Monday, March 29, 2010

What's A Little Light Bondage Between Friends?

After All, They Said He Couldn't Have His Very Own Jet
With that, what else is a guy supposed to do?
According to reports all over MSNBC, and our own good buddy, Joe Sudbay at AmericaBlog. The amazingly tone deaf RNC actually thought that they had earned themselves their own jet. It might even be plausible when you consider that in the month of February alone their charter costs were $17,514, along with $12K and change for limos.
Add in costs like a stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel to the tune of $9099, with a dinner/drinks tab at the Four Seasons (which, to my taste is way overpriced and underdelivered, there are all kinds of places in Beverly and Hollywood where you can get delivered value for that kind of money) $6596.
But, the best expense that I saw was $1946.25 Voyuer West, in West Hollywood.
Having spent a large portion of my adult life in the music industry, where a hell of a lot more than inhaling happened backstage and on the buses, I have no moral high ground to take with anyone.
Besides, were I to find myself in a fit of pique after being denied my very own private jet, a night on the expense account watching simulated sex acts, with light kink and a decidedly female on female tone, might be the very thing to elevate my damaged self esteem.
I would just refrain from harping about things like family values, and of course, fiscal discipline.
Micheal, you gotta lotta 'splainin' to do.
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Thursday, March 25, 2010


Give Thanks and Praise to Skippy (who cointed the phrase Blogtopia!)

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What's wrong with Tit for Tat?

Virginia Tea Partiers Endorse Posting Periello's Home Address, Insist They're Not 'A Violent Group Of People':

On Monday, Lynchburg Tea Party member Mike Troxel posted what he believed to be the home address of Rep. Tom Periello (D-VA), encouraging people to drop by for a “good face-to-face chat”
We also contacted Nigel Coleman, leader of the nearby Danville Tea Party in Virginia. In the past, Coleman gained attention for his group’s plan to burn Periello and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in effigy, although the stunt was eventually canceled. Coleman said that he knew Troxel and had no problem with the posting of Periello’s home address. “There’s an assumption that we’re a violent group of people and we’d do something bad to the man,” he said. “We’re just trying to get heard.” The Danville News reported that Coleman also posted the address to his Facebook page, and when told it was actually the brother’s address, he replied, “Oh well, collateral damage.”
It turns out that the address posted wasn't Tom Periello's, but his brother Bo's. Bo Periello discovered that a live propane line at his house was cut.

This is a textbook definition of political terrorism and political threat.

I understand at some level the idea that "we are better than they are". I also understand the history of counterinsurgency operations in Northern Ireland and in Vietnam -- and the fact that using insurgency techniques against an insurgency is often very effective.

So here's my question, and it's a serious one...

Why can't I publish Nigel Coleman's address and email? I can get it for $0.95 from an online search site.

Mike Troxel and Nigel Coleman set the rules of the debate when they published an address knowing that it would encourage violent behaviour. As they would say in Law & Order, they are exhibiting "depraved indifference".

The martial art I study (American Kenpo) has a very simple philosophy: I'm not gonna start a fight with you, but if you start one with me, I am going to do my best to finish it -- quickly and with minimal damage to myself. Once the fight starts, I don't care how much damage I have to do to you in order to stop you from hurting me.

So why can't I publish Mike Troxel's address and email? I didn't start threatening people, and I didn't set the rules of the debate. Mike Troxel and Nigel Coleman did, and Nigel (who's clearly not paid to think) considers attempted arson at Bo Periello's house as "collateral damage".

In my eyes, that makes them fair game -- as fair game as someone who took a swing at me.

Update 20100324 2054 PDT -- It occurs to me that Mike Troxel and Nigel Coleman don't think they did anything dangerous -- to them. If I were to publish their addresses, I'd do it in a deniable way, preferably a way that makes it difficult or impossible to link it to me. Because I would know that I was doing something dangerous. Dangerous to me. Dangerous to my family.

I want bullies like Mike Troxel and Nigel Coleman to understand that they did something dangerous. Dangerous to them. I want them to be afraid that something bad will happen to them because they did this.

Remember what happened to Michelle Malkin when she published addresses? From Wikipedia, with references:
In April 2006, Students Against War (SAW), a campus group at University of California, Santa Cruz, staged a protest against the presence of military recruiters on campus, and sent out a press release containing contact details (names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses) of three student leaders for use by reporters. Malkin included these contact details in a blog column entitled "Seditious Santa Cruz vs. America".[47]

Malkin claimed the contact information was originally taken from SAW's own website, but that later SAW had removed it and had "wiped" the "cached version."[48]

The students asked Malkin to remove the contact details from her blog, but Malkin reposted them several times [49] writing in her blog: "I am leaving it up. If you are contacting them, I do not condone death threats or foul language. As for SAW, my message is this: You are responsible for your individual actions. Other individuals are responsible for theirs. Grow up and take responsibility."[47]

SAW remarked: "Due to the continued irresponsible actions of some bloggers, members of the group have received numerous death threats and anti-Semitic comments through phone calls and emails." [50] A blog war ensued. Malkin claimed that she received hostile e-mails[51] then her private home address, phone number, photos of her neighborhood and maps to her house were published on several websites. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported receiving an email from Malkin saying that this forced her to remove one of her children from school and move her family.[52]
Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

Bullies only understand bullying.

Clarifying 20100324 2246 PDT -- I do not approve of any threat to Michelle Malkin's family, especially her children. So when I say "Now that's what I'm talkin' about!", I refer to the reciprocal revelation of Malkin's address alone. Anybody who would threaten her family is a sick f*ck.
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Princeton Study: All Calories Are NOT The Same

"High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels", published in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2010.02.012:

In Experiment 1, male Sprague–Dawley rats were maintained for short term (8 weeks) on (1) 12 h/day of 8% HFCS, (2) 12 h/day 10% sucrose, (3) 24 h/day HFCS, all with ad libitum rodent chow, or (4) ad libitum chow alone. Rats with 12-h access to HFCS gained significantly more body weight than animals given equal access to 10% sucrose, even though they consumed the same number of total calories, but fewer calories from HFCS than sucrose.
Although the article aims directly at the difference between High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and sucrose or a sucrose/glucose mixture, I don't want to address that.

I want to point out that this result completely invalidates "Calories In, Calories Out" (aka "if you're fat you're either lazy or undisciplined or both") as a diet meme. This study shows definitively that HFCS calories are different in the body than sucrose calories.

OK, that was a bit hyperbolic. But let's look at a couple of facts:
  • Calories In, Calories Out doesn't work (studies variously show that as few as 6% of people who diet actually lose weight long term -- any system that fails that often can't be described as "working"). Google "effectiveness of dieting" for, like, half a million articles.
  • There is science showing that people can eat 7000 calories a day and not gain weight and people can eat 700 calories a day and gain weight. No, I'm not going to explain it. Go read Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories". All of it. You can get a copy from Amazon for $10 or so.
We know that the human body is a complex system. Even if the Calories In, Calories Out people didn't mean "how much you eat, how much you exercise" and instead meant "the net caloric input from food accounting for incomplete processing and the complex systems of energy storage within the human body minus the net caloric output resulting from biochemical production of energy within the body and its systems" they'd still be telling us something relatively useless, because behavioural changes based upon diet and exercise just don't work very well (see that "effectiveness of dieting" search again).

