aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Online movement for autistics’ rights
Wired’s got a long feature on Amanda Baggs, a woman with autism who doesn’t speak, but who uses video and online forums and MMOs to make an eloquent case for autism as a different—but valid—style of cognition, and argues for the rights of people with autism to be recognized on their own terms. The article looks into the long-held belief that autism and retardation are tied together and concludes that this just isn’t true—rather, that people with autism have been incorrectly classed as retarded for generations.
Baggs is part of an increasingly visible and highly networked community of autistics. Over the past decade, this group has benefited enormously from the Internet as well as innovations like type-to-speech software. Baggs may never have considered herself trapped in her own world, but thanks to technology, she can communicate with the same speed and specificity as someone using spoken language.
Autistics like Baggs are now leading a nascent civil rights movement. “I remember in ‘99,” she says, “seeing a number of gay pride Web sites. I envied how many there were and wished there was something like that for autism. Now there is.” The message: We’re here. We’re weird. Get used to it.
This movement is being fueled by a small but growing cadre of neuropsychological researchers who are taking a fresh look at the nature of autism itself. The condition, they say, shouldn’t be thought of as a disease to be eradicated. It may be that the autistic brain is not defective but simply different - an example of the variety of human development. These researchers assert that the focus on finding a cure for autism - the disease model - has kept science from asking fundamental questions about how autistic brains function.
I, of course, love that she was inspired by gay pride web sites.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Pay to keep the carbon sponge!
We tend to emphasize the need to cut back on carbon emissions, while the flip side of the problem—deforestation, the depletion of one of the earth’s two essential carbon sponges (the other is the ocean)—proceeds unnoticed:
Just two countries-Indonesia and Brazil-account for about ten per cent of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Neither possesses the type of heavy industry that can be found in the West, or for that matter in Russia or India. Still, only the United States and China are responsible for greater levels of emissions. That is because tropical forests in Indonesia and Brazil are disappearing with incredible speed. “It’s really very simple,” John O. Niles told me. Niles, the chief science and policy officer for the environmental group Carbon Conservation, argues that spending five billion dollars a year to prevent deforestation in countries like Indonesia would be one of the best investments the world could ever make. “The value of that land is seen as consisting only of the value of its lumber,” he said. “A logging company comes along and offers to strip the forest to make some trivial wooden product, or a palm-oil plantation. The governments in these places have no cash. They are sitting on this resource that is doing nothing for their economy. So when a guy says, â€˜I will give you a few hundred dollars if you let me cut down these trees,’ it’s not easy to turn your nose up at that. Those are dollars people can spend on schools and hospitals.” [...]
“This is the greatest remaining opportunity we have to help address global warming,” Niles told me. “It’s a no-brainer. People are paying money to go in and destroy those forests. We just have to pay more to prevent that from happening.” Niles’s group has proposed a trade: “If you save your forest and we can independently audit and verify it, we will calculate the emissions you have saved and pay you for that.” The easiest way to finance such a plan, he is convinced, would be to use carbon-trading allowances. Anything that prevents carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere would have value that could be quantified and traded. Since undisturbed farmland has the same effect as not emitting carbon dioxide at all, people could create allowances by leaving their forests untouched or by planting new trees. [...]
From both a political and an economic perspective, it would be easier and cheaper to reduce the rate of deforestation than to cut back significantly on air travel. It would also have a far greater impact on climate change and on social welfare in the developing world. Possessing rights to carbon would grant new power to farmers who, for the first time, would be paid to preserve their forests rather than destroy them. Unfortunately, such plans are seen by many people as morally unattractive. “The whole issue is tied up with the misconceived notion of â€˜carbon colonialism,’ “ Niles told me. “Some activists do not want the Third World to have to alter their behavior, because the problem was largely caused by us in the West.”
Monday, February 25, 2008
Don’t confuse morality and science
If you missed Michael Specter’s BIG FOOT: In measuring carbon emissions, it’s easy to confuse morality and science in last weeks New Yorker, you really, really ought to go read it!
I won’t begin to capture it here, so I won’t even try. This isn’t where he starts, but it’s a very important point:
How do we alter human behavior significantly enough to limit global warming? Personal choices, no matter how virtuous, cannot do enough. It will also take laws and money.
How about labels?
In order to develop the label for Walkers [potato chips], researchers had to calculate the amount of energy required to plant seeds for the ingredients (sunflower oil and potatoes), as well as to make the fertilizers and pesticides used on those potatoes. Next, they factored in the energy required for diesel tractors to collect the potatoes, then the effects of chopping, cleaning, storing, and bagging them. The packaging and printing processes also emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as does the petroleum used to deliver those crisps to stores. Finally, the research team assessed the impact of throwing the empty bags in the trash, collecting the garbage in a truck, driving to a landfill, and burying them. In the end, the researchers-from the Carbon Trust-found that seventy-five grams of greenhouse gases are expended in the production of every individual-size bag of potato chips.
“Crisps are easy,” Murlis had told me. “They have only one important ingredient, and the potatoes are often harvested near the factory.” We were sitting in a deserted hotel lounge in Central London, and Murlis stirred his tea slowly, then frowned. “Let’s just assume every mother cares about the environment-what then?” he asked. “Should the carbon content matter more to her than the fat content or the calories in the products she buys?”
Should I be a locavore?
