Saturday, July 14, 2007

Yes, Virginia, Racism Still Exists

I'm posting this because of a comment thread on Eric's blog - there is a commenter who is under the impression that America stopped being overtly racist some time in the 1960s.

I beg to differ. These are all from a news story on the wedding of Tony Parker and Eva Longeria:

x1b78 06:04:56 PM Jul 07 2007

A wetback and a French jungle bunny what a pair

x1b78 03:10:19 PM Jul 07 2007

Is Eva technically a midget or a dwarf wetback?

x1b78 03:07:17 PM Jul 07 2007

Eva is a midget mexican she is the size of a Chihuahua. Parker will drink some Colt 45s after losing a basketball game and come home and beat her like a piniata

It goes on and on. I've excerpted from the excerpt at Firedoglake, where Pheonix Woman links to the two stories - on AOL and Yahoo - where the comments are originally from.

If America is over racism, where does this come from?

UPDATE: Just to be clear, there is more than one commenter; I just chose to excerpt the one person.

Market Forces Threaten to Trump Health (A Post for David)

From the NYT:

All three recovered after a single dose of Bexxar or Zevalin, both federally approved drugs for lymphoma. And all three can count themselves as lucky.


Other, more thoroughly tested lymphoma drugs are preferred as first-line treatments. But doctors often repeatedly prescribe such drugs even after they have lost their effectiveness — and when Bexxar and Zevalin might work better.

One reason is that cancer doctors, or oncologists, have financial incentives to use drugs other than Bexxar and Zevalin, which they are not paid to administer. In addition, using either drug usually requires oncologists to coordinate treatment with academic hospitals, whom the doctors may view as competitors.

It's so obvious that the values and priorities of human health take a backseat to those of capitalism (excuse me, "the market") in cases like this.

What's still sort of surprising to me is how often doctors themselves don't really fight it, or are convinced that decisions like those noted above are OK.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Hasso Hering, Please Retire. Now.

He's at it again - I assume he knows he's being completely intellectually dishonest, but at this point I'm wondering if he think it's OK because he's labeling it "persuasive." You know, because it's an editorial and all.

Hey, at least he signs them.

Anyway, this latest affront to the intelligence, of, well, everyone, is on the topic of the former Surgeon General. Hering is so busy complaining that the person in question, Dr. Richard Carmona, can't possible be bullied (which is so obviously bullshit) that he conveniently omits a couple of key facts. First, Hering:

What’s the substance here? He apparently wanted to promote embryonic stem cell research, but there are profound ethical issues that keep the president from backing this idea. The doctor also disagreed with the policy of discouraging unwanted teen pregnancies by urging teenagers not to have sex. This is a policy that may not work all that well, but it doesn’t work any better if it’s accompanied by a wink that says: “Just be careful.”

The doctor claims that the administration has been stifling science. Science has little to do with the issues he cited. Instead, they involve questions, in one case, of how far man should interfere with the creation of human life, and in the other whether the government should issue mixed messages on teenage sex.

Carmona was quoted: “The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation — not the doctor of a political party.”

Next, an excerpt from the New York Times story on what Carmona actually told the committee during the hearing:

The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

Do you see the differences? In case they are not clear enough, let me spell them out for you:

1) The fact that he was ordered to "mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches." Hey, Hasso, what the fuck? Did you run out of space? It just gets galling when you claim that Carmona was the one who wasn't clear on the difference between science and politics. It appears that he knows the difference, and he knew when he was being asked to lend his name, and the name of science (which, for the record, doesn't really need Bush's help in sullying it any more) to pure partisan politics. Given that Hering undoubtedly read the NYT story, I can only assume he left that bit out because he's essentially shilling for a political party.

2) "[Carmona] also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings." See the above point. Politics, science, using government resources to prop up one party in a totally illegal fashion, etc. etc.

3) The report on secondhand smoke - Hering manages to omit that entirely, and if he thinks secondhand smoke is still controversial, well, that's his problem. However, it's pretty clear that politics trumped science in that case.

Speaking of which, Hering is making a very stupid - and false - equivalence here, one that plenty of Republican hacks are very good at making. However, since Hering is a newspaper editor, not a Republican Party operative, it's a little disappointing to see him pull this trick. See, what's he's doing is merely noting the political controversy over the political policies surrounding the issues he mentions, especially abstinence (a word, by the way, that Hering manages to avoid using - I wonder why?). The trick is that he's implying the two sides of the issue are equally supported by science, which is completely and utterly not true.

Abstinence-only education does. not. work. It's an ideological load of crap that comes straight outta patriarchy, one that's putting millions of people at risk here in the U.S. and causing the deaths of thousands more in Africa. (Don't believe me? Look up what's happening with the spread of AIDS now that condoms aren't being promoted due to U.S. policy. Then we'll talk.)

The statistics, and the science, support comprehensive sex education. But, as Hering notes, we can't have the Bush Administration sending "mixed messages," now can we? That wouldn't be helpful, especially when one side is full of misognyistic crap and one side is backed by science, logic, and reason. Instead, we get this weak-ass, dishonest defense of the administration's treatment of the former Surgeon General. Hering has got to know better - I wonder why he spends all this time shilling for the Republicans?

Oh, and in case you thought I was done, I'm not. Hering ends his editorial with this line: "The doctor of the nation? No thanks. If the nation needs treatment, a national doctor is the last thing it needs."

It's predicated on something stupid Carmona said, that he is the doctor of the nation. In some ways, Hasso is right, but it glosses over the actual duties of the Surgeon General:

The Surgeon General functions under the direction of the Assistant Secretary for Health and operationally heads the 6,000-member Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service, a cadre of health professionals who are on call 24 hours a day, and can be dispatched by the Secretary of HHS or the Assistant Secretary for Health in the event of a public health emergency.

The Surgeon General also has many informal duties, such as educating the American public about health issues and advocating healthy lifestyle choices.

Yup. That position is obviously useless, unless you don't believe in public health at all. It's amazing how bitter Hering can sound when he tries to defend the indefensible.

Sounds Like Another Excuse to Attack Feminism To Me

Apparently I'm on a mission to out bad upcoming TV shows. Via Feministing, a new Fox show called When Women Ruled the World.

Full stop.

Feminism isn't about women ruling the world. Well, most feminism, anyway. There are a few strands....but I digress. Let me repeat that:


From the Fox website:

The unscripted series will reveal how women and men react in a world where women are in charge and men are subservient, and each gender’s ability to adapt to a new social order will be put to the test.

Is that an admission we live in a patriarchy? It sure sounds like it to me. Quick - some body tell Fox News! It's true - hordes of old white guys actually does count as a society where men are in charge, no matter how much they complain!

Sorry about that. It's early, and I'm tired and cranky. No coffee yet.

Anyway, I get the feeling this is all a giant platform from which to bash women. Why would I say that? Well, here's another excerpt from the Fox site:

How will the men react? How will the women treat the men? Can women effectively rule society? [emphasis mine]

And since Fox will undoubtedly pick a bunch of folks for whom it will be impossible to get along - it wouldn't really be a show if it worked, now would it? - the answer will inevitably be no.

UPDATE: A comment on the show from Echidne of the Snakes:

Feminists are all about equality, not about reversing the power relationships. But Fox is all about male dominance, and this show is intended to prop that up.


I'm the polite blogger, yanno. Well, I've just had my fill about politeness today. Fuck those Fox assholes. Fuck them for making fun of the real injustices and troubles the majority of women have to endure in this world. Fuck them for making it into a game to prop up their own petty feelings of threatened masculinity. Fuck them for their disgusting slimy bias and their silly little commercial brains. Fuck them for having the empathy of a toe cheese.

And most of all, fuck them to the deepest hell for suggesting that the only alternative to the current system is some perverse upside version of more of the same.

I think she captures how I feel pretty well.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

CBS Sinks to a New Low

I just saw an ad on television for a new show called Kid Nation.

After the ad ended, I found myself saying "no no no no no no" over and over while shaking my head in disbelief. Even Wendy seemed shocked by what we had just seen, and she has a much higher tolerance for bad television.

It turns out the premise of Kid Nation is none other than Lord of the Flies: Put a bunch of kids together in a place with no adults and see what happens. In this case, they are putting the children in an abandoned town named Bonanza in New Mexico.

The TV trailer had all the things you would expect in that situation: Kids crying, yelling at each other, trying to do 'adult' things like (apparently) trying to catch pigs that happened to be larger than they were.

The major difference between Kid Nation and Lord of the Flies?


Let's ponder this for a second: These kids - who are aged 8-15 - cannot give informed consent in this case. They are not equipped with the mental, intellectual, or emotional tools that would allow them to handle this situations they will be placed in.

Furthermore, what the fuck is wrong with the parents of these children? Especially those parents with younger children?

Furthermore, how is this even legal? Not that legality should be the minimum standard here - given the nature of the show, I am holding this to a higher moral and ethical standard.


Browsing around for some information, I found a Wikipedia entry on Kid Nation. It states that the children are on the Imus Ranch, which according to its Wikipedia entry, houses children with cancer and other serious illnesses. It is not clear if the children of Kid Nation are ill in any fashion or not. I don't consider any of that to count as mediating information.

Finally, there is the CBS website for the show, which contains almost no information other than the trailer.

I did not make it through the trailer. I had to stop when they had a kid get up in front of everyone else and say something to the effect of "we have to do this to prove to adults that we can get stuff done and organize a society." It was just too scripted to be believable.

Between Kid Nation and Aliens in America, I'm feeling less generous than ever towards the television industry. More on this lousy trend later. I hope the outcry is tremendous and CBS decides never to make another season again.

Burnout Fast Approaching

Will someone please a) show this to anyone who thinks it's a good idea to sign up for the military; b) run this in papers and magazines in America that aren't The Nation; c) impeach the fuckers?

"I'll tell you the point where I really turned... [there was] this little, you know, pudgy little two-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs and she has a bullet through her leg... An IED [improvised explosive device] went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me... like asking me why. You know, 'Why do I have a bullet in my leg?'... I was just like, 'This is, this is it. This is ridiculous'."

Specialist Michael Harmon, 24, of Brooklyn, 167th Armour Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. In Al-Rashidiya on 13-month tour beginning in April 2003"


I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, 'A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi... You know, so what?'... [Only when we got home] in... meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then."

Specialist Jeff Englehart, 26, of Grand Junction, Colorado, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry. In Baquba for a year beginning February 2004


"The frustration that resulted from our inability to get back at those who were attacking us led to tactics that seemed designed simply to punish the local population..."

Sergeant Camilo Mejía, 31, from Miami, National Guardsman, 1-124 Infantry Battalion, 53rd Infantry Brigade. Six-month tour beginning April 2003


"A lot of guys really supported that whole concept that if they don't speak English and they have darker skin, they're not as human as us, so we can do what we want." [emphasis mine]

Specialist Josh Middleton, 23, of New York City, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. Four-month tour in Baghdad and Mosul beginning December 2004

"I felt like there was this enormous reduction in my compassion for people. The only thing that wound up mattering is myself and the guys that I was with, and everybody else be damned." [emphasis mine]

Sergeant Ben Flanders, 28, National Guardsman from Concord, New Hampshire, 172nd Mountain Infantry. In Balad for 11 months beginning March 2004

This is going to affect the world for a very, very long time.

UPDATE: So, an occupation like this results in the dehumanization of the occupied, which in this case leads to massive amounts of racism, all while creating a bunch of sociopaths who can't empathize with the people around them because the people around them are civilians - an effect that persists once they get back to the US. Just sayin'.

Why I Don't Read Daily Kos

Besides not having the time to do it properly - i.e. read diaries all day long - it seems like it's becoming more and more of a haven for groupthink:

I can't post here anymore because my potential run for Congress is not on the Democratic ticket.

I have been deeply grateful for all of your support over the years. Your love and kindness helped me through lots of sleepless nights at Camp Casey '05.

If Speaker Pelosi does her constitutionally mandated duty and I don't run, then I can come back and post.

I know a lot of you are hostile towards my candidacy. Please understand that I am doing it for your children and grandchildren(and my surviving ones.)

Love always,
Cindy [Sheehan]

UPDATE: Formatting fixed.

My Heart Can Only Shatter Once Per Day

...and this is what caused it to fall into little pieces today.

From a dissenting opinion:

After closing arguments, the court found that it was in Simone D.’s best interest to administer ECT even though it acknowledged that she would probably never “get better[italics added]: “she perhaps could die. Perhaps she wants to die. But that’s not for us to determine. We must prevent her from dying.”

To sum up:

1) Women are subject to electroschock therapy 2x-3x as often as men.

2) ECT doctors are 95% men; patients are 70% women.

3) The women in the story doesn't speak English.

I call white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal bullshit.

Not Really A New Low At All

Apparently some Christian activist-types disrupted the opening prayer in the Senate today because it was being given by a Hindu.

See the video and some transcripts from TPM Cafe.

My only question: Is this what some Christians are calling oppression and/or the trampling of their rights?

The New Politics

The funny thing is, I'm pretty disillusioned by the American political system, even in the abstract form that I learned in Advanced Government in HS. I don't think the structure of that system really matches my values, and I think it preserves hierarchies that need to go. (And, of course, I think it's royally corrupt and only exists in the abstract to boot.)

That said, I feel I can still realize when the system is breaking down, and that such a breakdown has very real consequences, especially since the 'breakdown' is largely being spun and covered up by the highly distorted values of the corporate media:

You have to give these Republicans credit, you really do. They are changing the rules of the game right in front of our eyes and daring the Democrats to do something about it.


I'm specifically talking here about the executive privilege claims, although it applies to virtually everything. Traditionally, there would be some posturing and back and forth, negotiations and perhaps some court involvement.Presidents may push the envelope, but they try to maintain the relationship with the congress in order that we not push these things into litigation which might go the wrong way (from their perspective) and therefore codify congressional prerogatives. Some presidents might even actually respect the notion that oversight is a necessary part of the balance of power and believe it's important to preserve it without creating new laws and rules that make it more difficult. The balance of power between the branches is actually quite a delicate thing that requires a certain amount of good faith to keep that going. The Republicans have thrown that good faith into the trash bin.

There is a great opportunity for sociological and/or political science-based analysis here: What happens when one of the (two major) parties to an essential and long-standing social contract rips it up and throws it out the window? What are the consequences? How deep does trust in the system run for today's Democrats that they don't even see that one party has decided to no longer abide by the previous set of agreed-upon rules? It's really quite amazing, and sort of terrifying, and a major reason I have little to no respect for the Democratic Party; I think the extent to which they are beholden to corporate donors and the existing (and disappearing) system has severely blinded them to the danger they are in, and their saving grace is that people who don't like Republicans feel they have no other viable alternative than to vote Democratic. The Democrats are winning not on their own strengths (I mean, they've got nothing at this point), but solely on the fact that they are not Republicans.

And perhaps more importantly, at what point will the system reach equilibrium again, if it does? What will the governing political structures of America look like then?

I think this is a very important question, maybe the preeminently important question of the day for political scientists and political philosophers, and most them just don't get it, and I have no idea why not. My faith in academia is taking another hit, and I'm not sure how much more it can survive.

UPDATE: I don't mean to suggest this is an aberration, not really. I think it's actually quite logical if one wishes to gain power - the tipping point, as it were, was the Republicans' decision to value the acquisition of power over keeping the playing field intact (the idea being that once enough power was gained, there was no danger of the tables turning and Democrats using the amassed power against Republicans, since the plan was for Republicans to never lose another election). I also think it's an example of the movement of capitalist values into the political sphere, or perhaps a result of the pressure placed on capitalism by globalization, an increasing world population, and decreased natural resources.

Article Analysis: Gen-Y Workers and the Modern World

I got this from my mother, of all places, and I'm very glad she sent it along. While it was extremely interesting, I also thought it was at least 50% wrong.

What is it? An online article from Fortune magazine about Gen-Y workers and how "we're" different. I put that in quotes because while I don't really identify with the article a whole lot, I am in the age group, so I'm likely to be lumped in there.

Also, a disclaimer: there's bound to be more than a few stupid generalizations made by me throughout this post. Please point them out in a kind fashion if you find them. Thank you.

Let's start at the beginning - and I warn you, this is likely to be a long, long post. From early in the article:

They're ambitious, they're demanding and they question everything, so if there isn't a good reason for that long commute or late night, don't expect them to do it. When it comes to loyalty, the companies they work for are last on their list - behind their families, their friends, their communities, their co-workers and, of course, themselves.

From the tone of the post, I read this as the author expressing surprise, or at least written as though it will be news to the people who the magazine is aimed at.

My response? Well, duh. And yes, I realize that this is the dominant cultural norm surrounding work, especially for folks who have personally experienced the 1950s-80s. However, it's no longer a major expectation of anyone I know. Why is there no company loyalty? Because it works both ways - folks I know are fully aware that many companies, especially large ones, don't give a rat's ass about individuals at the bottom of the food chain - and we also know that this lack of care is institutionalized and globalized. Find us a place that cares about its employees, and we're still suckers:

Dorsey recalls the time the president of an engineering firm called a new employee's mother and asked her to be there when her daughter started work Monday morning. "When her mom walked through the crowd, she was like, 'Oh, my God,' and her mom says to everyone, 'I took her to kindergarten, and now I'm here for her first day of work,'" Dorsey says. "The president took them on a tour of the company and explained to both of them why what new employees were doing was so important to the company. And the mom turns to her daughter and says, 'You are not allowed to quit this job. Real companies are not like this.'"

Thing is, this "new paradigm" still leaves in the place the old structure of wages and a hierarchical division of labor - i.e. modern capitalism. So as new as it is, the demands of "Gen-Y workers" are not really radical at all...they are something else. (But what? I'll get to that eventually, I promise.)


And speaking of fashion, this isn't a group you'll catch in flannel. They're all about quiet kitsch - a funky T-shirt under a blazer, artsy jewelry, silly socks - small statements that won't cause trouble. The most important decorations, though, are electronic - iPods, BlackBerrys, laptops - and they're like extra limbs. Nothing is more hilarious than catching a Gen Yer in public without one of those essentials. Let's just say most wouldn't have lasted long on Walden Pond.

Speak for yourself. The older I get, the more I like flannel, dammit - and this is an example of some pretty bad generalizing, though I suspect it's more accurate for certain demographics (large firms and business majors) than others. Again, my social circle, by and large, isn't really embracing these trends - though it is, I think, aware of them.

On the other hand, this is also a good example of an interesting compromise or concession on the part of "Gen-Y" folks: They keep their quirkiness, but they keep it hidden and willingly conform to the norms of professionalism, or at least some norms. Like the article says, they want to be weird, but they don't want to risk anything. Sigh. I'm not sure I can call that progress in good faith.

When it comes to Gen Y's intangible characteristics, the lexicon is less than flattering. Try "needy," "entitled." Despite a consensus that they're not slackers, there is a suspicion that they've avoided that moniker only by creating enough commotion to distract from the fact that they're really not that into "work."

Not into work? No?! Really? Why in the world would anyone not like work?

Give me a break - though to be fair, this seems directed at old white people who happen to be middle- or upper-level managers and who spent years, if not decades, doing crap-work just to get promoted to a position with meaning. It appears that Gen-Y folks don't like that model. Surprise, surprise.

The catch here is that at least for me, I define "work" as drudgery, make-work, repetitive, etc. I don't mind laboring - ask the grass seed farmers I used to work for - but, like the article says, I can't stand not to end a shift and realize I might as well not have done anything, because everything looks the same as when I started (can you say McJob?). Here's a little secret: Jobs don't have to suck. I promise. Envisioning a worker as someone that can be broken down statistically at corporate headquarters or someone who is essentially a profit-producing robot results in the kind of "jobs" that do, in fact, suck - they don't require any creative thinking or any problem-solving, and they don't result in a feeling of accomplishment when something does get done. For an example of how to organize work in such a way that keeps it meaningful and makes it empowering, see Michael Albert's Participatory Economics.

Moving on:

Of course, Gen Yers have been told since they were toddlers that they can be anything they can imagine. It's an idea they clung to as they grew up and as their outlook was shaken by the Columbine shootings and 9/11. More than the nuclear threat of their parents' day, those attacks were immediate, potentially personal, and completely unpredictable. And each new clip of Al Gore spreading inconvenient truths or of polar bears drowning from lack of ice told Gen Yers they were not promised a healthy, happy tomorrow. So they're determined to live their best lives now.

This paragraph digs at me a bit. My outlook wasn't really shaken by Columbine or 9/11 at all (sorry, I guess I didn't grow up in much of a bubble), and I had a moral/intellectual framework that was flexible enough to respond without freaking out, even then (and for that matter, I know plenty of older folks for whom 9/11 was not at all a surprise - they say that anyone with a knowledge of how the US acts in the world shouldn't have been surprised at what happened). I suppose it is possible that "9/11 changed everything" for Gen-Y, though I doubt it. I think older folks read this into younger folks because it challenged older folks more - their worldviews were more established than someone who graduated HS a few months after GWB took over. It also challenged the dominant media narrative in America, which sort of by default is supposed to reflect the "fact" that "everyone" changed, though I think that's quite obviously wrong.

As for the last couple of sentences...well, again, I'll save that for later. I think there's a large undercurrent running though the article that needs addressed separately, maybe even in a separate post that has to do with the perceived and/or real maturity of "today's youth." In fact, I think I'm going to end this post here; I'll have more to say later.

Wishful Thinking

According to the Washington Post, the NAACP 'buried' the N-word today. With a funeral and a coffin and everything.

From the story:

"Today we're not just burying the N-word, we're taking it out of our spirit," said Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. "We gather burying all the things that go with the N-word. We have to bury the 'pimps' and the 'hos' that go with it."

He continued: "Die N-word, and we don't want to see you 'round here no more."

I just think this is a bit premature, and wishful thinking to boot. There's a lot more work to do before that word stops being used in its current fashion - hell, there's a debate over whether or not its current usage is a good or bad thing.

At least someone realizes this is the beginning and not the end of what is probably going to be a very long and heated debate:

"We're not thugs. We're not gangstas," Anthony told the crowd. "All of us has been guilty of this word. It's upon all of us to now kill this word."


"This is a great start," the 30-year-old Detroit resident said. "We need to continue to change the mentality of our people. It may take a generation, but it's definitely the movement we have to take."

Not to keep harping on the same thing over and over, but I think the use of the N-word isn't the underlying issue here.

Can you tell I'm a big fan of going right to the source?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Newsflash: Teens Don't Care About the News

I would have told them that for free, but I suppose Harvard's got to do its own thing.

A key bit:

The poll, which had a margin of error of 2 percent to 3 percent, suggested that younger Americans may pay less attention to news because only one in 20 respondents claimed to “rely heavily” on a daily newspaper.

Additionally, the spread of soft news about pop culture is considered to have lured away young readers from hard news stories on politics and global events.

Predictably, the story digs up a quote from someone who blames it on the Internet. While I think that it's undeniable that the Internet allows people to filter their news, I think this sort of study and the folks who ask these questions are missing the point:

Why do people - young or old - choose to filter their news to match their political beliefs in the first place?

Looking for a technical solution (or even viewing the problem through a technological lens) to what is a decidedly non-technological problem seems foolish. So: Why do people feel the need or desire to filter their news, especially to make it match their existing political views?

I instinctively go for this answer: Because people aren't used to having their beliefs challenged. Having one's beliefs challenged - as opposed to reinforced - forces people to really think. And frankly, since I'm of the opinion that the American educational system actually represses critical thinking rather than foster it (at least from grade 6 on), I understand why people react the same way to challenging information they do to a bright light: They cringe, backpedal, and close their eyes.

Also, I think avoiding the news is a perfectly rational and understandable response to the news itself: I mean, have you watched that shit lately? All the serious stories are downers, and all the happy stories are about relatively inconsequential things. If I'm a high school student, why bother?

All this is a roundabout way of saying that people really like blaming us young'uns for not watching the news, but maybe they - and we - should start realizing the news sucks, and that something should be done about that. Trying to get more teens involved doesn't really get at the root of the problem.

The Jena Six, or why Racism is Still a Huge Problem In America

I've been meaning to post about this for a few days, but the heat got in the way. The office gets absolutely miserable any time the temperature breaks 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

There has been a lot written about this issue already; I'm choosing to link to a post at Pandagon that offers a good summary of the issue. (More information can be found via Kevin at Slant Truth, who has been all over this.)

I am posting this now because I think it's important to remember that racism - the really ugly, overt, and conscious kind - is still nowhere gone from American society.

And furthermore, I think that the ridiculous bullshit perpetrated by the Bush folks at every level since 2000 really encourages this sort of response from police. How? By working to create new, limitless police powers; to encourage folks in authority to abuse their power; and to promote a vision of justice that's all about pain and retribution.

Sometimes I feel like I came from another planet, or that literally everyone has gone crazy except me. I mean, in my vision of a just world, if something like this happened, the public response would be huge (but not vindicative - just huge). Huge enough, in fact, to actually affect what's happening in Jena.

And for the record, I don't blame this on 'the South' or some such bullshit - it's a problem for white people everywhere. And besides, Oregon has a pretty nasty history of state-sanctioned and institutionalized racism that it's never really acknowledged.

Just A Reminder...

...of how stupidly corrupt the Bush Administration is. Because, you know, these things need to be pointed out periodically.

This NYT story, which has been blogged all over the place, reports on the testimony of Bush's former Surgeon General, Richard H. Carmona. Some excerpts:

The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

Amazing. I have what I think are healthy self-doubts about how good of a person I am, and how moral my actions are, but when I read crap like this I just wonder how people learn to live with this sort of crap - not only the people enforcing it, but the folks who read this and have managed to convinced themselves there is nothing wrong. On some level, I just. don't. get. it.

Must be the Philosophy background.

Guess the Fundamentalism

From a letter to the editor in the Corvallis Gazette-Times:

Extremists prey on the poor and uneducated and make people believe that taking an innocent life is the right thing to do.

Which religion is the author talking about?

Go here to find out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Stupid American Racism, Continued

Eric recently posted about a new show from CW - go read his post, then mine, because mine is essentially an extended comment/reaction/liveblogging of the trailer (which can be viewed here):

So I'm trying to play the devil's advocate...maybe the folks at CW think they are 'humanizing' the Pakistani Muslim kid?


Watching the trailer....*puke* It's going to be bad. It has that feel, like it would have been bad in the 80's (but at least it would have fit in).

Did they really just imply that the most shunned kid in school (who is nevertheless good-looking and smart) is ten times more acceptable and "normal" than a Pakistani Muslim kid by default? They did. Shamelessly.

I am speechless. This kind of shit really fucks with high school students who really struggle in the hell that is the high school social world.

Did they just have a student accuse the protagonist of being gay because he didn't view his sister's breasts as sex objects?


At least now I know where the high school students I worked with last spring got all the crap they were spewing at each other.

...because it's totally natural to be freaked out by Muslims and/or Pakistanis.

"If I ordered a coffeemaker and I got a toaster I'd return that." - the mother, as a reference to unexpectedly hosting a Pakistani Muslim exchange student (rather than a tall, Nordic, blond dude).

It's almost too obvious to have to say, but: When you make a joke like that, the reason it's funny is that you just objectified a human being and made them into an object - and then rejected them. When combined with the fact that the person making the joke (except she wasn't joking) is white and the person on the receiving end is a person of color, wow! RACISM!

...One More Time:

The teacher on the first day of class: "For one year, we will be in the presence of a real live Pakistani." The catch is that we're supposed to view the teacher as backwards and ignorant, but the only reason that's in the show is that it validates the ignorance of the viewer. It doesn't really work otherwise - 'Oh, since no one else knows anything about Pakistan or Muslims, it's OK if I remain ignorant.'

Um, no.

The teacher also called Islam 'Muslimism.'

/liveblogging. I couldn't take any more.

This kind of shit leads to Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and a thousand others.

This kind of ignorance leads to fear, which encourages dominance and hierarchy of the "unknown Other," which leads to pain, violence, and death.

It also prevents the development of empathy and compassion, since they are predicated on deep knowledge of other people, and this is predicated on stereotypes and caricatures.

In other words, I'm with Eric: This show needs to be canned (and the creators fired). Now.

Blogging Hierarchy

From Matt Yglesias, something I've also noticed about the liberal blogosphere:

A [blog]caste system is solidifying and a new establishment is crystallizing.

I suspect lots of folks are going to pin this one on human nature. I think that's both wrong and dangerous. Instead, I think this reflects existing socialization and the existing nature of (mostly American) society: hierarchy is promoted all over the place, and it stands to reason a whole bunch of more-or-less (mostly white) liberal folks are just going to replicate what they know. Just because the potential for more democracy exists with the physical infrastructure of the Internet doesn't mean the social development is going to be hierarchy-free. In fact, if that were the case I'd be floored.

That said, I'm reminded of Michael Albert's point that not taking advantage of talent is just stupid - but I think the consequence of a blog caste system or hierarchy is that new talent or developed talent now has some pretty serious barriers to entry, and that's not very democratic, now is it? Especially of the liberal blogosphere is tilted toward highly educated white men, as seems to be the case.

Look at me - it's almost cute, how much I rely on the assumption that people are rational animals (even if it's learned rationality). Sigh.

The Future of Journalism

Via Newspaper Death Watch (I think), a post on why the future of journalism is bright. Given that I'm normally a pessimist when it comes to the future of journalism, especially newspapers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I agreed with a lot of what this Mark Glaser guy has to say.

Also, I really like the fact that he's writing at Given the insanity surrounding PBS in the last few years, I'm glad to see a sane voice there at the moment. Anyway, the post is basically a ten-point list; I'll excerpt and comment on whatever points strike my fancy.

Without further ado:

4. There are more fact-checkers than ever in the history of journalism. Maybe it’s true that professional fact-checking has taken a big hit in the layoffs at mainstream media outlets, but it’s also true that bloggers and free-thinkers online have provided an important check and balance to reporting. They might have an axe to grind or a political bias, but if they uncover shoddy reporting, plagiarism or false sourcing, it’s a good thing for journalists and the public.

See what I mean? I think the guy actually gets it. For me, the point of journalism is to inform people of what's going on in the world. It's necessary because individuals don't all have the time to personally check out each and every event or incident or happening - so some people have as a profession doing just that (and then telling others). This isn't new; some form of this has been going on for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

A second reason to have journalism is that it allows, when done well, for people to become relative experts on a topic and present it to others in an accessible format (think Marcy Wheeler on the Scooter Libby stuff) or Nick Kristof and his coverage of Darfur.

Of course, the journalism business relies on being able to tell the truth accurately, which is a pretty complex task that takes a lot of brainpower and fact-checking. The more complex and larger a story is, the more likely it is to make a mistake. Ergo, having more people to fact-check - people that are often well-versed on the topic at hand, even if they're not employees of a news organization - the more accurate to reality, and therefore better, a story will be.

This is controversial, believe it or not, in some ways. The reason it's controversial is that it takes the 'expert' label away from journalists, editors, and other media types and gives it - potentially - to a whole lot of people. Some journalists don't like this, because it's a removal of their gatekeeper function (Yes, I am thinking of Hasso Hering), and with that comes a drop in status and/or power.

Too fucking bad. If the point of journalism is to report on the world in the most accurate way possible, then an individual's - or a profession's - ego should have no part in it. I was taught way back in high school that an essential part of being a journalist is the ability to take criticism and critique honestly and openly, and to use that criticism to make the story better. To me, that is the desired effect of having, as Glaser notes, "...more fact-checkers than ever in the history of journalism."

Also, it makes journalism more democratic and promotes skill-sharing, two things that I think make for a better, more interesting, and more just world. Plus they have the added bonus of removing power from the corporate media.

Glaser also says:

6. More voices are part of the news conversation. In the past, if you wanted to voice your opinion, correct a fact or do your own reporting, you had to work at a mainstream news organization. Now, thanks to the rising influence of independent bloggers and online journalists, there are more outsiders and experts exerting influence over the news agenda. Not only does that mean we have a more diverse constellation of views, but it also takes the concentrated agenda-setting power out of a few hallowed editorial boardrooms.

See my above comments - more democratic, etc., etc. Heck, I'd love to see most of the profession of journalism wither away as more and more people take over the production and distribution of news content. Added benefit: More people become engaged in the community they live in as they are more aware of what's going on. Result: more democracy!

I should be more explicit about the above point: Lots of news stories still misrepresent people (often marginalized groups) precisely because as professionals, journalists are only familiar with people like them. Lowering the barriers to entry would hopefully allow more points of view to be heard, which would result in a more accurate portrayal of everyone, not just the people that are most like journalists. I'm thinking of people of color and homeless folks specifically.

...yeah yeah yeah, democracy is messy, and who says the people that get involved won't be asshats? No one, but I'll take an engaged, locally controlled community over a bunch of yuppie suburbanites who might as well be zombies just about every time.

Given the length of this post already, I'm going to stop here, but you should go and read the whole thing. It's pretty good.

Get Off My Lawn, Part II

Hering's at it again - this time he thinks the music that companies pipe into restaurants and stores is too loud. He also thinks it's a bad idea because - well, I'll let him explain it:

What about the kind of music that the providers of these sound systems assume we like? ... With that much individual choice available — and in use, considering the vast number of people walking around with phones in their ears — mass exposure to background music is the last thing that anybody wants or needs. Or so you would think.

Again, I sort of understand where he's coming from (though I've never actually been in a place where the music is so loud as to inhibit conversation, except for bars, where it's understandable), but he just comes across as an old man complaining again. Maybe if he did some digging and found out why music is played in the first place and then wrote about that...but that would require research and reporting. Apparently that's too much to ask for an editor, or something. As it stands, the editorial reads like he wrote it at the last second. In school, we called it "bullshitting" or "pulling it out of your ass." I suppose in the 'real world' it's called "working under pressure," or something...

Obligatory Post About Joss Whedon

I should note that I never really got into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I'm a sucker for Firefly and Serenity.

Anyway, this is pretty funny - and really, really good:

My favorite quote:

"Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this Earth..."

Monday, July 9, 2007


I hate the heat.

That is all.

A Question

The State Police contingent that works out of Corvallis is headed by a guy named Phil Zerzan.

Living in Eugene is perhaps the foremost proponent of Anarcho-Primitivism, the idea that people should become hunter-gatherers and ditch technology. His named is John Zerzan.

Given the uniqueness of the name, I've got to wonder if they are related. How funny.

Anybody out there have any idea?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

I Think They Call it a Bleg

Anybody know why the text of my posts becomes single-spaced after a block quote but not before?

Thanks in advance.

Corvallis is Changing

Inspired by this post at Blue Oregon (even though the post in question doesn't really touch on what I want to talk about all that much), I think Corvallis is in the midst of shooting itself in the foot, the leg, the thigh and possibly the femoral artery.

What? My lousy metaphors don't make sense? Deal with it.

Anyway, this is something that has been percolating for quite a while in my brain, and now that the heat of the day has passed, I'm going to try and explain a bit.

I started going to college in the fall of 2001, so I was in town pretty much every day. I moved to Corvallis in the spring of 2002 and have lived here ever since. Also, I like to eat out often, as does my partner. As a result, we have a decent sense of the ebb and flow of restaurants and other businesses in town since we end up all over the place in search of food.

In the last 5 years, I've noticed that there's been a lot of change in town - new buildings, renovation of old buildings, the closing down of old shops, etc. Among the more notable are the closing of Albright and Raw, the Avalon, Lyons Restaurant and several large businesses on 9th St.

Most of these things have either been replaced, razed, or stand as empty buildings. They've been replaced with - you guessed it - chain stores.

Paul Turner of the Darkside (and formerly of the Avalon) has something to say about chain stores that pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter:

I’ve done my part to bring this type of cinema to town. Now it’s your turn. Do you want the Darkside, the Majestic, Robnett’s, Red Horse, and Sunny Side Up in your future? Make no mistake: every dollar you spend at Carmike, Home Depot, and Starbucks is another nail in the coffin for these local establishments.

I think he's spot-on, and that's why I think Corvallis is in the midst of some fundamental long-term change: In the last 5 years, I've seen at least a dozen chains enter town, including Borders, Carmike Cinemas, Home Depot, Ruby Tuesday's, the forthcoming Applebees, an Elmers Restaurant, multiple Dutch Bros., Bed Bath & Beyond, and more. All of these have put pressure on local businesses, even forcing some of them to go under. Hell, even the local Goodwill built a new store that looks just like a low-budget Walmart (scary, I know).

My point is that Corvallis has a reputation - which the Blue Oregon post alludes to - as a great place to live. Part of that reputation is due to some very specific land-use planning: Lots of parks and green space, but more importantly, a limit on the size of stores to limit big-box stores and a genuine effort to keep downtown vibrant by promoting and support local business.

I think the reputation has lived on well after the fact.

Don't get me wrong; my understanding is that the downtown businesses wield some clout, and they are judicious in defending their turf. I'm referring more to the set of decisions (probably made the city government and City Council, though I have admittedly not followed closely enough to be sure) that have allowed the new development.

In other words, I think the mentality of many Corvallis residents has changed and they don't remember why their town is so awesome in the first place, and the consequences of that forgetfulness are going to be, in the long run, a shift from local and independent businesses to mega-corporate chain stores. Corvallis, I predict, is going to lose a lot of what makes it unique and loved by everyone, and lots of people aren't going to be any the wiser, especially since I'd bet new arrivals don't have any idea of the history of the town.

And don't even get me started on the class aspect of all this; I'll save that for another post. Suffice to say, this G-T article has some useful information.

Cindy Sheehan Might Run for Congress

According to the Washington Post and via Americablog.

From the Post article:

CRAWFORD, Texas -- Cindy Sheehan, the soldier's mother who galvanized the anti-war movement, said Sunday that she plans to seek House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's congressional seat unless she introduces articles of impeachment against President Bush in the next two weeks.

Sheehan said she will run against the San Francisco Democrat in 2008 as an independent if Pelosi does not seek by July 23 to impeach Bush. That's when Sheehan and her supporters are to arrive in Washington, D.C., after a 13-day caravan and walking tour starting next week from the group's war protest site near Bush's Crawford ranch.

I like this idea; I think it's a great way to put pressure on the Democrats in Congress to act - Sheehan seems like the kind of person who won't be placated with platitudes. And she has the celebrity status, especially with the left of the Dems, to get attention.

It could backfire, sending Sheehan into obscurity and making her an outsider...though it would be both tragic and a really telling example of what matters to the Democrats. I won't hold my breath.

Surfing While Heat-Addled

Kids Create Mushroom Cloud With Matchsticks.

A Post That's Not Really About the iPhone at All...

It strikes me that I haven't blogged about the tendency of a local paper's editor to write the most inane and/or dishonest editorials around. I think it's time to rectify that situation.

From the Albany Democrat-Herald, editor Hasso Hering writes about the iPhone:

The main idea behind the iPhone, and other less advanced gadgets of the same sort, is to allow people to stay in communication with the world. But what is the nature of that communication? Is it worthwhile, or does it take place just because it is technically possible? And after a while, even spirited chit-chat gets old no matter how cool the technology is that allows it to take place.


Communication devices are good things only if they carry worthwhile information and news. They tend to make life worse instead of better if, at a price of $500 plus a monthly bill from a phone company, they produce mostly more chatter and noise even while they attract people’s attention and take up their time.

On the one hand, Hering sounds like a caricature of an old man - the whole editorial is of the variety I'd called "get off my lawn, you punk kids!" He writes lots of those.

On the other hand, I think Hering raises a really good point, even if he doesn't realize it (and it pains me to no end to say that): What is the point of technology in the first place? I would say that technology is mostly a means to an end, but in modern capitalist culture, technology does seem to be an end to itself: If we can, we should.

That this idea is problematic should be obvious. The fact that it's not is kind of scary - after all, I think it leads to many military officials and police officers wanting to use their new technology, be it a microwave beam that makes one's feel like it's skin is on fire on anti-war protesters and Iraqi civilians or cluster bombs and Agent Orange - or nuclear weapons. And that sort of technology-for-technology's-sake attitude leads to a technocentric view of the world in which empathy and compassion have a tougher time surviving.

...and for the record, Hering is missing the point of the iPhone. He complains that all its features either exist already or are superfluous. Sort of - but no single piece of technology has done all the things the iPhone can while being intuitive and stylish at the same time. Besides, I think the iPhone is merely one stop along the way to a society enveloped in one giant WiFi cloud where all information is at your fingertips. Whether or not that's a good thing is something we can debate (I'll take the 'no' position).

It strikes me that Hering's editorial is really about how since he doesn't like the iPhone, no one else should either. Buried in that is an assumption that Hering knows what's best for everyone else. This, I think, explains the vast majority of the editorials he writes. (I should also note that this is different than having a platform and knowing you still have to persuade your readers that you're correct, something that many other columnists and editors realize.)

I wonder where that comes from - is it because Hering is an old white guy and just used to having the privilege of being listened to? Is it part of being a veteran editor from a different age of journalism, one in which the guys (and it was always guys) at the top of the hierarchy were allowed, unlike reporters, to voice their opinions (and people were expected to listen)? Is it something particular to Hering - i.e. just his (authoritarian) personality? Is it all of the above?

I don't know. What I do know is that Hering's attitude - that he is somehow smarter or more deserving of being heard than the rest of us - is old, outdated, and quite frankly, sexist - and has no business being in a newspaper in the 21st century.

Oh, and it's anti-democratic and anti-merit if you think about it.

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