Saturday, August 07, 2004

Goodbye PBS

It's sad to go to funerals, and we have one right now in the airwaves, that of the Public Broadcasting System. It's being buried, perhaps prematurely, as a consequence of the clever politics of the wingnuts.

Their warplan goes like this: Accuse the PBS of being leftwing, nay, communist. Demand fairness and balance. Install the most annoying wingnut commentators as your share of the fairness and balance. Then sit back and watch when donations dry out. Privatize PBS. Voila!

If this doesn't work out, at least we can expect the Big Bird to start talking about god-given sex roles and the ten commandments. So either way the wingnuts win. Never mind that the PBS is not leftwing to begin with. As FAIR has reported, the PBS has been leaning right for quite some time. To argue otherwise requires one to view weather forecasts as essentially communist because they don't differentiate between areas or give better weather to the Christians.

Here's the newest development in the wingnut plan:

Having lost their spot on CNBC in early 2003, the Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial-page chieftains have found a new home for their public affairs roundtable on PBS.
The 30-minute program, "Journal Editorial Report," will be part of the pubcaster's Friday night lineup, airing at 10:30 beginning Sept. 17.
Veteran TV newsman Paul Friedman, formerly of ABC News' "World News Tonight," is exec producer.
Panel discussion will be hosted by WSJ editorial page topper Paul Gigot, formerly a correspondent on PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer." Gigot is known for his right-leaning views but is not strident in his style.
In recent weeks, PBS has come under criticism for turning to the right in its programming, starting with its decision to give conservative CNN commentator Tucker Carlson a new show.
PBS prexy-CEO Pat Mitchell countered that the desire is to have a balanced slate. She said "Report," produced by WSJ parent company Dow Jones in association with WNET in Gotham, helps achieve that goal.
"Our mission is to be a marketplace of ideas, an op-ed page for the information age, reflecting a broad range of perspectives and points of view. We expect this series to add yet another dimension to our current public affairs lineup," Mitchell said.

Very good. The PBS has one lefty program, Bill Moyer's NOW. This is going to be cut from one hour to half an hour a week. Tucker Carlson and his bowtie blabbery has been added and now another wingnut program will be introduced. Of course we need a lot more wingnut shows to balance the weather forecasts and the Antiques Roadshow and all those reruns of old BBC programs.

More seriously, almost all the airwaves are funded by corporations and the views that this supports are not neutral. To demand the same of the publicly funded media will mean that we will get nothing but corporate views. This is not a 'marketplace of ideas', except in the most cynical interpretation of the term.

Friday, August 06, 2004

On Eyelids

Humans only have two over each eye and the lower one doesn't seem to do much. Some other animals have much more interesting eyelids, like a third one that closes horizontally or translucent ones. Maybe even phosphorescent ones?

Eyelids are to cover the eyeballs so that they don't stare all the time so insistently or dry out from the wind and drop off like really old and stale raisins. They are also useful for keeping bees out. Imagine the horrible boring of tunnels bees could undertake smack in the middle of your iris!

Some people paint their eyelids different colors to increase the attractiveness of their eyeballs or to keep evil spirits out. I once used to paint my eyelids orange, because I thought orange would go nicely with green eyes (Now you know my eye color, except that this might be a complicated double- bluff!). The effect in photographs is stunning, to say the least. But mostly I leave my eyelids alone, though I have recently wondered if they could be profitably pierced with safety pins as a form of general diffuse aggression.

This is turning out quite gruesome. I wanted to write something about the velvety touch of a fluttering eyelid, like a butterfly landing softly on an opening flower, but other stories are more interesting. Like the one about putting toothpicks behind the eyelids to keep them open, or the story I once heard about someone who got a grain of wheat in the eye and then had long green stalks growing out of it. Probably not completely true, but you never know.

Have you ever successfully closed the eye by just moving the lower lid? If so, let me know how it is done.

News From the Front

Well, a few of the fronts. First, for those of you who've been practising hibernation, a reminder that the Great Communicator is still dead:

Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

This is the current president of the United States. So cute, his ability to dance with a foot in his mouth, isn't it? Just the guy I want to represent the United States to the world.

Second, the beginning of a counteroffensive, finally. A lefty commentator actually fighting back! Should we run and hide? What's the world coming to? Why are the lefties so full of hatred? Hmmm. Judge for yourselves:

O'Reilly called Krugman a "quasi-socialist"; Krugman called that "slander" and said if he is a quasi-socialist then O'Reilly is a "quasi-murderer"; O'Reilly pronounced Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" a bit of "Nazi propaganda" that reinforced all of Krugman's "paranoid delusions"; Krugman insisted Moore's flick was "flawed" but was made by "a guy who really does love this country"; Russert hardly got a word in edgewise; and a good time was had by all. One of those exchanges that make you so proud to be a journalist.
During their give and take -- okay, maybe it's more accurate to say push and shove, or slap and smack -- O'Reilly would periodically accuse Krugman of not letting him get in a sentence, or words to that effect.
So we counted and, according to The Washington Post TV Team Transcript Tally, O'Reilly actually got in 321 sentences during the "debate," to Krugman's 258.