Many factors influence the carbon footprint of a product: water use, cultivation and harvesting methods, quantity and type of fertilizer, even the type of fuel used to make the package. Sea-freight emissions are less than a sixtieth of those associated with airplanes, and you don’t have to build highways to berth a ship. Last year, a study of the carbon cost of the global wine trade found that it is actually more “green” for New Yorkers to drink wine from Bordeaux, which is shipped by sea, than wine from California, sent by truck. That is largely because shipping wine is mostly shipping glass. The study found that “the efficiencies of shipping drive a â€˜green line’ all the way to Columbus, Ohio, the point where a wine from Bordeaux and Napa has the same carbon intensity.”
The environmental burden imposed by importing apples from New Zealand to Northern Europe or New York can be lower than if the apples were raised fifty miles away. “In New Zealand, they have more sunshine than in the U.K., which helps productivity,” Williams explained. That means the yield of New Zealand apples far exceeds the yield of those grown in northern climates, so the energy required for farmers to grow the crop is correspondingly lower. It also helps that the electricity in New Zealand is mostly generated by renewable sources, none of which emit large amounts of CO2. Researchers at Lincoln University, in Christchurch, found that lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped eleven thousand miles by boat to England produced six hundred and eighty-eight kilograms of carbon-dioxide emissions per ton, about a fourth the amount produced by British lamb. In part, that is because pastures in New Zealand need far less fertilizer than most grazing land in Britain (or in many parts of the United States). Similarly, importing beans from Uganda or Kenya-where the farms are small, tractor use is limited, and the fertilizer is almost always manure-tends to be more efficient than growing beans in Europe, with its reliance on energy-dependent irrigation systems.
Plasma or LCD?
Watching a plasma television for three hours every day contributes two hundred and fifty kilograms of carbon to the atmosphere each year; an LCD television is responsible for less than half that number.
Adam Walsh Act provisions ignore real harms
Sarah Tofte, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, has an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer today:
State lawmakers will need to decide whether to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act on sex offenders or lose federal money for law enforcement. The choice for states is to dramatically increase their registration and community-notification requirements for convicted sex offenders by 2009 or lose significant federal law enforcement grant money.
It doesn’t seem like a difficult choice. Who wouldn’t want to support laws targeting convicted sex offenders and be paid for it? Yet legislatures from Arizona to Illinois to Rhode Island are leaning against implementing the law. Because once you get past the painful emotions and look hard at the problem of child sexual abuse, it turns out that sex-offender registration and community-notification laws might not actually prevent sexual violence.
Sex-offender laws are based on two popular myths about child abuse: that children have most to fear from strangers, and that sex offenders will repeat their crimes. In fact, more than 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows. And authoritative studies show that three out of four sex offenders do not re-offend within 15 years of release from prison. In fact, 87 percent of sex crimes are committed by people with no previous sex-offense convictions.
The Adam Walsh Act doesn’t tackle the real dangers to children, and contains disturbing provisions. It requires states to register and identify online children 14 and older who commit sex offenses. Many states treat juvenile sex offenders differently from adults, exempting them from community notification. They understand that young sex offenders respond well to treatment and have an excellent chance of rehabilitation - and that crimes they committed as children should not haunt the rest of their lives. Thus the Illinois legislature, knowing it was acting in conflict with the Adam Walsh Act, recently overrode the governor’s veto of a law exempting child offenders from online registration.
RELATED: LA’s CityBeat had a piece last week worried that California’s registry for life may soon include promiscuous kids. You’ve got to wonder, are we really trying to protect the kids? Or just lock them up?
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Midwest Teen Sex Show: Porn
Among my responsibilities, I oversee a linux lab in an experimental high school. We use Dan’s Guardian and while discussing it with a high school teacher last week I wondered whether the pervasiveness of porn on the Internet means that today’s kids simply pass through a porn phase, then go on with their lives.
Sure, some get stuck and we should identify and help them but it’s the adult males—those who never got to go through that phase (sort of akin to the 40 year-old gay man who comes out of the closet late and does all kinds of embarrassing things)—who have the real problem.
I guess we’ll never know.
Anyway, here’s a fun Midwest Teen Sex Show episode on Porn:
Youth to parents: can we talk sex? (reprised again)
In response to yet another study showing that social networks aren’t breeding grounds for sexual predators - my conclusion is that parents need to talk to their kids about sex! - I’m reprising this entire post from March. My experience, 40 years ago now, was precisely the same (sans Internet) as these kids, and I’m not thinking a single thing has changed since March...
On Morning Edition [March 8, 2007], from Blunt Radio in Portland, Maine, produced by Youth Radio and reported by Johanna Greenberg:
Ms. JOHANNA GREENBERG (High School Student, Portland, Maine): I’m sorry to say this, but parents are falling down on the job when it comes to The Talk.
Have your parents given you the sex talk?
Unidentified Woman #1: No.
Unidentified Man #1: No.
Unidentified Man #2: No.
Unidentified Woman #2: I feel uncomfortable.
Unidentified Woman #3: No, they never did.
Unidentified Woman #4: No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GREENBERG: At school, when we compare notes, my friends and I realize we are learning about sex from the Internet and movies because our parents aren’t talking with us.
Unidentified Woman #5: They just assume that I did it already. But they didn’t talk to me about it.
GREENBERG: Have your parents given you a sex talk?
Unidentified Man #2: No.
GREENBERG: Nothing? They didn’t say anything about sex to you? Nothing at all?
Unidentified Man #2: No. None whatsoever. No.
