Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Well, This is Disturbing

Remember hearing, years ago now, that Los Alamos was suffering from "accounting problems" with its plutonium? Well, evidently those problems still lack a solution.

From the SFGate:

Enough plutonium to make dozens of nuclear bombs hasn't been accounted for at the UC-run Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and may be missing, an activist group says in a new report.

There is no evidence that the weapons-grade plutonium has been stolen or diverted for illegal purposes, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research said. However, the amount of unaccounted-for plutonium -- more than 600 pounds, and possibly several times that -- is so great that it raises "a vast security issue," the group said in a report to be made public today.


UC spokesman Chris Harrington said Los Alamos "does an annual inventory of special nuclear materials which is overseen by (the Energy Department). These inventories have been occurring for 20-plus years. Special nuclear materials are carefully tracked to a minute quantity."

The report concludes that at least 661 pounds of plutonium generated at the lab over the last half-century is not accounted for. The atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945 contained about 13 pounds of plutonium.

"The security implications . . . are extremely serious, since less than 2 percent of the lowest unaccounted-for plutonium is enough to make one nuclear bomb," the report said.

How comforting to know that such progress has been made. If this stuff is tracked "to a minute quantity", one has to wonder how 661 pounds is defined, exactly. Does this not fall well OUTSIDE "minute"?!? When I think of such small quantities, typically decimals are involved. I mean, that's a little more than a bookkeeping error, don't you think? It's not like rounding 0.6 to 1.00 because some bean counter forgot to format his spreadsheet properly. Now that I'd be willing to call "minute".

Even still, I'm no chemist, but I'm working on the assumption that even tiny amounts of plutonium (for fucksake!) are dangerous, and that it would be sloppy, at best, to "lose" say, just an ounce or so. But 661 POUNDS?!?!

I expect the story (should it actually gain any real traction in the press) will eventually be explained away by some Los Alamos rep saying, effectively, "Heh. Found it. Sorry... Never mind", but even if such a benign tale were true, that's a rather cold comfort, don't you think?

Abhorrent moral implications of nuclear weaponry aside, you'd think the very LEAST these guys could do is keep track of their materials.

Many years ago, while working for Wells Fargo, I spent the better part of a day tracking down $.06.

Yep, six measly cents.

Since the pennies involved were the net result of several million dollars representing several dozen transactions, it had the potential to be quite a pain in the ass. When I was ready to climb the walls after nearly 5 hours into the process, two other people got involved. We did finally find it, but we sure as hell weren't going to leave for the day until we did. And that was just $.06. Easy to write off with relative impunity, but it was the principle of the thing. When you balance out at closing, your totals should be zero. Everything accounted for. Every last penny. To miss such a basic benchmark would be shoddy work, and simply beneath us, to say nothing of required.

Are we now to believe that NUCLEAR WEAPONS MANUFACTURERS don't hold themselves to the same standards? One could reasonably argue that the accounting protocol for plutonium be just a tad stricter than the mundane rules of municipal bond processing. Then again, maybe I'm being a hard ass.

Maybe the staff at Wells Fargo should trade jobs with the boys at Los Alamos. I can at least vouch for the unyielding regulations of the former.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Love Note to my Blogrades

(This spilled out of my head as a comment on another site, but after re-reading it, thought it deserved a spot here, for any of my fellow bloggers lurking in the audience....)

"Over the holiday weekend (while not much was happening on blogs), I wandered back into two usenet forums I used to frequent. Not surprisingly, the same ditto heads are still there, spouting their same vacuous bullshit (global warming is a myth, evolution is deeply flawed, torture is just fine, thank you) and like a moth to a flame, I've been responding to these idiots. All it's doing is raising my blood pressure and stirring my (formerly latent) insomnia.

Why? For the love of everything holy, WHY do I do it???

Well, not because I have any illusions of changing the minds of the especially dim, but rather for the benefit of the observers. I figure chances are, more than a few of them are "moderates" for lack of a better word, and the kinds that we all know are out there -- Too Busy With Living (bill paying, kid raising, etc etc etc) to catch anything more than soundbytes. And heaven forbid those soundbytes come courtesy of Faux News.

I wandered in originally while I was finishing school. The arguing was good for my paper-writing and I always like a chance to work on my debating skills, no matter what the incentive or environment. But after a couple of years, I was frustrated blind by some of these people, to the point in which I could easily envision decking any one of them squarely in the jaw on our first encounter. So, I split. I don't need that, my son and husband don't need that. Hell, my PETS don't need that. Mommy really doesn't want to SEEK OUT Xanax at this point, you see.

Morbidly curious on a slow holiday weekend, my resolve faltered. (Forgive me father, for I have sinned)...

Maybe my recent return had a little more to do with hubris than I'd like to admit [...]
...exchanges with adversaries does wonders for clarifying one's own perspectives and arguments -- I'd be lying if I didn't confess to taking sincere pleasure in really spanking some of the especially moronic with LOGIC and FACT (Wonder Twin Powers Activate!). I was smugly satisfied watching them try to change the subject mid-thread after a particularly sharp & substantiated lobby from me.

But, the victory was hollow -- it always is. I walk away from those exchanges so disheartened, so disappointed, so demoralized... And I'm reminded why I finally got off my ass and thought "I should go find out what this blogging thing is all about". This is not to say that I'm content to live in an echo chamber (my ego isn't THAT fragile), but seriously, getting to read the contributions from Genuine Progressive Citizens on a variety of leftie blogs has renewed my faith in people. I hate to sound schlocky, but it's true.

I LOVE you people.

Monday, November 28, 2005

An Eloquent RSVP

Don't miss this.

Where's the revolution? (Part 2)

Over the last several years, largely since the Right assumed control (a nicer thing to say than outright ownership) of all three branches of the Government, those on the left have been positively inundated with two terms: "We won, you lost, the majority has spoken" and various forms of "The robed Oligarchy". While folks with a higher IQ than that of your average brick believe this be pure crap, we are sometimes hard pressed to explain why neither term has merit. So, I'm going to give it a shot.

This whole majority thing has puzzled me for years. We are constantly told that not everyone of voting age registered to vote, though the increase in registration during 2000 and 2004, and not all those who registered actually voted. So I wanted to find out what this majority consisted of, and what it amounted to.

The population of the US, according to the Census Bureau, is around 298 million people. Of this population, 197 million are citizens of voting age, which represents 66% of the total population. Of those citizens capable of voting, 142 million of them are registered to vote, which represents 72% of the voting age population and just about 48% of the total population. At this point, it becomes pretty obvious that a "majority" of people CANNOT vote. But, lest we dilute the stats, let's move on to those who actually voted. According to the Census doc linked to above, approximately 126 million registered voters actually voted. This represents 88% of those registered and 42% of the total population. Wait, it gets worse. Wikipedia asserts that around 123 million people voted for president, which represents 97% of voters (sounds good, right?), 86% of those registered to vote, 62% of voting age citizens, and 41% of the total population.

And President George W Bush, the man with the mandate, acquired just over 50% (50.77% according to Wikipedia) of that presidential vote. So, he got 62 million votes, or thereabouts. That amounts to 43% of registered voters, 31% of voting age citizens, and 20.8% of the total population of the country. That's not a majority, that's not a plurality, that's not a mandate for jack shit.

Now, I'll be a lot more concise about this whole judicial oligarchy meme. There are 535 members of Congress, 9 Justices in the Supreme Court, 15 Cabinet positions, The President and The VP, to run the country. 542 of those positions are elected, the remainder are appointed or hired. Knowing that all the Federal power in this country is concentrated in the hands 0 .000001% of the country's population puts a different complexion on the whole oligarchy thing. As if that wasn't enough, according to, incumbents enjoy an overwhelming advantage in their re-election campaigns in terms of name recognition, access to party money, and contributions from "business interests" whose positions they support. They also tend to get re-elected more than 90% of the time. In fact, the leadership of the both party's tend to retain their seats for DECADES, and achieve seniority positions on committees that control how the government functions. They appoint judges, particularly to the Federal bench, to LIFETIME appointments.

Yeah, there's an oligarchy all right, but it goes much deeper than the incurious parroters of the current "majority" talking points can begin to believe. You know the key difference? Legislators make the law, but judges are bound by it. They are reliant on precedent and on established law, which naturally curtails the lengths to which they can go. Not so the legislators who can create law with a single person as the target (Terry Schiavo), can abridge the rights of a minority in egregious ways (homosexuals), and can overreach their offices in the most ridiculous of ways by legislating sentencing laws. I don't care to have judges in charge any more than I do politicians, but I can't help viewing those in the "unelected judges" camp with the same mild pity I view Intelligent Designers, Young Earthers, and the Heavens Gaters.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

"Evolution Site Under Fire"

:::banging head on desk:::

Via Yahoo:
California couple has sued the operators of a University of California-Berkeley Web site designed to help teachers teach evolution, claiming it improperly strays into religion.