For those of you not in the U.S., the good guy is Krugman and the evil guy is O'Reilly. O'Reilly has been bullying and pummeling poor lefties for years. He belongs to the red-face-with-saliva brigade, the group that now wonders why the lefties are so angry...

I got this link from first draft, a great new blog by athenae, holden, pie and tina of Eschaton fame.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

And Now Something Completely Silly

To maintain the universal balance. What is your favorite month of the year and why? Mine is January because it is dedicated to Janus, the two-faced god of the portals. I like two-faced gods, though two-faced politicians are a different thing altogether. I also like snow and the beautiful art trees make in their nakedness.

The month I do not love is August, and the reasons are humidity, humidity and humidity. Humans may be mostly water, but goddesses are not, except in August. What useful purpose does August serve, other than the fact that politicians tend to go away then? Even ice-cream goes bad in August if left on the counter for more than a second (though this does not happen in the Snakepit Inc., ever).

My proposal is to have August replaced by a second January.

On Health Care Access for Black Americans

A new study finds that black patients tend to see physicians who are less qualified and have fewer contacts for high-quality tertiary care institutions:

''When black patients go to the doctor, they're more likely to be treated by a doctor who can't harness the full capabilities of the health care system," said Dr. Peter B. Bach, an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who was the lead author of the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Examining patterns of office visits by black and white patients on Medicare, the government health insurance program for the elderly, the study found that most blacks were treated by a subset of doctors who had less training than doctors who treated whites, and who told interviewers that they were frequently unable to provide high-quality care.
These doctors, of all races, were less likely than doctors who mostly treated white patients to have passed exams showing mastery of a primary care specialty. They were more likely to report that they could not always help their patients get treatment from specialists, diagnostic imaging such as MRIs, or admission to the hospital when it wasn't an emergency. These differences remained even after the researchers took into account patients' insurance status.

The researchers also found out that similar problems beset other physicians in the same geographical areas. In other words, the access to good quality care is reduced for blacks because of racial segregation in housing: blacks tend to live in areas with lower incomes and with fewer highly-qualified physicians. It's easy to see why lower income areas would not attract large numbers of skilled practitioners; the money just isn't there. But this is something that could be changed by government policies.

Access to health care has shown a racial difference for a long time. This is partly why black health indicators are consistently lower, too, with higher death rates from cancer and heart disease and a much lower average life expectancy. But equalizing all access measures would not equalize the health outcomes: This would require us to do something about the greater deaths from violence among blacks as well as about the lower average incomes of blacks.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Taliban Unbanned?

Atrios links to an NPR program which states that Hamid Karzai is considering allowing the Taliban a bigger say in the political process of Afghanistan. This made me dig up an old piece I wrote about Taliban and its effects on the girls of Afghanistan. Be forewarned, this is the Ranting and Raving Feminist Goddess in fourth gear:

If you had to choose between a birth as a puppy in the United States or as a baby girl in Taliban-dominated Afghanistan, which would you go for? I know that this is a tough one. Perhaps it would help to compare the options in some detail:

Both are cute, for starters. Both are also often unwanted. The Afghan girls are likely to live longer than puppies, although American puppies may have better access to medical care. Neither puppies nor Afghan girls are required to seek an education. Puppies may, however, go to school if their owners so desire, while the Afghan parents have no such rights over their daughter's education.

Both are powerless in affecting their own lives and equally vulnerable to random strikes of bad luck. Their fates are firmly in the hands of others: those of owners for the puppies and those of fathers (and later of husbands) for the Afghan girls. If these others are kind, the lives of both puppies and girls can be fairly enjoyable. If these others are cruel, both lives can be hell.

Still undediced? Neither puppies nor older Afghan girls are allowed to go out unchaperoned. Puppies must also wear identification tags and be leashed at all times, except in specially designated areas and on the property of their owners. Older Afghan girls must wear a body wrap that leaves no part uncovered, including their faces. It should be noted, though, that they don't have to wear leashes or identity tags. Yet, anyway.

Puppies are routinely banned from many public buildings as well as restaurants and grocery stores. Afghan girls are routinely banned from most public life.

See, I told you that the choice would be difficult. What is not so difficult to see is the incredibly poor taste I am exhibiting in even posing the question. But this is nothing compared to the poor taste the world has exhibited in providing me with the raw materials for this story.

