Strange Brouhaha

Friday, April 29, 2005

Male-Female Brain Differences Again

They're doing still more research into the attempt to determine whether gender differences are neurological or cultural.

In a way, this question is dumb. The answer is obviously a resounding "Yes." Here's Savannah's Theory of Gender: First, biology. Here come the hominid females, having those babies and shit. Out on the African savannah in the year fuck-all, you ain't got much in the way of day care, bottles, and disposable diapers, so these baby things inevitably *become* the full-time jobs of the creatures to which they are attached. And since children (until recently) were an economic plus instead of an economic minus, "job" was very literal and remunerative. So, as the newfangled upright hominids stumble along, the females start adapting to their job (which, since corporations and armies haven't been invented yet, is still an important and central one rather than a marginalized and infantilizing one).

So then society is invented, and the fragile male ego runs totally rampant for the next several thousand years (which they spend hitting each other and knocking each other down over various "crucial" issues like who's got more gold, who's got more women, and who's got more God). There is not much place for women in this world, based as it is upon brute force and the labor of underlings (which are amassed by brute force). The thing is, the system really isn't *that* great for men either, who do not like being broken on the wheel over money or God any more than women like being burned at the stake over sex (disguised as God). So everyone inches and struggles and labors towards Enlightenment and the rule of law. Slowly, as the rule of law permeates the richer and sovereign societies, it becomes clear that under these circumstances, women do not need to huddle at home sewing handkerchiefs and (if ambitious) writing Gothic novels which codedly express their desires and frustrations. They can get on the trolley and go to an office just like the men. The advent of reliable birth control really gets the whole thing speeding along, as women can now (sorry, Pope Benedict) control their own fertility and hence their destiny.

This causes happiness and liberation, as women finally get a taste of freedom, but it also causes confusion, because the traditional self-reinforcing loop between biology and culture has now been broken. People start to get dumb. They start to feel threatened that women can be highpowered lawyers; they also start to feel threatened that little girls seem to like dolls and ruffly dresses.

These fears are symbolic. No one would care if girls liked dolls--or whether that liking was "cultural" or "innate"--if the IDEA of dolls didn't mean something to grownups. To some people, it's frightening for little girls to like dolls because it seems to indicate that "all" girls want to do is nurture and reproduce. To others, it's reassuring--for the same reason. (See, she doesn't REALLY want to be a lawyer. That was just an idea someone put in her mother's head.)

Unlike seemingly everyone else, I view toy choice as mostly meaningless, and the vaunted "relationships-versus-machines" thing (girls focus on people, boys on objects) much the same way. The real question is whether girls are learning to be self-respecting, positively assertive, and to expect a free and fulfilled life in which they will choose what to do. None of that has anything to do with toy trucks or whether you can mentally rotate a trapezoid accurately in your head. But the issue of life-choice brings us to the real question about girls. Will most of them choose to become mothers?

Here's a concept: who cares? Hey, it's not like men are out there innovating the shit out of their life choices either, folks. And who said that having a baby, and wanting to spend time with it and nurture it, means you can't ALSO want to get back in that courtroom sooner or later and kick some corporate-malfeasance ass? The only reason these two desires seem to be "opposed" is because you can't do them both at the same time, and the reason for *that* *is* largely cultural (sucky day care, blah de blah--don't get me started). Instead of being rational about all this, we fetishize it onto toy choices.

So I don't like the fears and reactionary hopes that underlie these sorts of studies. At the same time, I do find them interesting. The tail-shock study in this article, for example, was neat. Researchers found that shocking the tails of rats during learning sessions actually helped the male rats learn, whereas it upset the females and disrupted their learning. When I read that, it made me remember something else I had read, years ago, about the old Soviet ice-skating machine. The Soviets were highly dominant in men's skating, pairs, and ice dance--but not women's. I remember reading a quote from a Soviet male skater who said it was because Soviet training methods were too harsh for women. Have we got a tail-shock scenario there? I wonder, because it's not like Russian women can't skate--as a parade of Soviet dance and pairs champions would indicate. And since the Soviet Union collapsed, we've seen the rise of female champions like Oksana Baiul and Irina Slutskaya. Were Baiul and Slutskaya coached somewhat differently than they would have been under the Soviet system? Or was this actually some kind of bizarre statistical thing, like flipping a coin thirty times and getting all heads, and the Soviets never had a female singles champion because They Just Didn't? Would Baiul and Slutskaya have arisen under the Soviet system too, simply because it was time? After all, those same harsh Soviets never had any problem producing female champion gymnasts. Neither did the Romanians, who made the Soviets look like Santa Claus.

One thing *is* truly freaky and neat, though--apparently, some psychoactive drugs work totally differently on men than on women. "Trauma blockers" reduce emotional perception for men, but only detail perception for women. Isn't that odd?

