aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Off to PA…
After a terrific Christmas with Doug’s family in Athens, GA, we’re off to see mine in PA. Driving! Blogging will be sporadic through to the New Year.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
From my family to yours…
TJ (my nephew), me (holding Jake) & Doug (holding Baci)
Racist history debate misses the point
Bruce Bartlett is an interesting Republican. A Reagan supply-side policy adviser and George H. W. Bush deputy assistant treasury secretary, I have quoted him for his clear opposition to hair-brained Flat Tax proposals and for calling out the current Bush White House for the Jeff Gannon press plant.
Bartlett’s got a new book out, Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past:
It basically argues that, historically speaking, the Democratic Party has been the party of racism in this country throughout most of its existence. I am hopeful that the book will open the door to Republicans in the black community. For their own good, I think African American voters need to be courted by both parties. As it is, they are essentially ignored by both--the Democrats take them for granted, while Republicans have given up hope and don’t even try to get black votes any more.
Bartlett’s bugged that Dems (in the guise of Paul Krugman) see Ronald Reagan declaring his secret sympathy for Southern racism in a 1980 speech he gave near Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. There Reagan said he supported “states’ rights.”
In the Wall Street Journal yesterday Bartlett gathered a long list of quotes from prominent Democrats:
[I]f a single mention of states’ rights 27 years ago is sufficient to damn the Republican Party for racism ever afterwards, what about the 200-year record of prominent Democrats who didn’t bother with code words? They were openly and explicitly for slavery before the Civil War, supported lynching and “Jim Crow” laws after the war, and regularly defended segregation and white supremacy throughout most of the 20th century.
Matt Yglesias will have none of it. He sees a 30-40 year Democratic intra-party battle between urban northern African-Americans and white liberals and the white supremacist agenda of the South in which the good Dems win:
The political views of the Southern Democrats were unconscionably evil, and the corrupt bargain national Democratic Party figures struck with them was a terrible thing. But in a series of intense political battles, the Democratic Party eventually broke decisively with that heritage, prompting breakaway segregationist campaigns in 1948 and 1968 and eventually leading the bulk of the white supremacist constituency to drift to the Republican Party.
The significance of the history of race in America—and of the centrality of the Democrats’ corrupt bargain with white supremacy to American political history—really shouldn’t be minimized. But what it shows is that the Democratic Party’s decision to embrace the civil rights movement and the Republican Party’s decision to embrace opposition to civil rights has been integral to the Republican Party’s political successes toward the end of the 20th century.
My problem with our Democratic position is that we treat Civil Rights like a done deal. Where Bartlett’s chosen Krugman’s book, The Conscience of a Liberal, to get riled up about, I choose Tom Schaller’s, Whistling Past Dixie, in which he very clearly suggests we tactically use Southern racism as “a burdensome stone to hang around the Republicans’ neck” (on page 18). You just have to wonder, if Dems are using racism as a winning strategy, where is their motivation to do something about it?
I see a whole lot of people pointing to the South when they talk about racism, but the race problem in America is simply not a Southern problem. It is a national problem that I have argued is the central moral failing and the deepest open wound we have in this country. And Obama’s dilemma suggests to me that Democrats, too, are way too comfortable with the status quo.
I’m not satisfied with the place race relations and racial issues hold in the Democratic party. It seems to me that Democrats are vulnerable to the argument that they take the black vote for granted and I don’t think the fact that they do more than Republicans is enough. I’d be happy to see either Democrats or Republicans respond to Bartlett’s challenge with something more than name calling in the place of action.
PLEASE SEE ALSO: Blacks get screwed. It’s time we build a screwdriver.
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.
Christmas Eve @ our house
The Economist: Linus Torvalds should be rightly proud
From the third of The Economist’s Technology in 2008 three fearless predictions:
Linux has swiftly become popular in small businesses and the home.
That’s largely the doing of Gutsy Gibbon, the code-name for the Ubuntu 7.10 from Canonical. Along with distributions such as Linspire, Mint, Xandros, OpenSUSE and gOS, Ubuntu (and its siblings Kubuntu, Edubuntu and Xubuntu) has smoothed most of Linux’s geeky edges while polishing it for the desktop.
No question, Gutsy Gibbon is the sleekest, best integrated and most user-friendly Linux distribution yet. It’s now simpler to set up and configure than Windows. A great deal of work has gone into making the graphics, and especially the fonts, as intuitive and attractive as the Mac’s.