Old Masters Facing the Wall

An idea for a different kind of art exhibition:

A South African museum is to exhibit 17th century Dutch master paintings all hung facing the wall.
Curator Andrew Lamprecht said the "Flip" exhibition opening in Cape Town next month was "a conceptual art intervention" on one of the country's premier art collections.
"They'll all be flipped, to completely take the space and turn it into something new and unexpected," he said. The Michaelis Collection at Cape Town's Old Town House includes works by Dutch and Flemish masters such as Frans Hals, Jan Steen and Anthony van Dyck, and is seen as one of the best of its kind outside the Netherlands.
Mr Lamprecht said the exhibition would force gallery goers to reconsider their preconceptions about the art and its legacy in South Africa.
"I'm asking questions about the history," he said, adding that the reverse of the paintings revealed a wealth of detail not normally on view to the public, ranging from old attempts to preserve the canvas to notes from different collectors over the years.

Interesting. I probably would go there, pay the admission fee, and then throw a terrible temper tantrum when I find out that there's nothing to see but the paintings' buttocks. But it's still interesting as an idea. We could expand this to everything that has to do with art. And on a much more humble level, we bloggers could show you only the rejects and things like my daily get-going freeform writing pages:

What is thepurposeoflifeoh whyohwhyoh why oh did I everleave Ohio??????Not tht i ever wenttoOhiointhe firstplace but, but, BUt WHat IF ihad been to Ohio and was educated so different so succulent so permanent so corpulent? Should I write about the flesh and the wayofallflesh...

And this links nicely to a new article in the Women's Enews about the freedom blogging gives to women. I sort of agree, but freedom of speech is not the same as someone listening. Not at all. And then there is the whole thorny question of freedom from listening which I sometimes really yearn for in this country of the octopus media. Still, women do deserve to be heard more, and especially very erudite and funny goddesses who suffer from heatrash.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Gandhi for Today

You must be the change you wish to see in the world

Don't let it take you as long as it has taken me.

Krugman is Good

He gives a courageous assessment of the professionalism of cable news (not much), their tilt (to the right) and the way they treat new evidence (ignore it and just hold on to the old script). And he makes the point that the Internet allows a way around these traps. (Not that he reads my blog, but some other famous people do! More about that later.)

This is an example of Krugman's criticisms:

But the real power of a script is the way it can retroactively change the story about what happened.
On Thursday night, Mr. Kerry's speech was a palpable hit. A focus group organized by Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, found it impressive and persuasive. Even pro-Bush commentators conceded, at first, that it had gone over well.
But a terrorism alert is already blotting out memories of last week. Although there is now a long history of alerts with remarkably convenient political timing, and Tom Ridge politicized the announcement by using the occasion to praise "the president's leadership in the war against terror," this one may be based on real information. Regardless, it gives the usual suspects a breathing space; once calm returns, don't be surprised if some of those same commentators begin describing the ineffective speech they expected (and hoped) to see, not the one they actually saw.
Luckily, in this age of the Internet it's possible to bypass the filter.

I don't see the blogs as a substitute for mainstream news, though. Rather, they are the thorn in the side of the Big Boys and Girls, a small reminder of long-forgotten values which don't have that much to do with money. Like conscience.

Here We Go Again!

This from Washington Post:

Most of the al Qaeda surveillance of five financial institutions that led to a new terrorism alert Sunday was conducted before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and authorities are not sure whether the casing of the buildings has continued since then, numerous intelligence and law enforcement officials said yesterday.
More than half a dozen government officials interviewed yesterday, who declined to be identified because classified information is involved, said that most, if not all, of the information about the buildings seized by authorities in a raid in Pakistan last week was about three years old, and possibly older.
"There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new," said one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert. "Why did we go to this level? . . . I still don't know that."

But it was very important to raise the terror alert, wasn't it? Otherwise Kerry-Edwards might have earned a blip in the polls, and that's un-American and possibly even traitorous.

I want to weep, I do.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Something to Envy

He looked like an ancient walrus, she like a very alert geriatric sparrow. They sat, side by side, at my table in the dining-car of the train. We were all waiting for service which for some reason was unusually slow.

She asked me a few innocent questions and then launched into a tirade about 'that horrible man Bush'. He kept trying to shush her: "Now, dearest, no politics, remember?" She put her hand on his, smiled and turned back towards me, vehement in her lesson about the bad current administration.

When she found that I agreed, he relaxed and started telling stories about his job on the railways in the 1930's. No, things hadn't been better then, but they sure had had quicker meals. She kept listening to him intently, showing the kind of pride in his humor that I normally associate with proud parents. In order to attract the attention of the waitstaff to our needs he asked her in a loud voice:"Hey, good-looking, aren't you peckish yet?"

