Thursday, June 28, 2007

Professional Standards

Before med school, I tried to get a job as a minister. I felt that, although I was an atheist, I would be pretty good at consoling people and such; I also have a fondness for total depravity.

Anyways, the church elders were always very polite, but pretty much unanimous in deciding that I lacked certain prerequisites for the job. I'm not the type to make a federal case out of these things, and I suppose I could have tried to go all Unitarian Universalist or something, but in the end I let it drop. Some jobs, your beliefs just render you unqualified for.

Not medicine, though.

Forum Update

See: New Feature.

Mike More's Sickos, A Movie Review

Docudramedian Mike More is on a roll. (Then he’ll probably eat it. And then an entire pizza.) He is, easily, the best shockumentary filmmaker alive today, not counting foreign people from other countries who don’t lie, or president elects.

He’s given us a movie about car manufacturing and its effect on local automotive advertising (Roger & Them). He’s given us a movie about gun control and its effect on the 7/10 split (Bowling At Columbine High). He’s even given us a movie about 767s and their effect on exploding skyscrapers and insane conspiracy retards (Fahrenheit 101).

This go-around he’s putting his money where his mouth is (then eating it), going after Dr. and Mrs. Greedington, taking on corporate America and blowing the lid off the whole health care insurance industry scam, proving once again that 0.001% of our population controls 99.999% of its health,* in an epic docudrama that poses the question hospitals have been asking ever since they realized they could actually turn a profit if they simply charged not the patient but, rather, the government, and marked up the cost of an x-ray and plaster ‘o Paris by about 2000%, namely, What happens if you get sick and don’t have health insurance?

Answer: You’d die immediately right there on the spot in unspeakable pain while HMO claims adjusters mocked you till you drew your last breath!!! Or you’d get treated and pay it off in installments of 10 dollars per month for 4,179 months, or until you die, whichever comes 2nd.

Sickos pulls zero punches in a whirlwind look at how an iron lung really works. It swings for the fences in its determined gaze to get under your skin, like an IV needle. Or a morphine drip, probably. It slides into third at a company softball game and gives itself a strawberry in the shape of Florida. And it eats its own weight in food at the Lion’s Club picnic.

Highly reminiscent of Morlock Spurgan’s terrific romantrama-mockedy-thrillfi, Supersizing It!, Sickos pleads with its audience, shouting that if you live on nothing but transubstantiated fats and low carbon dating, all the while having exactly zero healthcare insurance, you’re going to roll over in bed and kill your wife again. You can eat crackers in my bed anytime because I’m sleeping single in a double bed thinking over things I should’ve said when country wasn’t cool. (Barbara Mandrell earworms have been known to be fatal in some cases. I once killed a guy in a bar using nothing but “[If Loving You Is Wrong] I Don’t Want To Be Right” and my bare hands, which I didn’t need, turns out.)

But faster than you can go to the “doc in the box” for an ingrown toenail and leave with colon cancer, in comes the savior of the day to save the… day: Socialized Medicine.

That’s right, folks. Medicine as we know it needs to be socialized. For, you see, medicine as we know it has been home schooled through the 9th grade. But don’t you think it’s time for it to get out of the house and meet other kids unsocialized medicine’s age? Roller skating parties, bible camps, religious camps, Jesus Camps, anti-Semitic camps, concentration camps, KKK meetings, or The 33rd Annual Keep America Lighter Skinned Bakesale and Internment Registration, &c., and things of that nature?

And before you can try to refute the intelligent design-friendly theory that people rode domesticated dinosaurs to Sunday School in pre-Macedonian Lithuania, Socialized Medicine cures itself, and Jenna Bush presidentially pardons Dick Chaney, whose cryogenically frozen head has been placed on top of the perennially-tanned body of the seemingly ageless Methuselah himself, George Hamilting, at an undisclosed location at some point in the future.

But I wouldn’t want to give away too many secrets! Still, needless to say, I laughed, I cried, and at the end I stood up and cheered because it had become a part of me.

When the curtain closes and the fat lady sings and is then asked please to leave the All You Care To Eat Bottomless Seafood Buffet at Ryan’s Steakhouse because she’s eaten every last crumb of their seafood, we don’t want movies like Sickos. We need movies like Sickos, if for no other reason than that Mike will leave no turn unstoned when he ruthlessly, relentlessly and unapologetically exposes the very people who are contributing to his morbid obesity. And nobody should have to miss that, really.

*Rerun, I know – too good not to use again

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I Did It


It's really too hard to explain to you people, because none of you are engineers. This whole Al Qaeda thing is a myth. I did it. The two towers, #7 , the whole thing. My bad.

Feels good to get that off my chest.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Counterproductive Punitive Social Interventions 101: Capital Punishment

On Best of the Fray, Schmutzle wrote a post challenging the board to argue against the death penalty for a particularly heinous crime. This post summarizes my position on that thread on the topic of punitive social interventions in general, and capital punishment in specific.

Capital punishment reinforces the elements in this culture that lead to such crimes being committed. We should not be abetting the dehumanization of any person, even those convicted of heinous crimes. It is in precisely these types of cases that our cultural morality is most sorely tested, because our repugnance at the act fuels our dehumanization of the actor. It is not a case of social self-defense, it is a case of social retribution, and that is a selfish and insufficient reason to end someone's life.

Recently, the only study I’m aware of showing a deterrent effect for the death penalty was released (actually, it a study that aggregates the results of other studies). I'm skeptical - prior research has shown that violent crime rates tend to dip, and then go UP following a well-publicized execution. Examination of rates, however, is perhaps not the best snapshot for determining the impact a social intervention exerts on a population.

In social interventions, the goal is to shift a distribution of people along the axis of a target behavior. When those interventions employ shame as a major motivation, or are punitive, the result is not really a change in the mean of the distribution, but the shape of the distribution changes - it becomes bimodal, as people polarize in one direction or the other, based on the degree to which they react against or embrace the shaming message (probably based on either desire to identify/affiliate with the person(s) providing it, or to resist identification with them).

The goal of law enforcement should be to encourage prosocial behavior while discouraging antisocial behavior. The impact of punitive law enforcement, however, is the same as above - a splitting of the distribution, where identification is enhanced for a majority, but alienation is enhanced for a minority. This is why community policing efforts in areas like Watts have proven so beneficial, compared to other approaches - the approach is inherently affiliative, rather than alienating. The goal is engagement, rather than punitive enforcement.

The death penalty is an extreme, as far as punitive interventions are concerned. The impact is the same as it is for every other punitive intervention - it splits the distribution. This results in a minority of people who become more likely to commit crimes, and a majority less likely. Unfortunately, the minority is also prone to commit more heinous crimes - murders, etc., become more likely, not less likely.

I can say the death penalty not social self-defense because there's better reason to believe that capital punishment results in more, rather than less, heinous crime. I can say that retribution is selfish, because the momentary satisfaction experienced flipping the switch is subverted by the serial pedophile/murderer who figures he's got nothing more to lose after killing his last victim, and he's better off doing away with a potential witness and minimizing his risk of getting caught than keeping the child alive. I'd put someone like that in a cell and feed them, water them, and give them walkabouts three times a week because its less expensive, because the social benefits outweigh whatever costs might accumulate, and because I'm neither wise nor just enough to determine what exactly has happened to this person that they were able to commit such heinous acts, and whether this should be a factor in determining disposition.

Nothing Like a Good Book-Burnin'

When I was browsing public access science for my recent blathering about entropy, I often came across a figure like the one on the right here as a means of explaining disorder. The dark box is subdivided into two boxes, each containing atoms of some red or blue gas, happily and randomly bouncing around. The closed system defined by the dark box is not at equilibrium (although a closed system defined by either smaller box is): there is a free energy difference, or gradient, between them. The red balls are just dying to mix it up with the blue balls, and increase the entropy of the two-box system, which happens when the doors are opened and equilibrium is attained. The idea that aspects of nature can be considered purely informational is something I find to be kind of mind-blowing. (How do they know is, classically, not as dumb a question as you might think.)

The universe is bipolar about information, positively Manichean in its twin desire to stick blocks together and to kick them down all over the room. We people, either as aspects of the universe or agents of it, are just as bad. We build vast towers that tempt gravity (a nod belongs here). We establish stolid institutions that defy our rapacious instincts. Organizing things feels good. But so does blowing shit up.

If you're inclined, you can paint this dichotomy as the individual against the collective too. While there is common agreement that we're better off with government and other public organizations, too much organization by the bigger forces of society can be a Bad Thing. I'm as uncomfortable as the next guy at the information that the corporations have on me. My mailbox fills up with their subtle tauntings. How did they know I just bought a computer? Just had a kid? Why do we get every conceivable catalogue for mail-order crap at Christmastime?

The worst are the credit card companies. I've sold my soul to the convenience of easy consumption, which makes me feel bad enough, but twice a month, these financial demons try to procreate in the post office. If I'm being a good consumer, it's full of spiffy offers and better deals. If I'm paying down the debt and not spending, they get really pissed and send tempting missives plastered with my account information. "We know," they're reminding me. "You signed the form."