Monday, February 18, 2008
k.d. lang - Halleluja
RELATED: Ariel Levy says k.d. lang plays coy about her own iconography:
Lang has gotten big. She is more panda bear than mink now, with her salt-and-pepper hair and her vaguely Inuit eyes (lang was raised in a small town on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, her is heritage Icelandic, Sioux, Dutch, English, Irish, Scottish, and German Jewish), but she still has the unmistakable appeal of the unreconstructed butch. Or at least it looks that way to me. “You mean like the actual physical appearance of my person?” she says. “Is that what butch is? How do you define butch?”
Which renders me speechless. k. d. lang, king of the bulldaggers, is asking me what butch means.
“Okay, well, yeah, I am butch, I guess. In my physical appearance. When I show up at the White House and George and Laura just about have a heart attack because they can’t figure out who the fuck I am-or what I am-because I’m in a tuxedo, yeah. Or when every single time I walk into the washroom in an airport, even being famous, people â€¦ think they’re in the wrong washroom, yeah. I think about it.”
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
How depressed/medicated are we?
I hear tell that our student body is among the most medicated ever. I go back and forth on whether or not I think that a problem.
Peter D. Kramer, a shrink probably best known for authoring Listening to Prozac in 1993 but who also, we learn, served a stint in the Carter administration Department of Health, Education, and Welfare has a review in Slate of Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation, by Charles Barber:
Barber trumpets, “To say that we are the most psychiatrically medicated nation on earth is a prodigiously absurd understatement.” As regards antidepressants, he buttresses this claim by citing pharmaceutical sales; but paying high prices is not the same as taking more pills. According to a study from the MIT Sloan School of Management, on a per capita basis, by the year 2000 Swedes and Canadians had begun taking more antidepressants than we do. Greece, Italy, Spain, and (again) Sweden used a larger proportion of new, on-patent antidepressants than did the United States. The authors concluded that on the variables studied, the United States “is often ‘in the middle’ relative to other countries, and is not an outlier.”
Depression goes with latitude. [Hey, it’s sunny and 60Â° here right now in Georgia and I’m happy for it! ] Perhaps the Swedes and Canadians should seek more treatment than we do. But the British and the Portuguese are generally clustered with us, as well. The transatlantic perspective suggests that Oprah, the FDA, and the American Psychiatric Association-never mind the American characterâ€”cannot bear the entire burden for our prescribing patterns.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
The exquisitely subversive Race Card
Harvard’s Orlando Patterson reviews Richard Thompson Ford’s The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse in today’s NYTimes Book Review:
To left-leaning readers and victims of genuine racism, Ford’s relentless evenhandedness and cost-benefit balancing act may seem at times to skirt the edges of conservative reaction. But a patient reading of this astute and closely reasoned work reveals an exquisitely subversive mind. Ford is adept at stealing the best-defended intellectual bases of the right on behalf of a pragmatic, antiracist liberalism unflaggingly committed to the increasingly scorned goal of integration - and to relief for the truly disadvantaged, who suffer the persisting injuries of past racism in the absence of those who engendered their plight and, perplexingly, in the presence of growing racial tolerance.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Shuster suspended for Chelsea Clinton comments
SHUSTER: Bill, there’s just something a little bit unseemly to me that Chelsea’s out there calling up celebrities, saying support my mom, and she’s apparently also calling these super delegates.
BILL PRESS: Hey, she’s working for her mom. What’s unseemly about that? During the last campaign, the Bush twins were out working for their dad. I think it’s great, I think she’s grown up in a political family, she’s got politics in her blood, she loves her mom, she thinks she’d make a great president --
SHUSTER: But doesn’t it seem like Chelsea’s sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?
PRESS: No! If she didn’t want to be there she wouldn’t be there. Give Chelsea a break.
Media Matters has the following statement from NBC News President Steve Capus:
On Thursday’s “Tucker” on MSNBC, David Shuster, who was serving as guest-host of the program, made a comment about Chelsea Clinton and the Clinton campaign that was irresponsible and inappropriate. Shuster, who apologized this morning on MSNBC and will again this evening, has been suspended from appearing on all NBC News broadcasts, other than to make his apology. He has also extended an apology to the Clinton family. NBC News takes these matters seriously, and offers our sincere regrets to the Clintons for the remarks.
It’s too little too late from MSNBC at this point. Both apologies are here. The first is absolutely pathetic: “To the extent that people feel that I was being pejorative about the actions of Chelsea Clinton making these phone calls, to the extent that people feel that I was being pejorative, I apologize for that.”
As is the anchor banter that follows: “Anyone who knows David knows he was not being pejorative… we have to be transparent… we do a lot of live television and when we don’t hit a home run, we say it.” Huh??? Transparent???
Throughout his apology Schuster claims he made his comments within all kinds of praise for Chelsea. Media Matters knocked that down. Shuster’s a liar and the video shows it. But Media Matters has previously catalogued MSNBC’s extraordinarily odious and extensive record of misogynistic comments—“sexual harassment brought to you by MSNBC”—from its male anchors.
On the merits, Digby wonders:
Why on earth would anyone think it was “unseemly” for the 28 year old daughter of a presidential candidate to be “calling celebrities and superdelegates” on behalf of the campaign? What’s wrong with that?
She goes on to remind us that Mary & Liz Cheney served in their father’s campaign, Cate Edwards served in her father’s, and Romney’s five boys stumped for him, as does McCain’s daughter.
Atrios will give Press a pass on the comment, but not its underlying intent:
[W]hat I find worse is that it’s a general pattern of taking perfectly normal political activities - in this case a family member helping out with a campaign - and tlaking about it as if it’s unseemly, or corrupt, or inappropriate, or seedy, or sleazy, etc… The press has a long history of doing this with the Clintons, holding them to a weird standard that no one else is held to.
