Saturday, August 19, 2006

Saturday Spotted Dog Blogging

These are Max Planck's dogs Dottie and Beau. Lovely dogs, both showing their disapproval of the Bush regime. Dalmatians are great dogs for those who like exercising.

The spots on Dalmatians are very sharp and clearly delineated. Henrietta the Hound has fuzzy and impressionistic spots, so I don't think she has any Dalmatian in her. But a Dalmatian would fit in the Snakepit Inc. very well.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Scientist At Work --- Fun

Friday Tombstone Posting

I took this picture a long time ago in a cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. It's a tombstone for Walter Meiggs Bush (1873-1928) and his wife Anne Rainsford French (1878?-1962?). The name of Anne Rainsford French is followed by this sentence:

First woman licensed to drive an automobile in America.

She may not have been the very first licensed female driver in America, but she certainly was one among the first group:

Miss Anne Rainsford French of Washington, D.C., whose father was a noted physician in the capital city, was awarded her "Steam Engineeer's License, Locomobile Class," on March 22, 1900. She was one of the earliest licensed women drivers in the United States. Mrs. John Howell Phillips of Chicago is said to have been licensed two months prior to Miss French, however. In the same year, 13-year-old Jeanette Lindstrom received license No. 322 and it was claimed that she had already been driving for two years.

Fascinating, isn't it?

Anne Rainsford French's name in the tombstone is smaller than the name of her husband. This could be caused by the need to add that extra sentence below the name. It would be interesting to study old tombstones to see if the wives got smaller letters than the husbands. I'm pretty sure that the husband's name is always above the wife's name, even if she died earlier.

A Nice Read

This Kos diary on fear peddling. It's chicken soup for the guts.

What JonBenet Suspect and Terror Plotters Share

This is the title of an opinion piece on Bloomberg. When I saw it I thought that someone else had the same suspicions that I'm almost having (must be very careful here): That some news are not just spontaneously happening when they happen but are somewhat managed to coincide with or cover up other news. Madness, I know. But then this new faith-based world does encourage alternative thought patterns.

In any case, the opinion piece talks about something much less interesting.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Venom From A Blond, Leggy Snake

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Warrantless Wiretapping Unconstitutional

From the New York Times:

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.

''Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution,'' Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion.

Do we already hear the cries about activist judges who love Osama bin Laden?


Today's Quote

From Hendrik Hertzberg, from an article entitled "Snake Eyes" (though he's talking about a dice-tossing outcome, not my ocular equipment), a good assessment of the consequences of Bush's Iraq gamble:

It is in the nature of gambling that the gamble may lose. The dice have now been well and truly rolled, and they have come up snake eyes. The war's sole real gain—the overthrow of the murderous Saddam Hussein regime—is mocked by the chaos and suffering that have overwhelmed millions of Iraqis, whose country is again a republic of fear. The concrete losses are horrific: nearly three thousand American and "coalition" troops killed; thousands more maimed; scores of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead; a third of a trillion dollars burned through. So are the less tangible ones: the unprecedented levels of anti-Americanism throughout the Muslim world and Europe; the self-inflicted loss of America's moral prestige; the neglect of real nuclear dangers, in Iran and North Korea, while chimeras were chased in Iraq. The neoconservative project of a friendly, democratic Middle East, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, is worse than a charred ruin—it is a flaming inferno.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Evolution and Sex

A new study found that men's sexual drive diminishes when they marry or otherwise settle into a permanent relationship, whereas women's sexual drive tends to remain constant. The researchers explained this as a result of evolutionary pressures: Men have an almost infinite number of sperm cells and their best strategy for reproduction is to mate with as many women as possible. When their environment doesn't contain large numbers of new women their sexual drive is reduced because frequent mating with the same woman, possibly already pregnant, is pointless. Women, on the other hand, have a limited number of eggs and the best strategy for them is to mate selectively with a good quality man and to remain faithful to him so that he will stay around to help with the children. A constant sex drive helps in this.

All this makes excellent evolutionary sense. Except that I made up the study. The real study results are the opposite:

Researchers from Germany found that four years into a relationship, less than half of 30-year-old women wanted regular sex.

Conversely, the team found a man's libido remained the same regardless of how long he had been in a relationship.

Writing in the journal Human Nature, the scientists said the differences resulted from how humans had evolved.


Dr Dietrich Klusmann, lead author of the study and a psychologist from Hamburg-Eppendorf University, believed the differences were down to human evolution.

He said: "For men, a good reason their sexual motivation to remain constant would be to guard against being cuckolded by another male."

But women, he said, have evolved to have a high sex drive when they are initially in a relationship in order to form a "pair bond" with their partner.

But, once this bond is sealed a woman's sexual appetite declines, he added.

He said animal behaviour studies suggest this could be because females may be diverting their sexual interest towards other men, in order to secure the best combinations of genetic material for their offspring.

Or, he said, this could be because limiting sex may boost their partner's interest in it.

Sorry if you feel that I cheated you. But this is a real problem in studies using evolutionary psychology. Any finding can be justified by making up a story about why it would be optimal. At the same time, there is nothing about the possibility that the data itself might be flawed. The data is based on answers by men and women, after all. Maybe men feel obliged to ignore any decreases in their sex drives? Maybe women are almost encouraged in belittling their sexual drives? Or it could be the definition of "is" the way Bill Clinton used it. Maybe sexuality means something different for men and women.

Thanks to bikinikiller.