If I'm particularly naughty, they send me a raft of convenience checks. All you have to do is fill out the field, and untold riches are in your hands. Naturally, I can't throw the fucking things away--it would be even worse if that vaporous wealth belonged to some creative forger instead--and I've been keeping the things for ten years in a special little trash can, awaiting their moment of shining glory. Nature abhors a pack rat.

The moment came last month. Sweet disorder at last. We took out the credit card and bought a clay fire pit at the local Home Cheapo, ostensibly to toast marshmallows and chat around on summer evenings. Whatever. Ten minutes after starting the first blaze, I was scuttling into the home office for my special trashcan. Convenience checks in the fire: take that Citibank! Then went the statements, then the pile of receipts I've been inexplicably saving for a decade. My wife made little concerned faces as I crumpled 'em up one by one, offering them to heaven with a manic chuckle. Next I dug through my filing cabinet, pulling out everything I couldn't imagine I saved. Copies of our first mortgage? Gone. Student bills, scholarship applications from 1990--I kept these? really?--roast, motherfuckers.

It was getting late, and I was sobering up by the time my last college homework assignment went in the incinerator. I didn't burn it all, but there wasn't quite enough for another orgy of the same magnitude. I looked at the box of books when I came in. It's the few I could part with into the rejects bin, a handful of outdated political hit jobs (that I never read), the most unreadable romance and thriller hand me downs, and a 1972 edition of Funk and Wagnall's encyclopedia, complete but for one volume, that I bought in grad school for a buck in the pre-Google days.

Burning books is wrong, isn't it? But what possible useful bits are still contained in those volumes? No one will miss that information. It's sooo tempting...


Kaus's "special focus"

Maybe it’s a result of reading a week’s worth of posts in one sitting rather than simply one at a time, but there is something creepy about Mickey Kaus’s ,er, special focus on defeating the immigration bill.

A couple of highlights…

Is the cloture vote the “real” vote?

Part of this focus has included counting votes for and against cloture on debate of the bill, on the assumption that if cloture passes, then the bill will pass. Even if some senators ultimately vote against the bill, it doesn’t matter because their votes for cloture have the effect of moving the bill toward forward. Voting for cloture and against the bill is a form of “kabuki” so that senators can advance the bill, but still be on the record as having opposed it. Thus, Kaus is calling us to consider a vote for cloture a vote for the bill, and hold Senators accountable accordingly.

In another context, Kaus appeals to the wisdom of the Framers in making it difficult to pass legislation.

I’m no Robert Byrd, but I’m not convinced that these high-stakes “call your Senator” procedural votes are what the Framers intended, either. It seems that they intended for there to be some space for the yes/no position – that might oppose a piece of legislation, but that it should got to an up/down vote. If this were not the case, it would have been simpler to just require a 60% majority to pass any legislation (or confirm any judges).

I understand that in this particular context, a vote for cloture does have this effect. It just seems to be that this focus on procedural votes is not what was intended. If the current Senate rules in today’s environment have this effect, then maybe they need some tinkering (preferably with a better name than “the nuclear option”.)

A Press-Proof Rally

Kaus laughably writes…

how about some street demonstrations? It worked in the '60s. The trick would be including Democrats, and keeping the protests so free of fringe elements, violence, and anything that could be characterized as anti-Latino prejudice that they couldn't be tarred by the media (which would be looking to pitch opponents as angry bigots).

Hey, while you’re at it, why don’t you organize a pro-life march that the press won’t spin as a handful of religious zealots with links to terrorists like Eric Rudolph?

Or better yet, put together a pro-immigration rally that those opposed won’t spin a gathering storm of Mexican nationalism?

It’s a little late in the day to be whining about how the press portrays the movement.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I want a woman in a short skirt and a loooooong...jacket.

I thought Slate's Prudie directed some sage advice toward a young woman who'd overheard her corporate mentors disparaging her lack of style.

I'm pleased to see Ms. Prude's enthusiastic support for the venerable tradition of mutual back-scratching.

"A demonstration of complementarism, Cowgill and Hutchinson (1963) (cited by DeMause, 1989) reported that all the girls were very flirtatious with the grown men, often overtly sexual even as very young girls. When they looked for the reasons why, they found a very high boy/girl ratio and noticed that girls were regularly allowed to die off - through giving them less food and by other neglect - if they did not appeal sexually to the men around them."

Feminist idealism is for losers, lesbians and the otherwise unfuckable. If your boss, man or woman, can't look at you and say "I'd hit that!", then its just a matter of time before they find a better complement.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Professional (writer) vs. the amateur (Astronaut)

Over at Wired, Tony Long comes to the defense of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture by Andrew Keen. Keen's premise is the internet is empowering the "armature" to the determent of the "professional" and thus the culture. Long agrees and after qualifying his trepidation about the state of journalism he then pits the Journalist as his "professional" against the "armature" citizen/blogger journalist in a fixed fight where the Journalist, thanks to, among other things, getting paid (or paid more) to write, wins so handily that the armature loses the very title journalist.

What Long and Keen aren’t telling you--or just don't get--is they're confusing terms in an effort to stave off fear of extinction. What good is a professional "journalist"--or to be more specific "writer"--when the scientist, the doctor, the refugee, the soldier no longer needs them to bring you their story. More specifically, what Long and Keen are bemoaning is the prospect of Professionals and Experts in every conceivable field and profession bypassing the people who get paid to write and writing it themselves. Sure, the writing/story may not be as slick, and it will certainly suffer from the inclusion of minutia that only a professional in the field would think important enough to include, but what Long and Keen know is those deficiencies (if you want to call them that) aren’t enough to justify their continued livelihood.

To appreciate the beauty of Web 2.0 [are we ready to retire that term yet?], you have to appreciate that a blog post by whoever is vetted every step on its way to mass consumption. That means, this blog post might as well be buried under a pile of submissions on some publisher's desk unless or until another random blogger judges it interesting enough to link to. And then again, this blog post is going nowhere unless or until yet another blogger "judges" it worth reading and links to it. This hurdle is never fully cleared. With each and every successive link the blog post must meet the standards of yet another editor. So the point at which a blog post becomes widely read, or a blogger achieves an enviable level of popularity, also happens to be a station most Journalists or their pieces would never achieve had they relegated their works to a lowly blog.

To make matters worse from the Journalist's is some of those nonprofessional writers happen to be really good writers too. It's as if the world is closing in on these professional writers. Their subjects are either writing their own stories or those stories are being written by people who really know what they're talking about, and some of those people are better writers than the Journalist could ever dream of being. That's what Keen and Long are trying to tell us. They're not really really good writers either of them, and they can't hope to write a piece on any topic when there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of lifelong experts on that exact topic weighing in at the same time. They're being outmoded. The bar for their profession is being pushed that much higher, the game is back on--and they resent it.

Epistemological Indigestion: Stanley Fish and Godly Chips

Stanley Fish is an academic heavyweight with very little intellectual mass. Unlike most pomo intellectuals, he can write clearly, which, unfortunately in his case, works out to be a handicap. It throws his misunderstandings, ignorance and confusion into sharp relief, proving that the impenetrable and obfuscatory prose typical of his school of thought was adopted for a good reason by his peers – it is probably a tactical ploy, not a deficiency. For his part, Fish frequently mistakes vocabulary for thought, and sophomoric nihilism for sophisticated skepticism.

Fish’s review of the “New Atheist” literature is too riddled with absurdities to bother writing a point-by-point rebuttal, but I will comment on two key points.

Darwinian explanations of morality: Fish repeats the old canard that Darwinism is unable to account for altruism or morality, a claim that should crumble upon reading even one of the numerous popular expositions of the subject that are around. Theoretical rationale for the evolution of altruism were famously laid out by biologists like Hamilton and Trivers, and its manifestations in social insects and suchlike plotted in great empirical detail by people like E. O. Wilson. The general idea is that the gene’s long term interests are often compromised by maxing out on short term opportunities, which is why natural selection found it useful to instill internal commitments (e.g., parental or romantic love, loyalty and tribalism, status seeking, etc.) that override the narrower kind of selfishness and materialism. Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology has pushed the boundaries of these ideas in trying to understand the greater complexities of the human mind, though with more speculative and contested results so far.

Fish breezily invokes scientific authority (geneticist Francis Collins), dutifully trotted out for the occasion as useful idiots usually are, to claim that “physical processes cannot account for the universal presence of moral impulses like altruism.” No argument, no demonstration of any awareness whatsoever of the ideas of Hamilton, Trivers or Wilson, just sweeping claim nailed into place by the typical argument from incredulity: “How can there be a naturalistic explanation of [altruism]?” Well, Dr. Fish, if you spent all semester next to the beer keg in the frat house (or the champagne bottle in the faculty club, for that matter) instead of reading the textbook, none of the questions would make any sense, would they?