While I agree on the weird standard point, I’m not willing to give the language a pass. What I’m seeing in this campaign, the first with a viable woman candidate for president, is misogyny unleashed that deserves serious examination not
boys-will-be-boys anchors-will-be-anchors excuses. They’re paid one helluva lot of money, they have wasy disproportionate influence, their sexist language should not be tolerated.
Shuster should be fired and the rest of the MSNBC lot put on notice. I won’t be holding my breath.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Battling hospital-acquired infections. With checklists
Two million patients get bacterial infections from health-care workers each year. Nearly 100,000 of them die as a result.
Dr. Richard Shannon, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, believes these infections are preventable. He says medicine can learn from industry.
Shannon was interviewed on Fresh Air last week:
I spent time at Alcoa, where I learned the Alcoa business model as to how they went about identifying any unsafe condition that might pose a risk to a worker. And then Paul O’Neill exposed me to the Toyota production system model, where I went to Georgetown, Kentucky, and I watched them make automobiles. And Toyota is the world’s greatest manufacturer of automobiles because their processes are defect free. And I watched how they relentlessly pursued excellence by doing processes the same way every time. And that said to me, if we went back to hospitals and we took the same approach...we might be able to achieve similar sorts of very impressive results. [...]
I think that doctors and nurses are engaging in regular hand hygiene much more commonly. But are they doing it a hundred percent of the time? No. And what my point would be is they must do it a hundred percent of the time. In order to do that, we have to make that process simply a part of their work.
The interview with Shannon reminded me of a an outstanding New Yorker article from last December, THE CHECKLIST, If something so simple can transform intensive care, what else can it do? by Atul Gawande:
In 2001, though, a critical-care specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital named Peter Pronovost decided to give it a try. He didn’t attempt to make the checklist cover everything; he designed it to tackle just one problem, the one that nearly killed Anthony DeFilippo: line infections. On a sheet of plain paper, he plotted out the steps to take in order to avoid infections when putting a line in. Doctors are supposed to (1) wash their hands with soap, (2) clean the patient’s skin with chlorhexidine antiseptic, (3) put sterile drapes over the entire patient, (4) wear a sterile mask, hat, gown, and gloves, and (5) put a sterile dressing over the catheter site once the line is in. Check, check, check, check, check. These steps are no-brainers; they have been known and taught for years. So it seemed silly to make a checklist just for them. Still, Pronovost asked the nurses in his I.C.U. to observe the doctors for a month as they put lines into patients, and record how often they completed each step. In more than a third of patients, they skipped at least one.
The next month, he and his team persuaded the hospital administration to authorize nurses to stop doctors if they saw them skipping a step on the checklist; nurses were also to ask them each day whether any lines ought to be removed, so as not to leave them in longer than necessary. This was revolutionaryâ€¦ The new rule made it clear: if doctors didn’t follow every step on the checklist, the nurses would have backup from the administration to intervene.
Pronovost and his colleagues monitored what happened for a year afterward. The results were so dramatic that they weren’t sure whether to believe them: the ten-day line-infection rate went from eleven per cent to zeroâ€¦ They calculated that, in this one hospital, the checklist had prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, and saved two million dollars in costs. [...]
The checklists provided two main benefits, Pronovost observed. First, they helped with memory recall, especially with mundane matters that are easily overlooked in patients undergoing more drastic eventsâ€¦ A second effect was to make explicit the minimum, expected steps in complex processes. Pronovost was surprised to discover how often even experienced personnel failed to grasp the importance of certain precautionsâ€¦ Checklists established a higher standard of baseline performance.
So if checklists are so good, why haven’t we heard more about them?
Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” tells the story of our first astronauts, and charts the demise of the maverick, Chuck Yeager test-pilot culture of the nineteen-fifties. It was a culture defined by how unbelievably dangerous the job was. Test pilots strapped themselves into machines of barely controlled power and complexity, and a quarter of them were killed on the job. The pilots had to have focus, daring, wits, and an ability to improvise-the right stuff. But as knowledge of how to control the risks of flying accumulated-as checklists and flight simulators became more prevalent and sophisticated-the danger diminished, values of safety and conscientiousness prevailed, and the rock-star status of the test pilots was gone.
Something like this is going on in medicine. We have the means to make some of the most complex and dangerous work we do-in surgery, emergency care, and I.C.U. medicine-more effective than we ever thought possible. But the prospect pushes against the traditional culture of medicine, with its central belief that in situations of high risk and complexity what you want is a kind of expert audacity-the right stuff, again. Checklists and standard operating procedures feel like exactly the opposite, and that’s what rankles many people.
The still limited response to Pronovost’s work may be easy to explain, but it is hard to justify. If someone found a new drug that could wipe out infections with anything remotely like the effectiveness of Pronovost’s lists, there would be television ads with Robert Jarvik extolling its virtues, detail men offering free lunches to get doctors to make it part of their practice, government programs to research it, and competitors jumping in to make a newer, better versionâ€¦ But, with the checklist, what we have is Peter Pronovost trying to see if maybe, in the next year or two, hospitals in Rhode Island and New Jersey will give his idea a try.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Poverty in the South
According to new figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, our country still has a poverty problem: over 38 million U.S. Americans live below the poverty line, 13.3% of the population.