What this study does is show definitively that what you put into your body matters as much as how much you put into your body. As an example, I lose weight when I stop eating carbs and eat beef. Lots of beef. More calories of beef than I ate of carbs. I suspect that has something to do with my body not digesting all the beef I eat, or having to spend more energy on converting beef to useful energy, or something. I don't really care.

Research like this will eventually tell us (and the answers for different people will be different) more flexible ways to eat and exercise while maintaining an appropriate weight if we choose to do so. Right now there are a lot of people who'd like to do that who can't manage to do so. Accepting that "Calories In, Calories Out" is too simplistic will be helpful, and the more complete understanding of the homeostatic system that we call the human body will gradually help more and more of us.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Biden Channels Cheney ... in a Good Way

Yes, I'm pretty sure that was "...this is a big fuckin' deal".

You stay classy, Mr. Vice President.
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Abbie taken not too long ago

My Loyal and Trusted Friend

Has died. She was a little over 12 years old. That's old for a German Shepherd. She came to me after she was retired from the U.S. Air Force, where she had served as an ordinance sniffer. She was just over four then. I had to seek out advice from a neighbor who had been a Canine Officer for the L.A. Sherriff because I knew that this dog was suberbly and completely trained, I was the one in need of learning.

She was the smartest dog I've ever known. She was obsessed with squeaky balls. When they train dogs for police, customs, or military use, the dog doesn't know what they are looking for. The dog is looking for its favorite toy. Abbie, most of the time, would quickly chew the squeak out of a ball. If I had several balls of the same color and type I could put four of them, with only one that still squeaked, on the floor and say "Abbie, get your squeaky ball." She would pick them up, one by one, until she found the one that squeaked, and then she would lay it at my feet and we would go play.

This weekend, while I was playing in San Diego, Abbie collapsed. Her hind legs weren't working any more. This wasn't an unexpected thing. Last fall, when she started having trouble co-ordinating quick turns and things like that, I had taken her to the vet and she was diagnosed with liver cancer. The prognosis and time of survival were about the same, with, or without any treatment. Given the brutal side effects of chemo and radiation, and the small amount of time they would have provided, I opted to go with no treatment. I knew that one day, the tumors in her liver would compress on her spinal cord, or some other vital area and the time would come when we would make that final trip to the vet.

The place I was playing is a venue where they know me well. One of the crew members noticed that, even for me, I was being unusually silent and solitary. He asked me if everything was OK, and I told him "No, everything is far from OK." I then explained about Abbie, and what was facing me when I returned home. He said "You're lucky to have a show to help you get through it."

Some people might think that odd. Show folks however, know perfectly what he was talking about. There are times in my life where the only place in the world that I can find some measure of peace is onstage with my instruments. When I'm there, I am not thinking about any other thing. I am totally present and in that moment.

Also, with me every step of the way through this was my long time, and very good friend Lt. Colonel Victor Charles. Over the last forty years, my family and his family have become very close.

A long, strange trip indeed. To realize that my best friend today was once my best enemy. Of course, one of the truths of humanity is that when the governments get the fuck out of our way, we tend to make peace.

Because peace, is better.

I always sing to my critters. Every dog, every horse has their own song. This was Abbie's. When I would start singing it, she would gleefully come a running because she knew that it was time to play. It's to the tune of "Turn, Turn, Turn."

To everything, let's play ball
There is a season to play ball
And a time that we should go play ball

A time to build up
A time to play ball
A time to laugh
A time to play ball
A time to cast away balls
A time that we should play more ball

Here's what I said to Abbie as they administered the final dose:

"Goodnight old friend. You rest now, later, we'll go play ball."
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Monday, March 22, 2010

Media Vita en Morte Summus

Here, Bullet

If a body is what you want,

then here is bone and gristle and flesh.

Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,

the aorta's opened valves, the leap

thought makes at the synaptic gag.

Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,

that inexorable flight, that insane puncture

into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish

what you've started. Because here, Bullet,

here is where I complete the word you bring

hissing through the air, here is where I moan

the barrel's cold esophagus, triggering

my tongue's explosives for the rifling I have

inside of me, each twist of the round

spun deeper, because here, Bullet,

here is where the world ends, every time.

Brian Turner Read more in the L.A. Times

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General Shinseki Speaks Up Against New Swiftboating Nonsense

I was happy to see Eric Shinseki's statement today. (below) I know many people are disappointed with how slow President Obama has been on many of our core issues. AND I know we've had horrible news on the anti war front and on women's issues. BUT One thing for sure is that this administration has taken seriously the needs of our vets and has done a tremendous amount for them. So as the wife of a vet it burns me up to hear all the stupid lies about how the health care bill will reduce tricare benefits etc. It is just not true, And the Secretary for Veterans Affairs, whom I greatly admire, has come out swinging against the latest crap that is being spun out there.

This is esp. important as the tri care lie has been making it's way through many vet networks that my husband and I are a part of. But the vets really admire Shinseki so this should help A LOT.


WASHINGTON - As Secretary of Veterans Affairs, I accepted the solemn responsibility to uphold our sacred trust with our nation’s Veterans. Fears that Veterans health care and TRICARE will be undermined by the health reform legislation are unfounded. I am confident that the legislation being voted on today will provide the protections afforded our nation’s Veterans and the health care they have earned through their service. The President and I stand firm in our commitment to those who serve and have served in our armed forces. We pledge to continue to provide the men and women in uniform and our Veterans the high quality health care they have earned.

President Obama has strongly supported Veterans and their needs, specifically health care needs, on every major issue for these past 14 months – advance appropriations, new GI Bill implementation, new Agent Orange presumptions for three additional diseases, new Gulf War Illness presumptions for nine additional diseases, and a 16% budget increase in 2010 for the Department of Veterans Affairs, that is the largest in over 30 years, and which has been followed by a 2011 VA budget request that increases that record budget by an additional 7.6%.

To give our Veterans further assurance that health reform legislation will not affect their health care systems, the Chairmen of five House committees, including Veterans Affairs Chairman Bob Filner and Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, have just issued a joint letter reaffirming that the health reform legislation as written would protect those receiving care through all TRICARE and Department of Veterans Affairs programs.
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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Liam Clancy: 1935 - 2009

(Video: Liam Clancy & Tommy Makem, The Parting Glass,
February 1977, National Stadium, Dublin)

One year when I was a kid, my brother and I got vinyl records for our birthdays. I was jealous, because he got The Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy, and all I got was The Best of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. In the long run, though, I won big, because if you look at the end result of that birthday, I've got 100s of songs in iTunes that are by The Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, and Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem. Not to mention Andy Stewart and Manus Lunny, the Irish Rovers, the Chieftains, Loreena McKennitt, Tamarion Roberts, various Pipe & Drum bands, and probably others that I'm not finding right now. Of course, I do have several albums worth of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner :-). But I digress.

