aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Friday, April 18, 2008
What’s wrong with our health care delivery
Ezra Klein quotes these three paragraphs from Shannon Brownlee’s excellent Washington Monthly article on the Gingrich Republicans emasculation of the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, a government group that had the potential to control health care costs. He says they’re as clear an example as any of what’s wrong with our health care delivery system—as distinct from insurance:
Last year, we spent more than $16 billion on back surgeries, and, in the past decade, surgeons have been performing spinal fusions at a furious rate, even though there still has never been a rigorous, independently funded clinical trial showing that going under the knife is superior to cheaper, less invasive remedies. At the same time, the nation’s total health care bill continues to skyrocket, propelled in no small measure by procedures that are equally as questionable as spinal fusion. In 2000, America spent $1.3 trillion, a figure that nearly doubled to an estimated $2.1 trillion by 2006. In the view of Peter Orzag, head of the Congressional Budget Office, this has put the U.S. on “an unsustainable fiscal path.”
Of course, some of our money is going toward new treatments and tests that help Americans live longer and healthier lives. However, as much as 30 cents on every health care dollar is spent on unnecessary care-or “overtreatment,” in medicalspeak. That may sound odd after all we’ve heard from people like Michael Moore about how everybody from your hospital to your insurer is getting rich by denying you care you need. Yet both problems exist simultaneously. All too often, patients don’t get necessary medical treatment. At the same time, we risk being given stuff that not only doesn’t improve our health but which may actually harm us. One estimate suggests that as many as 30,000 Medicare recipients die prematurely each year from unnecessary care.
This overtreatment is due in part to an excess supply of medical resources-hospital beds, intensive care units, specialists, CT scanners-in many parts of the country. But it is also the result of our national failure to fund the research that could show what works in medicine, what doesn’t, and for which patients-and then to train doctors to understand that research and use it. Our current fee-for-service payment system, which pays hospitals and doctors for each hospitalization, office visit, procedure, test, and surgery performed, simply gives providers an incentive to adopt anything that’s well reimbursed, regardless of whether it actually helps patients. Medicare pays for practically anything that physicians deem “medically necessary,” much of which, from spinal fusion to a fancy new imaging scan for Alzheimer’s, remains unproven by anything resembling good scientific evidence.
Handwriting holds no clues to personality
Remember that pricy personality test I had done by a popular Manhattan handwriting analyst?
Lest there was any doubt science has conclusively proven… [to my satisfaction...] it’s all bunk!
Geoffrey Dean has reviewed two hundred different studies into whether graphology can tell us anything about personality (Dean, 1992). Adding up the effect of each of these studies showed that graphology has a combined power of about...wait for it...zero. Well, not quite zero but still very, very small - so small as to be insignificant.
Richard Thompson Ford for Obama Attorney General
Carlin Romano had a terrific review of Richard Thompson Ford’s THE RACE CARD: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse in The Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday:
Ford’s overarching argument rides on his firm belief that there are fewer racists today, leaving a society of “racism without racists” - a legacy more than a subgroup.
That leads him to reject Kanye West’s “race card” attack on Bush. Katrina produced disproportionate black victims not because of racism, Ford argues, but because racist history left New Orleans’ blacks in lower-lying areas, with many too poor to afford cars.
Ford brings a similar independent angle to Cornel West’s complaint that racist cab drivers discriminate against black Americans. Ford largely attributes the decision to fear of putatively high-crime areas, a fear he suggests West shared by parking what West called his “rather elegant” car in a “safe parking lot” on the East Side, before cabbing to Harlem.
At this point, you may wonder: Is Ford simply another aggressive black conservative? He’s not - he considers himself an old-fashioned liberal, favoring integration and affirmative action, though less friendly to diversity quotas. He skewers figures from both the right and left.
Ford seeks, it seems, a sensible middle. He fears that a “national patois” of racism rhetoric blinds us to the real thing, stoking counterproductive results. Even worse, it stirs advocates of other allegedly oppressed interest groups, such as obese people, to model their complaints on laws forged to fight racism, a “racism by analogy” strategy.
You can surmise Ford’s attitude toward it from his tart phrase that “Fat is not the new black.” He questions, albeit fair-mindedly, the animal rights movement’s invocation of slavery and the Holocaust in its attacks on the meat industry, the gay rights movement’s analogies to laws against miscegenation, and the smokers rights movement’s allusions to Jim Crow.
Does Ford believe racism no longer exists in American society? Not at all. Accusations of racism should be kept to such cases. But social problems that stem from multiple factors call for an eye on the big picture, not single-cause reductionism.
Romano notes that Ford and Obama are both Harvard Law Class of ‘91 graduates and proposed that “on the evidence of this book, Ford would make an incisive attorney general.” What a nifty notion!