What’s striking is how completely the South dominates the list of states ravaged by poverty. Despite all those banks in Charlotte and all that Coke in Atlanta, eleven of the 15 states with the highest poverty rates are in the South:
STATE & PERCENT LIVING IN POVERTY
1 - Mississippi, 21%
2 - Louisiana, 20.2%
3 - New Mexico, 18.4%
4 - District of Columbia, 18.3%
5 - West Virginia, 18%
6 - Texas, 17.5%
7 - Arkansas, 17.2%
8 - Alabama, 16.9%
8 - Kentucky, 16.9%
10 - Oklahoma, 16.4%
11 - Tennessee, 15.6%
11 - South Carolina, 15.6%
13 - North Carolina, 14.9%
14 - Montana, 14.6%
15 - Georgia, 14.5%
Or another way to look at it: every Southern state except Florida and Virginia fall in the bottom 15.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Grady illustrates safety-net crisis
To generations of Georgians, this city is unimaginable without Grady. Yet that has been the prospect facing the region for the last year, the result of a multimillion-dollar shortfall in the cost of providing charity and emergency care that no one - not the counties, the state nor the federal government - has been willing to cover, though Grady provides vital services to the entire region.
Once admired for its skill in treating a population afflicted by both social and physical ills, Grady, a teaching hospital, now faces the prospect of losing its accreditation. Only short-term financial transfusions have kept it from closing its doors, as Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles County did last year. That scenario would flood the region’s other hospitals with uninsured patients and eliminate the training ground for one of every four Georgia doctors. [...]
Although the hospital is unique in many ways, the code red at Grady is emblematic of the crippling effect America’s health care crisis has had on public hospitals around the nation. Though Grady is among the most distressed of the country’s 1,300 public hospitals, others have faced similar challenges in recent years, including those in Miami, Memphis and Chicago, said Larry S. Gage, president of the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems. There are 300 fewer public hospitals today than 15 years ago, with hospitals having closed in Los Angeles, Washington, St. Louis and Milwaukee, Mr. Gage said.
Monday, January 07, 2008
Misogyny and racism in the campaign
Ezra Klein’s pal David Roberts, a staff writer at Grist, sent him this e-mail:
I’ll grant upfront that my thoughts on misogyny and racism in the campaign are somewhat fraught, since as your run-of-the-mill privileged white dude, I hardly have the most direct window into their effects. Nonetheless, I’ll venture an observation: misogyny is a much bigger player in this election than racism.
When Obama and Clinton first started running, I cringed in advance. I expected all sorts of crude race and gender stereotypes to come bubbling up-not only from the right, where you’d expect it, but from the media and even from some quarters of the left.
When it comes to racism, I’ve been somewhat surprised to find that I was wrong. Very little of the narrative around Obama’s run has touched on race; very few of the attacks on him have been coded racism, and those that have-the occasional mention of his drug use, the links to his “madrassa"-have come off as unspeakably crude and sunk like a stone,registering only in the fever swamps. If anything, the perception of Obama as “post-racial” (yes, I know there’s no such thing) has been an asset, almost an insulator. (Expect that to change, obviously, if he makes it to the general. Jonah Goldberg’s “the coloreds will riot!” post of last week is a preview.)
On misogyny, though, I’ve been shocked in the other direction: it’s been more overt, more odious, and more unashamed that I could have predicted. The serial depictions of Clinton in the media (and yes, in blogs and op-eds both right and left) are a veritable hit parade of stereotypes about women: She’s humorless. No, she cackles. She’s a cold robot. No, she’s a hysterical crybaby. She wears ugly pant suits. No, she’s showing too much cleavage. Virgin, whore. Ballbreaker, weakling. Chris Matthews has been the standard-bearer here, but he’s just the leader of an astonishingly large chorus of crude gender resentment-a chorus that lamentably contains quite a few women.
I’m not a Hillary voter, for any number of reasons. I happen to think she’s the wrong candidate for the historical moment. But I’d be crying too if I were her. This stuff is just gross.
REMEMBER TOO: Kathleen Hall Jamieson on the avalanche of misogyny directed at Hillary Clinton.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Benjamin Barber on building walls
Benjamin Barber has a new book out:
Consumed, about how the global economy produces too many goods we don’t need, too few of those we do need, and, to keep the racket going, targets children as consumers in a market where shopping is a twenty-four hour business. Capitalism, he says, “seems quite literally to be consuming itself, leaving democracy in peril and the fate of citizens uncertain.”
That from Bill Moyers Journal. Here’s more:
BENJAMIN BARBER: I mean to say the instability, the weak state systems, the economic poverty that disables societies, create a climate within which terrorism and fundamentalism can grow. So we are ignoring an inequality that is going to come and haunt us. In fact, we are living, today, in a new world of walls. You know, what we think is that every time you see some inequality, build a wall. Gated community here in the US. A wall between us and Mexico. A wall between Israel and the Palestinians.
Isn’t it ironic, Bill, that, what is it? Seventeen years after the fall of the wall which was the emblem of totalitarianism in Berlin, and between east and west in Europe, we have now turned to the wall as our primary defense against even seeing the inequalities, let alone in dealing with the inequalities that our capitalism is creating.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Dangerous deer? (reprise)
In light of my recent collision with a deer, I thought I’d re-post this one from last year...
Georgia ranks 5th in the number of deer collisions; State Farm Insurance says “deer whistles” have been proven ineffective. John Berman had a report on GMA yesterday that advised, “If you see the deer, don’t swerve, don’t be afraid, hit it if you have to.”
Swell. And what can we do for the deer? Berman says, “One solution is creating wildlife under passes...surveillance video from a study conducted in Virginia shows that given an option, deer will cross under a busy highway, avoiding the dangers above.”