Jeanne and Larry Caldwell of Granite Bay say portions of the Understanding Evolution Web site amount to a government endorsement of certain religious groups over others because the site is partly funded through a public money grant from the National Science Foundation.

In the lawsuit filed last month, the Caldwells contend the site is an effort "to modify the beliefs of public school science students so they will be more willing to accept evolutionary theory as true."

The plaintiffs are not proponents of "intelligent design" — a theory that living organisms are so complex they must have been created by a higher intelligence — but they object to the teaching of evolution as scientific fact, Jeanne Caldwell said.

The site is run by UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology and paid in part by a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Two university scientists and a foundation official were named as defendants.

An attorney representing the Berkeley scientists said the courts have repeatedly rejected the argument that teaching evolution in itself is teaching a religious idea.

And who are the Caldwells? Are they scientists? Biologists? Geologists? Armchair palentologists? You know, are they, in any way, qualified to assess the veracity of the Berkeley site's information? Good question. Then again, like that matters, right? After all, the fundamentalist Christian meme is "teach the controversy", totally ignoring that science is not now, nor was it ever, democratic.

(This is the most egregiously twisted spin of political correctness in this whole "ID" mess, by the way. And to the moderates that are falling for it -- Pull your heads from your nether regions, please. You're being had.)

Apparently all you have to believe is that "evolution is flawed" to get your day in court, expert consensus to the contrary be damned. I mean, it's not like our court systems aren't already crowded with frivolous lawsuits, right?

The Mercury News article elaborates in further detail:

The suit, which was filed last month, specifically objects to portions of the Understanding Evolution Web site that deal with the interplay of science and religion. For example, it challenges the site's linking to doctrinal statements from a variety of religions to demonstrate that "most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict with evolution.''

That amounts to a government endorsement of certain religious groups over others, the suit contends, and is an effort "to modify the beliefs of public school science students so they will be more willing to accept evolutionary theory as true.''

An attorney representing the Berkeley scientists said the lawsuit makes a variation on an argument that courts have repeatedly rejected -- that teaching evolution in itself is teaching a religious idea.

"The courts in many cases have said evolution is a scientific idea and there is no prohibition on the government teaching a scientific idea even if it conflicts'' with some people's religious beliefs, said university counsel Christopher Patti.

Larry Caldwell, who has two children in Roseville schools, also has sued administrators in the Roseville Joint Union High School District in an evolution-related controversy. The suit stems from his efforts -- which he says were frustrated by the district -- to persuade the school board to give students material challenging Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento non-profit that focuses on religious freedom and parental rights, has joined Caldwell in preparing both lawsuits.

Not surprisingly, the Pacific Justice Institute looks like another JDs-for-Jesus outfit. As some of you may recall, the defense firm in the Dover suit actively sought out a school board willing to insert Pandas into the curriculum and hit paydirt with Bonsell et al out here in Pennsyltucky.

Hopping aboard the Wanton Speculation Express, I'd say that I won't be the least bit surprised if the PJI heard of the Caldwell's earlier suit and "invited" them to file this grievance. "And we won't even CHARGE you!" Hey! What zealot could refuse that deal? A little press, a little lawyering, all for the low-low price of sacrificing a 4th graders reading of the 1st Amendment. Woo hoo!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

In Case There's Still Any Doubt

Exhibit A:

Brushing aside international criticism of the CIA-run prisons set up in eight countries, Bush said that the nation is at war with an enemy "that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. And so, you bet, we'll aggressively pursue them, but we'll do so under the law." Bush, who spoke to reporters during a brief visit to the capital of Panama, also asserted, "We do not torture."

His comments followed efforts by Vice President Cheney to lobby lawmakers to exempt the CIA from an amendment that would ban torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners. The exemption would cover the secret prisons.

Exhibit B:

Al-Jamadi was captured by Navy SEALs on November 4th, 2003, and after a "roughing up" (in which six of his ribs were broken), taken to Abu Ghraib and handed over to the CIA. Guards under the direction of Mark Swanner handcuffed his arms behind his back to a window five feet above the ground - a technique known as "Palestinian hanging" (a variant of strapado which causes intense pain possible dislocation of the shoulders, and eventual death by asphyxiation, in much the same way as crucifixion). 45 minutes later, he was dead. The guards called to assist when he stopped responding found him hanging with all his weight on his hands and wrists; one noted that he "had never seen anyone's arms positioned like that, and he was surprised they didn't just pop out of their sockets."

When the body was lowered to the floor, "blood came gushing out of his nose and mouth, as if a faucet had been turned on". Attempts were made to surreptitiously dispose of the corpse, and some evidence (including the bloodied hood that had covered al-Jamadi's face) was destroyed - but the body was eventually autopsied, and the death labelled a homicide. The pathologist performing the autopsy was not told of the circumstances of al-Jamadi's death, and judged that he had died of "compromised respiration" and "blunt force injuries". But experts approached by the New Yorker are clear; while al-Jamadi's beating was a contributing factor, the cause of death was asphyxiation caused by the way in which he had been hung. The man had been tortured to death.

Exhibit C:

Are we clear now?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Pic of the Day

(really hoping the copyright gods don't smite me, but this was too good not to share. Source)


If Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude, then it must be preceded by an accounting of what we have, what we have lost, what we have yet to achieve.

To this end, I suggest you read Andrew C White's diary "I've been thinking a lot lately about war".

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Note to Seeman's Critics

Jeff Seemann, Democratic candidate for Congress (Ohio, 16th Dist.) is doing something I think is quite remarkable period, much less for a would-be politician.

From his own diary of last Friday:

Most people do not understand the difficulties that our neediest Americans have each and every day. It's hard to fully comprehend issues until you've personally tackled them...and that's what I intend to do.


In two days, I'll be going homeless. I'll be out on the streets for 100 hours, learning the harsh lessons that countless people go through every day of their lives. I believe that this is the best way to represent walking a mile in their shoes.

Starting this Sunday, I will spend 100 hours homeless in Stark County, Ohio. From Sunday afternoon until late Thursday evening, I'll disappear into the city. No cell phone, no hot shower in the morning, no evenings with my girlfriend, no money in my pocket, and no Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I believe I need to immerse myself into the life with no cheating. If I want to understand what homelessness is like (and how to confront it legislatively), I need to experience it for myself.

Every day, I will make one phone call so I can check in with one friend. That friend will post my experiences online, and I will personally post a recap at the end of the 100 hours.

I will NOT be notifying the local media of this experience until it is complete. I do not view this as a photo-op or a hot story, and I do not want any reporters looking for me while I'm trying to learn from experience. Also, this is no joke and I am not trying to gain anything from the plight of homelessness, except an understanding of what it takes to survive...

Evidently he's checking in by telephone (with change he manages to scrounge up off the street) with his friend Michelle, who's been relaying his experience on several blogs (dKos links here, here and here).

Generally, most of the comments from readers are supportive, and rightfully so. It's one thing to work on behalf of charitable organizations, but it's another thing altogether to actually walk in the shoes of those you wish to help, no matter how temporarily. His exercise is clearly one of perspective-broadening, with the intent of bringing that viewpoint to bear on his future work as a legislator.

The reason I mention it here, beyond simply bringing it to your attention, is to scold the (admittedly small) number of people that reply with any number of ridiculous comments -- that he's going this primarily as a fundraising exercise, that he's just trying to evoke sentiment from the bleeding-heart-liberal crowd, and that he can't possibly ever REALLY know what it's like to be homeless what with a finite cap on his tenure on the street.

The first two claims sound like dismissiveness run amok, and while the third may have some merit, I have to ask this: Could you imagine, say, Tom Delay getting out there and doing such a thing? How about Hillary Clinton? Bill Frist? Nancy Pelosi? Sam Brownback?

HA! Never. Never in a million years. Not if their very re-elections depended on it.

But just imagine if they did. Imagine that, in a parallel world, every member of Congress were required to do something like this before taking office. How much attention and effort do you then think they'd put into addressing the multitude of problems plaguing our social services? Do you think their detached apathy would last beyond the first night? Do you think any of them would have the nerve to suggest that people ever CHOOSE to be homeless? Do you think they'd be so eager to cut support program funding at every opportunity?

Back in the real world, where such Congressional passage rites don't happen, these critics need to pull their heads out of their asses for a minute and consider this:

You don't get to bitch, moan and whine about how out-of-touch politicians are, and then condemn their efforts to get IN touch. You don't get to piss all over an effort like Jeff's when you've been screaming incessantly about the chronic ambivalence of career politicians.