He goes on to conclude by wondering, “is there any academic out there ready to take on the ‘elitism’ or ‘bitterness’ cards? It might be nice to weed them from the deck before they catch on.” Hear! Hear!
Gay scientists isolate Christian gene
No Internet - toggled the input - I’m back!
Technical difficulties kept me from posting yesterday. After some time I finally figured out that my router went bad. All I had to do was toggle the input (plug the modem directly into the computer) to get back up and going. Too bad I didn’t have Hillary here to help me out!
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Clinton on Colbert tonight & the state of political debates
I’ve got a guest post up at The Moderate Voice commenting on my hopes for Hillary’s appearance on Colbert tonight titled, Matthews, Clinton & Colbert: retributive justince in the modern mediascape. A snip:
There’s nothing saying that appearance will be an interview and it’s too bad, too… A Clinton on the Colbert set the day after a debate that some say could have been scripted for her by a sycophant press caught up in all of the non-issues of the day is all of the license Colbert needs to go for comedy of epic Correspondents Association Dinner proportions.
I had another post at The Moderate Voice on Monday that I am quite proud of and would have pointed to earlier had I had the time. Stephen Colbert: A Media Maestro Plays Philly is an interview with Dr. Robert J. Thompson, Professor of Television and Popular Culture and Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.
We discussed Colbert’s four day Philadelphia run, Comedy Central, journalism and the news media. I was very complimented that Ms. Interpreted of the Colbert fan/news site No Fact Zone called it “one of the more thoughtful analyses of The Colbert Report that I can recall reading.”
Thompson is a really terrific interview; a fascinating guy, I revel in our conversations. In that same discussion we talked about the state of political communication as practiced by modern politicians.
As I watched Obama struggle last night under the primitive form of what passes for televised political debate in the twentyfirst century, I thought of what Thompson said about the state of political communication in general, using Al Gore as an example:
Poltical rhetoric and speeches are, like the news, stuck in a time warp a lot further back. At least the evening news is behaving like it’s 1975. A lot of political speeches are behaving like it’s the age of Cicero or before the microphone. I think Al Gore really hit on something and he’s an especially interesting character because he wasn’t a good speechmaker. He was known as being wooden and not terribly compelling and all the rest of it, and he discovered that there’s been a few advances in media since the age of the podium, and he made a movie using those advances in media. Nothing too fancy. Film. PowerPoint. That kind of thing. And all of a sudden he scored one of the most victorious rhetorical coupes to come along in a long time: he got an entire nation to embrace an idea that they had been kicking and screaming against. He got people to take their dates to the movie to watch a political presentation. Essentially, a speech! But not a speech that uses the old nineteenth century, eighteenth century, second century, notion of somebody just getting up and saying some wordsâ€¦ he went to the clips, he showed some graphs, he showed all the stuff. Ross Perot was about the most modern political candidate we’ve had maybe up until now. He at least brought some graphics to his presentations.
Thompson went on to point out that one of the problems is we, the public, tend to criticize the use of technology as a kind of cheating, when in fact it is an entirely appropriate and just means to a desired end. As Gore proved. So we lock our politicians in a box, then complain about them because they’re wooden while locked inside it!
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
A surge of black & young voters for Obama in GA
Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel has released the race, age and gender breakdowns for the February primary.
- Democrats cast nearly 53 percent of the 2,007,544 ballots counted on Feb. 5.
â€” Within the Democratic primary, African-Americans cast 55 percent of the vote. This is the first time that’s happened. White voters made up just a tad less than 40 percent of the Democratic vote.
- White voters made up 96 percent of the Republican presidential primary vote.
â€” African-Americans cast 30 percent of all votes on Feb. 5. In November 2006, with gubernatorial candidate Mark Taylor at the top of the Democratic ticket, black voters cast only 24 percent of all ballots. This is the number causing Republicans to lose sleep.
- In addition to juicing turnout among black voters, the Feb. 5 primary showed signs of a shift in party preference among the state’s youngest voters. You read above that Democratic voters accounted for 53 percent of all ballots.
But 61 percent of voters 24 and under picked up a Democratic ballot.
- Young voters are notoriously unreliable, but young African-American voters - 24 and under - had a voter turnout rate of 26 percent. That’s remarkably strong. Turnout among young white voters was 22 percent - again, not too shabby.
Scientists Putting Their Names on Papers Written by Companies
Papers that bear academic scientists’ names as authors, but are ghostwritten by for-profit companies, may be disturbingly common in medical journals, a new study indicates. Some of the scientists accused of being involved in that practice deny any wrongdoing, but journal editors are already outlining measures to prevent future breaches of academic integrity.