Well. Anyhow. Whatever.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

In which I do Not Complain About Doctors, Part Three

Part One

Part Two

It was another couple of days in bed. Here's how whacked out I was: it wasn't until Sunday, I think, that I realized that, yes, I could watch DVDs on my laptop, in bed. It wasn't very comfortable, but I managed.

The side effects from the Chlorbenzaprine were getting pretty bad, too. I constantly felt lightheaded (and footed), which wasn't helped by the fact that occasionally my blood pressure medicine has the same effect. I was glad that I ran out of the stuff on Monday.

On Tuesday I had to get up out of bed so that we could go to my physical therapy appointment. The guy was very nice, he showed me some stretches to do for my back and he taught me something that I did not know: stronger abdominals are good for your back. I tend to ignore the abdominal exercises, so that was good to learn. He said something about stronger abdominals making your trunk a little more rigid. I was still feeling a little woozy.

I was more or less normal by Tuesday night. Well, less, really, because I still had a lot of pain, but I was able to move around. And so here we are. I'm still experiencing a little lightheadedness--in the market this morning, I felt kind of strange. When I mentioned to my doctor on Wednesday that I had been really dizzy and was continuing to feel that way, he didn't seem to think it was a problem.

So, while the pain itself was odious, the medical experience as a whole wasn't that bad for a change. And the real moral of the story, to quote my physical therapy dude, is "Next time, carry just one bag of softener salt."

(It wasn't all bad; even though I was drugged out of my gourd, I managed to play several dozen games of Baseball Advance on my GBA, finishing out the season with an undefeated Yankee team. Unsurprisingly, I also got them through the first round of the playoffs and we have our eye on the World Series.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

In Which I Do Not Complain About Doctors, Part Two

Don't scroll down. Just click to read part one.

Getting back home was more of the same. Wedge in, crawl out. I took the meds once I made my way up to bed. It didn't seem like they were doing anything, although my feet certainly felt like they were going to float away. They felt that way for the next six days.

The pain did not get appreciably better, even after hitting it with the combination of Percocet (which is apparently the correct spelling, although I've seen both) and Ibuprofen and Cyclobenzaprine. I did pass out, though, and I feel that's a rough equivalent to actually feeling better. I mean, if you're not awake to feel the pain, does it even really exist?

The next few days are actually kind of a blur. Somewhere in there we got a heating pad. It may have been that same night. I quit the Percocets, since they did nothing but make me dizzy. I used the heating pad, which felt nice but ultimately probably didn't do much. I took the Cyclobenzaprine and the Ibuprofen and my feet really, REALLY wanted to just kind of detach and go off on their own, but I somehow managed to keep them. I'm not sure if the Cyclobenzaprine actually did anything other than make me dizzy, like the Percocet, but after taking them for three days, my back started to loosen up. I stopped taking them after Saturday night, when I started to feel a lot better. I could actually walk and get up with no pain. Yay!

Sunday morning was even better. I was still riding a wave of Cyclobenzaprine, I think. I don't know, but my feet still kind of wanted to wander off and do some exploring, so I kind of assumed that that was the drugs talking. "I'll just tidy up a bit," I said, picking up some trash in the kitchen and throwing it away.

"Hey, that was no problem! I'll clean the counters off!" I worked for a few minutes, wonderfully, blissfully pain-free.

Then I remembered that I hadn't taken my blood pressure medication yet that morning. "It's upstairs," I said to myself. "Better grab some water on the way, your cup upstairs is empty and you forgot to bring it down." (I'm fairly sure, looking back, that my feet would have been happy to go off by themselves and fetch the medicine.)

I spied a glass of water on the floor. (Just go with me, here, this is how our house is.) "Perfect!" I bent over to pick it up and bring it upstairs with me.

Oh, you know what happened next.

K-k-rii-i-i-ck-k. Actually, it was more like three precise little clicks: click-click-click.

I picked myself up off the floor very slowly. I comforted myself with the fact that my back didn't hurt nearly as much as it had on Wednesday night. And I got angry. Really, really angry. I was so TIRED of spending every waking moment lying down in pain that I wanted to scream. (You know, more than I already had after the click-click-click.)

Back to the meds for a couple more days. Sigh.

Yes, there's more. Part three tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

In Which I Do Not Complain About Doctors

This post is turning out to be LONG. Sorry.

I'm sure you're wondering where I have been for the last week while I have not been posting. The answer is: flat on my back in bed.

Ever since I fell off a table and straight onto my backside a dozen or so years ago, my back hasn't really been right. (Being fat doesn't help either.) The pain comes and goes, but you get used to it. Of course, my back also gets aggravated by the usual things that aggravate backs--lifting heavy items incorrectly, that sort of thing.