The Clancys and Tommy Makem were central to the Folk Revival of the 50s & 60s -- at least the Irish part. As a performance group the Clancy Brothers were Ireland's first pop stars, cutting 55 albums, selling millions of records, and appearing at Carnegie and Royal Albert Halls. They were a primary influence upon Bob Dylan.

Liam Clancy was the youngest Clancy brother and both played guitar and sang with the group. When performing with Tommy Makem, Liam sang and played guitar, banjo, and bhodhran. All of them joked. I used to go see Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem perform at the Marin Center in San Rafael. Eventually I knew their patter well enough to repeat it verbatim.

According to Wikipedia, Bob Dylan regarded Liam Clancy as the greatest ballad singer in the world. Next to that, my opinion is unimportant, but I agree.

I'm sorry he's gone. He was the last, dying December 4, 2009. Tom Clancy died on November 7, 1990; Patrick Clancy died on November 11, 1998; and Tommy Makem died on August 1, 2007.
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Who Is The Wolf At The Door?

Today The New York Times issued an admission, in the form of a column by its Public Editor Clark Hoyt, that it was wrong in its coverage of the so-called ACORN sting and had been wrong to defend its wording since the truth began to emerge.

ACORN (acronym for The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) is defined by Wikipedia as "a collection of community-based organizations in the United States that advocate for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues." Because ACORN has, since its inception in 1970, been very successful in its goals and particularly effective in registering millions of low- to -moderate income voters, it has been the target of conservative attacks because lower income citizens tend to vote progressive and because ACORN promotes racial equality. Despite the fact that attempts at illegal disenfranchisement and voter fraud overwhelmingly originate from the conservative camp, the right-wing noise machine has prevaricatingly smeared ACORN as the source of voter illegality in recent elections.

In this campaign of "stop ACORN by any means", a right-wing con artist named James O'Keefe released video where he (falsely) claimed that he and another person dressed in outrageous "pimp and ho" costumes entered an ACORN office during July 2009 and were secretly taped receiving information on how to conceal illegal activities. The New York Times backed this story without ever viewing the original videotapes. Subsequently, Republicans succeeded in stampeding Congress to cut off all federal funding for ACORN and President Obama immediately signed the bill without batting an eye.

ACORN claimed it was fraud from the outset and demanded to see the unedited original video. They also filed suit for illegal secret videotaping. O'Keefe's employer, rightwing propagandist Andrew Breitbart, appeared in print and on TV repeatedly defending O'Keefe. Breitbart's story began to unravel when O'Keefe and three others were arrested in January after illegally entering the offices of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in an apparent attempt to tap or damage her telephone system. The criminals were "charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony" and are awaiting further legal action.

In December 2009, former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshberger issued his results of "an independent inquiry into the organizational systems and processes surrounding the social services of the organization" pursuant to the recent allegations of corruption within that organization in the ACORN 2009 undercover videos controversy". His written report exonerates ACORN from any alleged illegal activity.

Likewise, media watchdog FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) issued an excellent analysis of The New York Times' coverage and concluded it was "wildly misleading" and that the paper had been "duped".

Harshberger's report was cited in the judgment issued ten days ago by U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon, which reversed the act of Congress by granting both declaratory relief and a permanent injunction to ACORN. In her ruling, Judge Herson stated "The government has offered no...unique reason to treat ACORN differently from other contractors accused of serious misconduct or to bar ACORN from federal funding without either a judicial trial or an administrative process applicable to all government contractors."

This means the right-wing can, and undoubtedly will, continue to target ACORN for destruction, but for the time being, actual proof will have to be produced before governmental punishment can be levied. And this assertion of the rule of law no doubt played a strong role in The New York Times' watery admission of error today.

The damage has been done, however. As Hoyt's column points out, "Now Acorn [sic] and its supporters say The Times got the story wrong and, by failing to correct it, has played into the hands of a campaign that has pushed the group near extinction."

These admissions arrive during a week when right-wing dissociation from honesty can be found all over the news. For instance, in a desperate last-ditch effort to derail even a semblance of health care reform, a fake memo was promulgated which "claims to be sent to 'Democratic health and communications staff' and which suggests the majority party leadership wants to make big changes to Medicare next year after health care passes". This memo was ballyhooed by right-wing blogs as proof of Democrat hypocrisy only briefly before it was declared a hoax -- though salivating Republican Congressman Scott Garrett (NJ) couldn't stop himself in time to avoid being revealed as a lying ass in public by Anthony Weiner (N-NY):

We have also learned that the 33 Haitian "orphans" kidnapped by U.S. christianist missionaries turned out to have parents, after all: parents who were devastated by the earthquake and accepted the missionaries story that the children would be taken to a free school where the parents could visit at any time. The children have been returned to their families, and while not enough news outlets are calling this what it was -- human trafficking -- at least the sob stories about how it was "all for the children" have died away.

I wonder if all the money raised by fundamentalist churches to "aid these orphans" will be now directed toward helping their families, or if instead it will go to Laura Silsby's defense costs. I'd love to see a breakdown of how much tax-free income generated by the Catholic Church and fundamentalist Protestant groups has been spent in decades of cover-up and protection of pedophiles. There's a reason why the best place to find a child-sex predator is in conservative Christian strongholds, but I'll save that for another post.

It is important to note here, however, that the subtext which makes sense of why this kidnapping is justified in the minds of the Christian Right is a racist conviction that children of color are always better off beign raised with at least white supervision of their parents, if not white parents. Children of color are presumed to have illegitimate births, lacking proper familial values or documentation by authority. The Right seeks control over families of color, not giving them independent assistance where it might be needed.

Jill Cozzi details recent white-supremacy-driven threats at this week's teabagger bundthall gatherings as further documentation for "GOP: The Party of Legitimized Hate" (see my earlier post on this at Kickin' Ass and Namin' Names). This week saw black members of Congress being called "n****r" by teabaggers as they tried to go about their work. Later they had a big laugh yelling "f****t at Barney Frank, and successfully refused to cease their menacing behavior when a Capitol police officer tried to eject them.

Violence and lying for the cause is not only justified and excused by the Right, it's expected. For the theocrats among them, coercion is part of their mandate from g*d tp prosyletize: Such a mandate is by definition disrespectful of others' right to self-determination. The non-theocrats on the Right have absorbed past lessons from fascism which proves Big Lies backed by localized community violence can dominate nations.

Republican control of public discourse has meant their version of reality has been imprinted on an entire generation or maybe two. One of their lies is that "the media is liberal", when in fact the reverse is true. (Where is OUR Faux News?) Another is that "Americans are mostly to the right of center", when nationwide polls and landslide elections indicate the opposite. (A denied reality which has squeezed the teabaggers out from their "independent" cover.)

A third Republican distortion is the folksy "All politicians lie" with an implicit tag of "and they all equally." I'm not about to argue for the veracity of politicians. I'm not even going to argue that so-called progressives don't engage in the Big Lie from time to time, not when our own President had the nerve to declare in his address to Congress yesterday "You have a chance to make good on the promises you made" the same week that despite running a campaign which included the promise of a public option in health care coverage, it was revealed Obama "made a backroom deal last summer with the for-profit hospital lobby that he would make sure there would be no national public option in the final health reform legislation". a deal confirmed by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina.