Get it?? You can't have it both ways, kids. Grow the fuck up and understand that, especially now, ANY candidate that shows an interest in walking his talk should be supported, praised and respected, without reservation. Period. Full stop.

Reform Judaism’s Leader Criticizes Religious Right for Intolerance

:::Standing Ovation:::

We are particularly offended by the suggestion that the opposite of the Religious Right is the voice of atheism. We are appalled when "people of faith" is used in such a way that it excludes us, as well as most Jews, Catholics, and Muslims. What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God and that anyone who disagrees with you is not a person of faith?

More after the jump...

So we ask our neighbors on the Religious Right to take note: We are religious Jews, gathered in Houston to study, pray, and commit ourselves to God. And yes, we are generally liberal in our politics. But our liberalism flows directly from our religious commitments.

And we worry that you don't understand what this means, or what it means for anyone to be a liberal religious believer.

What it means is this: that we bring a measure of humility to our religious belief. We study religious texts day and night, but we have no direct lines to heaven and we aren't always sure that we know God's will.

It means believing that religion involves concern for the poor and the needy, and giving a fair shake to all. When people talk about God and yet ignore justice, it just feels downright wrong to us. When they cloak themselves in religion and forget mercy, it strikes us as blasphemy.

It means that "family values" require providing health care to every child and that God cares about the 12 million children without health insurance.
It means valuing a child with diabetes over a frozen embryo in a fertility clinic, and seeing the teaching of science as a primary social good.

And it means reserving the right for each person to prayerfully make decisions for herself about when she dies.

It also means believing in legal protection for gay couples. We understand those who believe that the Bible opposes gay marriage, even though we read that text in a very different way. But we cannot understand why any two people who make a lifelong commitment to each other should be denied legal guarantees that protect them and their children and benefit the broader society. We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations. And today, we cannot feel anything but rage when we hear about gay men and women, some on the front lines, being hounded out of our armed services. Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of anti-gay bigotry.

More here and here.

Hat tip: BiMP

"Army Admits It Dumped Tons of Toxic Poisons..."

I feel like I should be suprised by this news, but I'm not. In fact, I'd nearly presume it's par for the course.

In an alarming piece of news courtesy of the Newport News Daily Press, we find that the Army has been dumping chemical weapons at sea for decades, and some of it is now a toxic sludge that is poisoning all of us in more ways than we can imagine. Even though a select few have known for years that the Army was disposing of chemical weapons in ways not healthy for any of us, we are told that "records obtained by the Daily Press show that the previously classified weapopns-dumping program was far more extensive than had been suspected." The Army now admits it dumped 64 MILLION pounds of nerve and mustard gas agents, 400,000 chemical filled bombs, landmines, and rockets, and more than 500 TONS of radioactive waste into the seas. This is a disaster beyond description, and affects every living thing on Earth.

Catch the rest.

Pic of the Day

Here's wishing you and yours a yummy holiday.

This should be a good occasion for me to pontificate a bit on the nature of national holidays and/or thankfulness, but honestly it's not in me today. Suffice to say, be grateful that 2008 is just a little bit closer than it was last Thanksgiving.

Instead, I'll direct you to Robert Jensen's "A National Day of Atonement" over at Greenlily's Lose the Noose. It'll serve as a sound helping of iconoclasm if you're weary of commerical cliches and mental gluttony.


Monday, November 21, 2005

"Blame the People"

Creeping back incrementally from his recent hiatus, Michael Reynolds replies to Cheney's latest blame-dodge. As is his norm, it's succinct, to the point, and very well done. Enjoy.

AFA Claims Palmdale Parents Eat Their Young

Ok, well, not really, but they might as well. Their recent fit is equally silly.

During a brief visit to a forum I used to frequent, I came across this post. It's an email from that wonderful group, Champions of the Narrow Mind, the American Family Association.

I'm reminded, once again, that these people don’t give a rusty fuck about actual details or facts. What they are interested in, however, is invective and fear-mongering. To wit:

Activist Judges say they, not parents, have final say in teaching sex education to our children

Activist Federal Judges Strip Rights From Parents

As shocking as it may seem, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that courts--not parents--have the final authority on when and what to teach children about sex education.

In their ruling, the Court determined that parents DO NOT have a fundamental right to control when, where and how their children are taught about sex. Rather, the Court ruled, that right belongs to activist judges.

I know you probably aren't believing this, so I have provided a link to an article on the recent ruling written by Kathleen Parker, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Click here to read the column.

This is simply another encroachment by activist federal judges to take away the rights of parents and turn those rights over to the judges. These liberal activist judges feel they know better how to raise your children and grandchildren than you do!

It is time for parents and grandparents to tell activist judges to back off! Sign the petition. Forward the petition to your friends and family. We will forward the petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court where this case will eventually be decided. Hopefully, by then, Supreme Court nominee Justice Samuel Alito will have been confirmed and this crazy ruling by the Ninth Circuit can be overturned.

Click Here To Sign the Petition to the Supreme Court Now!



Donald E. Wildmon, Founder and Chairman
American Family Association

P.S. Please forward this e-mail message to your family and friends!

(I've stripped the above of its native links. I am not sending traffic to those yahoos.)

As you might imagine, curiosity got the better of me, so I did a little research.

Not surprisingly, the AFA’s problem isn’t “activist judges”. Their problem is that these judges weren’t activist ENOUGH. This particular suit was rightfully decided for a number of reasons relating to jurisdiction, scope and, well, “cognizability” of the plaintiff’s arguments. In short, the plaintiffs presented a lousy case.

Here’s a good case analysis, in case you don't have the time to wade through the 20+ page ruling:

In Palmdale, California, public school officials and a psychology graduate student administered a survey to students aged seven to ten. The parents had previously consented to the administration of the survey, but to their surprise, their kids came home and told them that the survey included lots of questions about sex. One group of parents found this absurd, intrusive, and offensive; they consequently sued the school district, claiming that the administration of the survey was a violation of their rights. The District Court dismissed the case, holding that the parents had not raised a valid claim under the law. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's dismissal, stating in their opinion that "there is no free-standing fundamental right of parents 'to control the upbringing of their children by introducing them to matters of and relating to sex in accordance with their personal and religious values and beliefs'"

As you can imagine, this decision irked a lot of people, including some religious conservatives who immediately tarred it as another loopy liberal decision from the Ninth Circuit. This description is a bit off the mark: The Ninth Circuit actually refused to "discover" or "invent" a new Constitutional right, which is a stance normally thought of as conservative (or at least constructionist). To be fair, some conservatives did acknowledge this point.2 Others, however, were less calm. Teeth were gnashed, garments were rent, and the imminent death of society was predicted; the more excitable commentators fumed that "school administrators...[had] arrogate[d] to themselves the right to raise such topics with [a] child,"3 and that the state had seized the power to to completely override the parents' wishes in the matter.

That is not a correct interpretation of this decision. To understand why not, you first need to understand what a United States court actually does in a case like this. Conceptually, it's fairly simple: The parties to a case bring a question before the Court, which does its best to provide an answer based on precedent, existing law, and general legal principles. With some important exceptions, particularly at the level of the Supreme Court, the Court only answers the question it's asked and does not spontaneously volunteer answers to other questions. (Sometimes it drops hints, though.) In other words, there may be several valid claims that the parents could raise, but they--not the Court--must bring them up.

With that in mind, here is the question that the Court was asked:
1. If you are a parent of a child in public school, does the Fourteenth Amendment give you the right to be the sole provider of information about sex?
That sounds a bit less contentious and a bit more technical, doesn't it? Just to drive the point home, here are some questions the Court was not asked:
1. If you are a parent of a child in public school, does the First Amendment give you the right to be the sole provider of information about sex?
2. If you are a parent of a child in private or parochial school, or if you home- school, does the Fourteenth Amendment give you the right to be the sole provider of information about sex?
3. Shouldn't they have notified the parents that the questionnaire asked about sex?
4. Aren't these obnoxious questions to ask of a seven-year-old?
5. In fact, isn't this questionnaire completely asinine?

The answer to these questions could be "Yes" in every case, but the Court would still have arrived at the same decision. In fact, I have not researched the first two questions at all, but I suspect that the answer to questions three and four is "Yes." As for question five, the sex-related questions appear to come from the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (or the Young Children variant), which is in fact a published and well-utilized survey. I have never used this instrument and cannot speak to its utility at all. Frankly, though, I have my doubts: Seven-year-olds often have some pretty weird ideas about what sex is, and even if they do know, they're most likely to spend their time doodling gigantic penises in the margins of their answer sheet.