Like other Linux desktop editions, Ubuntu works perfectly well on lowly machines that couldn’t hope to run Windows XP, let alone Vista Home Edition or Apple’s OS-X.
Your correspondent has been happily using Gutsy Gibbon on a ten-year-old desktop with only 128 megabytes of RAM and a tiny 10 gigabyte hard-drive. When Michael Dell, the boss of Dell Computers, runs Ubuntu on one of his home systems, Linux is clearly doing many things right.
And because it is free, Linux become the operating system of choice for low-end PCs. It started with Nicholas Negroponte, the brains behind the One Laptop Per Child project that aims to deliver computerised education to children in the developing world. His clever XO laptop, costing less than $200, would never have seen the light of day without its clever Linux operating system.
But Mr Negroponte has done more than create one of the world’s most ingenious computers. With a potential market measured in the hundreds of millions, he has frightened a lot of big-time computer makers into seeing how good a laptop they can build for less than $500.
All start with a desktop version of Linux. Recent arrivals include the Asus Eee from Taiwan, which lists for $400. The company expects to sell close on four million Eees this financial year. Another Taiwanese maker, Everex, is selling its gPC desktop through Walmart for $199.
When firms are used to buying $1,000 office PCs running Vista Business Edition and loading each with a $200 copy of Microsoft Office, the attractions of a sub-$500 computer using a free operating system like Linux and a free productivity suite like OpenOffice suddenly become very compelling.
And that’s not counting the $20,000 or more needed for Microsoft’s Exchange and SharePoint server software. Again, Linux provides such server software for free.
Pundits agree: neither Microsoft nor Apple can compete at the new price points being plumbed by companies looking to cut costs. With open-source software maturing fast, Linux, OpenOffice, Firefox, MySQL, Evolution, Pidgin and some 23,000 other Linux applications available for free seem more than ready to fill that gap. By some reckonings, Linux fans will soon outnumber Macintosh addicts. Linus Torvalds should be rightly proud.
Andrew Sullivan’s sexist id
Queer misogyny doesn’t receive much attention these days but it’s alive and living in our community.
Andrew Sullivan should know better. He comes dangerously close to slipping down that slippery misogynistic slope aimed at Hillary.
On The Chris Matthews Show yesterday:
Mr. SULLIVAN: Then go to the end of the year, where I think the real one-liner happened when it was brought up in that debate with Obama and Clinton about his foreign policy advice and whether he was relying on Clinton’s advisers and how then could he have a new change. And she laughed this devilish cackle that she’s now become known for, which in itself might be the--one of the one-liners of the year. `I’d like to see how he’d answer that,’ she said.
MATTHEWS: I love that--devilish cackle. Where’d you come up with that?
Mr. SULLIVAN: Somewhere in my id.
A Newsweek Periscope piece labeled “Race” say the Revs. Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young and Al Sharpton are lost in the Obama era:
At times they can seem like jealous, cranky old men, as in December when Young suggested Bill Clinton was “every bit as black as Barack.” Or when Jackson said Obama was “acting white’’ by skipping a giant rally for the Jena Six.
But it’s not just jealousy. They are also frustrated by mainstream voters’ eager embrace of an African-American raised without a traditional African-American experience-who’s not, in other words, an “angry black man.” Reared in Hawaii by white grandparents, Obama didn’t have a family history of segregation and Jim Crow laws. And sources close to all three reverends say the men are hurt that Obama hasn’t sought their advice, even privately. (Still, Jackson has endorsed Obama.) The leaders appreciate Obama’s dilemma. They know he’d lose many white voters if he reached out to leaders known primarily for advocating black issues. Obama’s refrain is that there is just one America. It may be what America wants to hear-but the three lions of the old school couldn’t disagree more.
It seems to me that those old lions are right. I’ll be happy as can be if Obama’s elected, but what is the likelihood of him doing something substantive about race relations or racial inequality in America?
If “Obama’s dilemma” means that because he’s a black man he can only be elected if he minimizes race and acts every bit as much the centrist status quo as Hillary or Edwards, why should those who value racial equality embrace him?
Dr. Ronald Walters, the director of the African American Leadership Center at the University of Maryland, worked for both of Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns. He said this on Bill Moyers Journal about the Oprah tour:
I looked at this spectacle the other day of Michelle and Oprah and Barack-- three black people in front of this sea of white faces in Iowa. I said, “That’s amazing.” But when you look at who they are they don’t, for example, take very strong issues having to do with race. They have made part of the professional and their political life dealing with the problems of whites. They are trusted in those communities. And, therefore, they have a right to be there. That’s historically important.