Huh? That’s it? I’m thinking they picked that solution because they had the video (I don’t) of deer using an underpass rather than because that’s the best idea anyone’s thought up.
None of these stories has bupkis to say about real solutions to a real problem!
So I went looking and here’s what I found:
Currently, there are approximately eight does for every buck in the wild. Laws restrict the number of does that hunters may kill. Deer do not have monogamous mating relationships, and bucks will often mate with more than one female. As a result, the ratio of does to bucks sets the stage for a population explosion.
Allowing hunters to kill more does, however, does not resolve population problems. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the open hunting of does left fawns without mothers, and removed too many females from the breeding population. Sport hunting decimated deer populations in many states. As a result, states passed laws restricting the hunting of does. These policies have contributed to the overpopulation of deer.
Hunting does remove some animals from the population, but it does not keep deer populations at a continually reduced level. Immediately after a hunt, the remaining animals flourish because less competition for food exists, allowing the remaining animals to live healthier lives, and resulting in a higher reproductive rate.
Left alone by humans, the ratio of does to bucks would be approximately equal.
They want hunting banned. But that’s not all:
Many national, private, and state owned lands are open to logging… Companies demolish large stands of trees, rather than selectively taking trees from different stands of timber. This practice ill effects animals dependent on trees for food and cover. It also creates fields of additional “browse” vegetation for deer, causing a surge in deer population attributable to the introduction of this food source.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Ban sport hunting.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Reintroduce natural predators, such as wolves and mountain lions, where possible.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Maintain existing populations of natural predators.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Ban clear-cut logging.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Allow fires to burn naturally in wildlife areas. Limit new human habitations in wildlife areas, decreasing the risk of property damage in the event of a fire, and making controlled burns a more acceptable wildlife management tool.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Prevent humans in residential areas, state parks, and federal parks from feeding deer. Deer should be reliant on their own habitat for food.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Erect high fencing around crops and plants. Electric and sturdy fencing increase the effectiveness of this deterrent. Fences should be at least eight feet high and buried one foot deep. Openings in the fence should be small. Contact a university agricultural extension office or landscape business before purchasing and installing your fencing.
We’ve got a deer problem and, while media stories show empty pictures and laugh at what they think are funny deer stories, that problem’s getting worse. One thing is clear to me, we’d all benefit from more humane education.
Friday, December 21, 2007
A national failure to treat and rehabilitate troubled youth
Mark Sorkin looks at 19-year-old high school dropout Robert Hawkins who had a history of depression, family troubles, drug use and criminal activity and spent time in the Nebraska’s foster care, juvenile justice and behavioral health systems before shooting thirteen people in the Omaha Westroads Mall on December 5.
What he sees in Hawkins’s life and violent death is a broad failure of the state’s juvenile justice and mental health systems. And, he says, Nebraska’s failures mirror those of many states:
Since 1974, the year a landmark study on the state’s juvenile justice system was published, the population of children under 17 in Nevada has decreased by 30,000, yet the number of juveniles arrested each year has remained constant and the number of youth in treatment centers has spiked. In 2004 more than 10,000 children were housed in state institutions, a higher per capita rate than any other state in the country. Most wards of the state are status, or nonviolent, offenders, yet they are punished as criminals rather than receiving the necessary treatment for their addictions and behavioral disorders. The state’s juvenile justice system houses a disproportionately high number of minority youth (in 2006 nearly 40 percent of all juvenile arrests in Nebraska were minorities, even though they account for about 10 percent of the youth population), and from 2003 to 2006 the number of juveniles serving in adult prisons increased by nearly 20 percent.
This information is lifted from “Spare Some Change: An Account of the Nebraska Juvenile Justice and Children’s Behavioral Health Systems,” a report released [Tuesday] by the advocacy group Voices for Children in Nebraska. According to executive director Kathy Bigsby Moore’s introductory remarks, the report “presents a synthesis of the many Nebraska studies, reports and plans that have been put forth for more than thirty years, and provides exemplary models and practices that can be implemented if Nebraska policy makers will simply ‘Spare Some Change’ within the state legislative and budget setting process.” [...]
A report of this scope was, of course, well under way before Hawkins unleashed his deadly rampage in Omaha. But the timing of its release, as Moore acknowledged at a press conference [Tuesday], may bring heightened attention to its findings. “I think the recent set of events reinforces everything that this report is saying,” she said.
On that point, consider Hawkins’s interaction with the Nevada juvenile justice system in August 2006. That month Hawkins, who had recently turned 18, failed another in a series of drug tests and was sent back to jail on a disorderly conduct charge. On August 21 he met with his caseworker, who, according to the Omaha World-Herald, “recommended getting outpatient counseling and ending the court’s jurisdiction rather than the residential treatment discussed at the previous hearing.”
“I think that the department has offered many services to this young man, and he has received a lot of help along the way,” the caseworker said. “I’m not quite sure that we’re benefiting him anymore with requiring certain services for him. I think he needs to find some fulfillment from within.”
It is clear to me that the problem of youth violence is a problem of adult failings - failings as parents, failings as voters and failings as policy makers. It may be easier to criminalize kids’ behaviors, blame schools, and vote for tougher criminal penalties than it is to act in the interest of our kids, but we will all pay the price in the end.