But none of this is really relevant--what about the question before the Court? To judge by the opinion (which is not always a safe thing to do), the parents' argument is extraordinarily weak. The basic reasoning goes something like this: Parents have the right under the Fourteenth Amendment to make decisions about their children's care, custody, and control. This right is not absolute, however, and can be regulated by the state to some degree, particularly with regard to kids in public school. The administration of a questionnaire falls well within the range of activities permitted to the schools and their regulators, and therefore there is no legal basis on which to restrict it. Likewise, parents have a right to privacy, defined here as the right to make important decisions about their child's welfare, but again that right does not allow--and has never allowed--parents to prevent schools from providing certain information to students. (I think this is a bit wide of the mark, since the survey was really asking questions instead of disseminating information, but that only makes the parents' argument weaker.) Thus, the Court unanimously--and quite appropriately--affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the case.

Does it end there? Maybe, but as I suggested earlier, the Court's dismissal doesn't mean that the parents have absolutely no case whatsoever. Perhaps I'm influenced by my experience as a researcher, but I think the real issue here involves informed consent. In almost every case, researchers must obtain the informed consent of the people who will be participating in a study (45 CFR 46.116). When children are the participants, as is the case here, their parent or guardian must provide informed consent on their behalf (45 CFR 46.408)4. Most of the time, participants must at the very least read a document explaining the study and sign a statement agreeing to participate.
The parents in this case provided informed consent for their children to participate. They could have refused--I strongly suspect that other parents did--but they did not. Questions of privacy and due process are rather irrelevant once consent is provided. You can hardly consent to something and then claim that it violates your right to privacy--if, that is, the consent process was adequate.

In my view, however, the consent process was not adequate at all. Federal laws and regulations state that the consent form must provide "a description of the procedures to be followed" (45 CFR 116(a)(1)), but they do not establish how detailed that description should be. The specifics are left up to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), which is a group of researchers, lawyers, clinicians, and ethicists affiliated with the researcher's institution. In general, IRBs maintain that the consent form should provide all the information that a "reasonable person" would want to know about the study; said reasonable people should not end up unpleasantly surprised by anything that happens. Along similar lines, California state law requires researchers to give participants a copy of the Research Subject's Bill of Rights, which states that participants have the right to an explanation of "discomforts and risks reasonably to be expected." Normally I loathe the vagueness of the "reasonable person" standard, but in this case it seems clear: I strongly suspect that nearly every parent, regardless of his or her political orientation, would want to be informed that his or her child would be asked questions about sex. In my experience, most IRBs would require language to that effect; your average IRB takes a very broad view of what "reasonable" means and generally insists on the fullest possible description of the study procedures5. The consent form's warning that "answering questions may make [your] child feel uncomfortable" doesn't cut it. Sex is different, and the consent form should have included specific language to that effect.

So the parents might have a case if they raised this issue--but then again they might not. The relevant law is far from clear, and there seems to be very little case law on this topic. What is clear, however, is that this particular case is mostly trivial; it simply reaffirms existing law, and it is nothing to get upset about in the slightest.

While I applaud the analysis above, naturally, I have some editorializing to add.

To me, the punch-line of the AFA’s reaction to this case has to do with one of the original plaintiff claims. From the ruling:

Therein, they alleged that their “basic constitutional right to control” their children’s upbringing had been “robbed” by the defendants’ actions. Their claim was denied and they subsequently filed a complaint in district court alleging four causes of action: (1) violation of their federal constitutional right to privacy; (2) violation of their California constitutional right to privacy; (3) deprivation of civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (4) negligence.

Did you catch that? However indirectly, the AFA, through their support of the plaintiffs, is now asserting state and federal privacy rights. BWAHAHAHAHAHA The religious right has been busier than one-armed paper hangers over the last 30+ years insisting that there IS NO right to privacy, but now(!), when such a right would actually protect their interests, suddenly it DOES exist??

What a steaming load of crap. The zealots at AFA are apparently unaware that one can’t have it both ways. And in insisting that they can, indeed should, have their cake and eat it too, by railing anew against the 9th circuit for it’s “activism”, they reveal what they’ve always been: small-minded hypocrites ready to throw toddler-esque tantrums when the courts refuse to abandon things like PRECEDENT to rule in their favor.

As for the zeal with which this was passed along to the aforementioned forum, it was a perfect example of the sheepish behavior of too many people that fancy themselves "conservatives". I'll be willing to grant that in forwarding such a message along, they truly believe they're doing something good. Problem is, these kinds of messages aren't meant to be vetted by the recipients, nor are the conclusions of the AFA meant to be questioned. Like those ridiculous chain letters that promise doom in varying degrees depending the number of people to whom they are forwarded, these "bulletins" are meant only to panic, inflame and invigorate the fear and loathing of the Scapegoat du Jour.

The 9th circuit has been the whipping boy of the Right for ages now, so the AFA's reaction here comes as no surprise. What never fails to surprise and disappoint, however, is the ready willingness with which people will just climb aboard the bandwagon with seemingly no qualms at all. It would be darkly funny if these people weren't VOTERS.

Geek Joy

Just a tardy mention for your belated enjoyment:

I really sucked at chemistry as a kid. It was the math. Never could get my head around it. And as a result, after two tear-filled weeks in chemistry class, I gleefully transferred out to a benign and far more understandable earth-science class instead.

While I never mourned the loss much, every once in a while I'm reminded of just how shockingly much I don't know. The up side is that when I go poking around in various science-related sites, I'm like a little kid again, gasping with awe and wonder.

In hunting for a graphic for this site, I fell across this place. Not only does it provide some rudimentary explanations that I found, in some cases, fascinating, but it also has some dazzlingly wonderful graphics that are worth the visit alone.

So, for the geek that lurks below your surface, enjoy.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Like an Angel Passing Through

(a little political respite for your Sunday morning)

Like many people, I like to listen to music while I work. And like any other geek, I'm still in a state of bliss over the invention of mp3s. Since I'm at this computer for a ridiculous portion of my day, having my cherished tunes right at hand is about as sweet as it gets.

Anyway, I finally moved all of the music from my old PC onto the new Mac and queued up some things I hadn't listened to in a while. Among the artists drifting through my ears was Eva Cassidy. Chances are, most of you haven't heard of her. She enjoyed relative obscurity while she was recording and preferred small-venue performances. That said, her music has been featured in TV shows and commercials, so you may have heard her without attribution.

I'm not a reviewer, and have no set of stock phrases to poetically describe Eva's music, so just humor me for a minute while I try.

While I understand she did write some of her own material, I've heard her described as an "interpreter of other people's music". I suppose this can be dismissed as an eloquent way of simply saying she did covers, but that would really understate what she did.

And she was a dearly gifted singer. No, she didn't have one of those acrobatic 5-octave ranges, or the lung capacity to make whales envious. Instead, her voice had a kind of purity you don't often find; a sweet, clear sound with absolutely no pretense at all, and an expression as nakedly honest as any you're likely to find.

And what she did with the songs she sang was simply amazing. She found a way to bring depth and grace to songs that you wouldn't think could be improved. Despite the quality of the original artists' work, her covers of Judy Garland's Over the Rainbow and Sting's Fields of Gold made those familiar versions sound like a half-hearted demos. And it wasn't just those two songs -- everything she did was like that. It was as if she could hear what the writers meant, but the performers could never quite do.

Every time I hear her sing, I'm inspired and moved to awe. As a musician and singer myself, I tend to be hard on other singers, knowing how easy it is to simply make noise, and how tough it is to be genuinely good. And in my book, Eva was flawless.

Wondering about all the past tense verbs in this narrative? Well, that's the tragic ending, of course. Eva passed away in 1996, at the ripe age of 33. It was cancer that took her, and as I understand it, she died just a few months after her initial diagnosis. So, knowing that, her music always makes me a little sad, since the loss of such a graceful, moving talent has left a hole in the world. My husband reminded me that at least she was able to leave something of herself behind, and he's right, of course. Sometimes I think people like this (the gifted ones that leave too soon) were really just angels passing through.

At any rate, if you have any love of music at all, you owe it to yourself to track her stuff down. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Big Picture Check: On Reproductive Choices - ALL of Them

As is her usual, Shanikka has written a superb diary on elements of the "choice wars" that regularly get lost in the abortion din. A piece of the intro for context:

MediaGirl has written a comprehensive diary on the case of Gabriela Flores that is on today's recommended list at DailyKOS, as well it should be. In the comments, Moiv mentioned the case of Regina McKnight in passing. Someone else expressed surprise, saying that they did not know about the McKnight case. The rest of the discussion was more of the same old same old argument about Republicans, women hatred, pro-lifers, politics in the name of God, Casey's pro-life stance, and how the country is in the hands of a cult ever since the ascension of George W. Bush.
I admit that my reaction to all this was anger. Angry at the expressed suprise. Angry at the fact that we're still saying all the same things and spouting the same party lines, all focused on abortion. And angry that the only thing that even generates this much rage in progressives where women's reproductive rights are concerned is abortion.

When in fact Ms. Flores' abortion dilemma would likely not exist at all had we just gotten 1/2 as mad, 1/2 as determined, and 1/2 as dogmatic about Regina McKnight and another woman named Cornelia Whitner.

Her entry is long, but well worth the time. In it, she raises some highly valid points about the various manifestations of "choice", and includes case histories that some of you may be unaware of (as I was). As with so many good posts, it's hard to quote without losing something in the process, so get the rest, study up, spread the word.

A Little Levity

Sent by an H&S reader. File under "oldie but goodie". Enjoy.

A major research institution has announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science - "governmentium." It has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons and 111 assistant deputy neutrons for an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons that are further surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like sub particles called peons.

Governmentium has no electrons and is therefore inert. It cannot be detected however since it impedes every reaction it comes into contact with. A tiny amount of governmentium can take a reaction that normally occurs in seconds and slow s it to the point where it take days, weeks, months and even years.

Governmentium has a normal half life of three years. It doesn't decay but "re-organizes", a process where assistant deputy neutrons and deputy neutrons change places. This process actually causes it to grow as in the confusion some morons become neutrons, thereby forming isodopes.

This phenomenon of "moron promotion" has led to some speculation that governmentium forms whenever sufficient morons meet in concentration , forming critical morass. Researches believe that in Governmentium, the more you re-organize, the morass you cover.

Partisan Eye Candy

Pretty pictures.

Where's the revolution? (Part 1)

Most of you don't know, and even fewer of you will care, that I wore the uniform of this country in the 80's, during a singularly undistinguished tour in the USMC. I didn't particularly care for the regimentation of the Corps, and they reciprocated by bringing my tour to an early end. The discharge was honorable, but there was no love lost between the Corps and I. However, I took my oath, and the principles of the Corps very seriously. Honor, integrity, duty to unit and country, and the rules of engagement were stamped on us, with serious consequences for those who chose to ignore them.

More after the jump...

It is against this backdrop that I see Senators trying to make law that will exempt "certain agents of the United States" from the rules regarding torture. I hear of an effort to strip the meager protection of a lawyer from the Gitmo detainees. Which fucking passed. (It's interesting to note that Graham, the halfwit author of the measure, misstepped something awful and called them "enemy combatants" instead of "illegal combatants".) What? I hear about "black sites" and the hand over of terrorist suspects to governments that use torture as a matter of course. What the fuck? Uzbekistan, an ally in the war on terror, has BOILED people in its custody. Look it up. Donald Rumsfeld hailed them as a staunch ally in February 2005, just months before their aid was pulled by the State Department for human rights violations, holding that human rights rights are only one "aspect" of the US-Uzbek relationship.

Some of the "evidence" obtained from suspects in the custody of these black sites wound up in Colin Powells presentation to the UN. "Evidence" he now says was in error, and sometimes deliberately misleading. Gee, I wonder how it could be that information obtained through torture could be in error, or deliberately misleading?

Dick Cheney fought a losing battle against the McCain Amendment to prevent the mistreatment of detainees, threatening the veto of a military appropriations bill that would provide money for the war effort in Iraq. This was followed shortly thereafter by his hillbilly meat-puppet of a President, in a moment of idiocy, if not insanity, opining that "We do not torture" when the CIA report of the black sites hit the airwaves.

He says we will pursue them under the law, while keeping the status of those detained at Gitmo's Camp X-Ray...murky. Nicely done, George, you fucking moron, maybe you could put down the fifth of Jack, and have someone read you the Fifth Amendment. (Those of you that believe in the God of Christianity should get down on your knees and thank your deity that this mildly sentient fraction of a man cannot be re-elected to the office of the President of the United States.)

We are signatories to the Conventions on Torture and the Geneva Conventions, and the beacon of freedom to the world, and we have a responsibility, a duty, to be better than the opponent we face. This has nothing to do with what other countries think of us, goddamnit, this is about what we think of ourselves!! And, while I know that references to Nazis makes people (hard line conservatives) go absolutely batshit, when you get on the path of government mandated, and funded, torture and murder, that's where that road ends.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

My Pic of the Day: Conduits of Theocracy

Last week in Narrowsburg, NY, I took this photo from the street.

It captures one in a series of banners created by more than 100 residents with paint on canvas as part of the community "Art in Democracy" project facilitated by poet/organizer Laura Moran in conjunction with JoAnn Moran of rePublic Art.

Ten banners were created to adorn the streets, depicting visual representations of the contents of the US Constitution. I thought that this one was particularly appropriate for Hydrogen and Stupidity readers given our dominant themes.

"The We The People" banners reflect the community's desire to revisit the Constitution as a relevant, live document. Beyond, they sought to articulate its role through images of community and symbols of society.

Bill of Rights : Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This is the crux of it, folks. Whether your pet issue is Intelligent Design, the Pledge of Allegiance, displaying the "Ten Commandments", or defining rights through inherently religious vocabulary - it is important for us to talk about this constant tension that stretches this document to the extent that tiny holes continue to appear- conduits for theocracy.

I do not begrudge anyone their religion or their spiritual path. I am not anti-affiliation or Deity X or Y. I am against that which violates the above, that which seeks to lay claim over my mind or my soul, via self-appointed authorities. Why not take a minute today and reflect on what the First Amendment means to you? How would you render its meaning for you, your family, your community?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Pic of the Day

Just because Lily found the gorilla "disturbing".

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Morality is the Botox of Our Society

The previous Pitts-linked post of course echoes the sentiments of many of us who screech about deception, corruption, and a value bucket that hardly runneths over. We are right to ask these questions on torture, and we are right to call the answers 'bullshit". Questioning that which violates not only multiple charters and articles, but also our sensibilities, SHOULD be a priority of everyone in America. Challenge is the only enemy of corruption, culpability only comes from an assertion of truth. The media will continue to fail you, folks, and propaganda will prevail unless people speak out. Even if you do it here, or express it wearing a hat and sunglasses- now is not the time to demand purity of our dissenters. Speak with force or speak with futility, but say something. Anywhere. Urgency compels you.

We know that our history is riddled with both a distrust of the populace to which we also simultaneously owe our gratitude as much of what we credit ourselves with was bourne of citizen initiative. America must reconcile the paradox of "government by the people, for the people" and a detached, arrogant "representative system" that suggests these "mandates" on policy and direction- that suggests a blind trust and obedience to elected leaders who allege to altruistically and benevolently serve. But our founding fathers could not have foreseen the degradation of our social-scape. Did they envision a society so numb and disengaged that the checks and balances, the Constitution, would become so contested? Consider the conservawhores that are willing to publically state their scorn for the First Amendment! Hard to believe that people came here for freedom of religion when even our money proclaims our affinity for self contradiction. And inherent to contradiction is distrust in authority, right? Hypocrisy yields resentment? We've seen that play out. What is powerfully unique here is that fear cancels this out. And we remain in fear, our vulnerability has been shown in hundreds of clips from 9-11.

Election results do not constitute statements of consensus. They constitute elements of machinery that force people into 'issue camps". Many believe that Bush won re-election not because of the war or approval, but because the determination to prevent gay rights trumped everything in people's paths to the polls in some states. Is it not possible to mentally multi-task, America? Chew gum and hatemonger at the same time?

Is it not possible to consider innocent children being killed in Iraq while we contrive this "pro-life" agenda? Is it not possible to look at the fact that we have not had another 9-11 and suggest that maybe, JUST MAYBE, it has something to do with the fact that we have more involvement with these groups than we care to admit? We know that logic forces us to look at rampant incompetence. So how is it that we view Bushco as sources of safety, not puppetmasters? Because suggesting that we are that depraved is unpatriotic? Those that can protect in the face of incompetence must have more control than we realize. Logic: they are very competent but choose to ignore disaster and global problems. Or, they are grossly incompetent as evidenced by the responses we've seen and there is another explanation for why there has not been another attack even during vulnerable times. If they are so determined, why not then? These groups that are so hellbent? Are we supposed to believe our loose borders, chaotic ports, and intelligence" have saved our asses? You be the judge.

I might have thought so. But facts speak volumes over pundits and opinions. So many arsenals destroyed in the Middle East were easily read because they were in fucking English. Fact, not opinion. I want to know why we were able to use Bin Laden effectively against Russia, but to suggest an unholy alliance later amounts to treason? Speculation, but the relationship is based on documented fact. You see?

The question of American moral authority only exists in America (and Tony Blair's ass). Just like we view war in glossy sunrise photography, sans blood and limbless babies, we also have a glorified self congratulating sense of morality that much of the world cannot share. True, we have purchased some love and gratitude over the years. But we have no "authority". Pitt writes:

We ignore our lying eyes, I think, because we are afraid, because we saw what happened Sept. 11 and we never want to see it again. I'd never suggest we ought not fear terrorism. But we should also fear the nation we are becoming in response. We should fear the fact that we have abrogated moral authority, retreated from moral high ground, become like those we once chastised.

Becoming? Far be it from me to question such lucid commentary, but I maintain that we retreated from the moral high ground years ago. Morality has been the fucking botox of our society! A rationalization to police and dominate. We killed the native Americans, we dropped the bomb, and covered up intelligence failures resulting in massive death in Viet Nam. We turned our backs on famine, genocide in Rwanda and Darfur. We had children languishing in factories, boatloads of people brought to a life of servitude, rape, and inhumane treatment. Are these opinions?

Morality is a tool for the wicked- as touted by slave owners that claimed they looked after their slaves and 'gave them God'. Morality wants a girl to have her father's baby. Morality wants to define love, trust, law, and parenting.Morality supposedly brought us to liberate the oppressive Taliban and certainly the pipelines were just coincidental. Need I go on about mythic morality? Grin, America, and plump those lines with lies.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

"A Betrayal of Our Most Precious Values"

This editorial is getting a lot of blog coverage, and rightfully so. In case you missed out, Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald cuts through the hyperbole on the question of torture and reminds us of (what should be) the obvious:

Well, I guess that settles that.

"We do not torture," President Bush said on Monday. Never mind all those torture pictures from Abu Ghraib. Never mind all those torture stories from Guantanamo Bay. Never mind the 2002 Justice Department memo that sought to justify torture. Never mind reports of U.S. officials sending detainees to other countries for torture. Never mind Dick Cheney lobbying to exempt the CIA from rules prohibiting torture.

"We do not torture," said the president. And that's that, right? I mean, if you can't believe the Bush administration, who can you believe? No torture. Period, end of sentence.

But . . . What does it say to you that the claim even has to be made?

...Yes, Bush says we don't do that kind of thing but, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, who you going to believe, him or your lying eyes?

We ignore our lying eyes, I think, because we are afraid, because we saw what happened Sept. 11 and we never want to see it again. I'd never suggest we ought not fear terrorism. But we should also fear the nation we are becoming in response. We should fear the fact that we have abrogated moral authority, retreated from moral high ground, become like those we once chastised.

"We do not torture," says the president.

I can remember when that went without saying. (emphasis added)

Get the whole thing. There's been a head-spinning amount of commentary on the subject lately, but this is truly some of the best.

Hat tip: BIPM

Housekeeping Announcements

Happy Sunday, lovely readers.

I've done a little tweaking of the sidebar, in case you hadn't noticed.

Of particular note are the addition of Feedburner links and a Feedblitz subscription link.

For those of you RSS friendly, please feel free to add this site to your Yahoo page or whatever service you're using. At the moment, I think I'm the only subscriber (ha!) so do your part to boost the esteem of the H&S team and get with the program, people.

If you'd like to receive posts via email, go ahead and subscribe. It's a handy way to get H&S content outside of a brower environment, if you're doing clandestine web surfing from the office or something.

And if you've got a blog that's not listed in my Blogroll and you're alarmed at this tragic oversight, please let me know. I'll be happy to include you.

Hope everyone's having a good weekend. As usual, some rants are in development, so stay tuned...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sperm, Sugar, and the Baking of A Baby

CB posted an earlier reference to Redneck Mother's post on the perspective of women as "machine like" baby makers. Because there were so many posts, I didn't really catch it until I went back to check it out. Indeed, as promised, it was a great post, for a variety of reasons. It was powerful, emotional- yet candid and direct.

And what I like about Redneck Mother, and what differentiates her style from many bloggers in that it does not have the arrogant preachy tone of many blogs. This entry does not come across as authoritative or absolute. She permitted the emotional aspect, which only added to the power of the piece-not detracted.

As some know, I have a fluid view on some elements of "life as a thoroughly modern Millie". There are complexities and challenges that require more airplay than we permit at times. And yet, in the subtleties are where I find the blogosphere to be the greatest asset. The myriad of voices- to be collectively informative, the writers that speak freely without pandering to an audience-the ones that resonate with me...I think its ok to give myself permission to say I am simply not one of the ALMIGHTY BLOGGERS that have every answer on the ready. I see little value if we cannot express what concerns us. Sometimes I am discouraged by the comments. What is it that we are trying to do? Pop in to give props and nods? Or digest what we read, participate?

I know, I ask annoying questions, I know. I say "tell me how you reconcile A with B" ...often at the risk of not appearing to 'tow the line' with my questions or comments..which couldn't be further from the truth. I do not think that expressing concern about one aspect weakens my posture.

This came up for example when I suggested that we fight more for availability of technology for abortion to be done earlier than the typical 12-16 week window. Put more force behind morning after pills and medications that impede implantation. I also suggested that we be well versed in the actual actions of these medications, on their implications for policy and the law, because such information on women's health is essential. If we cannot distinguish between birth control and a pill that induces abortion, how will we know what medications those that control our health will seize in the face of an overturn of our rights? Some pills in fact perform both mechanisms. But in the face of an overturn, one would be illegal and the other not. Seems prudent to know which.

Simple, right? This was construed as weakening the position on reproductive freedom somehow on a blog where the differences were debated. I look at it as a woman's health advocacy issue. One person emailed me to say that it does not matter what pills do, only that we can have them whenever we want, not to get bogged down by technicalities. Indeed, the technicalities will weigh heavily on our minds if the right have their way with us!

On earlier abortion, this provoked a lot of discussion that strayed from the original point which was the senselessness of prolonging pregnancy in some cases simply for convenience or preference (by providers, not the women) when alternatives are possible.I also pointed out that prolonging pregnancy is a right wing strategy for decreasing abortions. Where's the harm in suggesting that? Because it sprang from a thread on fetal pain? Acknowledging the role of fetal pain makes me less of a feminist? Who sets the agenda for all women? To me a feminist strengthens their view not by crushing dissent but by learning from it. Addressing it head on. There are even some blogs where anything short of agreement gets deleted! What is the role of the commenter? To say "Bravo' as they make their rounds? How does it help anyone's cause to disregard anything that adds an element of fuzzy gray? Who among us are so brilliant that they have nothing to learn?

Personally, what I seek in the blogosphere is not cheerleading and blind sisterhood, but sisterhood based on responsiveness to diversity and the range of views women are capable of. Not the pat lectures, but bloggers that can back up their remarks beyond the typical "my uterus, my way, no discussion" retort. It too closely resembles the neocon model of "no abortion, no exceptions,no discussion". A majority of us lie moving and scrambling in between these extremes, and are categorically discounted. You waver, therefore you are irrelevant. The right wing unite under a banner, and so too should we! At any cost! You are here, or there, and wishy-washers need not apply.

I like to think that we, as intelligent capable women, have evolved past "one tent" for all thinking toward a feminism of pluralities that are not perceived as weakness but something that makes a movement greater than the sum of its champions. I can have a mixed bag of opinions, and still be at home with my labels.

To me, modern feminism is fundamentally about choice- and not necessarily condoning all choices (I would not support the women who beats her child by CHOICE, for example) but the support of choice in the sense of autonomy, information, options, and a world conducive to the ways choices are manifested by individual women. As a feminist, I cannot say I am thrilled when somebody tells my an abortion will damn me to hell, but I can respect that they feel that way from their own perspective. Just leave me out of your perspective as I do not share your view.

As a person with a mixed bag of feminist thoughts, I notice that DIALOGUE often evokes a hostility of absolutes. I do not blog to cheerlead and make static commentary, with little room for learning. I blog because I genuinely want to know how other people support their stance. And in these exchanges, we learn more about one another and ourselves.

I think it is more important to be clear on the issues, and speak to truth, vs. slogan-slinging. I hold my ideals close to my heart too. But it seems to me that when we are unsettled by simple questions, we are seen as doing a disservice to a discussion. Why are some threatened by dissent, questions? Does this not help us tweak our points? Persuasion takes persistence, not force. Not bullying.

Now I posted the following at Redneck Mother- not because I disagree with her post (referenced above) which was every bit as good as the accolades suggest, but because I genuinely want to know how the question is received by the other readers.

Again I express a certain frustration with myself for not having the linguistic precision to rattle off a better-framed comment.

Well done. I can relate to some of what you describe so well, and appreciate your heartfelt (but no nonsense) comments.

So much of the discussion seeks to reduce us to machinery, from the predictability and controllability you describe to the notion of ownership and "say" over another as though that person has no capacity for self determination- all we need are some men with pencils and gauges. My trouble comes with the informed, reasonable woman- LOVING guys out there that quietly say "your view leaves us in the cold". That's when MY arm flailing starts- I'm with you sisters but find myself

So help me out here if you can.
The men who have busied themselves with explaining the dilemma not of spousal consent but their discomfort with having no say over their unborn have claimed (to me, at least) that women are the ones framing themselves as machines by reducing sperm not to half of a genetic makeup but to an incidental "input" easily dismissed and disregarded. Like sugar into a batter. And once procured, is rendered irrelevant for the purposes of discussion. Some tell me that the moment they utter a word about their sense of having a "role" (not to be read as "say") they are slammed as misogynists. It would be helpful to explore the concerns of spouses in ways that do not categorically diminish men as many are prone to diminishing us. Any ideas on how that can be framed? Do men have ANY say/role at all regarding the destiny of their unborn in your view? In saying they do, is it a matter of distinguishing what we legislate versus what is private? I disagree with spousal notification but feel that there is something to the argument that we often reduce men to irrelevant inputs WHILE they regard our uterus as something like a bread machine. But I'm just not clear on this role. The answer I often get is "men have no role, its my body, and nobody can tell me what to do with it.

There's the tough part for me- I agree, but can appreciate the sentiment that they are "reduced to inputs". But what's the answer? I am not willing to legislate your authority. But I do not seek to trivialize your dilemma. I hear that this dilemma is dismissed, but also know that many dismiss my rights as well. It makes me bitter and not want to be sympathetic at times, truth be told.

I see that many women on such blogs have very clear decisive answers and I suppose I am admitting that very often I do not. We want men involved as fathers, legally and socially, but then we say they have no role or say past conception, and no role in determining anything because of the logistics of nature- and to suggest anything else is feminist blasphemy to those that leave little room for exploration and consideration.

One said: "Give them an inch, they take a mile, never budge on your body!" That feels awfully machine-like, and renders all men with the same brush.

Humbly I ask those with thoughts on this to be informative, not patronizing and condescending. Share your wisdom, as women should be doing, and used to do in matriarchal cultures.

And perhaps one or two of you here can weigh in.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Who Knew John Cusack Blogs?

I didn't. And I freely admit that I sat down to read for all the cheesy reasons -- I think he's a fabulous actor and an incredibly sexy man. Happily, and not the least bit surprisingly, he's also a terrific writer. Go look. Carving out quotes will blow the rhythm and won't do the post any justice.

I Heart Harry, The Sequel

In response to Bush's pathetic speech today, in which he claimed that because Democrats got the same pre-war intelligence he did, and consequently supported the invasion, that they should pretty much just shut up now, Harry Reid fired off another glorious Fuck You in Congress-ese:

On this Veterans Day, the President had the opportunity to honor our troops, both those who have served and those who are currently serving, by laying out a clear strategy for success in the war in Iraq. Instead, the President resorted to his old playbook of discredited rhetoric about the war on terror and political attacks as his own political fortunes and credibility diminish.

Attacking those patriotic Americans who have raised serious questions about the case the Bush Administration made to take our country to war does not provide us a plan for success that will bring our troops home. Americans seek the truth about how the nation committed our troops to war because the decision to go to war is too serious to be entered into under faulty pretenses. While the Bush administration continues to stonewall the Congress from finding the truth about the manipulation of prewar intelligence, Democrats will continue to press for a full airing of the facts. We stand with our troops when we ask the hard questions, and with their families when we fight to get them, their families and our veterans the benefits they deserve.

We fear Iraq has become what it was not before the war, a haven for terrorists. We can no longer simply pledge to stay the course, we must change the course. The American people are demanding a comprehensive plan and the benchmarks by which to measure our success for the war in Iraq. The president's continued refusal to provide that plan does nothing to support our troops or their families.

Reading it reminded me of what really might be the Best. Comment. Ever. and I didn't want y'all to miss it.

Posted in response to a thread discussing his earlier invocation of Rule 21, the relevant cluster of discussion turned into something of a caption contest. GOTV's hysterical contribution, and target photo, are below:

...Reid's announcing that Shumer and Durbin
have agreed to carry his massive balls.

Pic of the Day

In homage to the "labels" discussion, this seemed strangely appropriate.

Perhaps the Best Ever

Redneck Mother has written one of the most incisive and eloquent pieces on aborton politics I've ever read. Snipping quotes won't do it justice. Get the whole thing.

Oh, and Speaking of Loveable Curmudgeons

Today is Mr. & Mrs. Bitch's 5th Anniversary. Never in my life have I done anything as spectacularly wonderful as marrying this man. His wit and intelligence never cease to amaze me, his generosity and loyalty reminds me of everything good in this world, and he's got an ass cute enough to eat ice cream off of.

If most people were just half as amazing as this man, this would truly be a perfect world.

Love you, Beastie.

Another Curmudgeon Worth Loving

You know, I hear folks on the left slamming Jack Cafferty, and honestly, I don't know enough about the man's history to argue the point. But I do confess -- he's the only thing that makes "The Situation Room" worth watching. Thanks to the boys at Crooks & Liars, I often don't have to watch to gobble up some of his gems.

This particular segment made me chuckle and is a great example of why I'm a fan. Having left California before Aaahnold's term, and pretty much blocking the state from my memory altogether, I'm not well versed in what was on their ballot (short of what I've been told about Prop 73). However, it's not even relevant to my Cafferty love, it's just a fine example of Cantankerousness.

See, I've just got a permanent soft-spot in my heart for anyone in the MSM that makes absolutely no effort to disguise their eye-rolling dismissal of public figures (assuming they share at least some of my political persuasions, that is. HA!). And Jack offers up Sardonic Theatre at it's best. I want to pour him a scotch, feed him a steak and let him pontificate all over the dining room table.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bitch, Interrupted

CB will get a kick out of this story. Move on if you are easily offended. I sent a link to something on this blog, to a friend. The person sent an email asking why women are so infatuated with the word bitch when we have come so far in our liberation. She claimed that 'bitch' is a derogatory word, and using it only perpetuates verbal violence against women.

Whoa. Hold on. A word? True, words can hurt. But words can be transformed or "reappropriated", reclaimed so as to reduce their injurious tone to one of positive affirmation. It got me thinking about language and its power. Where does the power of a word lie? In its history, its context? The manner by which we utter it? Does liberation involve shedding the trappings of such nonsense, refusing to embrace terms defined by others? What is liberating about accepting a static view of language, viewing culture as repetitve fixed behaviors that endure throughout history? I think viewing the word differently over time is reflective of a liberated posture. What do you think?

Many feel a "bitch" is an assertive, rebellious, outspoken or strong woman. A woman unafraid to speak out or question. A woman that speaks her mind even if it is not what we want to hear. What's so wrong with that? Plenty, if you are an insecure man or an uptight traditionalist- hellbent on framing the status quo and hanging it on your mantle.

The question was raised over at Marginal Notes
There is considerable debate within various cultural groups over the reappropriation, or reclamation, of language. Some argue that, by co-opting or "flipping" terms that have historically been used against oneself, derogatory terms are deflated and given new meaning. The most well known example may be the now frequent use of the word "nigger" in hip-hop music. Similarly, many gays and lesbians embrace "fag" and "dyke", as some women do "bitch" and "cunt".
While the reclaiming of language has gained popularity, some warn that the process obscures the historical roots of terms, and the very real oppressive forces that they represent. In a sense, the danger is false consciousness.

And for those of you that are squeamish about the C word, there is an overview on reappropriating that as well here.

Oink Oink

Pat Robertson sends his love to Dover.

Show of hands: Who's shocked?

Pic (sorta) of the Day

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

ANWR Off the Table!!

From Richard Cowen at Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives abandoned, at least temporarily, a drive to open Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling after concluding on Wednesday the initiative was threatening passage of a huge bill to cut spending.

"ANWR and OCS will be out" of the legislation, said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, an Iowa Republican.

Hat tip: georgia10

I Do Not Have the Words

for this.

"...How to Deal with Kansas"

My Philosophy over at dKos has posted a fine entry on what the Dover school board change can mean for dealing with states like Kansas. It's not an argument you've never heard me make, but s/he presents it well and it therefore, bears repeating.

Imagine you are a young red-stater. You go to church every week, have grown up believing in your god and your parents religion. Other ideas are not intrusive on your daily life or routine. You are never exposed to any other points of view. These days, unless you go to an increasingly unaffordable college and take a philosophy course or a comparative religion course, you can go your whole life in Red State America without ever getting out of your philosophical comfort zone. Then, suddenly, in high school, you have access to a course where you can learn about Intelligent Design. But, you are learning it in the context of questions like "Does God Exist?" And you are learning about your religion in the context of other world religions whose beliefs are given equal time and weight (and as an added bonus, upcoming generations of Americans will have a much broader, firmer understanding of Islam than we do today...).

Can you even begin to fathom what this new philosophical diversity in our schools will do to fundamentalistic worldviews? Their ideas will be undermined simply by the fact that other religions are given equal weight and credence. Ideas about Intelligent Design taught along with debate on philosophical questions like "Does God Exist?" will undermine what fundies have been indoctrinated in their whole lives: an unquestioning belief in the existence of their particular deity and the truth of their particular creed. Knowledge of other religions promotes tolerance for other viewpoints and undermines the fundamentalists belief that their faith is the one and only true faith. Thus, by proposing Intelligent Design, fundies will in essence be sowing the seeds of their own world-view's destruction.

Hear hear!

"Whistling Past the Graveyard"

An absolute must read.

You know, this is what the ardent pro-lifers conveniently and belligerently ignore: women will choose to terminate their pregnancies. They've been doing so for thousands of years. Whether or not we understand or agree with their reasons, they will continue to do so. And when legal avenues to this procedure are blocked by Bible-thumping idealogues, they will still continue to do so, at risk of their very lives.

But these choice-opponents don't give a shit. They pretend these women don't mutilate themselves, pretend they don't risk death, pretend they don't ACTUALLY DIE when their options are curtailed. And, thinking that everyone in America is a total moron, they deny the subtext: they believe, utterly and completely, that women who choose abortion DESERVE to die for their choices.

I don't have the language to express my contempt for these people. Nor do I have a way to express my disgust for those that vote these fuckers into office, donate to their causes, or patronize their businesses. And I won't spare my wrath from those that fail to support organizations, initiatives, candidates and charities that fight to defend the right of choice. To remain silent, or inactive, is to be complicit. Period.

White House White-Out

This really shouldn't surprise anyone at this point. What is noteworthy, I think, is that the administration's attempt to cover their tracks is getting sloppier and sloppier every day.

Usually, the White House just puts words into Scott McClellan's mouth. Last week, the press office tried to wrench them into the transcripts of White House briefings provided by CQ and the Federal News Service. At issue: McClellan's uncharacteristically candid affirmation of a statement by NBC's David Gregory, set forth by CQ and FNS as:
One Version
The White House heard it differently:
Second Version
McClellan should probably just officially start working for The Onion now, don't you think? I mean, it's not like they've ever pretended to be straight with us either.

Pic of the Day

In general agreement with the school of thought that says "political blogs should be reserved primarily for, well, politics", I've refrained from such fluffy entries as Tuesday's Pot Roast Recipe and CB's Dog Goes to the Vet. I'm simply working on the assumption that a.) my daily domestic life really isn't THAT fascinating and b.) I'm not Dave Barry and consequently, able to make hilarity of the mundane.

However, that doesn't mean that there isn't room for some occasional diversions. I mean, after all, there are some days when I simply can't be bothered to write another rant. So sue me.

Instead, I might as well start tossing you some of the pics in my vast collection. Some are funny, others are just eye candy, others may even be topically relevant to current events. Or not. Like you care, right?

Here's today's just because I like it. Do I need another reason?

Clearcut Context

In case any of you were wondering, here's an example of what's being demolished near Lily's house.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dover Board is OUT

Challengers defeat architects of Dover 'design'
Dover CARES candidates opposed to the district's intelligent design policy appear to have won a sweeping victory over eight incumbents who backed the district's controversial policy on intelligent design. Although many candidates cross-filed in the primary, eight board incumbents won the Republican nominations, and eight challengers from the dissident Dover CARES group won the Democratic nominations. Final unofficial ballot totals show the challengers sweeping all eight seats from the pro-design incumbents.

Clearcut of the Week

Now I know I am obsessing about this, and have posted it over at Lose the Noose as well. But see, this is what is going on next to my house. The builders clear cut the whole damn lot, and are busy working on a McMansion that will need to be landscaped to replace the trees that were ripped out.
Is it necessary to turn nature into a contrived patch of fertilized turf, surrounding a vinyl monolith?
As you honor the fallen this Veteran's Day, take pause and consider the path that brought us to Iraq. Our lifestyles are based on oil dependency, and our cities and towns are planned accordingly. Consider our greed, and our attitude about resources. Consider if the "American Dream" needs a reality check.

If 51% Was a Mandate...

Then it looks like Congress should get busy. According to a recent Zogby poll, 51% of likely voters believe the impeachment of Bush should be considered.

Of course, we all know that the RW will now respond by insisting that 51% is not, in fact, a mandate. More Logical Inconsistencies brought to you by the GOP®.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Like a kid at Christmas

Woo hoo! I've just unpacked and plugged in my shiny new iMac.
Yes, I have made the Great Defection, having reached my limit of frustration with the PC. I bought a Sony Vaio just a year ago, and while it's generally been ok, it's become sluggish and sticky in the last few months, despite my concerted efforts at housekeeping, tweaking & optimizing.
My gloriously wonderful husband, actually, is the one that nudged me toward the Mac, probably as much out of a desire for me to stop bitching as anything else!
At any rate, I'm wandering around, getting acclimated and set up, so if I'm short on posting for a couple of days, please don't hold it against me. I refer you, as always, to the blogroll. Some of the smartest people on the web are parked over there.

:) Happy Monday!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Trains & Dolls

As we all know, once you buy something from a catalogue, your name and address is whooshed through the great Catalogue Mojo Machine and suddenly, you're on everyone's mailing list. This is particularly true for children's products, especially toys.

And, as we're all aware, once the gauntlet of Halloween falls, marking the official passage into the Holiday Season, toy manufacturers are quick to remind us that it is, once again, time to start shopping for our little munchkins.

Being an only-child parent of an only child, the majority of whose parent-friends live in other states, I actually don't mind the onslaught so much. My memories of toddlerhood are hazy and as such, I need a little help with ideas. And for this reason, I don't mind the bombardment by Fischer Price et al and quickly set to browsing through the pages to make my Santa List.

Being an unrepentant junkie for social politics, however, means that the Big Picture is never far from my mind, and as I flip through the glossy displays of multi-colored plastic wonders, the armchair pundit in me starts to grumble & twitch.

Now, as ever, gender politics is part of the national discourse. Whether it be reproductive rights, pay parity or child & health care policy decisions, this country is still in its adolescence in its treatment of men and women and the differences therein. Despite our ideals, we still struggle with the simple things, like division of household labor, for instance. One might not necessarily connect the dots between who does the vacuuming and whether women earn cents on men's dollars, but this failure of connection has meaning.

I don't intend to make some over-the-top claim that there's a directly causal relationship here, but I do mean to suggest a certain correlation that we benefit from being mindful of.

Browsing through these catalogues, the indoctrination into gender roles simply couldn't be more obvious. Train sets, race cars and erector sets are clearly placed in the boys section, are decorated with "masculine" colors, and are pictured in the raptured gaze of Handsome Father and Delighted Son. Conversely, toy kitchens, sewing machines and dolls are prominently featured in the girls section. Invariably decorated in some shade of pink, they're cooed over by pigtail sporting Little Ladies while Proud Mama smiles with approval. In some catalogues, the sections are so blatantly divided as to contain blue pages for boys, pink pages for girls. We all know the scene.

Nowhere in these pages do we find, say, a boy pushing a toy vacuum, or a girl cheering her Hot Wheels around a slick and windy racetrack. We don't find Dad attending a tea party or Mom helping out on the carpenter's horse. The lone spot of neutrality is sometimes found on the pages sporting video games, but even then, subject matter is still clearly divided along gender lines.

These are not revelations, to be sure. However, it's worth remembering while we, The Great Progressive Liberals, consider our holiday shopping this year. If we all agree that the "glass ceiling", for instance, is an insulting reality for our bright and powerful sisters, let's make sure that we don't inadvertently contribute to gender role indoctrination while stuffing Susie's stocking.

Instead, buy her the train set. Give Billy the toy blender. If Bobby wants a doll, give him one. Don't let his grandparents cluck their tongues and shoot you disapproving glances when sister Ashley squeals over her toy workbench. Dress her in pink only if she LIKES pink. Let her wear her brother's hand-me-downs and don't worry about whether or not there's a spare ribbon to put in her hair so as not to confuse folks at the mall.

By all means, get the Bubble Mower if your son wants it. Just make sure your daughter knows it's for her, too. Little efforts like this accumulate over the years, and help shape their perceptions of Who Does What. Wouldn't it be great if, by the time they encounter starkly defined gender roles as young adults, they're so alien to them as to be laughable. Then imagine the world such a generation will create.