And Salim Muwakkil wrote this about The Post Civil Rights Fallacy for In These Times:
[T]he media has been awash in assessments of a new cohort of black leadership. These neophytes are generally described as well-educated (often Ivy Leaguers), non-ideological coalition builders-in that they were not nurtured in the race-tinged battleground of the civil rights movement.
The star players in this coterie are Obama, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford, Alabama Rep. Artur Davis, Philadelphia mayoral candidate Michael Nutter and a few others.
These attractive newcomers are being cast as the harbingers of a new America, a nation untroubled by the ogre of rank racism. Race-focused leadership, like that expressed by the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jackson, are to be relegated to another era, a 20th century paradigm.
These ideas are part of a hardening notion that the protest mode is an ineffective way to redress the racial problems of the 21st century. Increasing numbers of commentators are stressing the need for African Americans to place more focus on internal social and moral reform than on external protests for civil rights. This is hardly a new debate. In fact, it was the core disagreement between W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington at the beginning of the 20th century. [...]
Obama is a black politician seeking national consensus. If he responded to every expression of racial bias, he would alienate his supporters who believe we live in post-civil rights America. However, some African Americans are uncomfortable that Obama’s prospects for success are enhanced by a state of racial denial.
I’m all for the new leaders. But they’ve got some big old problems to solve. If the only way they can get elected is to deny those problems, I’m just not sure there’s much progress is being made.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The Negative Spaces of Copyright
The Boston Globe has a piece today, Creative vigilantes, about how magicians, chefs, and stand-up comics are protecting their creative property without the law. The piece suggests this could be one future for intellectual property:
Over the past 15 years, the rise of digital technology and the global economy has made it ever easier to copy, distribute, and profit from the fruits of other people’s creativity - from the new Fergie album spreading across peer-to-peer networks to pirated “Spider-Man” DVDs showing up on the streets of Shanghai. In response, American lawmakers have instituted increasingly sweeping laws, seeking to stymie intellectual-property theft with lengthier copyright terms and more stringent consequences for violators. Without these measures, they reason, innovators will lose money, and innovation will suffer.
In something as simple as the public outcry of a Hollywood jokester, [Christopher] Sprigman, an associate professor of law at the University of Virginia, sees an approach that he hopes could put the lie to this thinking, and turn the heads of lawmakers. He sees a comedian enforcing respect for originality [expletive-laden video] without resorting to legislation, lawyers, or the courts. He sees intellectual property being protected - not by the strong arm of the government, but by way of the very technologies that have incited stronger laws in the first place.
“People usually talk about how the Internet destroys intellectual property,” says Sprigman. “But here the Internet enforces intellectual property. It helps to protect creativity by shaming pirates.”
Comedy is not the only creative industry in which scholars are finding evidence that challenges assumptions held on Capitol Hill. Over the past two years, a flurry of papers have appeared on so-called “negative spaces” of intellectual-property law - industries that receive little to no legal protection for their ideas or products, yet that continue to innovate, often at a rapid clip. Articles have already appeared about high fashion, haute cuisine, and professional magic, with another planned by Sprigman and a colleague about stand-up comedy. And already, Washington seems to be paying attention. Last July, Sprigman testified in Congress against a bill that would have tightened copyright control in the fashion industry; the fashionistas, he argued, are better off on their own. [READ ON]
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.
The Castle Doctrine
The talk of the town this week here is a violent home invasion in which the invader shot the homeowner and was shot and killed himself by the homeowner’s son. As it happens, on the Talk of the Nation Thursday the focus was the Castle Doctrine:
The Castle Doctrine allows law-abiding citizens attacked in their own homes (their “castles") to respond with force, even deadly force, to protect themselves - though the law varies from state to state. Self-defense laws are back in the spotlight after two recent cases in which intruders were shot and killed by homeowners.
Jonathan Turley, professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, had written about those two cases on his blog and was one of the guests.
He explains that “Castle Laws” or “make-my-day laws” came about because the common law rule believed that “it’s not worth shooting someone for property.” So these laws became a politically expedient way to get rid of that by saying that anytime someone enters your domicile or home you are allowed to use lethal force.
