Saturday, June 14, 2014

Poetry

William Logan in the Times ruminates on the place of poetry in contemporary life:
You can live a full life without knowing a scrap of poetry, just as you can live a full life without ever seeing a Picasso or “The Cherry Orchard.” Most people surround themselves with art of some sort, whether it’s by Amy Winehouse or Richard Avedon. Even the daubs on the refrigerator by the toddler artist have their place. Language gainfully employed has its place. Poetry will never have the audience of “Game of Thrones” — that is what television can do. Poetry is what language alone can do.
I have recently started reading poetry again after a hiatus of about 15 years. Basically since graduate school in English literature, which drove my previous love of poetry completely out of me. It has been a slow and lovely remembering of the ways language can be harnessed for deep meaning and pure aural pleasure.

I have been remiss in not reading poems to my children.

Friday, June 13, 2014

La Playa

Going to the beach with the fam this week so posting will be light.

Happy summer!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Reaping What They've Sown

Some interesting thoughts on both the self-inflicted and widespread damage being done by the Republican Party because of their relentless march to the conservative fringe.

First, a great polemic from Paul Waldman linking right-wing rhetoric to the increasing pace of right-wing terrorism in the U.S. Waldman doesn't pull any punches in calling out GOP politicians on their rhetoric and the atmosphere it creates:
What I’m about to say will raise some hackles, but we need to talk about it. It’s long past time for prominent conservatives and Republicans to do some introspection and ask whether they’re contributing to outbreaks of right-wing violence.
. . . 
The most obvious component is the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns. But that’s only part of it. Just as meaningful is the conspiracy theorizing that became utterly mainstream once Barack Obama took office. If you tuned into one of many national television and radio programs on the right, you heard over and over that Obama was imposing a totalitarian state upon us. You might hear that FEMA was building secret concentration camps (Glenn Beck, the propagator of that theory, later recanted it, though he has a long history of violent rhetoric), or that Obama is seeding the government with agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. You grandfather probably got an email offering proof that Obama is literally the antichrist.
In addition to noting current examples of irresponsible right-wing rhetoric and reprehensible right-wing violence, Waldman reminds us that this phenomenon is nothing new. Over the past 50 years, we have consistently seen an increase in right-wing violence following Demcratic political gains.
In our recent history, every election of a Democratic president is followed by a rise in conspiracy-obsessed right-wing populism. In the 1960s it was the John Birch Society; in the 1990s it was the militia movement shouting about black UN helicopters, and during the Obama presidency it was the Tea Party. Some of those movements are ultimately harmless, but alongside and around them are people who take their rhetoric seriously and lash out in response. After these killings in Nevada, and the murders at a Jewish community center in Kansas, and the murders at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and multiple murders by members of the “sovereign citizens” movement in the last few years, it’s worth remembering that since 9/11, right-wing terrorism has killed many more Americans than al Qaeda terrorism.
And Republican politicians explicitly fan these flames and actively rebuke people who call attention to the fact that right-wing terrorism exists. I admire Waldman for making such a public statement about the power of right-wing rhetoric on right-wing extremists, and for explicitly linking it to the fetishizing of firearms among a significant segment of our population.  I am also scared for Waldman for those very reasons. Which means their terrorism is working.

Less significant in the scheme of things, but important in the corridors of the Capitol, this week also saw another notable impact of relentless right-wing rhetoric on the part of Republican leaders and conservative media: the ouster of House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, in the Republican primary in favor of a far-right, Tea Party candidate.