So, it didn't help a couple of weeks ago when, being lazy, I tried to carry four bags of water softener salt in from the garage. All of them at once, that is, and for those of you who are blessed enough not to need a water softener, the salt I buy comes in 40-lb. bags. At one point in my life, carrying 160 pounds would not have been a problem (and in fact I used to carry only slightly less than that much around my midsection). That point is long gone.

The pain persisted for a while, and it also didn't help that after that time I continued lifting weights as part of my workout. I don't lift for muscle tone, I lift for strength, which means lifting as much as you possibly can. This is a mistake when you have back pain, even though you may be annoyed that you cannot lift as much as you did 15 years ago (despite the fact that you have not lifted anything more than a computer or two in the intervening 15 years).

Finally, last week Wednesday morning, my back hurt a lot. I did my workout anyway. By the time I got home, it was difficult to even stand up. I ignored it. "Do you want me to call the doctor?" asked Savannah.

"Nah," said The He-Man.

Next on the agenda was baking bread. I was kneading the dough: push, fold, turn. I took a step on my right foot and nearly blacked out, it hurt so much. Hmm. Maybe we oughta call the doctor. Nah. Tried the right foot again, everything's fine! No problem! Still couldn't stand straight, but it's okay. Covered the bread, bent over to stick it in the oven to rise. OW!

"Honey," I called out. "Maybe you better call the doctor."

Eventually, the nurse calls and says to Lay Down Flat NOW and ice the back while she tried to catch my doctor between patients to see if he'll write up a prescription. The ice didn't really help. And I had Bread To Bake. When the first rise was done, I limped down the stairs--hey, that right fooOH MY GOD--and pulled the bread out of the oven and punched it dAAAAGGHHown and split it and covered it to let it rest.

I decided, after shaping the loaves and getting them in the pans, that Savannah could stick them in the oven for the second rise, then pull them out early and generally attend to getting the actual baking started. These things she did.

The nurse called back with the news that the doctor had given me a prescription for Percoset, which we had to go pick up and take to the pharmacy ourselves since they couldn't phone in a prescription for a narcotic. Savannah went to get it--after some things at school that needed to be done--and I got the bread out of the oven myself, only coming close to passing out once. After that, I decided to eschew the stairs and just lay on the floor until blessed relief arrived.

When Blesssed Relief Arrived in the form of Percoset, I received the instructions gratefully--Take One Now, And Only One. If The Pain Abateth Not After 45 Minutes, A Second May Be Taken.

Ninety minutes later, having received absolutely no relief from the Percoset, we decided that a trip to an Urgent Care facility might just be in order. After hearing that the only thing the Percoset did for me was make me dizzy, the nurse agreed and said that we should head to the closest clinic.

Getting into the car was an adventure. There was no way I was driving after taking two Percoset, not even the three blocks to the clinic (and I am SO glad it's that close), so I had to get into the back seat. We have a 1994 Ford Escort. I am 6'3". I feel confident that you can figure out how hospitable the back seat of my car is for me, especially since half of it is occupied by a car seat. After several false starts ("Are you sure you don't want an ambulance? They offered to send one," to which The He-Man responded "It's only three blocks!") I managed to half slide, half fold, and half lever myself into the back seat.

Getting out, I had to actually turn myself around and slide out ass-first, kneel on the ground, and use the car to help me push myself up. ("Are you sure you don't want me to get someone to help you?" "NNGH.")

I don't think I've ever been in so much pain. It hurt to walk, it hurt to not walk, it hurt to sit, it hurt to stand. Everything. Hurt. After TWO Percosets, which is supposed to be enough to knock you the hell out.

I had to wait a long time for the doctor, but that was okay. I mean, it hurt, but my philosophy is, if you're waiting it means (I hope) that the doctor is not just darting in and out of exam rooms, but is taking time with each patient--and if you want the doctor to take his time with you, then you'd damn well better be prepared to accept that he's going to take his time with other patients, too.

The doctor came in. She was very nice. We talked about what was happening, I told her that I had taken the two Percosets and gotten nothing but dizzy, and then she told me to take off my shoes and socks.

"Uh, that's easier said than done," I ventured.

"I know," she said. "That's why I'm telling you now, so that you can take your time." We talked some more as I struggled to take off my shoes and socks. She did a bunch of things to my feet and legs and then told me I could put my shoes and socks back on.

These things were on the FLOOR. I don't even want to contemplate bending over to pick them up. I looked at her. Oh well. I picked them up with my feet, managing to bend over just enough to grab them. NO way I was putting them on, though. She wrote out a prescription for a muscle relaxant and heavy-duty Ibuprofen and told me that I could continue to take the Percosets as well if I wanted to. I just slipped my feet into my shoes.

"And here," she said, "is a referral sheet for physical therapy. When you're feeling better, you should head over there."

Part 2 tomorrow.

Monday, April 25, 2005


I got this link from my friend Mr. Cohen. It's called "Zoomquilt", and it seems to me that it's a great example of something you can do on the Internet that you really can't do anywhere else, at least not with the same level of user control and perceived seamlessness. I suppose you could loop a video a couple of thousand times and burn it to a DVD, but you'd always hit the beginning or the end sometime.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Listening To Peter D. Kramer

Here is an example of how someone really smart still doesn't get it. Free registration is required to read it.

No one can disagree with Peter D. Kramer's central thesis, aka, depression is a disease, it's bad, and we need to get over our romantic association of depression with depth and creativity. But people do have a concern which Kramer has not addressed. The problem is that the way in which they express this concern is clumsy, and Kramer argues the point they *are* making instead of the point they are *trying* to make. People ask him, "Would you medicate Van Gogh?" Well, duh. Van Gogh is a really bad example. The man cut off his ear. Yes, you'd freakin' medicate him. Next question.

What people *mean* is, Would you medicate Goya. Would you medicate Munch. Neither of these artists was known to be mood-disordered, at least as far as I can remember from my classes :), yet most people would take one look at these paintings and say "Something must be wrong with those guys." (And in fact, Edvard Munch's later style of painting dramatically changed when his personal happiness improved. He wasn't ill, as far as I know, but he *was* unhappy, and when that changed, his art changed.)

Kramer doesn't address this issue because, for him, it doesn't exist. He feels confident that he could distinguish between a Munch and a Van Gogh, a man who is suffering and a man who is mood-disordered. Maybe he could. It's the rest of us that people are worried about, the anxious suburban mother who will run to the doctor saying "Look! Little Timmy drew a picture of the Teen Titans beating people up and there's blood and limbs getting hacked off! And he plays alone at school! Do something!" And the doctor, who only has ten minutes per patient and who gets regularly taken out to dinner by pharmaceutical companies, says "Okay, here's some Ritalin." Remember that the United States stands alone in the world in terms of how many children we diagnose with, and medicate for, ADHD. People are worried that the idea of depression, which means different things to different people and which cannot be physically tested for (blood test, etc), will get out of control.

Near the end of his article, Kramer says, "People can be pessimistic and lethargic, brooding and cautious, without ever falling ill in any way." That is exactly the problem. Other people tend not to like "pessimistic and lethargic, brooding and cautious" people and will be quick to assume that if they're like that, there must be something wrong with them. We are a society founded on witch hunts--a people who, when told there were witches, by god went out and found them. ("Hey, now that you think about it, Goody Nurse is...weird! She's old and lives alone and talks to herself! IT MUST BE SATAN.") We are not a people who can be trusted with the power to globally medicate a set of symptoms that are partly in the eye of the beholder and that only sometimes indicate a problem.

I wish Kramer would address *that* question. It would be interesting to know what he thinks.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

I Could Have Told You This In 1998; also, I'm Sure Glad Lakshmi Chaudhry Is Happy

When asked if the Clinton impeachment was "payback," retiring Congressman Henry Hyde replied "I can't say it wasn't," which from a politician is the equivalent of "Fuck yeah!" from a normal person.

Meanwhile, Lakshmi Chaudhry on AlterNet tells us that it basically doesn't matter that Cardinal "Shut The Women Up, Keep The Homos Down, And Let The Poor Learn Their Place" Ratzinger was elected Pope, nor that the American Christian Right is spouting extreme rhetoric about the judiciary being "unfair to believers" in an effort to suddenly and immediately cripple its power and eliminate checks and balances in our political system. She feels that civil society will more or less roll merrily along despite this; that nobody who can afford birth control listens to the Pope anyhow, and some evangelicals are shying away from the hardcore "Justice Sunday" rhetoric, and basically it will all blow over.

Yeah, well. She's ignoring the effect that hard-right rhetoric has on the public debate, encouraging sympathizers to become more extreme and extremists to be more bold. She's also taking our world as a given, when in fact, it might have been significantly different if the right wing fascist motherfuckers (as my late friend Joe called them) had been content to bother each *other* instead of having to ruin things for the rest of us. For example, how might Latin America be different today if the liberation theology movement, with its small cells of lay leaders and its dedication to helping the poor, had not been suppressed by Ratzinger personally? But liberation theology WAS suppressed. It was stopped, and the help it could have provided was also stopped. That's real. Speaking of which, Chaudhry is way too naive in assuming that there's no link between the poverty which she identifies as the real cause of women's unwilling fertility, and church authority. Ratzinger's persecution of liberation theology HELPED keep those poor people poor. The right-wing church likes people poor, for precisely the reason that they're so much easier to control. It's true, as Chaudhry writes, that the Pope cannot (for now!) control the wombs in his own back yard (thanks to various and sundry secular reformations over the years). But he's still got the ones in the SOL parts of Latin America and Africa, goddammit, and he means to keep them. (Or, I suppose, hand them over to like-minded mullahs [scroll down], as I would imagine that whatever "ecumenical" group would attract Ratzinger and Neil Bush would have to be dedicated to the question of how the extreme right wings of each religion can gain power over their own territory in the world. THEN they'll start fighting each other for control of the whole enchilada.)

And in a smaller example of how Those People really can affect OUR FREEDOM, check out David Adam Edelstein's impassioned protest against Microsoft's withdrawal of support for an anti-discrimination bill against gays and lesbians because "one hateful pastor...threatened them." That's right: the great Microsoft, taken down by one man opening his yap. But he happened to wear a collar. (Memo to all Microsoft business competitors: hire preachers to inveigh against the Mac OS! "Jesus wants you to use Linux!")

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Marla Ruzicka RIP

She cared about the forgotten.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Darth Vader

It's true; Star Wars really is Darth Vader's story. This article has a lot of insightful and intelligent points like that. Writes Erik Lundegaard, "The other characters change [as the first trilogy goes on]; Darth becomes more himself." (I'm citing from memory; may not be verbatim.) I never thought of that, but it's absolutely true.

I disagree with some minor points. The author was disappointed when Darth Vader's original face was revealed in 1983; I remember being moved by its bloated, white image of suffering and decay. Also, forget the alleged parallelism of Leia and Amidala "both being drawn to the bad boy." There is a big difference between "bad" as in Han Solo and "bad" as in the freaky Anakin Skywalker of "Attack of the Clones," who can't think how to put the moves on a girl in any kind of normal way ("I don't like sand" is the best he can do) and flies into a barely-controlled rage when Amidala asserts herself on a very minor issue.

But this author makes a lot of really interesting points, particularly that Darth Vader's appeal (both as Darth Vader and as Anakin Skywalker) is his power--and his willingness to use it. Lundegaard bets that a lot of people will be secretly cheering, not crying, when Anakin crosses over to the Dark Side in the upcoming Episode III. He speculates that it will be a vicarious rush when Anakin casts off all restraint and dedicates himself to power alone. I fear he may be right.

This is a story issue as old as Homer. We know it's wrong, but our hearts beat faster when Achilles says "All right, that's it" and plows into the fray with maddened ecstasy to avenge Patroclus. (Anakin Skywalker does exactly that, by the way, in "Attack of the Clones," going berserk when his mother dies in captivity and slaughtering everything he can get his hands on.) When "Platoon" was released, Oliver Stone learned to his chagrin that plenty of people preferred Barnes to Elias. Barnes, you will remember, was the guy who put a gun to a child's head to make her father talk (even though in the film it was not at all clear that the father had anything of value to say).

Lundegaard writes, "The other Jedi Knights have the problem of mercy, but Darth points his finger and people die." "The problem of mercy"--an interesting phrase. Especially when you consider the targets to whom this problematic mercy will not be shown. When Anakin Skywalker goes berserk, he confesses, "I didn't just kill the men. I killed the women--the children--everyone." Barnes was willing to blow a nine-year-old's brains out. We know from "Star Wars" what Darth Vader was willing to do with Princess Leia and a flying ball with a dripping needle. He wasn't berserk anymore there, wasn't avenging anyone close to him. He did it quite calmly.

So...why does the rush of power come from *him*? There's another side to this. When Barnes threatens the little girl in "Platoon," Elias sees him, runs up to him, and smashes him in the face with the butt of his rifle. It's a purely aggressive, macho, unrestrained, unilateral, you're-going-down-asshole moment, blissfully unencumbered by any problems of mercy. It ought to satisfy the power junkies out there.

But it doesn't.

And here's something to think about. Elias is mean in that moment, but he's not a bully. When he goes after Barnes, he's going after an equal. Barnes, if you look carefully, tends not to do that. Barnes *is* a bully. He knows to get at the father through the child. He knows to get rid of Elias secretly. He knows how to subsequently handle Elias's friends. They're all a bunch of stoners, and their ringleader is a guy he can easily beat up, thus intimidating the others. This *isn't* really power. It's something else. It's an entirely different kind of satisfaction.

Elias's unrestrained use of power involved risk. Barnes made sure that his never did. Anakin Skywalker's displays of force automatically involve no risk because of his degree of Jedi power. And even *then* he doesn't always pick on people his own size. It's the equivalent of going "hunting" by having lackeys drive the bewildered game into your guns.