There is a group working here in Georgia, JUST Georgia, to rewrite the state’s Juvenile Justice Code. If you live in Georgia, get to know them. If you live elsewhere, find out who’s doing something in your state. The Nebraska report is a resource:
At forty-eight pages, the report is impressively thorough. It includes, among other things, a discussion on the history and intricacies of juvenile justice and behavioral health services, particularly in Nebraska but also at the national level; a brief analysis of current scientific research on adolescent brain development; and an overview of some of the nation’s most successful strategies for handling youthful offenders, such as the famous “Missouri model,” the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change program. Any of these programs, the report suggests, would bring significant improvement to the status quo in Nebraska. (The report also includes a two-page bullet-point summary of recommendations for policy-makers.)
Our kids are our future and our hope. They need us. NOW!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Midwest Teen Sex Show says, “choose abstinence”
More from MTSS.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Britney’s little sister Jamie Lynne is pregnant at 16
Davey D wonders, should we blame hip hop?
So yesterday word came down that Britney Spear’s little sister Jamie Lynne is pregnant at age 16. Yep, the little sis who is a frequently trotted out as a role model on the Nickalodean channel. This comes at the heals of her mom getting ready to drop a book on parenting. How ironic is that?
I’m not gonna take any sort of glee in that. Teenagers getting pregnant has been going on since human beings showed up on the face of the earth. It happens. I’m just wondering what will happen in the aftermath. For example will conservatives trot Lynne Spears out and give her major kudos for NOT getting an abortion? Or will they pound their chests and say this is the result of not teaching enough abstinence? I’m asking this because Lynn who lives in the Bible belt comes from a place where teaching abstinence is mandatory… maybe that course of action ain’t working.
Cynthia Tucker recently opined in the AJC that Bush policies are to blame for the sudden increase in teen births. And the number of states refusing federal money for “abstinence-only” sex education programs jumped sharply in the past year as evidence mounted that the approach is ineffective.
I do know that we are already hearing praises being heaped upon her for ‘being responsible’ and keeping the child. We rarely hear those praises for young Black and Brown mothers who have kids at a young age. We look at them and say the country is in crises. ... Jamie Lynn’s boyfriend-Casey Aldridge. He’s 19 years old. Now I know many of you who are reading this will say what’s the big deal? Teenagers are teenagers? In a sexually charged environment should we not be surprised that folks get together?
Well lets keep this in mind several years ago a young man who was an honor student and home coming king by the name of Genarlow Wilson was sentenced to 10 years in prison for having oral sex with his 15 year old girl friend. Wilson was 17 at the time. His sentence was recently overturned, but not after he had to under go the horrors of being in the state pen for a few years. Will the heavy hand of the law come down on Jamie Lynn’s boyfriend? Isn’t it against the law to have sex with a minor? Here in the Bay Area about 10-11 years ago, rap star Ray Luv spent a year in jail after it was discovered thathe got with a 16 year old while he was 19 and we are liberal as hell. What’s gonna happen to this Casey guy? It’s interesting to note that many of the news agencies aren’t stating his age. Instead they are sugar coating things by saying things like ‘long time boyfriend’ and ‘boyfriend who she met in church’.... mmmmmm thats the sort of thing that makes you wonder. Lets keep an eye on this one folks…
CNN reports it. In entertainment news:
Spears, the star of Nickelodeon’s “Zoey 101,” told OK! Magazine that she’s pregnant and that the father is her 18-year-old boyfriend. [...]
In Louisiana, where Spears lives, it is a misdemeanor for someone age 17 to 19 to have consensual sex with someone age 15 to 17 if the difference between their ages is more than two years.
In California, where she sometimes tapes her television show, it’s a misdemeanor to have sex with someone younger than 18 if the offender is less than three years older. Someone more than three years older could be charged with a felony.
We need statutory rape reform. Let’s stop criminalizing our kids for being kids!
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Is there anything Stephen Fry can’t do? Damnably versatile without ever exhibiting a hint of undue exertion, Fry is an actor of plummy aplomb on stage, screen, and telly (the imperturbable Jeeves to Hugh Laurie’s sputtering-tea kettle Bertie Wooster), a film director, a novelist, a playwright, a memoirist, the author of an inspirational how-to book on versifying, and the presenter of a travel series about the US of A, which prompts the image of Oscar Wilde (whom Fry portrayed on screen) entertaining the mining camps of Montana.
Fame. It’s an embarrassing thing to talk about, for all that it is a national/global obsession. It is one of the few apparently desirable human qualities that Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ no, what am I talking about Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ it is not a quality. It is not like courage, mercy, kindness, strength, beauty or patience; or laziness, dishonesty, greed or cruelty for that matter. What is different about fame, I was going to say, is that it is so contingent. If you are tolerant or strong or wise, you are tolerant and strong and wise wherever you are on the planet that day. You don’t become bigoted, feeble and dim-witted the moment you cross a continent. Famous people however, can become entirely unknown the second they leave their homeland. Only the World Famous are famous everywhere, and there are precious few of them. They used to claim Mohammed Ali was about as well-known as a human could be, the same was said of Charlie Chaplin and Elvis. Who now? Osama bin Laden? Michael Jackson? Robbie Williams can walk around Los Angeles without being recognised and they say Johnny Carson was so surprised/irked/mortified at going unremarked in London whenever he showed up, as he did regularly for Wimbledon Fortnight, that he arranged for British TV to carry his Tonight Show at a reduced rate. Martha Stewart can travel by Tube unspotted, but not by Subway. And so on. As for myself, well, I mean next to nothing in Italy, but seem to strike a chord in Russia. Don’t ask.