As Jonathan Bernstein notes, the "establishment Republicans" made this bed, but, unfortunately, we are all going to have to lie in it:
Republican leaders, including whomever counts as the “establishment,” have spent more than 40 years educating rank-and-file voters that “more conservative” is always better. But they haven’t specified what “more conservative” actually means beyond attitude. So it isn’t surprising that people in the House or Senate leadership - those who are required to make and support deals with Democrats during times of divided government - will wind up accused of being squishes or RINOs. Even if we don’t know whether that is specifically the cause of Cantor’s defeat, it’s almost certainly part of the context that has made all Republican incumbents a little more vulnerable.
As for the consequences of Cantor’s loss (beyond changes in the leadership), they don’t really depend on the causes; they depend on how Republicans interpret the election.
One thing has consistently been true over the years. Whenever conservative Republican politicians are accused of not being sufficiently conservative, they react by rushing to tighten their embrace of the loudest, nuttiest, most radical, self-proclaimed conservatives.  
You know, the ones who want to shut down the government, or deny climate change exists, or declare that a fetus is a person, or want to privatize social security, or refuse to confirm any judges, or want to  deport every undocumented immigrant in the country, or try to restrict voting rights, or eliminate estate and corporate taxes, or loosen gun laws in the wake of school shootings, etc., etc., etc.

And then these "reasonable Republicans" wonder why their base keeps electing lunatics who often can't win a general election.  It's tempting to gloat and say "you get what you deserve, morons," but the reality is that we all suffer when this kind of rightwing extremism is embraced and encouraged.  It's time we start talking openly about the danger right wing reactionaries pose to this country and the ways that mainstream Republicans are supporting them. I applaud both Waldman and Bernstein for engaging in this conversation.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dumbing Down

Paul Glastris and Haley Sweetland Edwards have a really interesting long piece at Washington Monthly on how Republicans have dumbed down Congress. Not in the most obvious way, by electing a cavalcade of morons (although that doesn't help), but in their approach to congressional staffing:
In 1995, after winning a majority in the House for the first time in forty years, one of the first things the new Republican House leadership did was gut Congress’s workforce. They cut the “professional staff” (the lawyers, economists, and investigators who work for committees rather than individual members) by a third. They reduced the “legislative support staff” (the auditors, analysts, and subject-matter experts at the Government Accountability Office [GAO], the Congressional Research Service [CRS], and so on) by a third, too, and killed off the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) entirely. 
Why would Newt Gingrich and the newly-elected GOP majority in the house decimate their own staff and degrade the information-gathering and policy-making expertise available to lawmakers?
Part of it is political optics: What better way to show the conservative voters back home that you’re serious about shrinking government than by cutting your own staff? But a bigger reason is strategic. The Gingrich Revolutionaries of 1995 and the Tea Partiers of 2011 share the same basic dream: to defund and dismantle the vast complex of agencies and programs that have been created by bipartisan majorities since the New Deal. The people in Congress who knew those agencies and programs best and were most invested in making them work—the professional staffers, the CRS analysts, the veteran committee chairs—were not going to consent to seeing them swept away. So theyhad to be swept away.
The Republican belief that reality can be held at bay, King Canute-like, by simply decreeing that conservative policies will have benevolent effects, began long before Karl Rove came on the national scene. Unlike the Republicans, however, King Canute understood you can't change reality by simply wishing it away. Accordingly, the government has grown, not shrunk, with fewer Congressional staff to oversee and investigate increasingly complex agencies.

Another result of the gutting of Congressional staff? The outsourcing of policy development to entities  with very vested interests in certain policy outcomes:
Much of the research, number crunching, and legislative wordsmithing that used to be done by Capitol Hill staffers working for the government is now being done by outside experts, many of them former Hill staffers, working for lobbying firms, think tanks, consultancies, trade associations, and PR outfits. This has strengthened the already-powerful hand of corporate interests in shaping legislation, and given conservative groups an added measure of influence over Congress, as the shutdown itself illustrates.
This article is an in-depth primer on the crucial role played by both individual congressional staffers and the institutional congressional staff of organizations like the Congressional Research Service and the Office of Management and Budget in developing policy and providing competent Congressional oversight of government. It also details exactly what Newt Gingrich and the radical "Contract With America" Republicans wrought with their slash and burn approach to reorganizing Congressional committees and congressional staffing. Let's just say that the former speaker doesn't come out of this one smelling particularly fragrant.

We have seen the results of electing know-nothings to Congress in the form of climate change denial, lack of oversight in foreign policy and national security matters, adoption of economic policies that actually crash the economy, and on and on. It used to be that the know-nothing representatives went to D.C. and had competent, long-serving experts in various fields at their disposal, who would bring the new guys up to speed on policy proposals.