Darth Vader *is* a fascinating and compelling character. But not because of this.

If I have time later, I will continue to prove my total geekiness by saying what *I* think is interesting about him. Maybe Rob will too.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Reinventing the Wheel

People tell you not to reinvent the wheel, but I think there's a certain amount of merit in going through steps that thousands of people have gone through before, even if you all arrive at exactly the same conclusion.

I've been baking a lot recently, for example, and I finally figured out that they're really not kidding when they say that you get the best results when you measure your ingredients by weight. The banana bread recipe that I got from my mom improved remarkably when I stopped using the swoop-and-scrape method for the flour and started using a scale to measure instead. It went from far too crumby to absolutely perfect.

They're also not kidding when they say that the temperature at which yeast breads rise affects the final product. All of the baking books and theory guides spell this out in gory detail, but until you see for yourself that it really does make a difference, it's all just words on paper. I baked a couple of loaves of sandwich bread last weekend, and the only major difference between the loaves I baked then and the loaves I baked today is that last weekend, the second rise was at about 70 degrees while today's second rise was...mmm, high-80s. It made a major difference in the finished product's density and flavor. (I proofed them in the oven, with the oven off and the light on and a pan of super-hot tap water underneath. Works great. Last weekend, I forgot and turned the oven on while I was shaping the dough into loaves, which was why they had to rise at room temperature.)

I went a little overboard today. Two loaves of bread, a meatloaf, and a HUGE amount of apple crisp which we will have coming out of our ears for the entire week. It's all so good, though. If you want some, come by. I'm betting that the bread and the meatloaf are going to make some pretty tasty sandwiches at lunchtime tomorrow.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

A Proposal For The Government

I have a proposal for the Federal Government.

No, really, hear me out.

For ten million dollars--a drop in the bucket, really, compared with the budget for DHS--I will improve national security exactly as much as airport screeners have. It's a real bargain for the government, and a win all around.

(Attention, government: the ten million dollar figure is negotiable. I could probably do it for five million dollars, if you want me to cut some corners.)

Juuuuust perfect

You know, I'd actually buy Little George's excuse--"the methodology is faulty"--for eliminating the State Department's terrorism report which shows that terrorism is on the rise, except for one little detail: elimination of dissenting opinions is a hallmark of this Administration.

The 625 terrorist attacks that the reports cite for 2004 are significantly more than the previous highest number of attacks. Which was, of course, in 2003. And it doesn't count attacks on U.S. troops.

So instead of, you know, actually doing something...Little George and his cronies willfully ignore evidence that they've failed. Typical.

More Adventures in Selective Democracy

The Bush Administration just LOVES outbreaks of the democratic spirit...unless they happen to come from supporters of left-liberal social-welfare dudes who want to bring higher wages and more social services to the poor. Then the cat mysteriously gets the Bushies' tongue. From "We stand by you!" to the anti-Syria demonstrators in Lebanon to....absolutely zero for the pro-Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador demonstrators in Mexico.

I tell ya, it's been a bad week. The repeal of the estate tax was made permanent and the rapacious bankruptcy bill was passed into law, thus bringing class war to a fever pitch; two sixteen-year-old girls were given the dictatorship treatment (i.e. taken away, held without charge, and denied access to anyone on the outside) by immigration officers. Wanton and brutal displays of power continue abroad with the indefinite detention and torture of vaguely-defined "enemies" who have not been charged. Bush is incredibly unpopular in the polls yet continues to act with abandon. The nomination of John Bolton sends Europe and the UN the charming message, "We shit upon your head and then laugh." We pay no attention whatsoever to the rapidly changing balance of power in the world (the rise of the euro, the stunning new alliance between China and India) which could shut us out, and we continue to act in ways which give everyone a very large motive TO shut us out.

Everybody go read Barbara Tuchman's The March Of Folly. I think if she had lived to see how terrifyingly relevant it would become, she'd have jumped off a cliff.

Seriously--Tuchman's book explores what happens when governments act against their own self interest. She shows how "the power to command frequently causes failure to think." That really is exactly what's happening now. The Bushies are drunk with power, and not only are they not thinking, they're glad about it. They're proud that all they want to do is ram through their plans and force their will on everyone else. They're proud that they ignore any sign of trouble, opposition, failure, or anger; to them, it's a sign of strength. And they surely do not care, as the torture scandals demonstrate, about anyone's suffering. Not at all.

We're going to be a long time getting over this.

Friday, April 15, 2005

A Yellow Ribbon Bumper Magnet is MORE than enough!

That's all you need, right, veterans? Right, active-duty soldiers? Yellow magnets on cars? That's all the Republicans seem to think you need. More money for the VA? Nah, you don't need that! Is this how Little George supports the troops?