Instead of tackling existing Darwinian theories of morality, Fish quotes at length (very selectively, I suspect) from Sam Harris’ ruminations about the course of future research in the area, proceeding to surmise that it “sounds an awfully lot like faith.” Of course it does, but I am yet to come across any commentary on any discipline’s future prospects that sounds “an awfully lot like established truth.” I haven’t read Harris’ book, but I have read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, where he takes care to explicate (for the umpteenth time), at some length, the Darwinian reasons for “irrational” behavior like altruism or suicide. Indeed, it forms the very basis of his attempts to explain religion. Fish summarizes Dawkins thus:

One can speculate, as Dawkins does, that members of a species are generous to one another out of a desire (not consciously held) to preserve the gene pool, or that unconditioned giving is an advertisement of dominance and superiority.
The first assertion is flat out wrong, and one of the commonest misunderstandings of evolution, while the second constitutes a very minor mechanism. Fish either didn’t understand Dawkins at all (and likely doesn’t care if he does), or has resorted to subterfuge.

In any case, how does religion explain human morality, pray tell? As the learned professor helpfully guides us through subtle theology, we learn that morality may be understood by attributing it to God! And then, as the problem of theodicy inevitably raises its ugly head, by attributing cheating, theft, murder, rape, war, genocide (presumably earthquakes and tsunamis too) and every manner of evil twittery to that other exquisite divine gift – free will. We are good because of God, and bad in spite of Him. Our goodness is not our choice but God’s gift, yet God didn’t stop us from going bad because He was determined to give us choice. The fact that this assessment is preposterously rigged in the Creator’s favor from the beginning is almost beside the point. If Fish had bothered to do to Dawkins’ book what he doubtlessly hectors his students to do all the time, namely read it, he would have found copious discussion on the tired point regarding God of the gaps. The religious “explanation” of moral and immoral behavior is no explanation at all, at least of the kind that requires painstaking enquiry. It is simply giving a name to unknown causes – God as a shorthand for “whatever causes us to be good.” Maybe GOD is an acronym – Goofy Omnipresent Do-gooder?

[I’ll end my rant for now. If the mood still persists, there will be a second part later, on Stanley’s idiotic, relativistic meanderings about incompatible paradigms and epistemology in general. In case the link doesn't work, the Fish article can be found at: iraqwarit.]

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A few happy thoughts...

Good news is few and far between here, but I can share a couple things.

--There is sun today in the greater Seattle area. I've probably jinxed it by mentioning it, but it is. It's not exactly swimmin' weather, but there are parts of the sky-dome with RGB color values with high numbers in the third pair, and low ones in the other two.

--That coupled with a low volumetric haze and almost no fog of war means I can see the heron down on the river getting his ass kicked by that pair of ducks again. You'd think he'd find someplace else to fish farther from their nest. He's perched on a snag across the way in a serious snit. Reminds me of those Peanuts cartoons when Snoopy's pretending to be a vulture.

--My daughter sent me these links a couple minutes ago: this and this. This is good because a) she got the jokes, b) she's trolling the Whiteboard archives from school so she must have finished her math final with time to spare. Well done, my Padawan.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Little Shitters (Cont.)

I've taken the three photos from the original post and reposted them here along with the rest. I've also reformatted the pictures so when you click on them they open in a new window (and much greater detail).

And then there was one.

We witnessed both babies fly away. Happy ending!

Oh, and a picture--that doesn't do it justice--of the shit.

What we learned: Shit is hard to photograph.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Living well ~ Living Forever

Many years ago when I was about ready to leave the comfort and security of the home that I grew up in I knew there was no going back. Mom and dad were good, honest people who were also of the old fashioned opinion that “once you go out that door you don’t return”. This didn’t mean that they were hard or cruel it simply meant that they were raised in an era wherein self-sufficiency was more than just desirable it was the measure upon which one gauged the ability to survive. It made them stronger, more frugal, and more determined to make it on the harsh terms they were dealt than I was on the easy terms I was facing at the time of my passage from boyhood to manhood. By the time I was ready to go it alone things had changed sufficiently enough under the new deal premise that a youngster who was not particularly good at holding down home and finance could cheat by on the good will of society, unemployment checks and even welfare. Fortunately for me I was a born workaholic and jobs were plentiful at the time.

Well sir many years have gone by since that time and the entire deal, such as we knew it is pretty much gone and maybe that’s not such a bad thing in and of itself however the problem facing today’s young people who are thinking about leaving the nest and doing it on their own are far greater than the ones I faced. When a job in a welding shop paid $3.75 an hour I was able to rent a two bedroom apartment for $75.00 a month and fill up my 8 cylinder Pontiac Jalopy with Gas at 35 cents a gallon. We now have the inflated dollar, the impossible cost of housing, the marked lack of living wage jobs, and the real possibility of going hungry. Things are drifting back to the way they were before Roosevelt instituted the new deal mentality and it seems we are once again swimming in an unforgiving sea of survival constantly dodging the sharks that frequent those waters. While I agree in principal with those who feel that we have never been better off I disagree at the same time with the notion that the 90’s were better than the 60’s because it just isn’t true. Simply stated it’s harder to get by now than it was then unless you belong the apparently thriving predator class.

Yes, it’s true that the average lifespan has grown in the wealthier nations, but what good are the golden years if they are spent languishing in the poverty that we see many doing today? Is life at any cost worth the effort? I have heard tell that a group of bio-scientists have founded a new branch of science using nano-technology that promises to be able to sustain the human body indefinitely using tiny manufactured robots to clean up the body’s systemic functions and help regenerate old tissue. That certainly is a wonderful thing if it’s true. The only problem with that of course is the fact that we have limited space here on this planet and a population that suddenly ceases to turn over its living organisms will face a serious lack of elbow room in a very short time. Maybe we will colonize other planets???? Hmmmm..... It all seems so far away and so dream like, but you never know.

Everyone deserves to live ( not dealing with Judiciary here just intrinsic human rights ) and everyone deserves to live well. The facts however are that only a small portion of the human race actually does live well and even that portion will find itself in the very near future struggling to hang on to what it has grown accustomed to if not learning how to make unwilling concessions to a growing and demanding population of needy people.

It is a strange moral landscape for the family of man when we find ourselves having to seek out a balance between humanitarianism and personal survival. Everything that’s good and pure and wholesome tells us that these two elements should coincide with each other; Reality on the other hand tells us rather loudly and rudely that they don’t.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Fantasticks 4: Rise Of The Silver Smurfs, A Movie Review

Ripped directly from today’s headlines, if you’re a complete and total comic book dork, The Fantasticks 4: Rise Of The Silver Smurfs asks the question we’ve been inquiring about for nearly 20 minutes now and counting, namely, what happens when you take 4 scientist people, give them super powers that are kind of lame and not really relevant, powers acquired after having been in some scientific experiment accident involving radiation (again) and latex body suits, and put them in a position where they may or may not even be able to save themselves from renegade advertising agencies that would have us believe that wild bears use toilet paper, not to mention the world?

Answer: They begin to resemble circus freaks more than superheroes, Smurfette gets knocked up by Poet Smurf (yeah, I know, not likely), and El Gallo rapes Luisa so Matt will fall back in love with her. And before you can spray paint your dog blue, you’ve suddenly found yourself right smack dab in the middle of a Falcon Crest marathon on TBS.

Get us out of that U.N. thingie!

(Come on, guys. Try to keep up. You might want to think about coming to the meetings.)

The 4th installment in the The Fantasticks franchise, “the franchise that never was where they are now”, pits strength against fiction, love against pain, and lesbians against giant pits of diseased alligators. (For what it’s worth, my money’s still on the lesbos. No-brainer, really.)

Close the curtains and secure the storm windows, folks. Because in the span of a single generation, those trouble-making Smurfs have turned the shade of aluminum (aluminium for you anglophiles), and Papa has declared a jihad on everyone who’s short, fat, and not blue. Or violet even.

I bet there are some nervous people around here, what with America itself being caught smack dab right in the center of the obesity epidemic. A collective shudder can veritably be heard across the land by stubby idlers everywhere.

Meanwhile, that wall won’t build itself, and Huckleberry and Bellamy set about their secret plans to thwart their kids’ aspirations but good.

Get us out of that U.N. thingie!

And that’s precisely when our superheroes show up to save our bacon and pull our substantial fat out of the fire. Reprising their roles as Dr. Richard Reed, Dr. Susan Anton, Dr. Jon Stone, and Dr. Benji Grimes are, respectively, Iona Grufford (Arthur!, The TV), Jesse Albans (Into The Blues, Sincinnati), Evan Christian (The Perfect Store, loads of straight-to-video gay porn [I’m told]), and Mike Chicklet (from TV’s Shields and The Commissioner).