The problem is…
Prof. TURLEY: ...they pretty much solved the problem that didn’t exist; that juries really didn’t convict people that shot burglars, you know? You didn’t - it’s hard to find a jury that says, gosh, you know, you were really harsh with that guy that kicked the door of your room in.
So there wasn’t a great need to pass the law, but it’s very popular politically. It resonates with people. But the ironic thing is that the laws are almost always used in mistake cases; that they involve people who shoot their spouses and shoot their neighbors.
Actually, this is a seasonal thing. We see most of these cases during the holidays. When people get drunk, they go to a development with a like-looking house and get shot by their neighbors… they drop their keys and they go through that side window and they end up staring right down the barrel of a gun.
Turley says that, as a consequence, the drive for more of these laws has slowed.
Law or no law (ours passed in March of ‘06 - though you’d be hard-pressed to find someone prosecuted for shooting a home invader prior to that) the sentiment here favors the armed homeowner, even among those in the more liberal college crowd I run with.
With a small police force spread across a much larger geographical distance, I understand it in a way I never had before. I even shot a gun for the first time in my life after moving here. Still, I don’t expect I’ll be shooting one again any time soon.
An animal lover, in the last couple weeks I’ve hit a deer and a squirrel. I’m hardly alone:
Wildlife-related crashes are a growing problem on rural roads around the country. The accidents increased 50 percent from 1990 to 2004, based on the most recent federal data, according to the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University here.
The basic problem is that rural roads are being traveled by more and more people, many of them living in far-flung subdivisions… Ninety percent of the accidents occur on rural two-lane roads, and the most common animal involved is a deer.
It’s deadly - “the human death toll has risen from 111 in 1995 to around 200 in 2005” - and it’s costly:
The average cost of a deer collision is $8,000, including repair, towing and cleaning up the carcass, while hitting an elk averages $18,000. If the driver strikes a much larger moose, expenses average about $30,000.
The total cost of the accidents to insurance companies exceeds $1 billion a year, the institute estimates. Pennsylvania has the most vehicle-wildlife crashes. Drivers there struck nearly 97,000 deer in the last half of 2005 and first half of 2006, according to estimates by State Farm, the insurance company.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
NRA: high paid hot shots
Richard Feldman, a lawyer and the author of “Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist,” once worked for the NRA. Today he’s a critic of the organization.
In the WaPo he claims the main target of the lobbying group these days is its members’ checkbooks:
Harlon B. Carter, who created the modern NRA in the 1970s, earned about $70,000 a year (about $200,000 in today’s dollars) as executive vice president and was driven to meetings in the company Chevrolet. Wayne LaPierre, who currently sits upon the executive vice president throne, pocketed about $950,000 in 2005. The parking lot at the association’s twin-glass-towered headquarters off Interstate 66 in Virginia is filled with shiny new BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes.
What’s unseemly about the stratospheric six-figure salaries flowing into NRA leadership wallets is that the cash comes from hundreds of thousands of members who are hard pressed to write $35 annual membership renewal checks or send an extra $10 or $20 to the NRA Political Victory Fund to protect their guns. [...]
The media and anti-gun politicians make a mistake by engaging with the NRA, penning inflammatory headlines, threatening to crush the organization and salt the earth beneath its headquarters. They are just reminding the NRA faithful that they’re surrounded by enemies who threaten to batter down their doors and snatch their firearms. And all it results in is the constant “ka-ching” of cash rolling into NRA coffers.
If the threat to honest citizens’ right to own firearms ever dipped below the radar, so too would the association’s political might. That’s why the NRA leadership will never tolerate the give-and-take that makes up real problem-solving. It would be bad for business.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
The book follows up on last year’s New York Times Magazine piece, Unhappy Meals. In it he discussed how we’ve moved from a “food culture” to a “food science.” Once we received our guidance on what to eat from national, ethnic or regional cultures ("culture is really just a fancy word for Mom"). Today…
The sheer novelty and glamour of the Western diet, with its 17,000 new food products introduced every year, and the marketing muscle used to sell these products, has overwhelmed the force of tradition and left us where we now find ourselves: relying on science and journalism and marketing to help us decide questions about what to eat. Nutritionism, which arose to help us better deal with the problems of the Western diet, has largely been co-opted by it, used by the industry to sell more food and to undermine the authority of traditional ways of eating. You would not have read this far into this article if your food culture were intact and healthy; you would simply eat the way your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents taught you to eat. The question is, Are we better off with these new authorities than we were with the traditional authorities they supplanted? The answer by now should be clear.