Now we have corporate lobbyists and right-wing think tanks providing that "expertise", with predictable results.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When Do We Make It Stop?

Today:
(Reuters) - A gunman walked into an Oregon high school and fatally shot a student on Tuesday before authorities found him dead a short time later, a day before students were due to finish classes and break for summer vacation.
Day before yesterday:
In a shooting rampage that left five people dead, two assailants killed two Las Vegas police officers on Sunday at a pizza restaurant and fatally shot a third person at a nearby Walmart before dying in a suicide pact, the authorities said. 
Four days ago:
Hours after a gunman shot a Forsyth County sheriff’s deputy in the leg, the investigation continued at both the county’s courthouse and the suspect’s home. After Deputy Daniel Rush was shot, other deputies who heard the commotion rushed to stop the alleged shooter, Dennis Marx. Marx died at the scene.
According to Sheriff Duane Piper, Marx began firing an AR15 and had two handguns as he drove up the courthouse walkway, where Deputy Daniel Rush was making a routine sweep of the courthouse lawn. 
Five days ago:
A male in his 20s has died and three others are injured after a shooting at the campus of Seattle Pacific University, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Police said on their verified Twitter account on Thursday that a lone suspect entered a university building, shot two males and two females, and began reloading. 
And the above tally of this week's carnage doesn't even include all the regular, run-of-the-mill shootings  like this:
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Investigators say a man apparently killed his wife and three daughters before turning the gun on himself in the family's southwest Florida home.
Lee County sheriff's deputies responded to the scene early Sunday and found all five people dead. 
or this:
A 3-year-old boy is in critical but stable condition in Hopewell, VA after his twin brother found an unattended handgun and accidentally shot him. According to CBS News, the shooting took place at around 10:00 a.m. on Monday.
 or this:
COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah — Friends and classmates are talking about an accidental shooting that left one Brighton High School student dead and two others in juvenile detention, facing potential charges.
or this:
CORNWALL — Town of Cornwall police say a 35-year-old woman was shot in the leg accidentally Friday night when her husband was demonstrating the operation of a handgun. 
or this:
A 14-year-old-boy was sent to the hospital after accidentally shooting himself in the leg Sunday evening in West Valley City.
The boy found a 22 caliber hand-gun near 2956 South 3145 West and wound up shooting himself in the left leg, according to the West Valley City Police Department. 
or this:
A 7-year-old boy is recovering in the hospital after first being attacked by a dog and then being shot. Police say the shooter appears to have been trying to stop the attack and believe the shooting of the boy was accidental.  
And I'm sure I didn't catch them all. This is an epidemic of death and destruction, and it can be laid at the feet of the gun manufacturers, the NRA, and the craven politicians who are more interested in saving face with the gun nuts than in saving children's lives.

Regulate the shit out of these tools of death. Install supreme court justices who don't undo two centuries of precedent in order to invent an unfettered individual right to own a gun. Call out gun fetishists for the freaks that they are, and make gun ownership less attractive for each succeeding generation of Americans.

Enough is fucking enough.


UPDATE: Oh look, here's news of another deadly shooting just since I posted this piece:
A man is dead and his wife critically injured in what the Delaware County District Attorney is calling an attempted murder-suicide.
Police say that Richard Piroli, 67, shot his wife Carol, 68, just before 8 a.m. Tuesday their home on the 600-block of West Ashland Avenue. 

If You Can't Win, Cheat (More, Again, Still)

The New York Times continues to do good work exposing Republican vote suppression efforts. Today's editorial tries hard to shame the GOP over their efforts to limit early voting in Ohio.
Someday, after they figure out how to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate, Republicans will probably be embarrassed by how much time they have spent making it harder for Americans to vote. For now, though, the beat just goes on. In a misguided effort to hold on to power despite an ever-shrinking base of older white voters, Republican lawmakers around the country continue to impose all sorts of barriers to the ballot box.
One of the most egregious examples is happening in Ohio, a critical swing state in presidential elections and the scene of many recent disenfranchisement attempts. 
I appreciate the effort, I just don't think these people are capable of feeling shame. After seeing what they have managed to do here in North Carolina as soon as they had the ability to make changes, it's clear that today's Republican Party doesn't care about anything other than making sure its base of resentful old white guys maintains its grip on the levers of power.