Rabid fans of this particular franchise, “the franchise of broken dreams”, will recall that Dr. Reed’s super power is the ability to appear very gay, that Dr. Anton’s super power is the ability to find name brand slacks in the TJ Max bins, that Dr. Stone’s super power is the ability to say the most radically inappropriate non sequiturs that have positively nothing to do with the catastrophe at hand, and that Dr. Grimes’s super power is the ability to determine the identity of an object with his eyes closed using nothing but that object’s weight, size, shape, texture, heft, orientation, mass, distance from the sun, station in history, color, manifestation, time of day, and location during the time of the Challenger explosion.

Get us out of that U.N. thingie!

But there’s a problem. The “blue states” have been usurped by The Leftist Smurfs Previously Known As Blue. ( Payback? Fate? Color blindness?)

The “red states” have been destroyed by The Vast Rightwing Conspiracy Of Ignorant Retards.

And “the states up for grabs (not really)” have been annexed by reasonable people saying things that make sense and have purported philosophical and sociological weight that no one listens to because we have the attention span of a canned ham.

And just when Dr. Reed launches into the chorus of “Try To Remember That One Time In September” to placate the silvered mob that is our citizenry, it happens. Look out!

But I don’t want to give away too many secrets. Though, needless to say, the twist ending towards the end will have you reaching for the xanax and gin. Again.

When the roll is called up yonder and all the cows have come home, folks, we don’t want movies like The Fantasticks 4: Rise Of The Silver Smurfs. We need movies like The Fantasticks 4: Rise Of The Silver Smurfs, if for no other reason than at a certain point in history, it’s incumbent upon each and every one of us to rise up against “the man” and take what’s rightfully and inalienably ours, namely, freedom from choice.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

So, here's what's happening on my front porch.

There are some wild animals shitting all over it. Funny thing is, I don't mind. Question (guess before you expand post): What kind of animals are they?

Photos compliments of Mrs. Ender. More to come. Oh, and click on the photos.

How can we know?

Slate’s Saletan wrote a blurb yesterday on a man who “woke” from a nineteen-year “coma”, only to disclose he had remained fully aware throughout the duration of his incapacity. On the fray, he posts the following question and observation:

"Question: Should recent awakenings/discoveries of people previously thought to be comatose or vegetative give us pause about pulling the plug or the feeding tube? Any second thoughts about Schiavo?

My inclination: I still haven't seen a case as grim as Schiavo's in which there's been any kind of awakening. And it was horribly clear from scans of her head that she had nothing left to think with. These cases seem very different. So I don't have misgivings about her, but I'm nervous about where, short of that, to draw the line."

I think this issue is more complicated than it seems.

I remember having a long conversation some years ago with a friend of mine, whose specialty is in health psychology. I was very surprised to learn that he was quite opposed to living wills - frankly, I'd assumed his feelings ran counter to that.

One of his main areas of research was examining the adjustment of patients to significant medical illness, however, and he'd been terribly impressed by the variability in adjustment. When looking at adjustment to kidney disease, for example (including both subjective response and more objectively measured adherence to treatment - dietary compliance in particular), he talked about the many people for whom their illness had proved devastating, and the minority who felt their illness had granted them a "new lease on life."

Some of the latter group were going so far as actually increasing activity level, engaging in more recreational activities and more pro-social behavior. This is fairly striking, given that they were all dialysis patients by that point, and very ill (at the time we had this conversation, the medication that enabled dialysis patients to maintain a higher iron level - can't remember the name - hadn't yet been released; as a group, they were feeling sicker than even dialysis patients today).

His point is that we over-estimate our ability to accurately anticipate the impact such events will have on us, in large part because our subjective experience following such events (we were talking about brain injury, etc., as well) is so radically different. When we anticipate catastrophic events, we automatically (and understandably) focus on what we've lost. After experiencing such events, however, you can't say with any degree of certainty that this will be your focus at all.

Which is why I'm still conflicted about Schiavo. For all we know, she was experiencing a life of samadhi (Oliver Sacks did a case study on a Buddhist acolyte with a brain tumor that raises similar issues, I think). How could we definitively know? Even with our sophisticated measurements, our understanding of the subjective experience of what we observe is inherently limited. If she was in such a sublime state, how could she have possibly anticipated such an outcome, prior to the catastrophic events that put her in that state?

I've thought about that conversation with my friend, from time to time, because issues of self-determination and paternalism come up frequently in my life. I've come to the conclusion, for instance, that suicide is inherently irrational (though admittedly varying significantly on this dimension, I think, due to situational issues). I've always found it ironic and telling that the would-be seminal poster-boy for rational suicide - Arthur Koestler (terminal cancer) - also decided it was somehow appropriate to make his exit from life in tandem with his much-younger, healthy, wife.

We should all know by now that our anticipation of horror is magnified by our inability to accurately predict our response; things turn out to be less horrific far more often than what we anticipated far more often than the reverse. This extends beyond anticipated negative responses, though, and extends into our inability to anticipate positive responses. It only highlights the limits of our ability to anticipate even our own reaction and adjustment to dramatically life-altering events.

But I've never been able to quite get passed the fear of becoming the passive recipient of the tender ministrations of people exerting monumental effort to prolong an existence that is hellish in a way I also could never have anticipated. I took a bioethics class in college, and watched that documentary on Dax Cowart. I remain impressed by his persistent insistence that he should've been allowed to die.

I can't help but wonder, however, how often things fall in the other direction: rather more often, I imagine.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Personally, I Blame the Transistor

...or rather, I blame the transistor radio, cranking out newly portable tunes over those funky solid state electronics. The audacity of those engineers, I mean, really.

By shrinking the size and power requirements for signal amplification, they made it so you could truck those things around anywhere, getting them out of the staid family room into the car, away from Mom and Dad's watchful eye. When the Japanese got their hands on the technology in the early sixties, the price of a transistor radio dropped to $20 (less than an iPod in 2007 dollars), it opened the door to what companies needed to get filthy rich: high turnover of content, monopolistic control of its release, and marketing directly to young people. We all heard too much of the case against radio distribution in the Napster days, but in its time, radio put the idea of creating demand on the map.

Now, I like the Beatles, I really do. I like how their songs range from lightweight and happy, to lightweight and serious (like scowling kittens). Yeah, they wrote well, and I've even been almost convinced a time or two that they wrote brilliantly, and sure, they had an interesting group dynamic, and they moved along with their times, blah blah blah, but by the Jesus they were bigger than, they revolutionized music like George Lucas revolutionized science fiction. They repackaged old ideas with an admittedly novel spin and with broader range (than some), but I see their outsized legacy as much as a function of luck and timing than anything.

They had the indescribable good fortune of providing a product when America was hungry for it, lucky enough to have a manager who had already packaged it. They were just in time to take advantage of widespread youth-oriented radio distribution, and just in time grab the American television audience as the post-war generation came into consuming age. They had savvy marketers, and they were smart enough---and yes, good enough musicians--to keep updating their image and their material. They were fortunate enough to be white. Not bad for a good-time Hamburg bar band. But on the other hand, when serious people debate the genius of the gang that sonically smirked through "Love Me Do" with the bunch that harmonized "Help Me Rhonda," then maybe that's a little telling.

The fortieth anniversary of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club band passed without much notice from me. There was some necessary (and only somewhat eye-rolling) hagiography on NPR, the requisite contrarian (but surprisingly even-handed) Slate article, and you know, I was mostly okay with it. I mean hey, I wasn't there. But even gentle Keifus has a limited tolerance for hero-worship. It was good and all, but constantly calling it the most brilliant musical composition evah is a little tiring. When American Idol contestants hashed out the old legacy, it didn't feel inappropriate. (If AI is anything, it's about recapturing that radio distribution model.) This weekend my daughter's fourth grade class is singing Sgt. Pepper (the song) as part of their year-end musical show, and that seems to capture the happier spin the Beatles sought even behind their deeper efforts. Yeah, that suits me just right.


P.S. You wouldn't believe what you can write a thesis on these days.

Bureaucracy In Action

OK, I admit it. My subject header is a bit disingenuous. I let an errant "space" creep in there... It's supposed to read Bureaucracy Inaction. We've all dealt with the paperwork monster: the company HR department, the Division of Motor Vehicles, the IRS. But nothing, nothing compares to the bureaucratic Grendel that is the "health care" system.

Case in point. I had a recent... adventure... in which I enjoyed the delightful and pastoral ambience of my local hospital. Several times, actually, but that's another story... Suffice it to say that somewhere along the way some very skilled and saintly men and women cut my appendix into itty-bitty bits and extracted it through one of three itty-bitty incisions in my abdomen. (Laparoscopic surgery they call it, though when I reflect back on it, all I can picture are those creepy alien creatures with tendrils that they can insert into your body to suck out your vital essence. Wow, that's some pretty contrasting imagery there, eh? Skilled and saintly creepy alien dudes saving your life by inserting their tendrils and sucking out your organs. I think I've got mixed feelings about health care...)