It might be argued that, at this point in history, we should simply accept that fast food is our food culture. Over time, people will get used to eating this way and our health will improve. But for natural selection to help populations adapt to the Western diet, we’d have to be prepared to let those whom it sickens die. That’s not what we’re doing. Rather, we’re turning to the health-care industry to help us “adapt.” Medicine is learning how to keep alive the people whom the Western diet is making sick. It’s gotten good at extending the lives of people with heart disease, and now it’s working on obesity and diabetes. Capitalism is itself marvelously adaptive, able to turn the problems it creates into lucrative business opportunities: diet pills, heart-bypass operations, insulin pumps, bariatric surgery. But while fast food may be good business for the health-care industry, surely the cost to society - estimated at more than $200 billion a year in diet-related health-care costs - is unsustainable.
What to do? He opened his essay with a simple rule, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He closes with an elaboration:
...Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food… Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims… (The American Heart Association charges food makers for their endorsement.)… Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number… Get out of the supermarket whenever possible… Pay more, eat less… Americans spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their income on food, down from 24 percent in 1947, and less than the citizens of any other nation… Eat mostly plants, especially leaves… eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture… Cook. And if you can, plant a garden… Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet.
The book is high up on my Christmas list…
No glutton for punishment
Matt Hill Comer, 21, is an LGBT journalist, activist and youth advocate currently living and working in Charlotte, NC. He recently went back to his childhood church, Grapevine Baptist in Lewisville, N.C., - “where the stench of hatred, bigotry and oppression was, and still is, thick in the air” - to talk with the preacher there.
Matt was home for his 14-year-old brother’s birthday. He was motivated to go back and talk to the preacher by that brother’s telling of a Saturday night church youth rally. He took another brother along with him when he went.
Matt’s tale of that awkward homecoming was found on his blog by the Grapevine choir director. From his comment to Matt’s post we learn that he knew Matt as a child. And that he had been present for Matt’s conversation with the preacher.
The choir director’s love-the-sinner justification of the church’s rejection of Matt is one familiar to and experienced by most all gay people. Strong and vulnerable, thoughtful and sensitive, and brave and honest throughout, in Matt’s response to the choir director we see he can give as good as he gets:
Bro. Tarron, you are overweight correct? You are overweight to so much of an extent that you are, without a doubt, obese, correct? I’d dare say that your obesity is bordering on morbid obesity. There are also many other members of Grapevine guilty of the same sin of gluttony, far many more than those who are “guilty” of the “sin” of loving another person.
Gluttony causes more deaths than any the religious right attempts to pin on homosexuality. The entirety of American culture focuses on more, more, moreÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ eat, eat, eatÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ drink, drink, drinkÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ buy, buy, buyÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s.
If Grapevine is so concerned about the total teaching of Scripture and denying “sin,” why isn’t there a bigger focus on gluttony - a sin discussed more in Scripture than any perceived passages of homosexuality, a plague affecting more Americans - and Grapevine members - than homosexuality and a death sentence facing more Americans - and Grapevine members - than homosexuality.
WaitÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Those words hurt you didn’t it? Welcome to my lifeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ every day of it.
For a deeper understanding of the kind of thinking Matt is up against in that church, see Russell Shorto’s important NYTimes piece from summer 2005, What’s Their Real Problem With Gay Marriage? It’s the Gay Part.
Not much has changed since Shorto wrote his article. What has changed is that people like Matt are standing up to it, and in the process being important role models for family, neighbors and the kids to come. Thanks Matt!
Internet Memes 2007
Rocketboom‘s got ‘em. A couple favorites…
Rocketbom 2007 Meme of the Year award winner:
Friday, December 21, 2007
Genarlow Wilson (epilogue)
The Daily Record publishing a must read piece naming B.J. Berenstein “Newsmaker of the Year” is an opportune moment to take a look at some of what’s happened since the October 26 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that freed Genarlow Wilson.
Genarlow is set to begin classes at Morehouse College next month. And three of his co-defendants were released from prison this week by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles:
The Board voted to release Adrian Willis, Ryan Barnwell and Cornell Robinson… Their release comes more than a month after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Wilson’s sentence was cruel and unusual punishment. The news also comes as lawmakers prepare to revisit a tough sex offender law during the legislative session starting next month. [For more on that, see here.]
B.J. Bernstein, Wilson’s lawyer, hopes lawmakers take the case into consideration.