But with the obvious exception above, Democrat political lies usually don't deliberately reverse the truth and project their own actions into Republicans. Progressives who vote Democrats into office don't lie us into murderous, economy-breaking wars. We're educated enough to comprehend the difference between socialism, communism, and fascism, and to know who is/who ain't. We support separation of church and state as it was delierately written into this country's organizing fabric by its founders. We understand that habeas corpus either extends to everyone or we're all living one accusation away from the noose. We know goverment is a safety net for "the least among us" and that it is in everyone's best interest to have good free schools, a functioning infrastructure, public health and safety, clean water and food, oversight for business practices, and, of course, the unimpeded right to vote. We are adult enough to recognize these public goods must be paid for by our taxes, not left to corporate goodwill or other forms of magical thinking.

And being adult is a big part of what differentiates the progressive mindset from conservative thinking. We are not locked into a worldview dependent on fear of authority and hierarchies. We have matured enough to not be overwhelmed by the prospect of pluralism, respectful difference of opinion, or modernity in its unpredictable state. We are much better equipped to deal with real-world ambiguity and conflict. And, as Digby points out, "How the two sides handle defeat is a defining characteristic." Assassination and violence as an excuse for having immature mechanisms for dealing with emotion is typical of the Right, not the Left.

Standing here amid the debris left by the Bush administration, we are like the grown-ups who arrived to rescue the boys in Lord Of The Flies. Our current leaders may be distracted by the "lookit this, some of it's kinda cool" crap left behind by run-amok children, but we in the authentic progressive base know eventually Bush/Reagan fantasyland all has to go in a bonfire. Everybody gets a tetanus shot and we return to the Constitution.

Between then and now, there'll have to be an increasing awakening of a majority of those who thought Ronnie and Dubya at least "meant well". They will need to admit "Wolf!" has been repeatedly cried to keep them from their honest labor and their community values have been exploited to serve the egos of a narcissistic few. This kind of adjustment always occurs, eventually.

And maybe, just maybe, this week we're seeing the actual beginning rivulets of that turning tide.

NOTE: Definitive and often exclusive coverage of the entire ACORN story has been untiringly performed by The Brad Blog, whose dogged persistence can be credited for much of the progress toward justice and exposure found above. Our ardent thanks to them for real truth-telling and an insistence on journalistic integrity.
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A Song For No Reason at All

Micheal Martin Murphy

Here's a little tidbit of philosophy that I picked up from Mikey.

"I used to hate myself in the morning.

Now, I sleep 'till noon."

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Friday, March 19, 2010

On The Fence To Get Obama Off The Fence

(Lt. Dan Choi, Iraq war, and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo after handcuffing themselves to the White House fence in protest of the anti-lesbian/gay policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on 18 March 2010. Photo from AmericaBlog.)

Yesterday three people were arrested for an act of civil disobedience following a Human Rights Campaign rally protesting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which featured Kathy Griffin. Two of the arrestees were former and current members of the military, Lieutenant Dan Choi and Captain Jim Pietrangelo. Also arrested was activist Robin McGehee of GetEQUAL.

Lt. Choi, a West Point graduate, is facing a pending dishcarge under the DADT policy after he came out as gay on the Rachel Maddow Show. Capt. Pietrangelo has already been formally discharged under DADT for being openly gay.

According to, McGehee and Pietrangelo were the first to handcuff themselves to the White House Fence, followed by Choi, and McGehee was the first to be arrested.

GetEQUAL activist Robin McGehee being arrested as she defends the protest against DADT at the White House on 18 March 2010. Photo from Towleroad.

Early coverage in an article from Towleroad states "Lt. Choi spoke at the rally and asked participants to join him on a march to the White House. Choi led hundreds of people from the rally to the White House where he and Cpt. Pietrangelo cuffed themselves to the fence while the crowd rallied around them. Shortly thereafter Choi and Pietrangelo were cut from the fence and arrested by police. During the minutes leading up to their arrest, activist Robin McGehee of GetEQUAL was also arrested."

Robin McGehee has been traveling with Lt. Choi and is co-director of the National Equality March. She covered the event via Twitter and her reporting sequence can be found in the Towleroad article. According to McGehee, she asked "Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese if Choi could speak at the rally and he rebuffed her, telling her it was Kathy Griffin's rally."

HRC offered an explanation later of their decision to not agree to Choi speaking and then remaining at the rally site when the action left to protest at the White House. HRC also covered the rally at their blog. John Aravosis at AmericaBlog refutes the HRC statement as "utterly untrue".

AmericaBlog covered this story as it was breaking, with video, photographs, and first-hand reporting. They refer to the protestors as "Handcuffed to the fence in front of Barack Obama's White House to protest the President's failure to deliver on his promise to end DADT. This is not the photo that the White House ever wanted. But, it's come to this."

According to The Advocate,"United States Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser" stated "both men were taken to Park Police's Anacostia station for processing, where they were charged with failure to obey a lawful order. Choi and Pietrangelo will be held overnight and are scheduled to appear in D.C. Superior Court on Friday." This article also states McGehee was arrested "apparently for helping the two discharged soldiers handcuff themselves to the fence. An officer who arrested McGehee said 'I can't say anything' on why she was taken into custody. McGehee was bailed out and released Thursday evening.

The Human Rights Campaign and other mainstream LGBT rights organizations focus on the repeal of DADT as a main rallying point and fundraiser. GetEQUAL's statement of purpose reads "I join with others who are ready to take bold action to demand equality for LGBTQ people. I will not accept excuses, delays, compromises, or empty promises, and I will hold accountable any person or organization who stands in the way. I will push back, rise up, and speak out against all forms of discrimination that plague our community."

Other organizations within the lesbian and gay community do support causes such as repeal of DADT and removal of the state from marriage definiton, but decry mainstream focus on these two questions to the detriment of other liberation issues which affect a much larger percentage of the population -- issues of job and housing discrimination, children's rights, and freedom from violence. One such group is the sardonically named Against Equality, which promotes "Queer challenges to the politics of inclusion." A sizable percentage of lesbians and gays are anti-war and opposed to the growing militarism of American culture. Their voice is represented in the poster below found at a bus stop at 17th and Castro in San Francisco, apparently placed in mid February 2010 by guerrilla artists from Truthforce (photo by Roseanne Dunbar Ortiz.)

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Very Interesting Post At Global Guerillas


The premise that is being kicked around is how to use gaming modalities to restructure the way we live.

John Robb has ideas about it that sound very reasonable to me. What do ya'll think?

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

For Saint Patrick's Day

This is Irish Music At In the Pure, Uncut Way.

Good friends, gathered around, making wonderful music.

Blessings to the Irish among us. Blessings too, for the half Irish like meself.

Special blessings go, to thems as only wish they were Irish.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

US Court affirms thimerosal-autism connection "not...scientifically sound"

"US court rules again against vaccine-autism claims":

Vaccines that contain a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal cannot cause autism on their own, a special U.S. court ruled on Friday, dealing one more blow to parents seeking to blame vaccines for their children's illness.
As I've written before, the connection between vaccination and autism was started by a deeply flawed study created (largely out of whole cloth, it seems) by British "Dr." Andrew Wakefield. The belief that vaccines cause autism has caused significant abandonment of vaccination both in the US and in Great Britain, resulting in probable loss of herd immunity for segments of the population, especially against measles.