The food finally arrived, and he had trouble pouring the coffee into his cup. As she helped him he told me all about the homeless animals she was rescuing and how astonishingly lucky he was to be married to her.

"He's ninety next week", she answered, and they turned to look at each other. "I'm just a chicken in comparison", she added, "I just turned eighty-five."

"I think we're going to retire early tonight", he said with a wink as they got up to return to their compartment.

Federal Sales Taxes Would Get Rid of the IRS?

One should never use an unreliable and biased source for anything, so don't follow my example here as I'm going to use Drudge for a discussion of sales taxes as an alternative method of funding the U.S. government.

According to his site:

A domestic centerpiece of the Bush/GOP agenda for a second Bush term is getting rid of the Internal Revenue Service, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

The Speaker of the House will push for replacing the nation's current tax system with a national sales tax or a value added tax, Hill sources tell DRUDGE.

"People ask me if I'm really calling for the elimination of the IRS, and I say I think that's a great thing to do for future generations of Americans," Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert explains in his new book, to be released on Wednesday.

"Pushing reform legislation will be difficult. Change of any sort seldom comes easy. But these changes are critical to our economic vitality and our economic security abroad,"

""If you own property, stock, or, say, one hundred acres of farmland and tax time is approaching, you don't want to make a mistake, so you're almost obliged to go to a certified public accountant, tax preparer, or tax attorney to help you file a correct return. That costs a lot of money. Now multiply the amount you have to pay by the total number of people who are in the same boat. You can't. No one can because precise numbers don't exist. But we can stipulate that we're talking about a huge amount. Now consider that a flat tax, national sales tax, or VAT would not only eliminate the need to do this, it could also eliminate the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) itself and make the process of paying taxes much easier."

A national sales tax as an alternative to income taxes would not get rid of the IRS. It might even make the IRS bigger, more bureaucratic and more invasive.

The reasons are simple: A system of national sales taxes would be simple to administer only if it was incredibly unfair, causing the brunt of the tax burden to fall on the poor, causing the elderly to starve to death. (A sales tax is something everybody who consumes would have to pay, and as consumption is a bigger percentage of the incomes of the poorer they would end up paying relatively more (as a percentage of their incomes or assets) than the wealthy.) Such a tax would never be passed. Instead, all sorts of exemptions and varying rates of taxation would have to be added, and someone would have to administer all the paperwork that follows from this.

Also, the first thing that would develop in the wake of a general national sales tax would be an illegal market in goods and services, quite likely a very large one. We'd need people to combat this, to investigate suspicious cases and to enforce punishments to those who try to escape the taxes.

National sales taxes would make goods and services more expensive to buy. Consumers would cut back their purchases. Firms would find their revenues fall and then they'd lay off workers. The government would collect less tax revenue than what we'd estimate it would, based on the current levels of consumption. This means that the tax rates would either have to be higher than many people expect or that the government would have to cut back the services it provides. But of course this is one of the reasons for the proposal, the other being the desire to increase the tax payments of the less well-off, including those who earn no incomes.

But no, the IRS would not disappear under such an alternative tax system.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

More on Cardinal Virtues

Cardinal Ratzinger's little letter on women contains a few additional interesting pieces of information: For example, not only are the sexes fundamentally different by god's decree but even death will not erase this difference:

In the afterlife, the letter stated, men and women will continue to be different, but sex will come to an end. "The temporal and earthly expression of sexuality is transient," it declared.

Why bother with maintaining the differences if there is no more sexual activity? And if dead people become angels, are some male angels and some female angels? Do the female angels specialize in praising and waiting? If so, what do the male angels do? Scold and hurry the dead souls on? Come to think of it, the whole letter (which I have read) is pretty insulting to men. This is always a problem when one aims at subjugating some group through pure praise of its special abilities: all the other groups get short shrift. Though not as short as the group that's being placed on a pedestal: it's impossible to move in that position.

And the following quote reveals the most important part of the whole letter, the raison d'etre for the whole enterprise:

It also warned of challenges to fundamentals of church teaching, saying the blurring of differences "would consider as lacking in importance and relevance the fact that the Son of God assumed human nature in its male form."

If the blurring of sex differences (of which the church accuses feminism) would 'consider as lacking in importance and relevance the fact that the Son of God assumed human nature in its male form', then keeping any such differences between the sexes always in clear and sharp sight will guarantee that we cannot forget that it was a man who became god, not a woman. This statement is why my anger at Ratzinger's letter is a holy one, a righteous desire to smite those who are mean and small-minded. For the sake of all those little girls who sit in the church pews turning their eager faces towards the priest who cannot see god reflected in them.