BERNSTEIN: Listen, it’s one thing when you’re dealing with sexual offenders but restrictions that don’t help children don’t need to be there.
With those releases only one of the original “Douglasville Six” remains behind bars.
The case of Joshua Widner, a Hampton, GA high school dropout who had sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 18, who also received 10 years for non-forcible oral sex but lost before the GA Supreme Court a year before Genarlow got there, was considered to be an “insurmountable” challenge for Wilson and Berenstein. But the court set Wilson free.
A month later the Henry County District Attorney agreed to an unusual deal that let Widner out of prison after serving less than five years. My take: What choice did he have?
Given that the high court seemed to go out of its way to show how Widner could not benefit from Wilson’s case, the DA was under no legal pressure:
Widner still will need to register as a sex offender, McGarity explained to him. That was a primary complaint by Wilson’s supporters about his sentence.
Asked about the sex offender registry, Widner’s lawyers said they didn’t think they should look a gift horse in the mouth.
And what of Wilson prosecutor David McDade?
The Daily Record tried to talk to him for the Beresntein story but found he “has been in a death penalty trial for weeks.”
Apparently, McDade won:
“I’m mighty proud of Douglas County jurors,” McDade said. “It’s the 15th time in a row they’ve returned a death verdict when we’ve sought one. We’ve got the death penalty every time we sought it.”
The defense attorney wonders about that braggadocio:
Part of the record in the case, developed before the trial, shows “that David McDade is completely out of step with the rest of this state and has sought the death penalty five times more often than the average prosecutor in Georgia,” Moore said.
“I personally believe we have seen signs that the Georgia Supreme Court may be growing weary of Mr. McDade’s over zealousness,” Moore said.
That last via Maggie, who’s weary of McDade and his ilk too.
Reuters: Top health issues of 2008
I think their headline is wrong. Or all of the top health issues they foresee in the year ahead are food issues. Here are 2 of the 8:
4. What’s Natural?
Rules for the labeling of organically grown meat are pretty strict in the United States, but when it comes to naturally raised, it’s something of a free-for-all.
As things stand, meat or poultry with a “natural” label must be minimally processed and mean what the marketer says it does. But nobody is really checking, and there is some debate over what constitutes “minimally processed”. Should injecting chicken with sodium solution or binding agents take away its natural status, for example? What about treating red meat with carbon monoxide in order to make it look fresher? The FDA will attempt to settle these and other questions in 2008 as it reviews the use of the “natural” label for fresh meat. The public comment period on the review ends Jan. 28. [...]
8. Fixing the FDA/USDA
It pointed to hand-written safety inspection reports, food plant inspections occurring as infrequently as once a decade and a full-time pet-food safety staff of two as signs of a widespread, serious problem at the federal agency in charge of regulating 80 percent of the food sold in the United States, as well as cosmetics, drugs, vaccines and medical devices—the products the agency oversees account for about a quarter of every consumer dollar spent by Americans, the FDA says. The agency has seen its responsibilities increase as its budget decreased, and the globalization of food has changed the playing field and added new concerns to its long list. To hear that the FDA is in trouble likely comes as little surprise: between contaminated pet food, meat recalls, warnings on the popular diabetes drug Avandia and accusations of politically motivated appointments, the agency has had a bad year in the court of public opinion. What remains to be seen for the year to come is whether the FDA will get the money it says it needs to fix itself—and if that will be enough to do the job.
On falling high-school-graduation rates
American high-school-graduation rates peaked around 1970 before entering a long period of stagnation and decline, according to a working paper released this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The decline in high-school graduation has been especially severe among male students, and it accounts for roughly half of the emerging gender gap in college attendance, according to the paper, which was written by James J. Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and Paul A. LaFontaine, a researcher at the American Bar Foundation’s Center for Social Program Evaluation.
Apparently there’s been a debate about how to count high-school graduates. One side says graduation rates, especially for minorities, are far worse than the Ed Dept.’s figures. The other says that minorities’ graduation rates have slowly been converging with those of whites.
This new paper splits the difference but the results aren’t good:
In their paper, Mr. Heckman and Mr. LaFontaine gather information from a wide variety of data sources, including surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, official enrollment figures from state departments of education, and longitudinal research such as the NCES’s High School and Beyond study.