In the new issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association,four scientists have published the results of a search of court documents related to the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, which has been withdrawn from the market because of concerns about its safety, and which has been the subject of hundreds of lawsuits.
The search revealed mentions of many articles that were published under academic researchers’ names but appear to have been written by others. And those others were employees of Merck & Co. Inc., which is the developer of Vioxx, or of medical publishing companies.
In one example, the JAMA authors compare the draft and published version of a paper about a clinical trial; the draft lists only Merck authors along with “External author?” as first author. The published paper has three external authors: one from the University of California at San Diego, one from New York University, and one from a contract research organization. (The Chronicle was unable to reach the New York University scientist, Steven H. Ferris; the researcher from San Diego, Leon J. Thal, died last year.) An e-mail message from one Merck scientist to another said, “I think you should be the first author since you have done virtually all of the writing.”
In an editorial accompanying the article, Catherine D. DeAngelis and Phil B. Fontanarosa, the editor in chief and executive deputy editor of JAMA, respectively, call researchers’ guest authorship “unprofessional and demeaning to the medical profession and to scientific research.”
The JAMA researchers, led by Joseph S. Ross, an instructor in geriatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, searched a database of millions of documents provided by Merck for two Vioxx product-liability cases. (All four of the researchers had served as consultants to the plaintiffs in the cases.) Dr. Ross then analyzed individually each of the 20,000 documents that came up relating to authorship.
The researchers examined 96 articles that had been discussed in internal Merck documents before they were published. They found that papers reporting the results of clinical trials or reviewing data from multiple studies sometimes appeared to be written by employees of Merck or of publishing companies, and only later were given the names of academic authors.
As we credential up the academy, we dumb down the scientist, making them reliant on companies seeking to cash in on academic cache. Like the politicians who are not writing their own legislation—industry lobbyists are—and don’t know what’s in it, more and more scientists are relying on companies to do their research!
Dr. Ross, quoted again later in the piece:
“This is a widespread practice,” he said. “These just happen to be people whose behavior we had witness to because of the litigation documents. The point is that physicians in the scientific community need to come together and agree, This is wrong; this is not how science is conducted.”
Doubt it if you will but science has already been dangerously watered down. This trend has got to be stopped.
Sick Around The World
...isn’t afraid to talk about the problems in other countries. In England, the film notes, patients frequently wait for elective services; in Germany, physicians are unhappy that they don’t get paid more; in Japan, the government’s hyper-aggressive price controls have led to chronic underfunding. And yet the new film also puts these drawbacks in their rightful context. Every system the film portrays has its problems, but overall each one seems to deliver a better total package than the one in the U.S.
The most interesting case study is probably Taiwan. A few years ago, when Taiwan decided to revamp its health care system, it studied other countries to determine which system might work best. Its conclusion? A single-payer system - one in which the government insures everybody directly - made the most sense.
Virtually alone among health care commentators in the U.S. - a category that includes me - Paul Krugman has been touting Taiwan for a while. The film makes it easy to see why. Today, the people of Taiwan have guaranteed access to health care - and, according to the film, it’s very good health care. There are no chronic waiting lists, like you find in Britain, and the care is very advanced. Among other things, Taiwan is among the world leaders in establishing electronic medical records - an innovation that should significantly improve care by keeping doctors and nurses better informed about patient histories and, no less important, avoiding potentially dangerous drug interactions.
Critics of national healthcare are always able to come up with reasons why the success of systems in other countries doesn’t mean they’d work here. The Japanese are healthier than us. Belgium is smaller than us. Sweden is more homogeneous than us. Germans are more willing to pay higher taxes than us. Etc. Etc. It’s always something.
But the opposite is true too. National healthcare, it turns out, is pretty effective in big countries (Germany, Japan), diverse countries (France, Britain), tax-phobic countries (Switzerland), and countries with health profiles similar to ours (Canada, Britain). And as [the reviewer] says, even warts and all, each one seems to deliver a better total package than the jury-rigged, pseudo-private mish-mash that we have here. So tell your skeptic friends to tune in tonight [watch online] and watch the show. Maybe they’ll start to understand that we can, indeed, do better if we put our minds to it.
Gay marriage: a tie that binds
You’ve got to love this. In those states where we can get married, if we move out of state, we can’t get divorced. Or something like that…
Try following this, from MSNBC:
Gay couples had to struggle mightily to win the right to marry or form civil unions in certain states. Now, some are finding that breaking up is hard to do, too.
In Rhode Island, for example, the state’s top court ruled in December that gays married in neighboring Massachusetts - the only state to allow the practice - cannot get divorced because state lawmakers have never defined marriage as anything but a union between a man and woman.