Monday, June 9, 2014

The G.O.P. in a Nutshell

Why yes,  of course it is okay to be corrupt if it is in service of a good cause. You know, like denying healthcare coverage to hundreds of thousands of your less fortunate fellow citizens:
RICHMOND — Republicans appear to have outmaneuvered Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state budget standoff by persuading a Democratic senator to resign his seat, at least temporarily giving the GOP control of the chamber and possibly dooming the governor’s push to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) will announce his resignation Monday, effective immediately, paving the way to appoint his daughter to a judgeship and Puckett to the job of deputy director of the state tobacco commission, three people familiar with the plan said Sunday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
. . . 
Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) said Republicans were unable to win the policy argument about Medicaid expansion, so they have resorted to other means.
“It’s astounding to me. The House Republican caucus will do anything and everything to prevent low-income Virginians from getting health care. . . . They figure the only way they could win was to give a job to a state senator,” Surovell said. “At least they can’t offer Terry McAuliffe a job. I hope Terry continues to stand up to these bullies.” 
The whole thing stinks to high heaven. I mean it is bad enough to craft a byzantine deal to offer jobs in exchange for a resignation that will tilt the balance of power in a legislative chamber. But to do that in order to deprive poor people of access to healthcare (and healthcare that you are already paying for through your federal taxes!) is just perverse.

Your Republican Party: stupid, greedy, heartless, and short-sighted. What's not to love?

Evidence-Based Jurisprudence

A new ruling out of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocks an Arizona law that would restrict medical abortions. Some background on the case:
The Arizona Legislature in 2012 passed a law requiring abortion providers to follow the federal Food and Drug Administration requirements for the medication. The FDA requirements restrict the medication to women who are seven or fewer weeks into their pregnancy and requires three visits to a physician. Arizona abortion providers had been using an evidence-based regimen that allowed the medication to be taken up to nine weeks of pregnancy and required two visits to a physician.
So the FDA requirements for this particular medication are contrary to what medical evidence indicates is appropriate use of it. The court ruled that these stricter standards place an undue burden on women seeking abortions, and does so for no good reason (other than, you know, making sure those sex-having sluts receive their proper punishment, I mean precious baby gifts, that God intended for them).
"Plaintiffs have introduced uncontroverted evidence that the Arizona law substantially burdens women's access to abortion services, and Arizona has introduced no evidence that the law advances in any way its interest in women's health," the order states. 
It goes on to describe the FDA regimen as "less safe, less effective."
Unfortunately, the Fifth and Sixth Circuits have ruled the opposite way in similar cases, setting up a likely showdown at the Supreme Court. I'm sure the undue burden standard and the medical evidence will be given all due consideration by all of the Justices on the Court.

Isn't it pretty to think so.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Choices

It goes without saying that, absent unlimited income, budgets necessarily reflect choices. Moyers & Company (via Raw Story) lay out some of the tradeoffs we make as a nation when we allow corporations to evade paying their share of taxes:

Seven things America could buy with the $181 billion in taxes uncollected because of corporate loopholes


Boggles the mind.

Native Plants I Love

Amsonia tabernaemontana (Common Name: Eastern blue star)

Another lovely blue star, this species begins blooming about a week or two later than its cousin Amsonia hubrichtii.  As its common name name would suggest, Amsonia tabernaemontana also features blue, star-shaped flowers that appear in terminal clusters atop stems that reach 2-3 ft. tall. The foliage on this plant, however, resembles willow-leaves, rather than hubrichtii's feathery appearance, and the flowers are a darker blue. 

Close up of flower clusters

Eastern blue star is native to the central and eastern U.S. It can be grown in full sun to part shade. Multiple stems grow from a central core and create a mounding form 2-3 feet wide. We have a handful of these plants interspersed in a bed that contains our serviceberry trees, ornamental grasses, and assorted other native perennials (including Amsonia hubrichtii). The bed gets full sun, we haven't had to water since the first summer we planted it, and there is something cool to look at pretty much all year long.