Those data sources vary in their treatment of recent immigrants, prisoners, members of the military, and other groups. Mr. Heckman and Mr. LaFontaine massaged the studies’ findings to bring those variables into alignment. Once that is done, they write, the studies all tell essentially the same story: Graduation rates peaked around 40 years ago, and there has been no significant convergence between the rates for whites and the rates for minorities.
The authors note that there is tentative evidence that graduation rates have increased since the 2002 enactment of the No Child Left Behind law, which uses high-school graduation rates as a benchmark for states’ performance. But it is too soon, they write, to say whether such increases reflect true improvements, or whether states have simply learned to manipulate the figures. And in any case, they say, there is no reason to believe that graduation rates have returned to the peak levels of the late 1960s.
The paper is available here.
B.J. Bernstein: Daily Report’s Newsmaker of the Year
What the Daily Report calls B.J. Bernstein’s Impossible Victory was winning freedom for Genarlow Wilson, the young Georgia man found not guilty of raping a 17-year-old girl but convicted of molesting a 15-year-old girl when he was just 17.
For that crime, later called by the state Supreme Court’s majority “consensual” oral sex, he was sent to prison to serve a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. For that victory, the Record has named Berenstein “Newsmaker of the Year.”
The 7,000 word piece backing up the accolade published today by the Record is the most thorough telling of the Wilson saga I’ve seen since the October 26 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that the 10 year sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment:
Perhaps the key to Bernstein’s success was in never wavering in her conviction that her client’s situation was unjust-and that she could set things right. “People read into it what they want-that you’re either crazy, or that you’re wanting publicity at that point, and that it’s pride.” But, she asks, “At what point are you crazy when you believe the law can change?”
Berenstein has often been called a savvy manipulator of the press.* Her game plan was to change the law and so, she says, that’s what she set out to be:
She knew that she would need to raise awareness about her client’s troubles in order to change the relevant statutes. And so she began a public opinion campaign.
“Definitely, it was a conscious decision to reach out to the media to get the statute changed.” That seemed both logical and appropriate, she explains. “You can argue whether a court is influenced by the media or not,” she says. “But the Legislature? Public opinion matters greatly, period.”
The legislature thwarted that first plan.
Prosecutor David McDade was legislative chair of the Georgia District Attorneys’ Association and a regular presence at the state Capitol. He passed around a video of the crime that convinced Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson that Wilson was guilty of rape despite what the jurors ("screaming and crying when they learned their decision meant a 10-year mandatory jail term") ruled.
They also accused Berenstein of putting on a show with the pro bono case in order to promote herself:
Perhaps the best rebuttal of the suggestion that Bernstein was mainly seeking fame for herself is the relatively modest, anonymous setting in which she practices law now.
A visitor to Bernstein’s second-floor offices at Colony Square in Midtown is greeted by a friendly receptionist-who’s answering the phones for Bernstein, as well as other nearby professional offices. There’s no marquee in the waiting area announcing you’ve entered the offices of The Bernstein Firm, where Bernstein and her colleague Sherry Boston have offices similar to those housing first-year associates at corporate firms.
Bernstein says she had to leave her more distinctive offices near City Hall East in August because she had been working on Wilson’s case pro bono for so long. With her focus on Wilson, she says, she wasn’t bringing in enough paying business to keep busy the three other lawyers in her firm, who have since departed.
But Bernstein isn’t complaining, easily talking about her relationships with her young clients. She says she bonds with her young clients more than others. “I joke Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ I don’t have any kids, but I have lots of kids,” says Bernstein.
The article is a must read. It shows Berenstein to be everything a good lawyer should be. Congratulations B.J.!
* One press victory, a New York Times editorial, Free Genarlow Wilson Now, was published one year ago today.
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
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell & Undescended testicles???
Hilzoy’s discovered that it’s not just gays the Army doesn’t want:
If you actually read the Army’s Standards of Medical Fitness (pdf), you’ll discover that the Army seems to have a truly bizarre devotion to the idea that only men and women with absolutely, completely normal genitalia and reproductive systems can possibly defend us in time of war. Among the people who do not meet its standards:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Women who experience unusually heavy menstrual bleeding, or bleeding at irregular intervals, or no periods at all.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Women born without a uterus.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ In men, “Current absence of one or both testicles, either congenital (752.89) or undescended (752.51) is disqualifying.”
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ And, for both men and women: “History of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex (P64.5), hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis (752.7) or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions is disqualifying.”