In Missouri, a judge is deciding whether a lesbian married in Massachusetts can get an annulment. [...]
Over the past four years, Massachusetts has been the only state where gay marriage is legal, while nine other states allow gay couples to enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships that offer many of the rights and privileges of marriage. The vast majority of these unions require court action to dissolve.
Gay couples who still live in the state where they partnered can split up with little difficulty; the laws in those states include divorce or dissolution procedures for same-sex couples. But gay couples who have moved to another state are running into trouble.
Massachusetts, at least early on, let out-of-state gay couples get married there practically for the asking. But the rules governing divorce are stricter. Out-of-state couples could go back to Massachusetts to get divorced, but they would have to live there for a year to establish residency first. [...]
Getting a divorce could prove toughest in some of the 40 states that have explicitly banned or limited same-sex unions, lawyers say.
In Missouri, which banned gay marriage in 2001, a conservative lawmaker has urged a judge not to grant an annulment to a lesbian married in Massachusetts.
Broun instructs House on ‘proprer’ pledge technique
"There should not be a comma between ‘one nation’ and ‘under God,’” conservative Republican congressman Paul Broun instructed his colleagues on the floor of the House before beginning his rendition of a pause-free pledge Monday. Raw Story has more:
It may seem a minor issue, but some have argued that saying the pledge as Broun prefers—and as it was written when “under God” was inserted in 1954—implies a fealty to religion that is inappropriate in the US.
“Without a comma, the phrase indicates that the central characteristic of the United States as a political community is its subordination to God,” wrote history professor Matthew Dennis, after the Supreme Court rejected an attempt to strike “under God” as unconstitutional. “In short, the political community is defined by its religious charge. A pledge that states this becomes, in the words of the 9th Circuit, ‘impermissible government endorsement of religion,’ functioning to ‘enforce a religious orthodoxy of mono- theism.’”
The pledge had no reference to a diety until 1954, when Cold War fever saw its inclusion to separate Americans from “godless Communists.” The Supreme Court dismissed a case arguing that the phrase violated the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of religion because the plaintiff had no standing to argue the case, not because of any inherent legal justification for the phrase.
A Broun spokesman even said there should be no pause to emphasize there is “no separation or implied separation between nation and God.” So his House floor lesson may be more than just a penchant for details.
“As a Marine, clearly, he’s had to face a lot more difficult challenges than instructing Members of Congress on the proper way of saying the Pledge of Allegiance,” spokesman John Kennedy told Roll Call‘s Heard on the Hill column. “There is, in fact, no comma in that section. So correctly, it’s said, â€˜One nation under [God],’ no separation or implied separation between nation and God.”
A first-term lawmaker from the northeastern corner of Georgia, Broun’s House floor admonition was not his only attempt to insert God further into American life. Last November, he supported a resolution honoring a group promoting the Ten Commandments.
“I commend the Ten Commandments Commission for their efforts to remind Americans that we are, in fact, ‘one nation under God,’” he said at the time.
Here’s theC-SPAN video:
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Health Insurance in America: Dying for Coverage
Facing South reports on a recently released report from Families USA, Dying for Coverage, finding that in all 50 states the number of uninsured and the estimated number of deaths is directly related to lack of health insurance:
A study by the Institute of Medicine, tha basis for the Family USA report, found that uninsured adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely than adults with private health insurance. Another academic study found that lack of health insurance is the third leading cause of death, following heart disease and cancer, for uninsured adults between the ages of 55 and 64.
While the percentage of uninsured, working age (25-64) people in the South reported by Families USA in 2006 (20.5%) is similar to overall U.S. percentage of uninsured in the same age group reported by the U.S. Census (19.9%), several Southern states have a significantly higher percentage of uninsured.
For example, the Families USA report found that Louisiana had the highest rate of uninsured among working people at 26.2%. Florida (25.3%), Arkansas (23.2%), and Mississippi (22.1%) also exceeded the regional and national rates. Virginia (15.1%) and West Virginia (16.5%) are well below the regional and national rates.
Other state reports from around the South on the percentage of uninsured working age people include Alabama (20.1%), Georgia (19.7%), Kentucky (19.0%), North Carolina (21.1%), South Carolina (19.7%), and Tennessee (18.3%).
The U.S. Census report shows that the South has the highest percentage of uninsured overall, 19.0%, as compared to 11.4% in the Midwest, 12.3% in the Northeast, and 17.9% in the West.
When you add it all up, there are nearly 8.5 million working age people in the South without health insurance. Even more disturbing, the Families USA report attributes nearly 52,000 premature deaths to lack of health insurance in these states between 2000 and 2006.