But back to the point. This particular adventure began, as they all do, with Admitting. There's a misnomer for you. The admissions process consists of reading (ha!) and signing page after page of vaguely English prose stipulating that not only will your potential caregivers admit to nothing when it's all over, but in fact will disavow everything. The Consent For Treatment form (please sign this before we can proceed) absolves your Friendly Neighborhood Health System (FNHS) and it's medical staff, employees, independent contractors, placement agencies, providers, agents and assignees, ad infinitum, from any and all non-optimal results in gory and fascinating detail. Sort of like those FCC-mandated disclosures that the Pharma companies have to include in their drug advertisements now: Take Generis and feel better fast! Side effects include retching, belching, farting, fever, diarrhea, constipation, high blood pressure, weight gain, weight loss, swollen genitals, nasal discharge, bloody stools, delirium tremens, spontaneous human combustion, anal probing, energetic catastrophic disassembly of the cranium, and sudden death. Unlike the Pharma company ads, though, I don't remember the Consent For Treatment form mentioning anything at all about the desired outcome...

Next we have the obligatory Patient Information form: name, address, date of birth, medical record number, social security number, number of sex partners (ummm, lots... yeah, that's the ticket!), insurance provider, name of childhood pet, last ten bowel movements, registered political party, tetanus shot, polio vaccine, flu vaccine, family medical history, drug history, ancient history, American history, genetic profile, number of fingers/toes, declaration of goods and services purchased outside the country, arrest record, credit rating, mortgage payment, net worth, shoe size, hat size, coffin size, etc. The usual. This is in the ER, mind you. I was pale, clammy, and listing dangerously to starboard. I'd hate to speculate about the reams of forms to be completed if I were being admitted for elective surgery or an outpatient procedure.

As if the Consent For Treatment form wasn't alarming enough, now they hit me up with the Advance Directive form. This is the form where you specify what steps should be taken if, say, your cranium decides to undergo energetic catastrophic disassembly despite the best efforts and intentions of the FNHS medical staff, employees, independent contractors, et al: (Choose one) A) undertake heroic efforts and all necessary artificial means to preserve my life for the eventual legal struggle between those who love me and want me to die a dignified death and those who love me and want to keep me around to assuage their guilt over not treating me better while I could still appreciate it; or B) just kill me now. In the absence of a Durable Power of Attorney, please indicate who should make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so? My wife of course (Honey, I swear I'll get to those rain gutters as soon as I can, OK?)

Up next: Symptom and Triage form. At last, we're getting to the meat of the matter! Let's see, Please indicate why you are visiting the ER today. I think I managed to scratch out an almost-legible facsimile of "unbearable abdominal pain". When did these symptoms start? When did you last have anything to eat or drink (recent ingestion of food or drink may delay your medical treatment!)? Please rate your pain on a scale from 1 to 10. Please describe the nature of your pain (acute? sharp? distributed? other?). Finally, they're asking what's wrong! Can sweet morphine be far behind?

Admitting Clerk: Please have a seat in the waiting room and wait for your name to be called!


Eight or nine hours later (well, it seems that long anyway) they finally call my name. Now I get to face the triage nurse in her lair.

Triage Nurse: How are we today Mr. skitch?

Me: [incoherent gasping noises]

Triage Nurse: Good, good. Please fill out these forms Mr. skitch, while I encumber your arms with blood pressure cuffs, oxygen saturation sensors, pulse monitors, and IV needles. Oh, and open wide for the thermometer... do you have any questions?

Me: [weak whimpering noises]

Let's see, Intake Information form. Name, address, date of birth, medical record number, social security number... hey, isn't this the same form I filled out at the Admissions desk? Don't you guys talk? Ah, no, this one asks if I'm a smoker and if I'm allergic to any medications. No, and penicillin. I (re)enter all the information and let the clipboard slide from my weakened fingers.

Triage Nurse: Don't forget page 2 Mr. skitch!

Ah. Page 2. Please list all medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter products and vitamins. Well, that's reasonable I suppose. Wouldn't want to take an energetic-catastrophic-cranium-disassembly-inducing combination of chemicals accidentally.

Triage Nurse: Mr. skitch, are you a smoker? Any drug allergies?

Me: ...

Triage Nurse: Good news, Mr. skitch, we finally have a bed available between a flatulent old man with dementia and a teenage skate punk with a nasty bleeding head laceration. Your ER nurse will take you back now!

By this time it has penetrated my pain-dulled consciousness that the nurses are passing around a fat folder with my name on the front stuffed to the brim with every form I've filled out in my entire life, including my Blockbuster Video rental card application and my High School Annual order form. But I don't care any more, the ER nurse has injected some morphine into my IV. Ah, blessed happy juice. The next few hours pass hazily with an endless stream of nurses, interns, physicians, and orderlies poking and prodding me in various ways that I might actually have enjoyed if only I weren't alternating between pain-induced amnesia and morphine-induced apathy.

ER Doc: Mr. skitch, you have an elevated white blood cell count indicating a possible infection and you are presenting with some, but not all, of the symptoms of appendicitis. We're going to send you over to Radiology for a CT scan.

ER Nurse: [grinning evilly] Mr. skitch, you have to drink this 5 gallon container of contrasting agent in the next hour! Good news, though! Instead of the old chalk-flavored agent we now have a choice of flavors: berry/chalk, apple/chalk, citrus/chalk, and beef/chalk!

Me: Do I have to choose my flavor on a form?

The next hour is spent in a frenzied attempt to ingest twice my body weight in viscous berry/chalk-flavored room temperature shake punctuated by frequent reminders from Nurse Ratched's evil twin that I have to finish the entire container. Finally the deed is done and they wheel my gurney over to Radiology. Meanwhile, the contrasting agent has expanded to twice its original volume and those organs not directly involved in digestion (including my besieged appendix) are feeling like passengers on a Tokyo Metro Rapid Transit car (by the way, who the hell decided it was a good idea to put raised expansion joints at every hallway intersection and every room door?).

Radiology Nurse: While we wait for the Imaging Tech, Mr. skitch, we have to fill out some forms!

Me: Huh? Wha?

Radiology Nurse: We need to fill out a Consent For Treatment form, a Patient Information form, and a Current Medications form!

Me: Wait, aren't those the same forms I've already filled out?

Radiology Nurse: Radiology is a different department sir!

The Radiology nurse is an improvement, though. I still have to sign the Consent For Treatment of course, but at least she makes an effort to streamline the form-filling-out process by wielding the pen herself instead of tying it to my rigor-stiffened claw.

Radiology Nurse: [winding down] Are you a smoker? Any medicine allergies?

For God's sake, how many times are you going to ask me if I have any medicine allergies? (PENICILLIN you Neanderthal, it says so 564 times right there in that very folder you're using to prop up the form you're filling out. Do you think I'm suddenly going to remember a new allergy the twelve hundredth time you've asked me?)

I'll spare you the boring details of the remainder of my adventure (too late, skitch!), but after the surgery and a pair of abscesses and their accompanying paperwork it's safe to say that a substantial portion of both the Brazilian rainforest and Pacific Northwest old growth forest have made the ultimate sacrifice and given their lives to document my latest journey through the health care system, leaving me to wonder: "who the hell actually reads all this stuff?" I don't remember my Dante very well... wasn't there a special circle of hell reserved specifically for the bureaucrats? Problem is, I'm not really sure how to punish these guys... would they be in greater agony forced to fill out forms for all eternity or PREVENTED from doing so?

Ah well, I can at least comfort myself in the knowledge that the worst is over. At least until I have to fill out all the insurance paperwork and short term disability forms.

Oh, yeah, on that Advance Directive thing? Will there be forms to fill out should you successfully revive me? Yes? Then I choose B) just kill me now.

Notes from the Cleanse

Yesterday was last day of my twelve-day cleanse, and since the very first day—the day I had the first colonic—I’ve been feeling great. From that first day I also dramatically changed my diet, cutting out, among other things, wheat, sugar and dairy, eating only organic food, drinking fresh vegetable juice daily along with plenty of water, and taking the herbal supplements provided in the Wild Rose Herbal D-tox.

Seriously: I feel fantastic. I’m clear-headed. I have loads of energy. The near-daily headaches have cleared up. I’m not waking up in the morning all stiff and achy and reaching for the ibuprophen. The fact that I’m only sleeping four hours a day is a bit of a concern, but I stopped taking stimulants eleven days ago, and this may be some kind of rebound. I’m not tired, but I’ve been oversensitive and combative. Worse than normal? I’m not sure.

With the not sleeping and the wild emotions and the spike in energy, I have to wonder if I’m a bit manic. I’m not actually bipolar. I go up and down some, but never into a zone where pharmacological intervention is required. My upswings are brief and all too rare. At the moment, though, I do seem to have taken the turnoff for Happy Trails. I hope it’s the result of the detox, but if it’s capricious brain chemistry at work, the worst that will happen is that I’ll get some refractory depression. Maybe not this time, though. Maybe this is the way I’m really meant to be (note to self: you always think that).