In the US, the case against thimerosal-caused autism is clearly shown by the continuing rise in autism diagnoses despite the removal of thimerosal from vaccines. This leaves anti-vaxers reaching for conspiracy theories rather than admit that thimerosal doesn't cause autism.

One would hope that the complete discrediting of the original "research" linking autism to vaccinations would have terminated this foolishness. Since it hasn't, I don't think this court case is going to do much good in that regard.

I wish critical thinking were taught in schools. And that lawyers who brought patently silly lawsuits based upon discredited science were severely sanctioned unless they won.
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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Stepping Out Of The Frame

I have a geek question in search of a serious answer or a fresh theory: I just read this article at Eureka! Science News about how the genome of an entire family has been sequenced to track how genetic mutations are handed on. The article states "Scientists long had estimated that each parent passes 75 gene mutations to their children." However, the actual rate of passing on was less than half of what had been estimated -- "By comparing the parents' DNA sequences to those of their children, the researchers estimated with a high degree of certainty that each parent passes 30 mutations — for a total of 60 — to their offspring."

My question is, why was the erroneous estimate so high to begin with? What were they observing that caused them to attribute a passing on of mutations at this level? And if the mutations are present but not being transmitted via our parents' DNA (which seems likely), then what IS causing the mutations?

I'm theorizing it is genetic reconfiguration that is the result of environment in early development. Cultural biological mutation, a la epigenetics. Which biological determinists and essentialists of all stripes do NOT want to admit is the case -- especially all those among us obsessed with "masculinity" as if it has authentic biological reality, instead of being a pathological cultural construct in the midst of epic fail. I am as interested in hearing "examinations of masculinity" as I am in hearing about exploring white supremacy -- i.e., it has shot its wad and we can't afford to waste any more time pretending it has value to impart. Yes, my generation looked at "femininity" which had been crammed down our throats (sometimes literally) as part of girl conditioning, but we quickly understood it was a bogus binary and instead began focusing on what was HUMAN -- and reclaiming humanity for women.

I feel this morning as if we have lost an entire generation to the rabbithole of feminist denial and a lopsided, desperate clutch at keeping the gender binary alive through the pretense of "subverting" it.

The silver lining is that money has been poured into scientific studies which hope to bolster biological determinism, and the vast majority of them (except for the tiny ones done on selected populations of adults) keep proving that culture and environment are the major factors in determining "identity". Truth will out, even if it is funded by the boys (and boy fetishists) who want to prove their definition of boy is triumphant.

NOTE: Here's another recent article from The New York Times, Human Culture Plays A Role In Natural Selection, which states that genetic adaptation to sustained cultural change "works more quickly than other selective forces, 'leading some practitioners to argue that gene-culture co-evolution could be the dominant mode of human evolution'". Yep.
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Saturday, March 13, 2010

When Google Translate Fails...

Art can elucidate.

(This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow.)
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Friday, March 12, 2010

GNB Late Night: You won the gold and you have health care!

(Photo: Charles Dharapak / AP, from "The hockey sweater, White House style")

Four of us Canadians stood together in the White House briefing room this afternoon for the big moment.

One wore a Canadian hockey jersey, one wore the now-famous red "Canada" mittens. We each wore smiles as our American colleagues teased us about the 'important' Canadian story.

The U.S. President's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, kept his Olympic hockey bet today with Prime Minister Harper's press secretary, Dimitri Soudas. Gibbs lost the bet, and so today he delivered on his end of it. Sort of.

He did indeed wear a Team Canada hockey jersey to the press briefing, as per the bet.

(Dimitri Soudas had the jersey delivered to Gibbs, generously adding the number 39 worn by Ryan Miller, the fine goalie for Team USA.)

Gibbs appeared in front of the room and before the live cameras to what sounded like good natured groans. He turned for the cameras, and explained how President Obama had instructed the U.S. Embassy to send a case of Molson Canadian (from Canada's oldest brewery) and a case of Yuengling (brewed in Pennsylvania, by the oldest beer maker in the U.S.) to the Prime Minister's office.

Gates then he removed the sweater and conducted most of the briefing in a Team USA jersey that he was wearing underneath the winning jersey.

The bulk of the briefing was about health care reform in the U.S.

One of the American reporters quipped to the Canadians, "you won the gold and you have health care!"
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Greatest 3 Game Comeback Ever in NHL

posted to YouTube by FlyingMagicPotatoes)

Drew Remenda:
Do you wanna know what a hockey player is? A hockey player is a guy that keeps playing, no matter what the situation. Joe Pavelski did not have a very good first or second period. But Joe Pavelski is such a player -- is a guy who will continue to play as hard as he can and do what he gets, do what he can when he gets the opportunity. That's a hockey player, right there, ladies and gentlemen.
In their last three games (all home at the Shark Tank in San Jose: March 4th against Montreal, March 6th against Columbus, and March 11th against Nashville), the San Jose Sharks have done something unique in NHL history: won three consecutive games when trailing entering the final period.

I know that most of you could care less about hockey, and probably those of you who care about hockey could care less about the San Jose Sharks. But I suffered through eight seasons of tickets with the Boys in Teal, starting their first year in San Jose at the Shark Tank, and that experience marks you -- at least it marked me. The experience of utter team failure and spectacular over-achivement. Agony over losses, ecstasy over victories. Pain over injuries. Endless figuring of possible routes to the playoffs or useful trades. Learning that your team can manage to lose no matter what the situation. The Noise*

The Sharks are getting a reputation for playoff choking in the NHL because they keep re-loading for a Cup run and failing. This year there are indications that they may beat that reputation. Four Sharks (Thornton, Heatley, Marleau, and Boyle) came home from Vancouver with gold medals. Joe Pavelski (shown above scoring one of his four points in last night's 3rd period) came home with a silver medal. And now the Sharks have come back in three straight games when trailing entering the 3rd period.

I've seen the Canadian Men's and Women's Hockey teams bring home gold this year at home. When Sidney Crosby's "golden goal" went in, we at home could hear the roar from "downtown" Lynn Valley where a big screen was set up. I'm surprised we didn't hear all the way from Vancouver. If the Sharks go all the way this year, I think I'll hear the cheer all the way up the West Coast from San Jose.

And I would love that.

* If you say The Noise to anyone who's been in the Shark Tank during the playoffs, they will understand. It's the sound of 17,100 of your closest friends whose names you don't know exploding in cheers. It's not unlike the sound a space shuttle makes taking off -- a sound which is visible crossing water and tactile when it reaches you. The Noise is more than decibels. Earplugs will stop The Noise from deafening you but they can't keep you from feeling it. Because you're a Californian, you know the building isn't shaking from an earthquake, but if you weren't a Californian, you'd be running for a doorway. You can't record The Noise -- it just comes out sounding like a big hum -- whether it's the Shark Tank or the space shuttle.

But if you're there, you can feel it.
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Breaking The Fast

(I wrote a shorter version of this after midnight today at my Facebook page, but decided to bring it here because processing through my recent near-death is what has stopped the dark-of-night panic attacks: Memoir as noticing what is good in the present moment.)

I was reading Konagod's blog just now and his jonesing for french fries because it's been over a week since he had solid foo. I thought to myself "I went 10 days without food during the gut explosion incident." I had to go look at a calendar to make sure I wasn't mythologizing myself.

I got a grocery delivery the early evening of Sunday, Oct. 11. I was anticipating its arrival because I was hungry, had gone more than a day without food, because I had no money and no way to go get food on my own. The first thing I did was sit down and eat a handful of tortilla strips with some spinach dip and a glass of orange juice -- enough to give me quick, healthy energy. I saved the rest of my hunger for a real meal and began trying to haul the bags of groceries to my kitchen. That is when the final hernia rupture took place. I left perishables on the dining room floor and went to lie down from the sudden pain, hoping it would subside as it had before over the preceding year.

And, of course, the reason why these episodes of severe abdominal pain and vomiting had gone untreated by me for a year is because I had no insurance, no money to pay for an office visit or even to get transportation to a health facility. I didn't know what was wrong with me, had guessed it might be my gall bladder and so was trying to address it with a diet revision. I had not an inkling that it was two hernias slowly extruding through abdominal muscle and strangling my colon -- nor of the carcinoid tumor sitting like a time bomb in my appendix.

Lying down didn't help. I began puking every 15 minutes, and at midnight gave up on working a shift that night but couldn't get to my computer or phone to call in. I had water and gatorade by my bed, and tried to stay hydrated by sipping at it periodically, but vomited back up anything I swallowed.

Things get hazy after that. All my memories are of agony in the dark, but it couldn't have been dark all the time those two days. I know for a fact that I called EMS at 2 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 14, and since I had to get to my phone anyhow, I composed an email to Jesse giving all my passwords, emergency info, etc -- don't know how I did that, either, but the email is there.

I think I called Jesse, too, but I don't remember talking to him. Somehow I found and put on clothes that were nearby. I couldn't get to underwear or my shoes, so I greeted the paramedics without those items. Didn't have my wallet, either, but I was on sheer mercy by that point. The only thing in my pocket was my front door key. I didn't say goodbye to Dinah. I had no idea I'd be gone three weeks -- time had stopped for me.

Why I finally called the paramedics, instead of dying in the dark, is that I prayed to my mama. I had been trying to find a position where the pain would let up just a fraction, enough to give me a minute of rest. I think I said out loud "I'm in trouble this time, Mama. You gotta help me." And instantaneously the pain got much, much worse. I interpreted this as her saying "I can't help you, you have to ask somebody else." So I did.

I was at the ER by 3 a.m., where the angelic Lisa gave me Zofran and Dilaudid, erasing my agony within seconds. I remember being transferred to the 2nd floor only because of the nurse who was there, who kept calling me baby girl. That nurse is who tried to pass a nasogastric tube through my right nostril. Her attempts were not working, and when my right side was bloodied amd she was switching to my left nostril, I took the tube from her and did it myself. A feat I'm not likely to ever repeat, but it earned me a lot of street cred on that floor.

The NG tube began pumping out copious amounts of green gunk, more than seemed possible. I had an internal lake of backlogged bile from my halted alimentary canal, and removing it vastly helped my nausea. But they decided to let that process have a little time to work, keeping me on a push IV. The NG tube and oyxgen began drying out my mucous membranes. I remember I had five tubes and/or monitors in me because Jesse and I joked about me being "Five-Line Girl".

They gave me a tightly rationed amount of ice chips as my mouth and lips dried out. It became difficult for me to talk, and my lips began cracking. I wanted liquid, but I was vehemently not hungry at that point. It was fine with me if I never ate again. Eating meant vomiting. You never quite appreciate the miracle of your digestive system until it completely quits on you.

I had a couple of Dilaudid days because I also can verify I didn't have surgery until the early morning of Friday the 16th. I have a crystal clear memory of being prepped in the surgical suite, the older and extremely competent nurses around me, feeling beyond fear because it was get fixed or die. I also remember waking up, a calm dykey looking nurse telling me "All good, you wanna call anyone?" and me moving my body to see if there was any pain, but she was right, it was all good. More ice chips until I passed gas, then had a BM, which took three days.

The dryness of my mouth started making me miserable despite the Dilaudid. I was also hallucinating my ass off for a couple of days, which I kept to myself, not even telling Jesse. I saw ghosts in my ICU room 24/7, walking in and out the walls, and I decided they were hallucinations, not real ghosts, because one of them was a little girl in a long dress and a bonnet but that hospital was too modern to have an old-fashioned ghost like that, so it was all in my head. They were some sort of company and I didn't mind them much.

Once I started having BMs, though, the ice chips and IV were not enough, I was craving water, milk, juice, soup. It was on Wednesday the 21st that the tech finally got permission to give me something besides ice chips. Veronica, that was Veronica, I adored her. Hard-bitten and expert, teased me a lot because, as she put it, I was the only one in that ICU section who wasn't out of my mind. She came into the room holding a massive rainbow-striped popsicle, all artificial colors and fake sugar, the kind of thing I'd never buy for myself. But it looked like glory at that moment. She unwrapped it for me and I took one bite, then moaned, which embarrassed us both. She sneaked me another one before her shift ended.

I got sick of the popsicles within two days, so it was at least another two days before I got progressed on to lemon jello for a day, then finally beef broth which was truly excellent, they made it from scratch there in a real kitchen. Anyhow, it was 10 days without anything but ice chips, and another five days before I got the beef broth. But I was on Dilaudid most of that time, which makes it a lot easier, Konagod. You have my sympathy fer sure.

[To read Jesse's posts here as this all unfolded, beginning on October 14th, read Maggie Jochild In Hospital For Major Abdominal Surgery and then proceed forward. Eventually I was able to write as well and Jesse took those posts as dictation, got them up for me. Then Liza sent me a netbook at the hospital and I was back online -- that netbook is my lifeline in bed now, is what I use to write this and everything else. I have food and meds, rent and utilities, only because people send me money each month. Most days, I find joy in being around. Thank you for keeping me.]
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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Notes On Moderating A Blog

(Bubbles, photo by Keemz)

One of the questions you will have to ask yourself with your first post as a blogger is how you will deal with comments. I don't personally know any bloggers who say they would allow absolutely any kind of comment, no matter what it contained. For one thing, you'd run afoul of possible lawsuits and legal liability from the free blog-offering sites that many of us use. If, however, you intend to exercise no moderation at all, this essay is not meant for you.

For the rest of us, we require an ethos of moderation, and this will derive from your intention as a blogger: Why are you writing? What do you hope to accomplish? If education, sharing resources, encouraging community and shared growth are among your goals, your ethos of moderation should facilitate your intent.

Community-building and the synergy of diverse voices is a strong intent of mine as a blogger. However, after decades of community activism I am well aware that not everyone who enters into group conversation is willing or capable of behaving in a manner to assist in my intention. Some voices actively seek disruption -- those of us who worked in groups targeted by the FBI know what damage an infiltrator can do. The right wing is even more organized and determined to thwart our freedom of associaton and thought now. If any part of you suspects a commenter is trying to interfere with your chosen work, I believe it is self-destructive to give them airtime. Make them go elsewhere to spread their confusion.

I likewise do not read the comments left on blogs where trolls/racists/woman-haters are not shut up. They have nothing to say I haven't already heard, and their presence contaminates the fresh, open, kind connections which is the hallmark of genuine human connection. On the rare instance when I do read down a comment thread so contaminated, I will not leave a comment myself. This is true whether the attempt to intimidate others is coming from the right or so-called left-leaning allies. Dobermans operate from a power-based view of the world, and I don't try to reason with dobermans.

I have on occasion driven a doberman from a comment thread where they are ruining potential connection, but mostly I leave those blogs to the mess their moderators have failed to address. (Or which they secretly allow in order to drive away certain voices they find troublesome -- this is particularly the case on some feminist blogs where a longstanding disagreement about key interpretations of feminist theory has resulted in a culture war everyone is terrified to openly acknowledge.)

Freedom of speech does not mean I am required to engage in conversation with anyone who comes at me with their opinion. Gender conditioning teaches women we can't say no to male "venting" and teaches men the whole outdoors is their potential urinal, but I have overcome that conditioning and it has freed me up to hear much more interesting stories than if I didn't insist on my boundaries. I trust my self-examination process, and am not answerable for my choices to people who are not supporting me in a tangible way. As Fran Winant said "What I don't know now / I can still learn."

And I regard the comments threads under my moderation as a conversation which already suffers from the lack of in-person amelioration offered by tone of voice, facial expression, or instant give and take. It is more demanding to be kind and clear on a comment thread, but the demands are growth-inducing and slowly create what is often referred to as "safety". I prefer to call it respect, decency, and reciprocity.

These habits of discourse are available to anyone, of any gender, race, age, ethnicity, class or creed, and are common to every culture. It is inhuman to abandon them in favor of letting dobermans control the discourse. It inhibits rather than fosters liberation, and the only folks who argue to the contrary are those who intend the silencing of honest, respectful difference of opinion. If you can't hear the nonviolent, respectful thinking of someone who does not share your worldview in every detail, don't come to a conversation under my purview. Huddle with your kind until you are healed enough to hear the words of someone who will defend your human rights and freedom of expression but doesn't necessarily share your interpretation of X.

Of course, this sounds more cut-and-dried than it often is in comments threads. Human communication is incredibly messy, and there's a great deal of research proving that acquiring the skills to sort out the mess, our ability to read social cues and intention, is what made us human instead merely another large ape. So, when trying to suss out what is being said or meant to be said, I rely on a few beliefs.

I believe the human drive toward cooperation and altruism is far stronger than our drive to compete or relatiate, and is much more rewarded in our culture. I believe real growth and development only occurs under "positive reinforcement", under conditions of trust and reciprocity, and all lessons learned from punishment and pain are rigid encrustations that will eventually have to be undone for clear thinking to take place. I believe hate is a manifestation of fear, always the result of childhood trauma (usually from our parents), and anger is a thin scab dried over terror. I believe the only way to facilitate change in someone who is terrified is kindness. But I also believe it is not my job to offer rehabilitation to everyone I encounter; I get to choose my battles. If I can't make it better, at least I can walk away without making it worse.

I believe everybody thinks (or hopes) they are good and trying to make the world a better place, at least for themselves if no one else. Even Dick Cheney thinks he is a good guy. Thus, telling someone they are evil means they will stop listening to you, because cognitive dissonance demands it of them. Is it more important that you express your upset at them or that you maybe make a connection by treating them respectfully? It's a choice we make all the time, and I have no judgment about where you draw your limits; I only care about labeling others as evil and fit to die in comments I am moderating, because it makes everybody nervous and go a little (or a lot) quiet.

Some of the finest leaders and thinkers I know were raised with obnoxious privilege which made them, at one point in their lives, stupid and hurtful to those around them. What changed them, invariably, was contact with someone who believed they were not inherently the asshat they had been raised to be. I think everyone has the potential for this kind of transformation, absent certain kinds of brain damage. But their ability to recognize and then make use of help is an individual path of recovery that, seemingly, only a certain percentage of folks are able to utulize.

Fortunately, even a small percentage can turn things around dramatically, create an environment conducive to more growth and tolerance, and foster permanent genetic predisposition to human generosity. This is, in fact, the story of human history, despite the bleak cries for help you have been taught as our legacy. This is why those trapped in fear want most of all to stop education and open conversation -- why the right is so terrified of lesbians -- because open minds have a tendency to keep opening. They don't want us to leave them behind. The only alternative they've given themselves for love is a vengeful, dimwitted g*d who is willing to kill his own son rather than learn something right off the bat. I'd live in terror too if that bounded my entire existence.

I am reminded of the Persian proverb which was displayed on a blacklight poster in my bedroom when I was a teenager (I'm going to correct the pronouns to make them inclusive rather than perpetuating a failed worldview):

S/he who knows not and knows that s/he knows not, is a fool, shun her/him.
S/he who knows not, and knows that s/he knows not, is a child, teach her/him.
S/he who knows, and knows not that s/he knows, is asleep, wake her/him.
S/he who knows, and knows that s/he knows, is wise, follow her/him.

"Shun" in the first admonition is harsh and has a christianist overlay, so I would substitute "avoid". But it's the middle two suggestions which require of us a daily decison on our communication and associations. How do we teach and learn from each other, waken each other, and foster such environments on our blogs? How can we perfom this task with an understanding of how damage leads us astray, makes problem cases of us even when we intend to be allies?

The voices of discord and despair dominate most of our corporate-controlled messaging currently, because keeping us apathetic and afraid makes us malleable. In her poem "Conscientous Objector", Edna St. Vincent Millay swore to us "the password and the plans of our city are safe with me/ Never through me/shall you be overcome". My intention as a blogger is to be an antidote to those who mean to overcome our quest for human liberation and dismantle our democracy. Your tender hearts and fumblings toward revelatory connection are safe with me. Let's see how far it will take us.

(Thanks to Jill Cozzi, among others, for earnest endurance and ethics as a blog moderator.)
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Potemkin Capitalism*

described as "The specially-designed facades feature different types of shops")

North Tyneside high street 'revived' by fake shop front (2010.03.03):
Fake businesses are to be used to lessen the impact of the recession on high streets in North Tyneside.

With 140 empty shops in the borough, council bosses think they have come up with a unique way of ensuring shopping areas remain as vibrant as possible.
Judith Wallace, North Tyneside Council's deputy mayor said: "The economic climate has forced many businesses to bring down the shutters.

"We need to ensure that the remaining businesses continue to survive and that means ensuring our high streets look attractive to both shoppers and potential business investors.

"This is a simple and cost-effective approach that keeps the retail unit available for potential new uses and in the meantime also contributes to the street scene."

Empty shops in Wallsend and North Shields are now being earmarked for similar treatment, which costs about £1,500 a time.
Four more U.S. Banks shut down (2010.03.06):
Regulators say they shut down banks in Florida, Maryland, Illinois and Utah, raising to 26 the number of U.S. bank failures this year.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Friday Sun American Bank, based in Boca Raton, Fla., Bank of Illinois of Normal, Ill., Waterfield Bank in Germantown, Md., and Centennial Bank in Ogden, Utah, had a total of $1.1 billion in assets and $1 billion in deposits.

The $304.8 million cost of the closings will come out of a fund the FDIC maintains.
Other bank failure stories from
At least 130 banks failed in the U.S. in 2009. In the first 2 1/4 months of 2010 we've seen at least 26, which projects out to about 139. Not a tremendous change, but still worrying. Especially because it's so far over the "normal" average of about 50 (that's the average of FDIC "Total Failures" and "Total Assistance Transactions" over the period 1934 to 2010). An examination of the annual data suggests that there's a relatively small threshold of "normal" bank failure. Call it 10 or 20/year (there's relatively little difference). At 20/year, we've got a "Green Zone" where 69% of the years (53 years below 20 bank failures) since 1934 represent only 7% of bank failures (265 bank failures) at this normal background rate. That's an average of 5 bank failures per year. The other 31% of the years (24 years at or above 20 bank failures) are a "Red Zone" which account for 93% of the failures (3555 bank failures). That's an average of about 145 bank failures per year. We are clearly in the Red Zone.

(Infographic: U.S. Bank Failures by Year, by Evan Robinson, Group News Blog.
Data sourced from
FDIC, HSOB Failures & Assistance Transactions.)

The green line (representing $ of deposits in failed institutions in constant $) is alarmingly high compared to previous periods of bank failures. There appears to be (either an error in the data or) a qualitative difference between current bank failures and previous failures. I will investigate the data to see if I can find an error -- and I almost hope I do.

It's worth noting that more than half the Red Zone years fall between about 1980 and 1994. I wonder if there's a correlation between the regulatory climate (or control of the Presidency and/or Congress) and bank failures? Hmm.

* if you don't understand the reference, look here and here.

(h/t Will Shetterly, it's all one thing -- he credits Bruce Sterling with the term "Potemkin Capitalism", but I can't find his usage, except for in his 2010 State of the World. An earlier usage comes from the Cato Institute, in Replacing Potemkin Capitalism: Russia's Need for a Free-Market Financial System, published 7 June 1999)
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Monday, March 8, 2010

...the intersection of Impossible, Inspiring, and In-Demand

(Infographic: Brandon Watson, Reality Distortion Explained)

This is from January 6, 2010 -- 21 days before the iPad was announced:
The rumor mills and speculation are running at fever pitch. I really should have predicted that 2010 would be the year of the tablet. With bloggers falling all over themselves trying to get the scoop on the Apple table, it seems that the bloggers are trying to call a tablet from Microsoft to be announced tonight, though Mary Jo says “I don’t think so.” With all that in mind, I was trying to figure out how to explain the world of tech in which we live.

Any unannounced, but speculated on, Apple product lives at the intersection of Impossible, Inspiring and In-Demand. People may scoff at the notion of “in-demand” being applied to a table, but Bing tells me that there are 22.5 million results for Apple Tablet.
"...the intersection of Impossible, Inspiring, and In-Demand." I love that.
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Food-borne illness: Failure of Capitalism

A new consumer research report released Wednesday has found that the health-related costs of food-borne illnesses total $152 billion a year, including the costs of medical bills, lost wages and lost productivity. That total is more than four times that of earlier estimates calculated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The findings come as regulatory efforts to patrol the country's food sector are growing amid reports of a string of costly -- and sometimes fatal -- outbreaks of food-borne illness involving peanuts, jalapeno peppers, spinach, beef and other foods.

The report, sponsored by the Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University, provides a comprehensive examination of health costs associated with flaws in the nation's food safety system and "demonstrates the burden of food-borne illness," said Sandra Eskin, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts' Food Safety Campaign, a supporter of the study.

In 1997, the USDA reportedly pegged the public cost of sickness and death from eating tainted food at $35 billion a year. But that research looked at the fallout from only a handful of food-borne pathogens and didn't include as many long-term effects from such illnesses, including how they can affect a person's quality of life.

The Produce Safety Project identified 27 pathogens, said Robert Scharff, an economist who authored the newly released report. Researchers say some of the pathogens, such as norovirus or salmonella, are responsible for making a million or more Americans sick each year; others, such as botulism, sicken far fewer people.

Yet in most cases, researchers still can't pinpoint why or how people get ill from what they eat. The study attributes just over 80% of the illnesses and two-thirds of the costs to unknown food-related causes, a determination made by statistical analysis of symptoms associated with food-borne sickness such as diarrhea, Scharff said.
The contamination of perhaps thousands of food products with salmonella should be a wake-up call to apologists for the industrialized food system. It's not possible to bring the system down and get everyone to eat an all-local, all-fresh diet, as some "locavores" say they want. But to continue to pretend that our food system is just fine as it is amounts to an endorsement not only of widespread illness, but also of chronic health problems and environmental degradation.

But let's concentrate for now on outbreaks of illness. The foods were contaminated by a single ingredient, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), made in this case by a single manufacturer, Basic Food Flavors of Las Vegas. That a single company can be responsible for contaminating thousands of processed food products that are distributed across the country and even internationally is as strong an indictment of industrial food as I can think of.

HVP is a ubiquitous flavor enhancer that exists only in processed foods. "So far, recalls have been announced for 56 separate products, according to a database posted today by the FDA, including potato chips, dips, salad dressing, sauce mixes, soup bases, and 16 flavors of prepackaged meals," according to the Web site of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP).

"But," CIDRAP continues, "that number is expected to grow enormously over the next few weeks as details of the recall filter through the complex channels of industrial food production. The 6-page list of recalled lots of HVP posted on Basic Food Flavors' website contains hundreds of items."

Free marketeers would have you believe that the market will correct this problem. That market forces will drive companies out of business if they persist in selling products that make you ill or kill you.

The quick demise of all tobacco companies proves that, doesn't it?

And yet, the CDC reports that 5000 Americans die and another 325,000 are hospitalized out of 76 million annual cases of food-borne illness.

That's 1.66 9/11s annually, for a total estimated cost of $152 billion/year (as listed above). Since the Bush Adminstration devalued an American life to $5.9 million, only $34.5 billion/year of that is the deaths, leaving $117.5 billion/year for the other loss of productivity and medical costs.

This is what the economists call "a market failure".

Here's a hint as to why:

Food subsidies are out of whack with government policy. That speaks to gaming the system. The government says you should eat 11 servings of grains daily, but they send 74% of their subsidy money to meat & dairy producers. I wonder how that happens?

If food producers can influence government spending policy, I wonder if they can influence food safety legislation?

If you want to know more, just Google "e. coli conservatives", at the top of which you'll find Rick Perlstein's 1997 post where I believe he coined the term:
First, they came for the spinach...Next they came for the peanut butter...Then they came for the tomatoes. Then the Taco Bell lettuce. Then the mushrooms, then ham steaks, then summer sausage...They, they came for the pet food.
There's more...