Meanwhile, in my ongoing war with SHPS, Ms. Quigley wrote me back summarizing my calls but said nothing about my $179 in reimbursement (not did she answer my question about making those calls available to me—like I expected she would???). It’s now 14 business days after providing the required documentation and I have not been reimbursed.
I’ll spare you the snippy email I sent in response. Flexible Spending Accounts are another Republican corporate welfare program masquerading as a healthcare tax benefit. SHPS is making money—my money! I’ve not gotten the benefit. It’s a scam!
Nudge: A Q&A with the authors
Steven Levitt has his doubts about behavioral economics, and cringed when Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein told him a year ago they were going to write an economics book about what they called “libertarian paternalism.”
Today on the Freakonomics Blog theirs a Q&A with Sunstein and Thaler:
Q: You use the term “libertarian paternalism” to describe “nudges” that agents of change (or choice architects) can use (without using force or removing options) to influence people to make better choices while still preserving their freedom to choose.
What’s the most ingenious nudge you’ve found yourself influenced by? Are you as influenced by nudges as others are? What factors can make us more immune to nudges?
CASS: My most ingenious nudge is: automatic payment of bills. I used to pay late, a lot of the time, through sheer inertia. Now I do a lot better on that count. And sure, I am influenced by nudges, especially in the form of visible chocolate things in cafeteria lines and at airports.
The best inoculation against bad nudges is to stay away from them - to find some way to tie yourself to the mast. Ulysses was a good, early behavioral economist.
RICHARD: I spent a few months visiting the new business school at the University of California in San Diego this winter. When you approach the building from the parking lot, the first thing you reach is a staircase. The elevator is another 50 feet away. I used that nudge to encourage me to walk up the stairs to my fourth floor office. I am proud to say that I never once took the elevator, even if my backpack was heavy.
Jim Marshall: uncommitted superdelegate
Five of Georgia’s six superdelegates have committed to Obama. They are Sanford Bishop, District 2; Hank Johnson, District 4; John Lewis, District 5; John Barrow, District 12; and David Scott, District 13.
But Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon remains uncommitted.
“I am an uncommitted superdelegate who doesn’t feel too super,” Marshall said. “Nobody asked me whether or not I wanted to be one, and my plan is to just stay out of it and hope the others make the decision.”
Maybe he’s waiting for Carter & Gore to step in and deliver the coup de grÃ¢ce to Hillary.
YouTube bigger in video than Google is in search
So says Hitwise. Read/WriteWeb:
Traffic analysts Hitwise released new numbers today indicating that while online video sites as a category have seen a 7% drop in traffic year over year since March 2007 - YouTube has seen a remarkable 32% growth in visits during that period. YouTube’s market share in the video sector is now at 73.18%, Hitwise reports.
That’s significantly higher than Google’s all-time market share high-point among search engines. Google saw an all-time high 67% of searches performed in March, also according to Hitwise.
MySpace TV came in second place last month, with just over 9% of visits. Google Video was 3rd at 4%, meaning that the two Google properties combine to hold a staggering 77% marketshare. Hitwise numbers are limited to US internet users and in this case to 68 selected top video websites.
Meanwhile, shockingly, YouTube was NOT blamed for the teen web attack in which a Florida teen lured another into a home to be beaten specifically for a YouTube posting. The Associated Press was among those who were actually able to establish that YouTube was not the problem here.
Monday, April 14, 2008
An ode to elevators
The New Yorker has a major piece on elevators this week. Of all the things in the city to miss, I miss them:
In New York City, home to fifty-eight thousand elevators, there are eleven billion elevator trips a year-thirty million every day-and yet hardly more than two dozen passengers get banged up enough to seek medical attention. The Otis Elevator Company, the world’s oldest and biggest elevator manufacturer, claims that its products carry the equivalent of the world’s population every five days. As the world urbanizes-every year, in developing countries, sixty million people move into cities-the numbers will go up, and up and down.
Two things make tall buildings possible: the steel frame and the safety elevator. The elevator, underrated and overlooked, is to the city what paper is to reading and gunpowder is to war. Without the elevator, there would be no verticality, no density, and, without these, none of the urban advantages of energy efficiency, economic productivity, and cultural ferment. The population of the earth would ooze out over its surface, like an oil slick, and we would spend even more time stuck in traffic or on trains, traversing a vast carapace of concrete. And the elevator is energy-efficient-the counterweight does a great deal of the work, and the new systems these days regenerate electricity. The elevator is a hybrid, by design.
Did I say I miss ‘em? Elevators, we learn, are bo-ring!
Riding elevators, even when you are supposed to be paying attention, for the purpose of writing about them, is a pretty banal enterprise. So it was hard to focus on the matter at hand-not to just ride, expressionless and empty-brained, per usual, noting nothing, except that on the Captivate screen the word of the day was “sitzmark.” Otis has conducted research to find out whether people might better enjoy their time in elevators if it were more of an experience-if it would somehow help to emphasize that they’re in an elevator, hurtling up and down a shaft. Otis found, to little surprise, that people would rather be distracted from that fact. Even elevator music, designed to put passengers at ease, is now so closely associated with elevators that it is no longer widely used.
Georgia Supreme Court denies Troy Davis appeal
The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday again rejected a death row inmate’s request for a new trial, even though several witnesses who testified against the condemned man have recanted.
Troy Davis was convicted of gunning down a Savannah police officer in 1989.
In March, the state’s top court denied Davis a new trial by a 4-3 vote. On Monday, the justices rejected Davis’ appeal for them to reconsider that decision. The vote was again 4-3.
Writing for the majority, Justice Harold Melton said the new evidence was not enough to force a new trial. The court cannot disregard the jury’s original verdict, he wrote. [...]
Davis’ lawyers say several witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony that they saw Davis shoot 27-year-old Mark MacPhail or heard him confess to the shooting.
Three people who did not testify at trial have said in affidavits that another man confessed to killing the officer after Davis was convicted.
For more on the case visit TroyAnthonyDavis.org.
Burning Down the House
A friend here told me that the way to kill fire ants was to poor gasoline on them, light a match, and be done with it. He says that the chemicals we use to kill fire ants are bad for the environment and don’t work.
What do I know?
So yesterday I’m doing yard work. I take my can of gasoline, poor it on the ant hill, strike a match, toss it, and whoosh!
Now I have to tell you it has been many, many years since I put a match to gasoline. Somehow I was honestly thinking that the gasoline was going to soak into the ground and it wasn’t even going to light. Like I was going to have a problem lighting it.
Well, it lit alright. And I jumped right out of my skin! There was fire and there was smoke and I am just lucky I wasn’t fricasseed right along with those ants!
With the ants dead, I mowed the lawn and came on inside.
A couple hours later my nephew came home. And I do mean A COUPLE OF HOURS LATER. Maybe three? He comes in and I’m sitting here comfortably on the couch with the dogs working on the computer and my nephew says to me, “Uncle Joey, is the yard supposed to be on fire?”
THE YARD IS ON FIRE???
Now I have to tell you that we’re lucky there’s still a water shortage here in Georgia. It’s because of that water shortage that we have garbage cans full of collected water all over the yard.
We ran and collected those cans and dumped buckets and pales and we hosed and we got lucky. And I’m going back to Amdro I don’t care what anybody tells me!
Georgian recalls rooming with Michelle Obama at Princeton
Catherine Donnelly shopped at Kmart, settled into her dorm room and soaked up the Gothic stone buildings where, over the next four years, she would grow into her own woman.
But her first day at Princeton held a surprise, too. And Donnelly knew it would mean confronting the past.
The reason: One of her roommates was black.
“I told them we weren’t used to living with black people - Catherine is from the South,” Brown said. “They probably thought I was crazy.”
Today both Donnelly, an Atlanta attorney, and Brown, a retired schoolteacher living in the North Carolina mountains, look back at that time with regret. Like many Americans, they’ve built new perceptions of race on top of a foundation cracked by prejudices past - and present. Yet they rarely speak of the subject.
Barack Obama’s run for president changed that. When the Democratic senator from Illinois invited more dialogue on race last month, Donnelly and Brown, both lifetime Republicans, were ready.
But their willingness to talk isn’t a response to the candidate born to a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya. It’s more about Obama’s wife, Michelle.
She’s that roommate from a quarter century ago.
READ ON. To entice you further I’ll add these two lines… “[Donnelly] came out that first semester, chopped off her hair and partied with other lesbians on campus. Soon she, too, learned what it feels like to be part of the ‘other’ group, to be seen as a student second.”
Sexual tales from my old Pennsatucky home
I was raised in Central PA. Ran away at 17. Remember that my nephew, who is gay, lives here now with Doug and me. Ironic that he had to leave the liberal Northeast and flee to the Old South to find loving support and family acceptance. My brother is, er, oh, never mind…
I’m going on about this because I just read about the Republican commissioner of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, who had been accused of rape. By a man!
He denied it.
TPM Muckracker picks up the story from there:
On March 31st, police, investigating the allegation of rape by the 20-year old Marshall McCurdy, obtained a warrant to search Barclay’s home. They didn’t find evidence of rape. But they did find videotapes of hundreds of sexual encounters with men that Barclay had filmed on high-tech surveillance cameras. The cameras were hidden inside AM/FM radios, motion detectors and intercom speaker systems, among other places. There was also one at his business office.
None of the subjects were aware they were being filmed and no permission had been obtained, Barclay admitted. According to a second warrant issued on April 9th, Barclay also admitted to hiring prostitutes on a weekly basis from the now-defunct website harrisburgfratboys.com.
On April 10th, the rape charges were dropped. One of the videos found during the search showed Barclay and McCurdy engaging in apparently consensual sex.[...]
Sadly, his vindication was his undoing. Barclay was forced to resign.
And legally, Barclay’s not quite out of the woods yet-- he’s still facing possible charges for privacy violations and promoting prostitution. McCurdy, however, has been charged with making false reports to law enforcement authorities and unsworn falsifications to authorities. He’s up for a possible 3-year prison stint and $7,500 in fines.
Ah, just as I remember home.
Robin Morgan on “Goodbye to All That” 1 & 2
Ariel Levy talks with Robin Morgan about her “screed against sexism.” I’m an admirer of both. But then, I’m of the generation of lefties that would be.
With the first one, it took about six months for it to leach out across the country. With the Internet, it’s six minutes.” Morgan posted “Goodbye to All That (#2),” an essay about the misogyny directed at Hillary Clinton-Hillary nutcrackers, the “South Park” episode in which terrorists plant a bomb in Clinton’s vagina-on the Women’s Media Center Web site, on February 2nd, and since then it has been picked up by thousands of blogs, translated into six languages, reprinted in newspapers around the world, and, most famously, mass-forwarded by Chelsea Clinton. “For a while, I was getting eight hundred e-mails a day,” she said. She estimated that one out of every fifty is negative. “I was braced for much more opprobrium.”
After the piece in Rat, Morgan got death threats. “Because they said I was divisive-I was hurting the revolution,” she said. “There were even threats against my kid!” Her son, Blake Morgan, a musician, is now thirty-eight. His father, the poet Kenneth Pitchford, was an original member of the Gay Liberation Front and Morgan’s husband for twenty years. She was “Alice in Bloomsbury” then, living and swinging with Pitchford in a duplex over the Kiehl’s store on Third Avenue (the rent started at a hundred and fifty dollars a month), attending leftist literary parties with Susan Sontag, Allen Ginsberg, and Leonard Bernstein.
Famous people were nothing new to Morgan, who starred with Dick Van Patten on the television show “Mama” for seven years and, starting when she was four, had her own half-hour weekly radio program, “The Little Robin Morgan Show,” on WOR in the nineteen-forties. As she put it in her memoir, “Saturday’s Child” (2001), “It’s a rare little girl who gets to play with a doll of herself.” The Stork Club even named a drink for her: 7Up, grenadine, cherries, and a pineapple chunk. Once she joined the women’s movement, Morgan militantly opposed references to her child stardom. When she appeared on the “Tonight Show” in 1969 and Johnny Carson played clips from “Mama,” she walked off the stage.
These days, she is more concerned about offending people. “I always fall into the trap of thinking if I’d written it better, surely, surely they would have understood,” she said, referring to the young women who were upset by “Goodbye (#2).” ("Morgan’s essay is incredibly condescending,” one blogger wrote. “It completely fails to recognize that there are a variety of valid reasons younger women might decide to support Obama.") Morgan put a log on the fire with her good arm. “They think I’m telling them what to do, but they are investing me with an authority I never had. Why is that? Do you know why that is?”
Sunday, April 13, 2008
More on the technical perils of blogging
We’re always hearing about how empowered bloggers are, and I count myself among those who agree that it’s a wondrous world in which any of us can become a publisher. But the perils are many. It’s an either do-it-yourself or put yourself in the hands of huge corporations choice that bloggers face when they decide to set out.
I chose the former, wanting to learn how to design and build the blog, not just enter my content into someone else’s system. But that is an even more complex choice in which you must make a myriad of complex decisions, choose a blog platform, and still you are at the mercy of web hosting companies.
This morning I shared my nearly six months of struggle with a designer I had enlisted to help with my site. Later I ran across news from Blogs for Democracy that a regional ISP in Georgia has apparently failed without warning:
Sorry for the nonpolitical post, folks, but an area ISP that I (and thousands of others) use, Speedfactory (link is dead), has apparently ceased operations with no warning. I’m taking the liberty of posting this info here, because with the exception of this web forum thread there seems to be no information available at all. All that’s known from anecdotal reports is that everything has been down for two days, customer service calls are answered by an “all circuits busy” recording, and Speedfactory’s offices in the area are locked up with no sign of activity. It’s conceivable that this will have an effect on some area web sites, so don’t be shocked if you notice some isolated outages for a couple of days while customers transfer their DSL and web hosting services.
It’s probably only a matter of time before the AJC, Clark Howard, and/or other media types bring you more in-depth reporting on this unfolding debacle, but in the meantime, you heard it here first. (This post brought to you by Verizon mobile broadband while my DSL modem sits uselessly idle.)
Nothing yet reported in the news.
UPDATE: More from Blogs for Democracy. They say they’re still in business. But I’m thankful that I’m not their customer.
The 6 year-old sex offender threat
Ok, the other day I was all riled up about NBC hyping the sex offender threat in nursing homes.
Now today comes word of the six year-old sex offender:
Randy Castro is in the first grade. But, at the ripe old age of 6, he’s been declared a sex offender by Potomac View Elementary School. He’s guilty of sexual harassment, and the incident report will remain on his record for the rest of his school days - and maybe beyond.
Maybe it’ll be one of those things that just keeps turning up on background checks forever and ever: Perhaps 34-year-old Randy Castro will apply for a job, and at his prospective employer’s computer up will pop his sexual-harasser status yet again. Or maybe he’ll be able to keep it hushed up until he’s 57 and runs for governor of Virginia, and suddenly his political career self-detonates when the sordid details of his Spitzeresque sexual pathologies are revealed.
Overlawyered provides a wealth of fannyswatter links:
“Attack of the preschool perverts”, syndicated/Orange County Register, Apr. 12; Brigid Schulte, “For Little Children, Grown-Up Labels As Sexual Harassers”, Washington Post, Apr. 3). A contrary view (letter to the editor from Cynthia Terrell of Takoma Park, Md., WaPo, Apr. 5): “The Post showed appalling insensitivity to the inappropriate nature of Randy Castro’s act. ...our culture remains largely indifferent to privacy and harassment issues involving gender.”
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Choice is a false god!
I’ve long complained about the tyranny of choice. For examples from just the past few years, see here, here, here, and here. My usual complaint is that more choice brings unhappiness and it takes up too much time.
As regular readers know well, I’m reading Dan Ariely’s excellent Predictably Irrational. It has a thing or two to say about choice. Yesterday John Tierney looked at some of it in a blog post titled The Price of Dithering:
The results are in from the Shapes Experiment, featuring a game in which Lab readers repeatedly chose between two shapes and scored points proportional to the area of the shape. Most of the players hurt their scores by spending too much agonizing over decisions that didn’t make much difference — and therein lies a lesson for making decisions in the real world, according to Dan Ariely, the researcher who ran the experiment.
Dr. Ariely, a cognitive psychologist who is a professor of behavioral economics at M.I.T., reports that the game was played more than 4,000 times by Lab readers. As they played, there were two basic situations they faced. Sometimes they had to choose between two shapes that quite similar in size — a difference in area of no more than 2 percent. Other times they had to choose between shapes that differed in area by 25 percent.
Since it was a timed game and you wanted to get through as many trials as possible, speed was of the essence. If you were going to spend time making a choice, it was better to to do it when there was a bigger payoff — when the shapes were dissimilar in size. But most Lab readers did just the reverse: 94 percent of the players spent more time on the similar choices than on the dissimilar choices. On the whole, they spent 64 percent of their time deciding between similar shapes, and only 36 percent of their time choosing between dissimilar shapes, Dr. Ariely reports.
“This means,” he says, “that almost everyone could have made more points if they were able to take the opportunity cost of time into account.” In real life, he says, people are even more prone to wasting time on trivial decisions because the options and consequences aren’t nearly as clear-cut as in that game.
We worship at the altar of choice and make
bad costly decisions as a consequence. Buy this book!
RELATED: This reviewer from the San Francisco Chronicle is decidedly less enthusiastic about the book than I:
While Ariely’s stated goal is to understand the decision-making processes behind behavior ("yours, mine, and everybody else’s"), he may be overreaching in the applicability of his conclusions. “We all make the same types of mistakes over and over, because of the basic wiring of our brains,” he writes, but he presents no evidence of this causal relationship. It depends on his behavioral experiments being universal. The experiments he presents support the irrationality part of his argument, but I don’t buy the universal predictability of all their specific findings. While these experiments take place in California, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina and so on, they rarely get off campus, and the experimental subjects (at least the ones he describes) are almost always university students.
That’s a specific demographic group that marketing analysts study closely and pitch their products to in ways that don’t work with other - especially older - consumers. Several of Ariely’s conclusions (the decisive role of image among peers when choosing food at a restaurant or the “irrational impulse to chase worthless options” in a game, for instance) could be quite different according to age or even income and social class. And that’s without even attempting to assess the experiment involving young men, Playboy magazines and a Saran Wrap-covered laptop.