The Wild Rose Herbal D-tox is much lauded around these parts. I’d never used it before, but from what I’d heard, taking it would cause a succession of evils to be purged from my body, via my ass. If I recall colorectally (couldn’t resist – sorry), it was supposed to be rodents the first day, snakes the second, and winged demons the third.

I’m disappointed. I didn’t get the demons.

Food has been interesting. The first day, before I’d figured out the guidelines, I hardly ate at all. I noticed right away that organic vegetables have more flavor than conventionally grown produce. Eating all organic increased my food bill by 40-50%, but it seems worth it to me. I’d probably have forgone the $28 dollar almonds (2lbs) if I’d noticed the price. I enjoyed them, anyway.

I’m not used to cooking so much, but I enjoyed that, too. My favorite was a stew with organic beef and fresh rosemary. I was sorry to see the end of that. I ate more grains than I normally do, including amaranth, and that was alright, but I still found myself craving protein late at night. Most days my breakfast consisted of oat groats, ground flax seeds, amaranth and berries, with stevia for sweetener. I think of this as the GPS breakfast: gluey, pasty, and slimy, and sets you off in the right direction. It actually tastes pretty good, and you know you’ve had breakfast when you finish off a bowl of that stuff. I enjoyed the juices, using them to assuage the mild sugar cravings. That worked quite well. I don’t miss the sugar at all. Except I had some last night. Oops.

This morning I had my second and final colonic. I don’t know what the cleanse stirred up, but this one was quite a bit more unpleasant than the first. I’ll spare you the details, but I was relieved to flush that stuff out of my body. Still no demons, though. Bummer.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

1. Spring Cleaning Inside/Out
2. Colonic Blogging

The Retarded Genius Of Access Hollywood

Lights… Camera… Access!

Some of you may or may not be aware that I may or may not get the majority (if not all) of my current event news from NBC’s killer telezine, Access Hollywood. But what you may or may not be aware of is that this particular show is a news media triumph the pop culture pundits are still trying to deconstruct. And if I’m not mistaken, AH and Slate both shared a 10th anniversary last year. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Let me help you help you.

It comes on at 6:30 PM CST, which, in beautiful Birmingham, Alabama, is the half hour that proceeds what those “in the know” refer to as “primetime television”. Which means in the past, Access Hollywood has been able to piggy back on such awards show extravaganzas as The Golden Globes, The Emmy Awards, and The People’s Choice Awards, beginning their coverage right from the very red carpet it carefully exposes each night itself! No mean feat, to be sure, in a sort of jamboree of fame cum pre-game show.

But it’s not all glamour and glitz. (Just, you know, mostly.) AH has gotten the reputation as the go-to fanzine for all things controversial, when celebs, caught drunk mounting the nanny again, need to “set the record straight”, as they say. E.g., the feud that erupted ‘twixt Tom Cruise and Brooke Shields re: her postpartum “mother’s little helper” snafu was dissected all over AI’s video pages over the course of nearly a month of nonstop coverage.

Therein lies its genius. For, you see, watching AI over the course of an entire week reveals what exactly it is that makes the show so compelling, namely, the fact that the contents of Monday’s show are identical to that of the contents of Friday’s show. It’s just packaged differently, jumbled up, thrown up into the air like a deck of cards and realigned with new bumper music and graphics eerily reminiscent of something you’d see on, say, that harder than hard hitting news show, Dateline. (Is it just me or is Chris Hansen more a caricature of Stephen Colbert’s caricature of himself even?)

You get no new information Tuesday through Friday, and, let’s be honest here, you didn’t really get much new information Monday either, but you get a beautifully rendered summation of the new information you didn’t get for 5 whole days at the end of the week. It’s staggering in its Occam-esque approach to the dissemination of, well, non-ness.

Make no mistake about it, folks. Access Hollywood’s gifted penchant for informing you of things you already knew, but doing so in a manner that convinces you that you actually didn’t already know them, verges on the epic if not the profound.

Oh sure, you’ve got your Entertainment Tonight and your Hollywood Extra. But those shows come with a tinge of smarmy tackiness, leaving you with the feeling that you not-so-accidentally just swallowed a bug, or found a hair in your burrito. AI will have none of that. How do they manage to avoid the “throwing up out in back of the diner in the grease trap” trap so many entertainment shows succumb to?

Meet Billy Bush. All American boy and sometime Trump sidekick. But watch out. Those softballs he’s lobbing at our beautiful people? They’re not that soft, and they’ve got balls. When BB launched into a tirade-like, he said/she said expose about how Nick was holding up after the breakup, Jessica Simpson’s publicist slammed the door on that casting call couch like a steamroller on ice. And faster than she could say, “The interview is now over,” the Bushinator had scored a huge one for the good guys. Way to go, Bill!

Meet Nancy O’Dell. All American girl of the insanely stupid persuasion, perky as all get out, and almost as pregnant. Don’t look now but word on the street is that she’s gonna squirt the little brat right into the welcoming hands of John Travolta wearing a giant hotdog suit in Bakersfield in a publicity stunt scheduled to put JT’s career back on the map, maybe.

Meet Maria Menounos. All American girl of the Greek heritage persuasion. Tall, skinny, beautiful, tall. And what a voice! I’d like to curl up and take a nap in that toothy smile of hers.

Meet that one guy. Generic looking/sounding, with all the makings of someone whose name you’ll never remember, or really ever need to.

Meet that one other guy. No, the one with the British accent. It’s a good thing he’s so good looking; otherwise he’d be blowing some dude out behind the Tasty Freeze for a chili dog.

And there you have it. It’s no accident the show’s such a success. Add the fact that there’s an hour-long broadcast on Saturday nights at 6:00 PM CST that, that’s right, sums up the week’s events highlighted during the week, and it’s not hard to imagine a world where the same news gets spewed forth like a demon-possessed vomit gun at the state fair on every channel.

Still, you might want to cut them some slack, Katie. At least they don’t claim to be real journalists like you do. Come to think of it, wasn’t it Access Hollywood that broke the Valerie Plamegate scandal, and revealed the fact that Ben Affleck is so vain he wears a hairpiece, on the same show? Y’all ought to be ashamed. Oops! You already are?

Which is simply a roundabout way of saying that if we’ve learned anything from our current administration, it’s that when it comes to truth in advertising, it’s all about the packaging. Seriously. The shinier the better, in every sense.

Looking Beyond Immigration

Change is something that comes along with fear and trepidation; still it comes raw, unrefined and oblivious to our personal insecurities. You would think that the race of intelligent mankind would instinctively know this one salient and inexorable thing well enough by now to accept the inevitability of it nevertheless it continues to be the root cause of more pain, anxiety and hatred than we can possibly measure in terms of rational thinking; Just ask the American Indians.

In the recent debates featuring the conflagrations of the Illegal Immigration Issue we have seen fear and trepidation, we have seen the full range of primal insecurities, we have seen racism, we have seen the inferences of racism and we have seen resistance to change. Without confusing the two issues of Illegal immigration and change lets remember that all sovereign nations reserve the right to self preservation but let us also remember in the same breath that there is no nation on the face of this earth now that did not somehow come into being on the tails of momentous change that created opportunities for some even as it incinerated opportunities for others. Once again we look to the example of the American Indians and the encroachment of Europe on the North American Continent.

To better appreciate the stubbornly indefinable terms of this issue lets consider for a moment that the existence of a national boundary, otherwise known to us in the somewhat more ominous terminology as “The Border”… is really the foundation of our antithesis to the kind of change that we are talking about here. What exactly is a “Border” and who exactly is it that should recognize that Border?? Though the United States has two national borders, one with Canada and the other With Mexico it is the Southern border that seems to be the focus of national concern at this particular time if for no other reason than the sheer force of numbers traversing that region on the human journey in search of survival and it is exactly for that reason that it represents the most potent source of potential change accompanied by the ever present henchmen fear and trepidation.

To Examine the issue more closely consider that the National Border is really just a mythical line drawn in the sand beneath which lie myriad antecedent boundaries drawn by predecessors and forbears who have long since retired to dust and ash leaving us only scattered remnants of architecture as a reminder that they once decided where territorial parameters of ownership and national sovereignty lay.

It is not an exaggeration to say that almost all of the changes made in these parameters were accompanied by aggression, violence and outright thievery which represent some of the less attractive elements of the phenomenon we call change. In retrospect we must also realize that many of the descendants of former civilizations still consider it their right to persevere as a culture despite the intrusions of modern politics. To a starving Mestizo and his family the political boundary in between him and his right to a better existence drawn by some light skinned men a thousand miles away in Washington D.C. means very little in terms of deference. On the flip side of that same coin however there is still the economic identity of a nation some 250 years old ( an infant by cultural standards ) that must be protected in order for it to survive or at least to adhere to the illusion of survival in the face of change.