Fame has this unusual property. It exists only in the mind of others. It is not an intrinsic characteristic, feature or achievement. Fame is wholly an exterior construct and yet, for all that it is defined by other people’s knowledge of a given person, they cannot dismantle or deactivate the fame that their knowledge engenders. What an ugly sentence. I mean this. We cannot, however much we may want to, make someone unfamous. We can make them infamous, unfashionable, notorious, despised or derided but the more we do so the more we actually increase their level of fame. Fame is a function of memory. I can’t impel you to forget Adam Sandler, for example, any more than I can instruct you to forget Jack the Ripper or the Jolly Green Giant. Indeed, as I’ve suggested, to urge someone to forget is worse than useless. It’s like the well-known procedure of telling someone not to think of something specific and odd, a yellow panda, for example. Go on, do not think of a yellow panda. [...]
All of which leads me to this obvious point. It is no good everyone repeating that tiresome clichÃƒÂ© about x, y and z ‘only being famous for being famous’ - their fame exists in our heads and it is therefore our fault, not theirs, if fault there is.
Adds Wolcott, “this is why it’s such a steaming vat of bad faith when the press acts as if celebrities who are hounded the moment they meet outdoor air...deserve the grief they get as a penalty tax for their fame, casting them in the role of molestation victims who were ‘asking for it.’”
Read the whole blessay. But if you plan not to at least read “The Tom Cruise Eye-Contact Canard.” I’ve quoted it after the jump.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Calls in Sudan for execution of Teddy Bear teacher
Today we add Sudan:
Hundreds of demonstrators in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, poured into the streets on Friday demanding the execution of a British teacher who was convicted of insulting Islam because her class of 7-year-olds named a teddy bear Muhammad.
The protesters, some carrying swords, screamed, “Shame, shame on the U.K.!” and, “Kill her, kill her by firing squad.”
They were calling for the death of Gillian Gibbons, the teacher who was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in jail. Under Sudanese law, she could have spent six months behind bars and received 40 lashes.
I’m imagining the inevitable Nixon-like reconsideration of George W. Bush’s presidency 35 years from now. Then we’ll say his construction of the fight we’re in now as similar in some ways to that against Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini was essentially correct. But such an observation would not vindicate the incompetence of the man. Rather, it makes what he’s done with his presidency all the more tragic.
UPDATES: On Friday the NYTimes had a story on the Saudi rape, Saudi Rape Case Spurs Calls for Reform and ABC’s 20/20 did a story on the French boy raped in Dubai. His mother has put up a website, boycottdubai.com.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Maybe the best rehab is to send prisoners to parties
So says Michael Moore:
Via Towleroad’s Guide to the Tube #201
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Can a 9-year-old be a rapist?
I don’t think so. He can be sick; he can need help or treatment. But a criminal rapist in the sense that I understand it? The answer is just plain no!
I’ve been watching this story since it broke, speechless and wondering. How can a rational evaluation of even the basic facts be made through the filter of a sensationalist market press that has only one interest - making money.
A 9-year-old rapist is a market opportunity, three a market bonanza in today’s media ecology. Most especially, it seems, here in the Bible Belt. One of the boys is characterized as a third grader at a local Baptist school and a batboy for his church’s softball league.
We know that factoid for what reason except as an exclamation point for our disgusted outrage?
The only reasoned response I’ve seen is digby’s:
I do not have any doubt that it’s possible that these boys “raped” this girl. The legal definition doesn’t require penetration (and for all I know maybe that happened too.) If they did it, then they need to be dealt with in the juvenile system and given intense psychological counseling.
But what if it was “consensual” in the sense that the kids were all playing a game or the boys thought they were, or any number of other possible scenarios? Remember, we are talking about 8 and 9 year olds. They’re all hardly more than babies. No matter what it was, it cannot, by definition, be legally equivalent to a gang rape by adults or even teen-agers.
But this police chief says that even if it was a game or there were some other mitigating factors, the girl cannot, under the law, consent. Again, I’m not saying that it couldn’t have happened just as this little girl said it did. But it’s obvious to me that if an 8 year old can’t consent to sex --- which I agree, she can’t --- it’s equally clear that 8 and 9 year old boys cannot “rape” in the legal sense.
American culture has always been violent and somewhat backwards in these ways, at least compared to other first world countries. But in the last couple of decades we seem to be nurturing it to the extent we have lost all common sense and certainly any sense of proportion. Arresting little boys on charges of felony rape is not only ridiculous on it’s face, it demeans the entire justice system.
There is such a thing as prosecutorial discretion, something that is in very short supply in the Georgia legal system, apparently.
I whole-heartedly blame the prosecutor, but it’s the population that needs to wake up.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The Older Boyfriend
WSJ Online on the Older Boyfriend episode:
One early-episode joke was a crash course in dealing with viewer feedback and balancing the show’s tone with acceptable taste. In “The Older Boyfriend” episode, Ms. Hasler says, “If you’re in junior high and you’re dating someone who’s out of high school, he’s a pedophile. And pedophilia’s a disease. Would you date someone with cancer? No.”
The remark drew a torrent of angry responses on the program’s Web site, and in emails. But Ms. Hasler remains unapologetic. “We have no intention of changing our style or changing the type of humor we use,” she says. “We’re going to make the same jokes that cause the same amount of controversy.”
Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
I’ve been making my way through Nova’s look at the Dover, PA court case brought by parents after the school board voted to include a statement about Intelligent Design in the biology curriculum.
I’m watching with my nephew - a product of Dover schools - who now lives with me. He was there for the fourth through seventh grades (and yells at the screen, “I know him/her!"). His brother still lives in Dover.
The Nova piece is available for viewing online beginning tomorrow. My antipathy to reenactments aside, it’s an excellent portrayal of what happened. Here’s the preview: