure that, given the massive inequities rife on the American racial landscape today, it is ok to expect an activist commitment to equality toward people mostly not their own from a demographic still so deeply put down by the majority. Like I said: it would be nice, and hurt is justified - and not unexpected - that it did not come through. But I also think that leap between my civil rights and your civil rights - that linking of oppressions that was so hard fought and won between the waves of feminism - is a product of luxury. It's the province of those who have got theirs and willing now to part out spoonfuls to others. Do I wish we were one big happy egalitarian family fighting for the rights of all? Uh huh, yeah I do. But that isn't - and has never been - rhetoric coming from those scrapping around at the bottom. That's rhetoric coming from people like me: I got mine. I got mine enough that I can spend my weekends yammering away on this blog instead of working a second or third job. It's not really fair to ask people still suffering the unmitigated travesty of poverty and racism in America to come to the table for someone else's dinner party at which they will not be eating. (It's also not really fair - in fact, it is rather alarmingly racist - to expect some kind of solidarity from conservative of black churches, while excusing the mostly white Mormon church for being the fount of this Prop 8 nonsense because, well, Mormons always do this kind of thing. But that's another post entirely.)

None of this leaves aside an alarming truth though: homophobia is a vast, understated, and persistent problem in the African American community. Obama's campaign probably had no intention of making national news out of that factoid, but the tricks of historical timing - that Prop 8 was on the same ballot as the first African American candidate for presidency - leaves no room for doubt. And plenty of room for a good dose of shame.

Where does this leave us all now? For one, anyone with a stake in progressive politics who took home any kind of victory on November 4th: you - we, us - owe an enormous debt of honor to the gay community that fell on the sword that day in the name of every other liberal cause on the block. The gay community took it in the throat for the rest of us, and it is time to return the favor: by putting your money and your mouth where your politics are. Write letters, donate to hopeful political campaigns in the next round, make your voice heard loud and clear in favor of repealing the don't-ask-don't-tell policy and the court battle against Prop 8 - the two most visible actions on the block in the next few months. Fight for the rights of gay individuals and families in the arenas of employment equality, marriage, military discrimination, safety for gay youth in schools, the family courts. This isn't just about interlocking oppressions anymore; this is about help making right the enormous screws put into the gay community on the day that everyone else celebrated liberation and renewal.

Under this new administration, we have some opportunities that have been entirely impossible to even dream of under the Bush years. I say this not because I think Obama is a miracle worker, or even because he is on the right side of every issue (indeed, no: I'm about sixteen shades to the left of most of his campaign platform, and we'll see what comes out of his first term of the presidency). I say this because without the raining down of hatred and hawkishness so marked in the last eight years, there are a few things we don't have to worry about anymore. I'm no longer worried, for example, that we might attack Iran next week - or that the man at the helm is hell-bent on ending science as we know it. Out from under that pressure cooker - with several hellfire-crazy scenarios just off the table - now is the time to push for the issues that weren't even possible to consider just a few months back, and for the issues on which Obama still lies too far right of center. First up on my list: allowing gays to serve openly in the military; expanding health care coverage; renewing commitment to a clean environment; and ending that half-assed notion that we still need troop build-up in Afghanistan, even as we begin to envision a withdrawal from Iraq.

This is far from the time to rest on any kind of laurels; this is the opportunity of a lifetime to make this country something we can all live with. The pressure is off, and yet the pressure is on: we only have two years before interim elections may bend congress right again. Time to start striving toward our potential as a nation again, instead of merely fighting to tread water. Our liberation, all of it: yours, mine, ours. Fractured or together, it's our ride this time around - let's make it a good one.

To Counter The Force of Fundamentalist “christianity” In Our Politics, We Need To Use This. by Anthony McCarthy

Today is the feast of Christ the King* in Catholic churches. While I’m not, by definition, a Christian, the gospel reading for the day has a lot to be said in its favor. It’s always puzzled me why this particular passage is passed over in addressing right-wing “christian” fundamentalists. It completely undermines their political and ethical position.

Here it is, from Matthew, 25:31-46

Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, `Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, `You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Contained in this one passage is a straight forward condemnation of both the policy and practice of conservative “christians”, the ones who you’re about to hear froth on about the war on Christmas for the next month, the only ones who the word "Christian" is used to cover in the mass media.

You can look pretty long and hard at conservatives and you won’t find much that fulfills these requirements for avoiding eternal damnation. There is virtually not a single point of these requirements which are adequately fulfilled by the conservative’s program. The hungry, the sick, the ill clothed, the alien, the prisoner. There is no way to square conservatives actions on nutrition programs, universal healthcare, immigration and certainly not on prison policy. Conservatives consistently talk about and treat “the least of these”, no less than the people who Jesus claims as “members of my family”, of being part of his very being, as if they were human dross.

These conservative ‘christians’ are constantly presented, by themselves and the media, as being the most genuine and observant followers of this man, they claim he is, literally, God. They never tire of condemning other people to eternal damnation citing “Jesus Christ” as their authority. But in this one passage we’ve got absolute proof that they are lying. Eternal damnation, you’d think that if they really believed that their policies would avoid that possibility. And notice, not a single mention of abortion, gay sex, contraception of wealth redistribution as mortal sin.

Buckminster Fuller famously advised against fighting natural forces but advised using them was more practical and effective. It’s too bad that pride and antiquated conformity keep liberals and leftists from pointing out these things. Can’t understand why we shouldn’t. Like it or not, it makes no difference, Christianity is the equivalent of a natural force in our political life. We’re not under any constitutional prohibition from citing whatever furthers our purpose. Our making reference to this or any other helpful scripture is in no way a prohibited “religious test”. And even if it was, that clause in the Constitution doesn’t bind us, it binds the government in its official actions.

"Rats are more honest." by Anthony McCarthy

Here’s a wonderful story about trained rats saving lives.

In Mozambique, special squads of raccoon-size rats are sniffing out lethal explosive devices buried across the countryside, remnants of the country's anticolonial and civil wars of the last century.

In neighboring Tanzania, teams of rats use their twitchy noses to detect TB bacteria in saliva samples from four clinics serving slum neighborhoods. So far this year, the 25 rats trained for the pilot medical project have identified 300 cases of early-stage TB - infections missed by lab technicians with their microscopes. If not for the rodents, many of these victims would have died and others would have spread the disease.

"It's fair, I think, to call these animals 'hero rats,' " said Bart Weetjens, the Belgian conceiver of both programs.

The rat squads, at first derided by some international aid officials as ridiculous, have won support from the World Bank and praise from the UN and land mine eradication groups. Now there are plans to deploy the creatures to Angola, Congo, Zambia, and other land mine-infested lands.

You might suspect that this is the kind of program that would have been held up to ridicule by the corporate media here, to supply it with cheap filler between celebrity scandal. Is it fair to wonder if, perhaps, these rats haven’t done more to save innocent people from land mines than many respected diplomats?* It might. And the story could provide an explaination.

For both TB and land mines, the rats are trained to respond to the sound of a clicker; when the rat makes the scratching motion that means it has detected an explosive or the odor of disease, the handler or trainer responds by snapping the clicker, which means a nut or fruit is on the way.

So why don't the animals just scratch every few minutes to win a treat?

"That would be human behavior," said Weetjens. "Rats are more honest."

* The United States, China, India and a number of other countries have still not signed onto the landmine ban. That is something that the Obama Administration should be lobbied to do.

Oh, So Now You Tell Me There Might Be No Black Holes? by Anthony McCarthy

The scare story about the new Hadron Collider generating tiny black holes that might eventually grow and swallow the earth didn’t exactly keep me up nights. But they did provide some insomniac diversions. I’m at a time of life when I’d often rather have my atoms torn apart in a black hole then get by on three hours sleep again.

Most of my ruminations took the form of whether or not scientists who believed their making Earth eating black holes were a remote possibility might not think that their curiosity, or more likely, very temporary glory, wouldn’t be worth us all taking the risk. Last I heard the guy trying to sue to stop them hadn’t done his math correctly and his claims were unfounded, not that I’d know. But maybe there’s even less to worry about, at this point, than we might imagine.

This book review by George Scialabba has some thought provoking, if not mind blowing, ideas in it. Most interesting for stove side rumination on an icy cold night might be this one:

The first problem Einstein encountered was internal to his original theory of general relativity. The theory predicted that some stars would develop infinite gravity and density, collapsing inward and becoming "black holes" from which no information could escape. The freakish character of black holes vexed Einstein, who never accepted their existence. The next obstacle was the discovery that many galaxies within galactic clusters are moving at a speed that should lead them to break away from the cluster. But they don't. The only explanation compatible with constant gravitational attraction (which Newton and Einstein assumed) was the presence of a large amount of invisible, undetectable matter: "dark matter." Finally, 10 years ago, several astronomers claimed to have discovered that the rate of expansion of the universe is increasing rather than decreasing. The only explanation seemed to be a vast quantity of invisible, "dark" energy with negative pressure, which would counter the braking force of gravity. Together, dark matter and dark energy supposedly make up 96 percent of the universe. If they exist.

Physicists have reluctantly accepted these anomalies for the sake of preserving Einstein's venerable theory of gravity, with its assumption of constant gravitational attraction. But neither black holes nor dark matter has ever been detected. Moffat cuts the Gordian knot, proposing a Modified Gravity Theory, or MOG. He postulates a new "fifth force," carried by a new particle, the "phion." MOG explains the varying strength of gravitational attraction without any need for black holes or dark stars. It also undermines string theory, most physicists' current candidate for a Theory of Everything. Finally, it suggests that the universe did not begin with a Big Bang but may be "eternal" and "dynamically evolving."

It's a bold theory, and Moffat acknowledges that most physicists are skeptical. But data from the new Large Hadron Collider and ongoing galaxy surveys may soon settle the question. Stay tuned.

In my youth it used to be annoying how cosmologists would go from the big crunch to the infinite evaporation of the universe with such ease and assurance. Then the spectacle of them doing the ultimate back and forth turned fun. My friends and family, those mostly in the biological sciences, hold a grudge against the Lords of Creation and their big budgets, they still find this aggravating. Being just a failed piano player, I can sit back and enjoy the show. I sincerely hope that the data are provocative but inconclusive well into the future. I’m with Old Sneep in Robert McClosky’s book “Lentil”. Everyone needs taking down a peg or two, those highest up in the social scale most of all.