Undescended testicles??? Unless I am very, very wrong about what exactly service in the military involves, I can’t see that an undescended testicle would affect a soldier’s ability to perform his duties. I checked to see whether undescended testicles might lead to some more severe problems later; apparently, they reduce fertility, which is hardly the Army’s concern, and increase the odds that one will get testicular cancer. But since the Army accepts smokers, I can’t see that this explains why they disqualify recruits with undescended testicles…
Last year, the Army had to grant waivers to nearly one in five recruits because they had criminal records.” If they’re willing to overlook criminal records, I imagine that they’re probably granting waivers to people with undescended testicles as well. But that’s only a stopgap measure: the real question is: why on earth does the Army care whether or not its soldiers have undescended testicles in the first place? Why not just ask whether a soldier is physically able to do his or her duty, and leave it at that?
Midwest Teen Sex Show says, “choose abstinence”
More from MTSS.
Judge bans shoplifting teens from shopping
Just down the road in Dublin, GA:
There are six shopping days left before Christmas, but for five Laurens County teens, the shopping season is over - for a while.
The five juveniles have been officially and legally banned from entering any retail establishment in Laurens County, thanks to Juvenile Court Judge William L. Tribble, who issued the bans as part of the court’s sentencing for shoplifting.
“No more shopping sprees for you, courtesy of the Juvenile Court of the Dublin Judicial District,” said Judge Tribble, “or should I say ‘no more stealing sprees’?”
One by one, the five separate shoplifting cases were called before the judge’s bench Tuesday. Soon it became apparent that the judge had decided to give each defendant a little something extra along with the regular sentence of probation.
The first to appear before the judge entered a guilty plea to the shoplifting lifting charge along with a theft by taking charge. “She’s already on probation for other theft charges,” Tribble said as he studied the teen’s record, “in fact there’s seven theft charges and one burglary charge here.”
“I’m placing you under house arrest,” Tribble told the 15-year-old defendant. He then addressed the child’s mother, “and you are now her jailer ma’am. She is to go home, close the door, do not go outside except for medical emergency.”
“What about church your honor?,” asked a woman observing the proceedings who identified herself to the judge as pastor Cynthia Rolle of the St. Paul AME Church. “If our church van picks her up and her mother too, may she come to church?”
Judge Tribble found the pastor’s offer amenable and revised the sentence, “You are not allowed to go anywhere except for medical emergency and church - if this church sends a van to get you, you may go.”
Tribble asked the pastor if the church had a means to address habitual thieves.
“We do your honor, we have a viable youth program,” said Pastor Rolle.
“She’s got seven theft charges and burglary,” Tribble reviewed. “Just what does it take to teach someone not to be a thief?” Tribble asked aloud, but no one in the courtroom responded with an answer.
Good for that judge! I hope the kids will be better for it. Asked he, “Do you know how to shop online?”
Justice Department no-show at hearing on KBR gang-rape case
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing [yesterday] into the allegations of Jamie Leigh Jones, a young Texas woman who claims she was drugged and gang-raped by her fellow KBR/Halliburton employees in Iraq—and then imprisoned and threatened with the loss of her job after reporting the incident to her bosses. KBR has denied the allegations.
While Jones courageously testified before the committee, no one from the Justice Department bothered to show up. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski sent a letter [PDF] yesterday to Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) explaining that the Department was unable to testify because of its “pending investigation” into the incident, which occurred more than two years ago.
Conyers’ reaction from a prepared statement:
Simply put, it is unacceptable for our own Department of Justice to refuse to testify today. The letter they sent me last night does not begin to respond to the tragedy and injustice that we are looking at now. The department claims to be committed to law enforcement in Iraq, but 1) they will tell us nothing about what is being done in Ms. Jones’ case; 2) they cannot give us even one example of a prosecution where the victim was a civilian contractor employee in Iraq; and 3) they cannot describe any steps they have taken to ensure that such Americans in Iraq can report crimes by contractor employees there to federal law enforcement and that prompt investigation and prosecution will occur. The American people and this committee have the right to demand justice and accountability, and I intend to see that that is exactly what we get.
Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas) also testified before the committee. Jones’ father got help from Poe in getting Jamie Leigh freed. In his prepared testimony Poe said that his office had been contacted by three women other than Ms. Jones about sexual assaults they sustained while working for KBR in Iraq.
Jamie Leigh Jones says she has been contacted by 11 other women who have also been assaulted by contractors in Iraq.
LATER: Crooks and Liars has video of Jamie Leigh’s testimony.