From My Feminist Mailbag

Some things worth noting: First, news from Pepsi:

PEPSICO has appointed its chief financial officer Indra Nooyi as chief executive officer, making her the second most powerful female CEO in the Fortune 500.
The changeover, effective from October 1, will give Nooyi a place in an elite group of 12 female CEOs running Fortune 500 companies.
Patricia Woertz, CEO at agricultural processor Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), ranks first. ADM is ranked 56th in the Fortune 500, while PepsiCo, the world's second-largest soft-drink company after Coca-Cola, is ranked 61st.
Nooyi will replace Steven Reinemund, who is retiring to spend more time with his family, but the announcement was not expected on Wall Street.

I wonder what that makes the percentage of women among Fortune 500 CEOs. Not very high, most likely, because if it did this wouldn't be news.

Second, a new survey (pdf) for NARAL Pro-Choice America shows that the majority of voters might be quite unhappy with the South Dakota and Louisiana laws which would ban all abortions except when the woman's life is at risk. Two thirds of those surveyed disapproved of these laws, half disapproved strongly. In general, the majority of respondents also preferred:

the candidate who supports women making personal decisions without intrusion from government and politicians, coupled with a strong emphasis on prevention, over the competing anti-choice culture of life point of view from a candidate who is anti-choice (54 percent to 27 percent).

Surveys on abortion policies tend to be intensely sensitive to wording choices. Something to remember when one compares different survey results.

Third, the Ms. magazine is relaunching an old campaign. From an e-mail:
In 1972, a year before Roe v. Wade, 53 prominent U.S. women publicly
declared in Ms. that they had undergone abortions. Among them were Billie Jean King, Anne Sexton, Susan Sontag, Anais Nin and Ms. founder Gloria Steinem.

Now, in 2006, with Roe under serious threat, Ms. is relaunching the campaign with a call for women to sign an abortion rights petition headed "We had abortions." See for details. Those who have not had abortions can sign separately, in solidarity.

The anti-choice web has gotten wind of the project and has gone into attack mode. (Google "Ms. abortion petition" and you'll see all the vitriol it's spawned.)

This deserves a very long blog post later on.

How Do I Look?

Body image. Are you too fat? Is your butt sticking out like a natural landmark? Are your boobs saying hello to your belly button? Are your legs too short, your thighs full of thunder, your toes too curly?

Or are you too thin? Do people make snide comments about your anorexia or suggest that you spend time in the bathroom vomiting food out on purpose?

Body image is a funny thing. I'm not sure if the second paragraph describes an internalized body image problem, though the first one certainly does. Much of this problem has to do with outside opinions, and opinions especially aimed at women's bodies. There is a sense in which women's bodies are public property; commenting on them and discussing them is an acceptable pastime.

It's legal to make snide comments about men's bodies, too. But somehow men get off more lightly in this game, with much less discussion about nose hairs and large bellies and such, and only in cases where a particular man's body is very far outside the general perception of normality.

For women the allowed range of normality is so narrow that narely one person can stay in it comfortably. I was struck by this wholly unoriginal thought when I visited a blog called The Superficial - Because You Are Ugly. It specializes in body image problems and the fun we can all have finding fault in famous people. But just compare these two consecutive posts on the blog: The top one ridicules Jessica Simpson's clothing choices and body fat, the next one finds Nicole Richie far too skeletal. What would you say the acceptable range for women is, given these two posts? How much leeway does a gal have in staying uncriticizable?

It's the narrowness of the standards or ideals that is so odd. The same narrow and impossible-to-reach standards are applied to mothers. And not only is there a confusion between some unreachable ideal and what is regarded as "normal" but the standards are the same rigid ones for all women. So all women are supposed to have the exactly same ideal body ( in the U.S. very large breasts, no hips, long legs) and all women are supposed to strive towards the exactly same ideal of the Sacrificing Mother Who Lets Go The Minute It's Needed And Never Complains. It might be better if some gigantic factory rolled out perfect models of women, because real women will never qualify in the rigorous entrance examinations of the school of acceptable womanhood.

But many of us do try, especially in early life. Imagine what else could be done with all that energy.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I'm Back

Paler and wanner (?) than ever, but back. That's what happens when you only go out during the nighttime hours. After checking the readership figures and the comments of this 'ere blog I decided that I'm going to take another week off. The blog does better without me. Just kidding...

But I'm not kidding about the brilliant guest hosts I got for you. Many thanks to all of them: Blue lily, coturnix, hybrid0, olvlzl pseudoadrienne and skylanda. Visit their blogs for further goodies.

My head is buzzing with writing ideas, which was the whole point of the break. If only I had more fingers to type with and more hours in the days. You'd hear my incessant whining in your ears forever.

But I'll spare you of most of it, except for this horrible complaint: Fox News. I ended up being locked in a room with Fox News for the whole Sunday. It's a form of torture; bright flashing pictures going on and off, on and off, old ugly guys and weird looking beauty queens in miniskirts mouthing, mouthing. And around the edges of the screen run letters and numbers. One of the messages asked whether "Dems" are appeasing the terrorists.

Just one example suffices: The cell phone purchases by the two men. I have no idea what the newsreader actually said about it, because the news were on as a sort of background noise, to slowly drain you of your precious bodily fluids, to turn you into a husk, like a happy Republican Halloween pumpkin. But the pictures told the real story. First a closeup of hundreds of cell phones, then a picture of a very long bridge, then another closeup of the cell phones and back to the bridge again.

It doesn't even matter what the words associated with this story might have been. The real story was in the pictures and the real message was fearfearfearfearfear.

Now imagine the number of Americans who live like this every day they are at home, and you may begin to see why we get the governments we do.

Did Fox News tell its viewers that the cellphone purchases might have nothing to do with terrorism? Perhaps, but the damage had already been done. Only Fox wouldn't call it damage.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Restoring Virility With Goat Glands Selling Nazis Air Time

“Dr.” John Brinkley A Father of Conservative Talk Radio

John Richard (nee Romulus) Brinkley (1885-1941) was a Kansas based quack with an operation to sell. For $750 he restored a man’s virility by surgically implanting goat "glands" in his scrotum. Though you might have your legs tightly crossed as you read this, many men who found that they couldn’t rise to the occasion eagerly opened themselves up to “Dr.” Brinkley’s helping hands. Selling the promise of sexual potency to our forefathers, he made a very large fortune. There seems to have been a lot of that wrong with Kansas.

Flush with the kind of respectability that much money buys, Dr. Brinkley took a trip to the west coast and received the praise of the LA Times . While there he got a look at the paper's radio operation and saw its potential for his sort of business, stupid he wasn’t. Back home in Kansas he set himself up with a transmitter. Soon Dr. Brinkley had a path breaking medicine show promoting his practice complete with gospel tinged country music* and helpful advice to listeners who wrote in. His advice came in the form of drugs identified by number and bought from a chain of mail order drug stores linked to Dr. Brinkley.

Hearing a recording of his voice on a Public Radio International program recently, it was entirely familiar. The phrasing, pitch, accent and content reminds you of most of the right-wing pitch men you’ve ever heard. Paul Harvey could have been his son.

Now, even if the authorities might cast a mild eye on someone with the sort of trade he engaged in, there was one thing that went beyond endurance in that more innocent age, he advertised. “Dr.” Brinkley ran afoul of the AMA in the form of Dr. Morris Fishbein who got his license to practice in Kansas revoked. The Federal Radio Commission revoking his broadcast license was probably even more of a blow. Not being willing to take it lying down, he ran an lost two campaigns for governor in an attempt to change the licensing board but fled for the more fertile opportunities that Texas promised.

Eventually even Texas was forced to discourage Dr. Brinkley’s stabile medicine show. But he was far from over. He saw that Mexico, furious with the transmission policies of the U.S. government, might allow him to set up an enormous broadcast facility pointed North. Have I mentioned that he wasn’t stupid? Unregulated, clear channel, boarder, radio was born in all its gaudy, dishonest and bizarre corruption. This is where he sold radio time to Nazis, forcing the U.S. government to finally negotiate better transmission agreements with the Mexican government to get them to shut down the Nazi loving radio Doctor.

Modern, unregulated cable TV, which will sell anything, not having been born yet, “Dr” Brinkley ended badly in lawsuits, other legal trouble, bankruptcy and death.

So, we have it. A huckster with dodgy credentials selling a bogus sex operation to ignorant people through pop music, attempting political manipulation to allow him to further swindle people and renting himself out for the promotion of Nazis. The model of conservative talk radio.

* A song played on the PRI program praising the sexual habits of buck goats apparently figured heavily in the repertoire of his house band. Being a farm boy myself and having once kept goats, including a breeding buck, I’ve got to tell you that while indeed sexually relentless, they are about the stupidest, smelliest and most obnoxious animals in the barnyard. If Dr. Brinkley’s customers were familiar with buck goats their willingness to have the operation says something far more than I care to think about in detail.

Wikipedia has an article about “Dr. Brinkley”. I leaned on it along with my notes of the PRI program to produce this piece.

Posted also today on olvlzl


for Molly Ivins

On first hearing that the "christian" right had come up with chastity rings, fingers weren't the first appendages to come to mind. Know what I mean? Then I heard about their even weirder sister, ceremonies in which very little girls, indeed, symbolically give their reproductive organs to their daddy for safe keeping. He then is to hand them over to the groom at her wedding. I might not be the most financially savvy guy but this is sufficiently brazen as to glow like the sun. Electra becomes money. Keepin' it is a growth industry.

For those who might find this neo-folkway just too strange or the overhead too high there is the alternative of abstinence "education" carried out by private contractors at public expense. In this alternative, misinformation and all too temporary fear take the place of custom jewelry. The short history of this quaint idea is complete with evidence that it doesn't work very well. It also seems to have the unintended effect of leading young people who just can't keep it to engage in more dangerous activities than protected sex.

This evidence doesn't seem to bother proponents one little bit. They deny the evidence but I suspect that even if they did accept it they wouldn't mind much. If the recent stories about sexual moralists' opposition to the new vaccine which will prevent potentially fatal venereal disease is any indication it would seem that they might see it as another mark... uh, teaching opportunity. Making certain that the wages of sin are death would seem to be their goal.

Much as I'd like to turn this into a piece about the statistical evidence of their depravity, that will have to wait. My purpose is to investigate the morality of traditional sexual taboo from a different angle. Incorporating the outcome.

The traditional moralist holds that it is essential to issue a flat ban on prohibited activities, end of question. A flat ban with no exceptions. No alternative consideration is necessary for morality to be satisfied. In fact, to consider anything else would weaken the flat ban and thus be wicked of itself. That experience has shown throughout recorded history the ban will not be followed doesn't matter. That enormous suffering and even death result from the impossibility of many, if not most people keepin' it within the confines of monogamous, heterosexual marriage is not a downside to the traditional sexual moralist. They just ignore it. Deaths of women who bear their eleventh child before they reach the age of thirty, venereal disease, children who can't be cared for, grinding poverty, ... all taken in stride by the traditional sexual moralist. Even those who don't find this suffering good in the sight of the Lord find it insufficiently awful to reconsider a single word of the flat ban.

Well, here's a thought. Any moral proclamation that causes suffering, disease and death is evil. Any moral teaching that willfully ignores the pain it causes is phony morality and should be junked. For those who think the left has no moral absolutes, there is one for you. Replacing scientifically informed sex education with this kind of exercise in sadistic pseudo-morality is evil. No matter how longstanding, it is superstitious and evil and destructive of the public good. It should be prohibited for public money to go to this pseudo-religious clap trap. And a clap trap it is.

This kind of stuff isn't confined to sex education. Ending needle exchange programs are another clear example. Drug addicts exchanging HIV and hepatitis is a direct result of needle exchanges being made impossible by the War on Drugs industry and their moralist camp followers. We have ample evidence that needle exchange programs work to lessen the horrors of disease among drug addicts. Addictive drugs, and some which aren't addictive, are allegedly banned because they cause suffering and in the case of addictive drugs that is true. To assert that you are banning them to prevent suffering and then to ignore HIV transmission is to be the direct cause of suffering more awful than the addiction. Treating addiction as a moral failing punishable by death instead of a treatable disease has led us into the obscenity of the war on drugs we find ourselves in today.

Many children being born with HIV are a direct result of the lies of the chastity industry and the drug moralists. Many adults contract the virus in the same way. Their suffering is taken with remarkable equanimity by these protectors of public morals. Any feeling person with an intact brain can see that their suffering is morally unacceptable. Any person of good will can see the calm acceptance of children and adults dying of entirely preventable AIDS is absolute proof of the moral decay of traditional sexual moralists. These facts definitively impeach the moral pretensions of religious conservatives and it would be entirely immoral for the left to let them get away with it another minute without a fight.

How about this for some real sexual morality. Ignoring preventable suffering resulting from the inability of people to go without sex is evil. People who ignore suffering and so help more of it into the world are evil. Ignorance is a leading cause of suffering. So is discouraging the use of condoms.

Revised from the piece first posted on olvlzl, Friday, May 19, 2006

Please note that an unexpected family emergency will keep me from posting during the assigned shift Echidne scheduled me for so these pieces will have to do.

Hybrid: But who will take Big Pharma's temperature?

According to a recent Marketplace report, there is a new kind of health care professional on the block these days - the pharma-nurse. From the transcript of the story, here is a succinct description:
Pharmaceutical company Berlex pays [Corey] Wisnieski and 79 other registered nurses to help people with multiple sclerosis take a drug called Betaseron. Other MS drug makers as well as companies that make diabetes medications do the same. The goal: to teach patients how to give themselves shots and manage the side effects.
Do I detect a subtle hint of pharma double-speak? Maybe it is my six years of industry experience talking, but I just can't seem to see this in such an altruistic light.

At first, the situation sounds like a win-win. The patient gets care. The pharma makes money. The doctors keep an eye on things.
But physicians who oversee patients don't necessarily have a vested interest in a particular drug. Sylvia Lucas, a neurologist at the Western Multiple Sclerosis Center in Seattle, says pharma nurses are a Godsend:

SYLVIA LUCAS: The bottom line is that if this drug is not working, we know that. If there's progression of disease, we're gonna change the drug.
Change it, sure. But what induces doctors to try treatments in the first place? How could something that someone describes as a Godsend not influence which drug gets prescribed?

This article talks about a similar program for users of Lilly products:
Even so, the patient programs are offered only for patients who use the company's product, which can be an incentive for doctors to prescribe the drug in order to tap the free educational benefits being dangled by the companies for their patients.

"I don't want to call it pressure. But the expectation is they have to be on a Lilly product" in order to receive the free training, said Terry D. Ridge, a nurse practitioner who works with diabetic patients for an American Health Network doctor's office on Indianapolis' Westside.
And it makes sense. Why would pharms invest that kind of money - after all, health care is expensive! - if they weren't getting a return on their investment?

Back to Dr. Lucas for a moment, this is how she describes her experience to Marketplace:
I would love it to have two hours to spend with each patient, saying this is where you inject, these are the side effects you should expect. This isn't a cure, but it really is supposed to prevent picking up disease down the line. You know, it's almost like insurance.
Almost. Wow. Does it disturb anyone else that Dr. Lucas doesn't have time to describe medication side-effects to her patients? I can't say it better than Blue Lily did early - healthcare in the US is just plain broken.

Thinking about this shortage of doctor-patient time, I happened to find this tidbit, in a Businessweek article on the pharma-nurse phenomenon (bolds mine):
Academics who study this sector are especially critical of sales pitches that drug companies make directly to consumers. That includes promoting drugs for complaints that can often be treated without prescription medicines.

Even as these moves have come under a microscope, however, drugmakers must discover new ways to boost sales. Simply adding more sales reps won't fly. They are already so numerous that physicians are now holding sales visits down to an average of 90 seconds.

In such a context, the nursing programs are attractive to the drugmakers because they help hold patients to the recommended drug regimen.
Context, yes. It wouldn't have occurred to me to draw the line quite so directly between sales calls and the uptick in the number of pharma-nurses. Which means that not only is healthcare being outsourced, as Marketplace reported, but advertising is tagging along for the ride. So much for indutry regulating itself.

Unless and until the FDA steps in, I suppose it is business as usual in American healthcare: patient beware.

The Most Important Right Children Have is to the Protection of Adults

Do you hate people who pretend that children are like adults, too? Who pretend to pretend that children are like adults. They know children aren't like adults and that's the reason they do it. They want to use them. It's not just those ironically misnamed "pedophiles" who most certainly don't love children. Advertisers, markerters, fast food and entertainment companies, youth sports and those sordid beauty pageants we found about when the little girl was murdered in Colorado, they don't love them either. All of them fall on the same continuum of adults and industries turning children into commodities and business opportunities.

Judges and the law too often go along with the pretense of the pretense. Pretending that children are little adults because that's how their bread is buttered. They pretend to be standing on high principle while allowing the violation of children's' most important right, to be protected from creeps and their business partners.

Children aren't little adults only because they're too small to protect themselves physically, they aren't able to reason at a level sufficient to see through con men. Even at the fairly advanced age of their teens they can't talk themselves out of doing the first dumb thing that seems attractive. If you need proof, just ask a public health nurse what happens to her teen pregnancy case load in the months after the carnival comes to town. Children being targeted by advertising are a lot younger than those. Toxic consumerism is turning out to be the major health threat facing children in the developed world.

The religion of free trade has successfully hidden some of the worst child abuse for profit. Children kept as slaves still produce a lot of what is sold here. It's not just the discount junk either, they produce some of the higher ticket stuff too. The trade in children as sweatshop workers isn't that far removed from the trade in them for sex, there is a lot of cross over between the two. When not enslaving children directly, their parents are kept from caring for them with long work hours at too little pay to feed or house them. That is happening here in the Unites States as well as across the third world. That is what is hidden behind the happy face of advertising and the trained voice of the corporate spokeswoman who WAS chosen for her gender.

Children are seen by corporations as either disposable robots for maximizing profit by cutting production costs or as easy marks on the consuming end of the production cycle. In the post Reagan-Thatcher world we live in the legal system and larger society threat them that way too. How bad are conservatives for children? Never forget, Thatcher blocked action that would restrict children being used as soldiers. Conservatives are filth.

The most important right that children have is to the protection of adults, their parents, their community and the world. For children that is more important than the entire Bill of Rights. Without it they have no life and no chance to pursue their own happiness free of deception and the worst forms of abuse. They have a right not to be lied to by mass media. This is so clear that it shouldn't ever have gotten lost. It might be prettied up in legal nice talk but too many law professors, judges lawyers and the constitutional purity industry have chosen corporate profits over the protection of children. Theories of freedom of the press concerning commercial speech are part of it. And that's over. If they insist on presenting my choice as between children's safety and Lady Chatterly's Lover, the book goes. Handing that crap over to the far right for them to throw against real, important First Amendment protections is one of the stupidest things that the free speech absolutists do. Theories of the market and its artificial rights are the rest of it and the far right isn't going to do anything to endanger those. Civil libertarians aren't so stupid that they can't come up with more nuanced ways to protect children and the right of speech while keeping corporate interests from deceiving us all at the same time. But it's not possible until you stop making believe that corporate "speech" deserves the same protection as the lives of real people.

Theories are supposed to help clarify the truth, not to shield degenerate behavior. Any legal theory that leads away from a society protecting every child here and around the world is the come hither call of a carny barker and a brothel Madame. Corporate lawyers and spokespersons who tell these lies don't belong on the morning shows chatting with Diane and Matt, they belong on the grainy footage of the Dateline camera.

First posted Thursday, June 01, 2006 on olvlzl

Bush and disabled folks

From the New Yorker:

Who is Peter Wallsten?
(a) the partially blind reporter whom George W. Bush mocked ("Are you going to ask that question with shades on?") for not removing his sunglasses while addressing the President
(b) The wheelchair-using senior citizen whom George W. Bush mocked ("You look mighty comfortable") for not standing in the presence of the President
(c) The CIA employee who, after delivering the "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." briefing, was told by George W. Bush, "All right, you've covered your ass now."
(d) The Iraq-war amputee with whom George W. Bush tried to bond by telling him about a scratch he got during "combat with a cedar" while clearing brush.

As you can possibly see, I have an injury myself — not here at the hospital, but in combat with a cedar. I eventually won. The cedar gave me a little scratch. As a matter of fact, the Colonel asked if I needed first aid when she first saw me. I was able to avoid any major surgical operations here, but thanks for your compassion, Colonel.
-- George W. Bush, after visiting with wounded veterans from the Amputee Care Center of Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 1, 2006

All of the possible answers are things that actually happened, but in this case "Peter Wallsten" is (a).

Crossposted at The Gimp Parade

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Blue lily: Until every single penny is gone

The fantastic Liz at Granny Gets a Vibrator has been blogging and slogging her way through a recent cancer diagnosis and all the medical, financial and existential fears that travel in it's tumor-swollen baggage. (A quick and violent death to Brenda!) I can't say enough good things about her writing and I wish her all the strength and luck she needs for this week and until this is over.

The medical worries are bad enough, but I keep thinking back to Liz's recent rant about the financial concerns a medical crisis creates and adding her rants to the ones I work through daily in my head. (I've written just a little about them here.) Here's Liz:
The system at the "charity" hospital is a total disaster, a massive fuckup, a guaranteed death sentence. Not just for me, but for 4,000 poor uninsured people who desperately need health care every month. I'm slipping through the system's cracks: medically, there's no continuity, I never see the same person twice, no one can figure out what's going on, locate my records, or find out which doctor said what or why. And I'm slipping through the cracks financially: because I have a small amount of money left in my IRA, my "liquid assets" disqualify me from receiving free care, until every single penny I have is gone. Which at this rate could be in about three weeks....

And the struggle to figure out how to deal with the financial monstrosity. I deeply appreciate the Paypal offers, but you know, we're talking about maybe $60,000 a month? Probably more. Astronomical. Impossible. Ruinous.

I'm not going into this all detail out of self-pity, or to whine about how it's so unfair to me. This situation is not just about me. There are millions of people out there in the same sinking boat I'm in, with nowhere to turn. It's just unimaginably horrible. I sat there and watched several hundred such people suffer today, and most of them looked completely defeated, thoroughly resigned. The tired dead-eyed hopelessness in their faces still haunts me.
It is impossible and ruinous. The health care system in America is just broken. If Bush and the international gratitude his actions create don't kill us all, the health care crisis will destroy us economically as a country. And our independence one by one.

I was in hospital four months. Three different hospitals, actually. I'm unemployed now, but because I was insured as a baby before my impairments were evident or serious, and because I still ride on that insurance through my parents, who finance it, I have excellent insurance coverage.

Still. This hospital stay forced me to activate the full Medicare benefits I qualify for and apply for state aid for the disabled. I have no idea of the full cost of my illness and recovery, nevermind the current care I receive at home. The hospital bills exceed a half million, I know. But the paperwork goes round and round -- employment of the circulators probably costs half what I owe. Medicare and my insurance company send me reports, the hospitals send me totals of various things, then they all request the others pay their share, and they all send me updates on how that's working out. It usually isn't working out, so it's a self-correcting program where we go round again. I'm not sure anything has yet been paid.

There are the inevitable errors that slow this idiotic process down. At one point my medical supplier billed my insurance company, and the insurance company paid but inexplicably sent the check to some random trucking company with a slightly similar name. The trucking company cashed the check, which was a little over 20K. (Well, wouldn't you?) The supply company demanded the money they never got, the insurance company insisted they'd paid it. Someone demanded a cancelled check. Someone refused. It got kind of pissy.

There was mention of going to court, where, of course, I would get named as the delinquent defendant. I swear this is all true. Meanwhile, I'm not speaking because I'm a lazy ass vent user and, frankly, I want some alone time from all this attention and being able to legitimately claim I can't speak comes in quite handy sometimes. So, my father spent a week or two on hold. And because he has a talent for this, he eventually made someone see reason and they all grew up and fought this out without my needing to pay legal fees. I don't know if the supply company actually got paid or if they agreed to add that bill to the merry-go-round again.

There was discussion while I was in the rehab hospital about whether or not my parents would need to spend down their assets to nothing so that I could receive the continuing care I need at home. My retired parents who have had the luck and good sense to cover their own aging butts as best as any upper-middle class couple in this broken system can were told they might need to give up everything so their 37-year-old daughter could live with them and get daily care. That's a rockin' deal for them.

The details of why this needed to be considered involve how I almost ended up in a very scary nursing home. I'll write on that another day. A hospital social worker helped us navigate the system so that only I need to be poor. Currently I do live with my parents and have 24-hour nursing care because of the ventilator and the laws attaching to receiving aid at home.

In order to get funding for home care while using a vent, it has to be qualified nurses rather than just anyone trained as a personal assistant. Though, of course, my parents learned everything the nurses need to know for my daily care from the rehab hospital staff and they are allowed to help. Because this country has a nursing shortage, in fact, my parents were on duty half the hours of every week (84 hours shared between them, sometimes 48 at a stretch) for about a month before all my nurses were found and hired by the agency required to handle this for me. If I had enough family to be present round-the-clock without pay, no one would care they didn't have medical degrees. (More on that, too, another day.)

In order to keep the funding that provides this constant professional care, I have to have less than $3,000 in total assets to my name. Constantly. Forever. I get a disability benefit each month. I'm not allowed to pay my parents rent and in these first few months I haven't been out too much. So, ludicrous as it seems, it's been a challenge to maintain my total poverty. I can't invest. I pay for what I can around the house. And I do what is called a "spend down."

Many disabled do it or something similar. My college roommate used to get her personal attendant funds and college funding in cash so it wouldn't show in her financial records at the bank. And she was wicked generous with birthdays and Christmas because she couldn't use any cash to, you know, build a future for herself.

One nurse told me of a man she used to help who had his home nursing cancelled because he had too much in the bank. He called the home health agency back a day or two later, said he'd been on a spending spree and they could come back now. He was poor again.

If I didn't live with my parents, almost every cent of my disability benefit would go toward food and rent -- or maybe just rent. I would be among the poorest of the poor at $760/month, or more likely be in that nursing home with no autonomy.

Anyone who could get hit by a bus tomorrow and need a ventilator would face all of this. Or anyone who has a tumor. Or is a soldier in the war. Because the system is broken, we're all just that close to losing any hope of economic independence. Or life outside of an institution. Astronomical. Impossible. Ruinous. And a lurking threat.

Crossposted at The Gimp Parade

Another Bite of the Apple:

If You Act Nice You Are Nice with an explanation

You won't be surprised to hear that getting tangled in useless arguments is a weakness of mine. I had an old one with a conservative Sunday, the argument against the idea that there isn't any such thing as being generous. He said that people who seem nice only do good things because it makes them feel superior, they do it to save their own souls, etc. It was a waste of time but I did come up with a new angle on it.

The charge of hidden selfishness behind generous acts isn't anything but a guess based on pop psychology, it isn't proof. Even a conservative can directly experience a good act and can compare its results to an act of selfishness, a good act is tangible. Sometimes you can see hypocrisy behind showy acts of charity and words that sound nice but that doesn't prove anything about other acts. The charge falls apart unless you can show a result that is selfish.

Pop hedonists like to say that people only act out of self-interest but that's not based on anything but cynicism and one of Freud's more destructive lines of hogwash. It's hard-hearted but it isn't hard logic. The results of the action are real, the charge of hidden selfishness is what is airy-fairy. Nastiness isn't any guarantee of realism.

And I will repeat, So take some of them apples, greed balls!

A Partial Explanation

Why have I repeated myself? One of you politely expressed your confusion as to why I said it in the first place and that deserves an explanation.

One of the things that has and does weaken the left is a loss of confidence in our positions. A lot of that, I believe, can be traced to these kinds of cynical ideas gaining popularity during the past fifty years.

The ideas gained ground on the assumption that their cynicism was some kind of magical guarantee of realism. The idea is that anything less cynical could be chalked up to self-congratulation for moral superiority or wishful thinking.

Without more evidence than can be produced these charges are no more than bad natured speculation. This is especially true when the results don't seem to hide ulterior motives.

Until the left abandons these counter-leftist assumptions foisted on it, the frankly idealistic and generous programs favored by us are at a fatal disadvantage. Liberalism and the left have a basically optimistic view of life, that we aren't doomed to an eternal and savage fight to look out for #1.

First posted July 5, 2006 at olvlzl

Coturnix on Politics, part II - political ideology in the context of changes in the institution of marriage

Being kinda sick all day Saturday, instead of writing a whole new post I reworked and heavily edited another recent post of mine, about the history and future of the insitituion of marriage, starting with links to some interesting posts on the topic showing up in blogs recently:

First off, Lance Mannion wrote a couple of days ago on Polygamy, voyeurism, and other fun things to do on the weekend:
"...a lot of Right Wing America lives on the frontier between civilization and Trailer Park choas. The reason they are so terrrified by change and the prospect of sexual and personal freedom is that where they come from all those things are aftereffects of social breakdown."
Richard Chappell wrote Open Relationships a few months ago:
"Armchair speculation (the most entertaining form of speculation, requiring only tenuous links to reality) leads me to wonder whether open relationships might be under-rated in our society."
This really fits in the theme - is the institution of marriage going to lose its official institutionality, the way it is already happening in places like Sweden, Netherlands, etc., and become something much more private?

Oneman in The End of Marriage writes:

"Be that as it may, I think conservatives are right about one thing: if the institution of marriage is going to survive, it does need defending. Not because marriage is the only or best source of truly moral living, but precisely the opposite: marriage is increasingly irrelevant in modern society. In the absence of many good reasons for marriage to even exist, those who value it as a tradition are going to be more and more hard-pressed to perpetuate it."
I disagree with his attempt to make correlations between marriage-types and life-styles, e.g., nomadic vs. stationary peoples (research by Stephanie Coontz and others found no such correlation), but the rest is fine. Notice a commenter from Sweden who has a completely different concept of marriage - he completely ignores the central point of the American marriage institution: the legal and religious aspects of it. In his world, cohabitation IS marriage.

Oneman also ends with:
"One final note: None of this is meant to belittle the efforts of same-sex marriage advocates to legalize marriage for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation. That battle has an importance quite distinct from the question of what marriage does or does not do in our society."
I agree wholehartedly (which means I changed my mind since 2003 when I wrote some of my own posts linked below in which I thought that if marriage is on its way out why bother to have gays enter an obsolete institution at a high cost of the struggle). It is essential that we win the battle for gay marriage, so we can proceed to alter the whole insitution to fit the times.

What I think is missing from all of the above posts is a clear definition of marriage (so the Swedes in comments do not get mixed up), and what recent developments are responsible for the change in the definition. I wrote about it a long time ago (ignore the wishy-washiness on gay marriage - I have changed my mind since I wrote that):

Definition, Semantics and Future of Marriage:
"The thousand provisions in various laws are not favoring just hetero- over homo-sexual marriage. It also favores a particular, narrowly defined type of relationship over all others, including over living alone. That narrow definition of marriage contains several criteria: 1) church-sanctioned, 2) state-sanctioned, 3) monogamous, 4) exclusive, 5) heterosexual, 6) fertile, 7) indefinite (till death do us part).
Vast increase in life-span, invention of contraceptives, cures for most STDs, gender equality, increasing secularity, as well as economic forces are making the 7 criteria obsolete, whether you like it or not."
It is interesting to compare and contrast that list (you'll have to click to read the extended explanation of each item) with the list that Ampersand presents in Beyond Marriage (and Amanda also gamely dissects):
To have our government define as “legitimate families” only those households with couples in conjugal relationships does a tremendous disservice to the many other ways in which people actually construct their families, kinship networks, households, and relationships. For example, who among us seriously will argue that the following kinds of households are less socially, economically, and spiritually worthy?

· Senior citizens living together, serving as each other’s caregivers, partners, and/or constructed families

· Adult children living with and caring for their parents

· Grandparents and other family members raising their children’s (and/or a relative’s) children

· Committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner

· Blended families

· Single parent households

· Extended families (especially in particular immigrant populations) living under one roof, whose members care for one another

· Queer couples who decide to jointly create and raise a child with another queer person or couple, in two households

· Close friends and siblings who live together in long-term, committed, non-conjugal relationships, serving as each other’s primary support and caregivers

· Care-giving and partnership relationships that have been developed to provide support systems to those living with HIV/AIDS

Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others. While we honor those for whom marriage is the most meaningful personal ­– for some, also a deeply spiritual – choice, we believe that many other kinds of kinship relationship, households, and families must also be accorded recognition.
I am not advocating dismantling by decree or revolution each of the 7 criteria one at a time. Just rethinking what marriage was, is and will be. Seeing if it will get completely outside of the realm of both church and state (laws) and be left to people to redefine organically any way they want, in any form they want, i.e., quit being a contract of any kind and become an inter-personal relationship, each one different from the next, perhaps called 'marriage' perhaps not.