The real dilemma finds its face systems of representative government that have grown more popular in the past three hundred years wherein a few make decisions for many. When the many see that the few no longer represent their best interest, say for instance allowing millions of destitute refugees to enter a protected space, there is anger, fear and resentment and so a singular response is formulated or at least tries to formulate from the collective voice of the people represented. This however constitutes only one of the several destinies that will bear on the future of a nation or a people; the others may lie in the hands of those who have different agendas such as survival and the right to share in the wealth of an adjacent culture that may have replaced the one that nurtured them. Individual lifespan notwithstanding an organized culture can have a lifespan of its own.

I have already been too wordy and there is so much more to say about these things. Suffice it to say however that the issues of migration are as old as man himself and that no nation on Earth is a true enclave immune from the inevitable forces of change. We may for a brief moment maintain our footing and a sense of national Identity but only for as long as the much more pervasive and durable process of change allows for it

Monday, June 11, 2007

Paris Hilton

I've certainly made no secret on these very boards of the fact that I adore the elder Hilton sister, long before the alleged sex tape scandal broke out like a crab lice investation, I might add. (Yes, Nicky is a beautiful girl, and probably the smarter of the 2. But she just doesn't seem to have Paris'... elegance. Or acting chops. [When Paris' character in House of Wax gets a spike driven into the back of her head and it comes out her left eyeball, you really do believe she's dead. Stunning work.])

I can certainly understand that some folks don't like her. She represents, for the vast majority, the worst in decadence, superficiality and tastelessness. (Though I'd like to note that she actually has great taste in fashion and all of its related blingery and whatnot.) And being handed everything you've ever wanted your entire life probably isn't going to make for a very good work ethic, is it?

The problem with that line of reasoning is that she's actually got a tremendous work ethic. I was a devoted fan of the first season of The Simple Life, which was, on many occasions, hilarious, if a touch on the cruel side from time to time. And if I'm not mistaken, she's helped significantly with Nicky's line of handbags, both financially and creatively. And I won't even mention how strenuous the art of being famous for being famous is.

But is she being treated differently because of her fame and reputation? Of course she is. By virtue of her reputation alone, she's being treated worse. If a black kid had committed the same alleged crimes she did, they'd send him home without so much as a slap on the wrist. What do they do to Paris? Kick down the door, cuff her, haul her off to jail, take away her hair extensions and throw her into solitary without so much as a pager.

The judge is being a dick. He's being a dick because he can, which, it turns out, is exactly what he's punishing Paris for, namely, she does stuff because she can. More power to her, if you ask me.

But this judge's fast and loose playing with "the rules" might very well constitute a severe miscarriage of justice. The courtroom is neither the time nor the place to assert one's own sexual value system on another, especially when it involves celebrity of any kind in any sense. If he wants to get back at the cheerleader who laughed at him when he asked her to go to the May Day Dance in high school, that really needs to be done on his own time, not when he's on the taxpayers' dime.

Want someone to be tossed in the clink and the key thrown away? There's always Mike and Dina Lohan. They make Paris' folks look like Steven and Elyse Keaton by comparison.

Stop punishing Paris Hilton for being beautiful, America. Today we're all ugly.

Coming soon: "NBC's Age of Love"

Bring back the star system
Checkmarks are hard
Appends won't mean dick
Till you ban the retards!

Dear WikiFrayers

skitch has made it possible for comments from the a blog to the forum to automatically link back to the blog post they are in response to. That means, with the following code on your blog, readers can opt to send their comments to the WikiFray Forum, and those comments will contain a link back to not just your blog, but the particular blog post the comment is in response to. In this way, those reading the forum will be alerted to your new blog content.

<span style='font-size:xx-small;'>You must be <a href='' target='_blank'>logged in</a> to send comments to the forum. <a href='' target='_blank'>Register</a>. <a expr:href='";forumid=4&amp;url=" + data:post.url + "&amp;title=" + data:post.title' target='_blank'>Forum Comment</a>.</span>
skitch is also working on additional upgrades. Without making any promises, he hopes to make it possible to display the number of forum comments in response to your blog post as well as a Read Comments link that only returns those forum posts directly in response to your blog post.

By the way, the above hack is HUGE.

Anyway, by using the above code your blog is a simple cut and paste away from having old-fray style comments that double as bookmarks. And having the option to send comments to the forum doesn't mean you can't have blogger comments as well. To better appreciate what I'm talking about, post a comment in response to this blog post.

If you want to experiment with putting Forum Comments on your blog but don't know how, just say the word and I'd be glad to help.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What I've Been Up To

punoqun mockup

What this means:

1. I can host blogs
2. I'd like to host your blogs
3. Posts from hosted blogs only will be promoted to articles in the magazine
4. Not all posts become articles, but I'm hoping to cherry pick about one per week per blog
5. Not everybody gets a blog - it's a select group - but everybody here
(current members of Wikifray and nuponuq) gets one if they want one.
6. Hosted blogs who desire it can share in the revenue (or your blog can be non-commercial)
7. There will also be articles that don't come from blogs
8. Only items not previously published (including in an outside the network blog) will be considered for publication
9. Those who don't want their blogs hosted can still have a nuponuq forum
10. Some forum posts may become articles (with the writer's permission)
11. Launch date is early September, so you have lots of time to think about it
(no pressure and no hard feelings)
12. Pay for articles - minimal to start, but you can put it on your resume/portfolio - you'll be a published writer
13. Anybody know where to find a good crossword program?
14. I can think of nothing better than Elbo Ruum and Isonomist as Dueling Dear Abby's.
15. Not all of you will love the software. I can also host Wordpress and maybe Movable Type, but not as seamlessly.
16. I've "borrowed" some of your stuff to show you what it might look like. The look and feel still needs some polish, and I'm looking for a better RTE, but I think I'm getting there.

Lot and lots of other stuff, but that's probably enough to digest for now. I'm around to answer questions, etc.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

I think Dana Stevens missed a memo...

In Slate, Dana Stevens concludes her odd piece about abortion politics and Knocked Up with this nugget...

That same Atlantic blog post concludes with the opinion that the movie is "almost naively pro-life"—that Alison decides to keep her baby because "killing it" would be "obviously and terribly wrong," and Alison, bless her heart, is not a "bad person" who would do such a thing. The 77 percent of Americans who support abortion rights—and the 40 percent or more of American women who have exercised that right—can be excused for wondering where that supposedly obvious moral consensus is coming from. Roe v. Wade may be in perpetual danger of erosion, but look on the bright side: We still have more choices than most pregnant women in the movies.

Stevens doesn't source her 77 percent number, but that is the highest number I have ever seen for either side of that issue, and she says it is those who "support abortion rights," so I would tend to believe it was those opposed to an outright ban.

Remember -- the topic here wasn't Roe v. Wade, or any effort by the government to restrict abortion. It was about a movie not presenting abortion as a legitimate option for its female protagonist experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

Now, as a veteran of abortion debates, I thought the consensus was that conflating support for abortion rights with enthusiasm for the procedure itself was a dirty trick by the pro-life side designed to portray the pro-choice side as amoral monsters. I thought the party line included phrases like, "nobody likes abortion," and "safe, legal, and rare."

Indeed, the entire pro-choice argument rests on the principle that there should be some space between what is considered immoral and what is criminal. Keep you rosaries off my ovaries, etc. People can feel how they want about abortion, so long as they don't try to translate it into criminal santions. This is the argument Catholic pro-choice politicians, including the current Speaker of the House, use to explain how they can reconcile their faith, which unambiguously condemns abortion, with their pro-choice positions.

But I guess that 77 percent number was too big for Stevens to resist.

So, should we take Stevens at her word? Does opposing banning of abortion imply moral approval? Should people's position on Roe v. Wade be based on anything more than moral appoval or disapproval of abortion in general (or things like parial-birth abortion in specific, since each Democratic presidential candidate lamented the Supreme Court not finding it to be protected)?

I don't think affirmative answers to those questions would lead to conclusions Stevens would be very happy with. Which is why NARAL took the word "abortion" out of its name, pro-choice politicians say things like "reproductive self determination" and "a woman's right to choose" rather than mention abortion explicitly, and pro-lifers are condemned for graphic depictions of abortion. From the pro-choice movement, "shmashmortion" would qualify as rare candor.

But if Stevens want to rip the facade off, that's fine with me. You just don't get to eat your cake and have it to. You don't get to claim 77 percent of the public has no moral problem with abortion, and then blanche when we link a permissive abortion legal environment with cultural approval of abortion.

  • Ross Douthat responds, since the article was in large part in response to his comments.
  • Ezra Klein has something closer to what a a pro-choice reaction is, if pro-choice really isn't just a euphemism for "pro-abortion."

  • Friday, June 08, 2007

    Ocean 13, A Movie Review

    Packed to the hilt with a cast containing more star power than the very zodiac itself, Ocean 13 begs the question we've been begging since alien space zombies from another planet colonized earth hundreds of years ago, namely, What would happen if a sequel prequeled the future as it pertained to the past, but only insofar as the present presupposed an alternate historical outcome?

    Answer: Greenhouse gasses. And mistaken identity.

    Everybody's back for this one, folks. And I do mean everybody. George Cooley (Syriania, Good Germans!, Where's My Brother At?,), Bradly Pit (A Perfect Confession Of Minds, Snatched, Talk About Fight Club), Mark Damien (Syria, The Born Ascendency, Where's Private Ryan At?), Glen Gould (Open The Window, *M*A*S*H*, Variation Goldberg), Allen Patchino (60 Minutes, That Jew In Venice, O Godfather 2, Atticus), Dan Cheedle (Hotel California, Wedding Crash, Traffic Jam), Casey Affleck (The Goodwill Haunting, Super Man, voice of the duck in those insurance commercials that I like so much), Jesus Christ (Tempting Last Passion, God Is My Co Pilate, Hi I'm Jesus), Bernard Mack (Guess Who's At Dinner, Charlie Angel: Full Frontal), Rob Reiner (All Of The Family, Time Cop, Plains Tranes And Auto Mobiles), Julie Robertson (Little Pretty Women, Moaning Lisa's Smile, You're Fired!), Jerry Garcia (Better Off Dead Again), everybody and his brother (Art Of The Cameo), and the kitchen sink (Canonball Runs), all to a man reprising their roles, respectively, as Paul Motian, Rusty, Steve, Dave, Lester, himself, The Baron, Simon, Paul, Arthur, herself, desk clerk, Manny Rivers, Norbert, Hal, 2nd man in bathroom, Jack, Barry, Terrance, somebody's brother, and Riley McSwoon, respectably.

    But they're not robbing any Las Vegas gambling casino places this go around, folks. Nope. This time our ragged band of lovable thieves are stealing a little something else, namely, the ozone hole. And our hearts, of course!

    The year: future, population: global heating. Our planet, i.e., earth, has caught on fire again.

    Let's back up.

    In the olden days, back before VCRs, indoor toilets and time, God created The Ozone Layer 6,429 years ago, a "layer" that lets in the good light and keeps out the bad, for whatever reason. But before you can watch your presidential legacy slowly "go up in flames" like a dumpster fire at Munchies, the ozone pops, springs a leak, and worldwide panic breaks out like a staff infection at the mall. The world's greatest scientists are befuddled by these staged events and are at a complete and total loss as to its inevitable cause, how to profit from it, and how it could only be accounted for possibly by whale songs.

    Or perhaps because of people idling in their cars with the engine running, sitting in the parking lot of their gym, waiting for someone to pull out of a parking spot so they can snag one that is approximately 3 meters closer to the front door than that one over there that they could've already been parked in 10 minutes ago, asshat. You're at the fuckin' gym, for goodness sakes.

    And faster than you can apply some sunscreen, literally, preferably SPF 50 or above, out goes the good light, and in comes the bad. Today everybody's brown. And just like that we're right back where we started from. At. Er...

    Mr. Gorbachev: Tear up that hole!

    That's where our randy gang of ne're-do-wells comes in, in a large boat they've rented, to find a way to put out all the fires and whatnot. Of the 12 known oceans on earth, only the 13th one can keep Mount Everest from burning down the whole kip and kaboodle like a broiler at Sizzler's. For, you see, there's magic in that water that the aliens put there so we would devolve slowly back into fish.(It's one of those "master plan" thingies. It's all very esoteric. Just roll with the tide, if you will.)

    Will they find it in time? Will Steve's Ocean Water Fire Put Outer invention work properly? Will nature find a way to save itself from us? Will that one guy over emote again? Will every single gag in the whole movie be a smirking inside joke amongst the cast and crew so that the audience in its entirety is left feeling like a 3rd wheel on a mini-bike? Probably.

    But I don't want to give away too many secrets.

    Bottom line, folks, we don't want movies like Ocean 13. We need movies like Ocean 13, if for no other reason than truth may sometimes be stranger than fiction, but sometimes fiction is almost always preferable, especially when you consider the source of the "truth" in the first place.

    (They say it's better than Ocean's Twelve. Wow. That's quite the endorsement, seeing as how The Da Vinci Code is better than Ocean's Twelve.)

    Stop trashing fathers...

    Andrew Sullivan examines Mitt Romney's statements about same sex partnership, and advises him, "going around trashing mothers is not the best politics. Especially when the next generation is so over this crap. And especially when one of those moms is the daughter of the vice-president."

    Of course, Romney has no plans to start "trashing mothers" in general, nor does the "Christianist base" expect him to. What social conservatives desire is cultural acknowledgement that, in general, the best arrangment for raising children is a mother and father who are living together?

    Will there be exceptions to this? Absolutely. Do they deserve our support and assistance? Yes. Does that mandate pretending that these arrangements are the ideal and treating them as such? I really don't think so. Is failing to do so tantamount to "trashing mothers?" Clearly not.

    Because the message that goes out isn't just what a great mothers Mary Cheney and her partner are. The message that goes out is that fathers are unncecessary. Again, that doesn't mean that every father is a good father, or that anyone raised without a father is doomed. Just that fatherhood involvement is something that should be encouraged, and that treating arrangements like Mary Cheneys as equivalent moves us in the opposite direction.

    Now, my post title is tongue and cheek. Obviously, Sullivan is not intending to trash fathers; he wants equality for committed same sex couples. I get that. I wish he would somehow indicate that he gets that those opposed aren't out to "trash mothers," either.

    Thursday, June 07, 2007

    Saletan's Bias Against Pediatric Psychiatry

    In Saletan’s latest edition of “Weird News about Humans”, he gives a little blurb on a Canadian study looking at children from divorced families and prescription rates for ADHD meds. The upshot – kids whose families get divorced are about twice as likely as those from other families to be prescribed a stimulant medication. His theories:

    A) Divorce causes behavior problems, which leads to prescriptions. B) Doctors and parents assume divorce causes behavior problems, so they drug the kids. C) The same parental behavior that caused the divorce messed up the kid. D) The kid's behavior problems contributed to the divorce.

    I have a problem with this: nowhere does he mention the possibility that a) ADHD runs in families, and b) adults with ADHD are likely at increased risk for divorce. Anyhow, we exchanged a couple of comments, which culminated in the following rant. If you’re curious, you can visit the thread here.

    I get irritated with the controversy revolving around kids and psychiatric medications. There’s no lack of criticism for prescription rates, but a real dearth of discussion about the reasons why rates are so high (other than parent blaming, that is, but what else is new?). Didn’t I see you highlight the case of the 8-year-old in Florida who was arrested for school misbehavior, at the school’s behest? It’s a single case, but it’s consistent with a definite national trend towards increasingly punitive responses to behavioral problems exhibited by children and adolescents.

    So on the one hand, we have the masses decrying a mental health system who failed to provide someone like Cho a strategic pharmacological intervention, and on the other hand, we have the horde criticizing the rates at which psychiatric diagnoses are made (autism, pediatric bipolar, ADHD) and medications prescribed. The parents of children with emotional and behavioral problems are truly stuck between a rock and a hard place, being forced to choose between pathologizing their children with a diagnosis and medication, or watching their children be identified instead as budding delinquents, and treated with all of the tenderness and compassion associated with the overburdened juvenile justice system.

    And there’s the kids, of course, who resist taking medication as part of their broader effort to develop and maintain a positive self-concept, which turns out to be quite a challenge, in a world where people are damn quick to point out everything that’s wrong with them, but offer damn little in the way of helpful guidance and advice.

    Utilizing external props to modulate emotions or arousal is as old as alcohol, and as ubiquitous today as Starbucks. But the same kids who actively choose to consume energy drinks containing obscene amounts of a phosphodiesterase inhibitor, and of individual amino acids that multiply by the thousands what one might encounter in natural sources (with unknown long-term effects) – the same kids who’re smoking BC bud at potencies their parents never dreamed of in their own rebellious teens, refuse to take demonstrably helpful medications at established therapeutic doses, manufactured in quality-controlled, regulated laboratories, in part because they listen to the anti-pharmaceutical propaganda of people who find it much easier to criticize than offer alternative solutions.

    As far as the children of divorced parents are concerned, well, they turn out to be at increased risk for a whole host of problems. The reasons for this are undoubtedly both legion and interactive. If a psychiatric medication turns out to effectively mitigate some of these difficulties, reducing the amount of ego-challenging environmental feedback they have to cope with and thus helping them develop and maintain a self-concept that’s both positive and sufficiently adaptive to help adequately modulate their behavior, then who are you to criticize, even at such a distance, the efforts of their parents and allied professionals to provide whatever they can to help these kids cope?

    The problem isn’t the ubiquity of pediatric psych prescriptions, Will; that’s merely one of a number of symptoms that there is something seriously awry with the world in which we are raising our children. Writing about that is hard work, though – it requires complex conceptualization and broad awareness of the impact environmental influences exert on behavior. Much easier to write blurbs like yours today (or even research articles like the one on which your blurb was based); they allow us to feel righteous and superior, without implying any unpleasant obligation for us to actually do anything about any of it.

    Oh the plus side, however, it is very nice to see you on the board. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my post.