And they're gonna bring back the draft. Except they're not gonna call it the draft, they're gonna call it "mandatory national service."

Thursday, April 14, 2005

I'm Going To Curl Up And Whimper Now

John Bolton in all his horrid glory.

What boggles my mind is that the Administration apparently *wants* this guy to treat foreign officials and journalists as if they are nasty little brats who need to get back in line. Granted, this is the way George W.
"Point And Scold" Bush himself pretty much acts abroad, but...y'know??

Not only are these people racing us to our economic doom, but they seem determined that the world's last sight of us as we sink below the horizon of history will be a bunch of shrieking martinets ordering everyone around. The land of Margaret Sanger, Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Julia Ward Howe, Fred Astaire, Cole Porter, John Waters, John Coltrane, Thomas Jefferson (with all due caveats), the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Iroquois, and the Hopi, deserves better. It really does.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Tick Tock...Tick Tock

While we're busy pitying the poor diminished French (one of the last lines in this article reminds us how hard it must be for them to observe our greatness), the Chinese and Indians are working to make sure we soon find out exactly how the French must feel.

Monday, April 11, 2005


President Bush's approval ratings are the worst ever recorded since approval ratings began. Yet the media continues to portray him as a colossus bestride the worshipful earth, except for a couple of cranky godless commie liberals.

(And may I just say that while I'm busy having the Rude Pundit's babies, I would like to have Gore Vidal's babies too [Gore Vidal being the subject of that last link].)

Anyhow! As the author of the second piece points out, the media still continues to treat Bush with kid gloves, although they had no problem going after a very popular President (Clinton) on a comparatively trivial matter as if they were wolverines on a meth bender. Double standard, anyone?

I wonder what historians will make of this. This is one of the issues that bedevils a lot of Alexander scholars (at least as far as I am able to understand): whose accounts of him do you believe? Really. The Athenians always hated him, and it's hard to believe that such hatred doesn't have at least some basis in reality--and then you get to Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was really, truly, seriously just-plain-hated by a group of far-right ideologues. The media spearheaded this group's attack on Clinton while gently soft-pedaling and then swiftly dropping everything to come down the pike on Bush (from the lingering unanswered questions on 9/11, like WHY THE HELL WEREN'T FIGHTER JETS SCRAMBLED ACCORDING TO LONGSTANDING PROCEDURE WHEN THE AIRLINERS DEVIATED FROM THEIR FLIGHT PATH??, to the WMDs, to Valerie Plame, to Jeff Gannon), thus revealing very clearly what side it's on, all the while steadfastly protesting its impartiality. You wouldn't think that this kind of unfairness would be possible, but there it is, staring us in the face.

One is left with a haunting question: what if Mary Renault was right?

Financial Sodomy

This article talks about how wages have stagnated.

This article, which also mentions stagnant wages, details exactly how the tax system has been rigged to take money out of our pockets and give it to the super-rich. Among the fun facts: In 1970, the poorest one-third of Americans had over ten times as much money as the top one-one-hundredth percent of earners. In 2000, they were equal. The 28,000 at the top had a combined income EQUAL to the ninety-six MILLION at the bottom.

Put those two articles together.

Think about it.

Think what's happened in this country. This is the story of our lives: we've spent our lives being robbed.

As we have grown poorer, we have, as the tax article mentions, grown weaker. As we have less money, we have less influence. Democracy starts to become increasingly irrelevant, a formality, as politicians are forced (and some desire) to do the bidding of the money men if they want to get elected.

There's a third leg of this table, and it's the mass media, such as Fox News, which functions as the propaganda arm of the individuals and corporations which use some of their mindboggling wealth to influence public opinion their own way and keep issues like these off the table.

The depressing thing is that it seems to be working.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Tiger At Augusta

Tiger Woods just hit a long birdie at 18 to win a sudden-death playoff against Chris DiMarco at the Masters. This is Tiger's fourth Masters title, and his ninth major tournament victory. He is the youngest-ever player to reach nine majors, and he is halfway to Arnold Palmer's record 18 majors. Given that Tiger is 29, I think he'll easily break the record for most victories at Augusta, whatever it is. (Nicklaus with 6?)

I don't particularly like golf, and I don't particularly like Tiger Woods. (For great golf reading, pick up anything at all by John Feinstein.) I don't give a damn whether he wins anywhere else, but in Augusta, I want him to win as much as possible. And I want him to kiss his girlfriend, too. I noticed that ABC cut away--does that really still not play in the South?

Friday, April 08, 2005

This Is Awesome

I want to work on the new law enforcement tool from Microsoft Canada, CETS. It tracks down child pornographers. If only it would also shove baseball bats up th...well, never mind. (Actually, now that I think about it...I don't want to work on it, because I don't particularly want to wade in filth professionally. In the abstract, though, it's cool.)