The two photos above were taken in mid-may. Not sure when the photo below was taken, as it isn't one of mine, but obviously sometime in the fall. Like its relative, this blue star also puts on a fall show.


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Parents Are Sooooooo Embarrassing


Love this.

I wonder if this person left the sign up when they returned the truck. And if so, how long before Dad noticed. Hee!

Demand

I was listening to NPR yesterday morning driving into work, and I heard a story about employment numbers finally climbing back up to where they were before the financial collapse in 2008. Yay? I guess?

While it's great that employment numbers are improving, it's kind of horrifying that it has taken over six years to climb out of the hole; it's even more horrifying when you realize that the jobs that have come back largely pay less than the jobs that were lost; and it's more horrifying still to realize that while working stiffs have been taking it on the chin since the Masters of the Universe wrecked the world, the MOUs themselves have made out just fine, thank you very much.

I thought one of the commenters in the story got to the heart of what has been going on for the past six years, but that almost nobody (outside of people like Paul Krugman) has wanted to talk about:
So what's the reason for this slow growth that's held back the job market? Here's one big reason, says Heidi Shierholz, weak consumer demand.
SHIERHOLZ: Employers are smart. They're going to hire people exactly when they need them to meet some increased demand for their goods and services. That's the missing piece. Demand is the missing thing out there. 
When the wealthy (with an assist from the political class) vacuum up all of the value of our productive labor for themselves (by keeping wages low, forcing existing workers to work longer and harder (with no corresponding pay increase) rather than hiring more workers, eliminating private sector jobs, cutting public assistance in various forms, and tilting the tax code heavily in their favor, just to name a few examples) they remove the fuel that powers our economy: consumer demand.

There is only so much stuff and so many services the small numbers of super-wealthy at the top can consume, even with all their riches. So while they may have more money to speculate with (thus necessitating the creation of ever more exotic "bets on bets" financial instruments, which is, as we saw in 2008, a problem all on its own) they do nothing to stimulate the economy as a whole.

What makes the economic engine of our country run is broad-based prosperity so that there are millions of people with disposable income who can purchase the goods and services of their fellow citizens, who then employ people to meet that demand, thus creating other consumers who create further demand, and so the virtuous cycle goes.*  It infuriates me every time I hear a politician or a pundit argue in favor of tax-cuts for the "job creators"as way to stimulate hiring.

I am a business owner, and our company hires people not when our taxes are lowered a few percentage points (although we might take a nice trip overseas), but when there are customers walking in our doors necessitating more staff to meet their needs. In other words, consumer demand.  And you get that by raising the minimum wage, keeping public sector employment strong, keeping social insurance programs strong, supporting a strong labor movement, and by clawing back some of the grift at the top by raising top marginal tax rates.

Maybe back in the 70s, when top tax rates were actually high, the labor market was tight, wages were high, and capital was not as free to slosh around the world, supply-side economic solutions to our economic problems might have made more sense. Now they make absolutely none.

* Virtuous in the sense of stimulating broadly shared economic benefits. The sustainability of a consumer-based economy, for example, is a whole different question.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Dope-ier

Continuing the theme of Godawful New York Times Op-Ed columnists, here's a lovely takedown of Ross Douthat's really bad trio of columns on the recent shootings in Santa Barbara:
I mostly don’t read Ross Douthat’s New York Times columns because I find his “I’m just a nice conservative guy trying to find some common ground in this mixed up world” thing to be pretty exhausting. He is a chronic mansplainer and a reliable apologist for discrimination (with a little intellectual flair). But the trio of opinion pieces he wrote this week in response to Elliot Rodger and current public conversations about masculinity and misogyny are probably worth talking about. Because Douthat really wants you to think that he gets it, but he very much does not.
In his first go-round on the issue, Douthat uses lots of careful language to concede that he understands why we might need to talk about misogyny right now. Because before Rodger murdered six people, he told the world that he wanted to put women in concentration camps and take his revenge against the “sluts” who rejected him. “In this particular tragedy, the killer’s motives really do seem to have a larger cultural significance,” he admits. Now, mind you, Douthat doesn’t want to talk too much about it, lest we allow emotional things like examinations of systemic violence against women clutter our thinking or get us mixed up in the “splendid little culture war over the significance of the Santa Barbara killer’s distinctive stew of lust, misogyny and rage.”
Plus, he really just wants to blame casual sex for the tragedy. Douthat goes on to argue that feminist attitudes about sex may be as much of a problem in our culture as Rodger’s sense of violent entitlement to women’s bodies, which is the actual point that he’s been waiting to make through all of his maybe misogyny is perhaps possibly real sometimes but not in the way most feminists say it is hand-wringing.
I promise, I won't subject you to even second-hand exposure to Thomas Friedman or David Brooks, but the fact that Dowd, Friedman, Brooks, and Douthat are granted so much real estate to blather on in what is supposed to be the paper of record says nothing good about the the New York Times, or the state of elite political punditry in general.