What's wrong with freedom from governmental and church control of our lives? Why can't marriage be based ONLY on love and nothing else, no laws, no traditions, no gender inequality? Let each person (couple) decide for themselves what kind of relationships they will have and if they want to call it "marriage" or not. Get the govenment (and the church) out of our private lives and out of our bedrooms. Isn't that the key result of democracy and enlightement?

Since then, I have read the currently best book on the topic - Stephanie Coontz On Marriage. She analyzed many different types of marriage in many different cultures around the world and tracked their changes over time.

It is often stated that marriage, through history, was an economic insititution. Saying that usually results in some people saying "Sure it was", others saying "Not really", and yet others saying "Dont' give me that Marxist crap". In other words, nobody tries to dissect what this means.

The brilliance of Coontz is that her one-liner summary is that marriage used to be about "getting the best in-laws". This is such a novel idea that everyone will stop and think what it means before jumping in to make a statement. It also leaves vague exactly who is picking the in-laws: the young people looking for marriage partners, or their parents, i.e., in-laws picking the other set of in-laws? And that vagueness is appropriate as Coontz shows that the "chooser" was different in different places at different times.

What is supposed to be accomplished by a good choice of in-laws? It could be money for the newly weds (dowry), which is a most direct economic reason for marriage. But it could be because the in-laws' land shares a border with your land, so the marriage will consolidate two smaller pieces of land into one larger one which will be easier to farm - an indirectly economic reason. Or it could be because in-laws have connections to someone in the King's court so, even if they are currently poor and cannot give a big dowry, they are potentially useful if protection is needed - an indirect economic motive again.

Another way one can look at it would be from an evolutionary perspective - not silly evolutionary psychology as nobody is selecting in-laws for their "good genes". In other words, in order to increase their own fitness, people have to provide for their grandchildren. They do this by carefully selecting the parents of the person who will marry their child. Thus, as in-laws provide half of the provisioning for the grandkids, good choice of in-laws aids the survival of the grandchildren, which raises one's own fitness.

This is why Laura Kipnis' book "Against Love" is so deeply unsatisfying - it dismisses history in one paragraph and it dismisses biology in a half paragraph. Without both, what edifice is she hanging her argument on? Although, I must admit, it is a thought-provoking rant worth reading not for its faulty conclusions, but for the questions it raises. And some of those questions are answered, in much calmer tone, by authors of essays in "Bitch in the House" and "Bastard on the Couch", showcasing varieties of relationship/marriage experiences that modern Americans are experimenting with today.

According to Coontz, the so-called "traditional marriage" that conservatives are trying to defend these days existed only from 1945-1961 in the USA and 1947-1963 in Western Europe. It lasted a short time and vanished for a good reason - and good riddance! And it is not just marriage out of love that is identified as "traditional". She is much more precise about it in the book than I am, but she had 350 pages to do so. It is an excellent read. She does not deny love and is very careful to differentiate between kinds of marriages made by different classes at different times in different places. So, marriage out of love is nothing new as it happened among the poor in many nations in history, for instance. But the 1950s marriage has a number of other aspects that she discusses in detail and it is this type of marriage that the Religious Right is trying to "defend" with new legislation and Constitutional amendments. Coontz writes:

"Forget the fantasy of solving the challenges of modern personal life by re-institutionalizing marriage. In today's climate of choice, many people's choices do not involve marriage. We must recognize that there are healthy as well as unhealthy ways to be single or to be divorced, just as there are healthy and unhealthy ways to be married. We cannot afford to construct our social policies, our advice to our own children and even our own emotional expectations around the illusion that all commitments, sexual activities and care-giving will take place in a traditional marriage. That series has been canceled.
People will continue to marry, but it is too late to "defend" marriage; Coontz says flatly that it will never again be an important cultural institution. It strikes me that the strident debate about gay marriage masks a deep anxiety; it might well be a distraction from acknowledging the diminishing importance of marriage. Isn't it ironic that those who now sentimentalize marriage are denied entry?"
In Hooked on Hooking Up, Or What's Wrong With Conservative View Of Marriage I took an editorial by Stanley Kurtz and two editorials by William Raspberry as examples of what is wrong with the conservative "defense" of marriage:
"Yes, gay marriage and the evolution of straight marriage go hand-in-hand. But Kurtz is afraid of it, instead of celebrating it. This is yet another step in a long line of advances towards equality of sexes. First, women managed to win the battle for not being their husband's property. Later, they won the right to own property. Choosing a husband, not paying dowry, divorcing , working outside the house, voting, taking contraception, having an abortion, running for office, .... those are all victories that women won over the past century or so, always against the screaming horror of conservatives who thought, at each of these junctures, that the fabric of the society is unravelling and that the End of the World will result from those immoral shameless practices."
Finally, I think that marriage, gender-relationships and sex are the core of all politics, not just the Culture Wars:Book Review: George Lakoff 'Moral Politics' and E.J.Graff 'What Is Marriage For?':
"The history of marriage can be seen as a constant struggle between the two ideologies, one bent on keeping the moral authority of the white straight adult rich male, the other fighting for equality of all people. Every change in the definition of marriage was a blow to the conservative core model, and a victory for the liberal worldview. Giving women right to own property, granting legal equality, allowing contraception, or divorce, allowing inter-racial marriage and, currently, allowing same-sex marriage, are some of the stages of evolution of marriage, from a feudal economic arrangement designed for the strengthenig of the clan, towards marriage as a love relationship between two equal human beings."
So, what do you think? How is the institution of marriage going to change over the next few decades? How should we prepare our children for such changes?