I understand some of the concerns I've heard about the tool. It's a short step from "track down this child pornographer" to "track down this pornographer" to "track down this guy who's wearing the 'Buck Fush' t-shirt for Our Glorious Emperor." And the idea that, if it came across the border, this tool would be used by Homeland Security, worries the heck out of me. Still and all, if it helps to kick badguys' asses, I'm for it.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Rude Pundit! Rude Pundit! Rude Pundit!

The Savannah loves the Rude Pundit. The Savannah wants to have the Rude Pundit's babies. The Savannah is not being sarcastic, although she has not actually checked with her husband about the whole babies thing, so she might have to content herself with making her husband quote the Rude Pundit at length during intimate moments. The Savannah believes that someday, the Rude Pundit's admittedly heavily bleeped-out writings will be read by high school students in their bombed-out classrooms in the early days of the Second American Republic, after the war against the Empire has been won, Red Dawn-style, by a scraggly group of liberals that took to the hills. needs editors

Tell me if you interpret this passage from CNN's article about "Sin City" the same way I do:

One of the movie's chief (and most terrifying) villains, Yellow Bastard, was also kept in color. Nick Stahl ("Carnivale," "In the Bedroom") couldn't look less like the character -- but he certainly did after five hours of makeup and the addition of prosthetics.

So...they're saying that Nick Stahl doesn't look at all like That Yellow Bastard without makeup, and with makeup he looks even less like That Yellow Bastard?

Since the article is generally "golly gee" in tone, I think we can assume that they meant that the makeup was really good, and wow, does Nick Stahl ever look like Miller's drawings of That Yellow Bastard.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Isn't this perfect?

Not that I know much about Hunter S. Thompson, but somehow it seems that the plans for his funeral are perfect. Maybe I'll put something like that in my will, too. Except I'd want to be fired AT something.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

See? This Is Really How I Am

Okay, so pretty much *right after* that fascinating Rubicon article, I run across this piece which explains why wage stagnation has been necessary to keep America from being fiscally taken over by foreigners because of the oil economy. That probably sounds a little long and involved, and it is, but you should read it. The teaser about Rubinomics, Clinton's plan to shift the engine of foreign investment from government money to technological money, is the best part. (It almost worked. We *almost* got free from the financial shackles of oil.)

This is great stuff. I almost wish I could go back and become an econ or polisci major.

Anyhow, the point of the piece is that we're in for a further consolidation of reactionary forces because of the particular characteristics of the oil economy. But to me, that's only the means. Reactionary forces tend to *always* be consolidating and ascendant. That's what reactionary forces *are* and what they *do.* They want to control things. They dedicate themselves to that. Reactionary forces were mightily ascendant long before there was oil, and they'll find a new way to work the system long after oil is gone.

But it *does* look particularly grim these days for The Little Guy and whatever dispirited, bleeding liberals we've got left.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Has America Crossed the Rubicon? Also, Tennessee Williams

This article by the always-thoughtful Chalmers Johnson tells us everything we need to do to get back on course (start digging out of our foreign debt, stop acting like crazed weasels on crack in our foreign policy) as a country. But as he points out in his Rubicon analogy at the beginning, it is only meaningful to talk about these steps if we're still on the northern side. We may not be. In re-electing George Bush and making "his conduct of international relations...our own," we might have waded across like old Caesar, bringing an end to everything we were before.

In which case, there is clearly not the will to stop borrowing money and stop acting like crazed weasels on crack, so, we're going to keep going the way we are, the world will dump the dollar and cut off our cash, and we'll "turn...into a North American version of Argentina." (Argentina is the Latin American country that went bankrupt. They have fortunately elected a leftist government that told the World Bank to shove it and invested in human development instead of paying off its debt. Argentina is now starting to recover and things look positive. This gives me some hope for our own country should we turn into a big smoking socioeconomic crater too, because anyone who has even briefly glanced at the history of Argentina knows that this is NOT a country of lefties.)

The thing is, if we do turn into a big smoking socioeconomic crater, we'd better be prepared for a whole new world: as Chalmers Johnson points out, "We who no longer produce much of anything valuable will...become a banana republic [if our economy melts down now]. Debate over our foreign policy will become irrelevant. We will...become dependent on the kindness of strangers."

Personally, I think we're already a banana republic and we just don't know it yet. We got a D on our national infrastructure; I look at all those concrete crumbs and little holes in the road in a whole new way now as I drive along. What's it going to look like ten years from now? Assuming we all still have cars ten years from now.

Yes...this *is* what I'm like all the time. Just ask Rob.