Can I haz a new New York Times editorial page pretty pretty plz?

Dope.

Thought this was a funny take on Maureen Dowd's ridiculous column about her ridiculous trip to the Land of Weed.
What she should have written: "I went to Colorado and decided to get high. I was stupid and did no research or fact-checking. I asked no questions. I just started eating, and then ate some more. I got really sick. My bad. I'll be smarter next time." 
Imagine the Times sends Maureen Dowd to Colombia. Would she decide to try out the coca leaves, not ask how many to chew and consume a bushel? If the Times sent her to Yemen, would she decide to chew some Khat leaves, and not feeling the desired effect, keep chewing for hours? Tens of millions of people in South America and Africa chew coca and khat leaves without overdosing or dying, just like tens of millions of people around the world use marijuana and marijuana-infused products and don't hallucinate to the point they think they are dying. When you ingest a new substance, you are experimenting. Do a little homework and you'll be fine. If you're dumb enough to dive in blind, you have only yourself to blame.

OOPS! Turns out Dowd wasn't so stupid as to ask no questions about the drug she was about to ingest. Turns out she was even stupider. She chose to completely ignore the information she was given about the drug she was about to ingest.

Can I haz a New NYT Editorial Page, plz?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The V.A. (continued)


Linking to Part 2 of Phillip Longman's assessment of medical care at the V.A.:
Now let’s consider another, more serious, and often conflated wait time issue surrounding the VA—one that also been bringing forth all kinds of claims and accusations that are in desperate need of being put into context. I’m talking about the huge backlog of vets caught in the often protracted process of just trying to establish their eligibility for VA care.
This issue is confusing to most people, including many in the military, because they assume that vets are legally entitled to VA care, just like most seniors are entitled to Medicare or Social Security. But VA care is not an entitlement. Rather, reflecting the public’s deeply conflicted and often changing views about veterans, access to VA care is limited to vets who can establish that are “deserving” according to convoluted, arcane, and often impossible-to-prove sets of ever evolving metrics and standards.
. . . 
The fundamental reason for the still huge backlog of cases does not lie with inefficiencies of the VA’s bureaucrats, most of whom are vets themselves. Nor does it come from an increase in the numbers of vets because, as explained in my last post, the number of veterans is actually shrinking dramatically. Rather, it fundamentally lies with the American people and their representatives in Congress, who despite all their fine talk about honoring those who have served their country, have tasked the VA with administering laws and regulations that presume most vets don’t deserve VA care unless they can prove otherwise.
It wasn’t always so. As I describe in my book, the Clinton Administration opened the doors to the VA in 1996 to anyone with an honorable discharge, and many folks who got in then remain grandfathered. But the Bush Administration slammed that door shut again in 2003, and while it has reopened a bit under Obama, we are still spending enormous resources enforcing policies designed to exclude most vets from VA care. 

My New Favorite Show


It's got explosions, skepticism, humor, explosions, physics, perseverance, biology, and did I mention explosions?

I know the show has been on for, like, 10 years, and it hovered vaguely on the periphery of my consciousness somewhere, but I had never seen it. Then, about a month or so ago, one of my sons asked to watch it, and now the family is hooked.

Mostly the kids like the explosions, and mostly the husband likes Kari, but there is something for everyone. In addition to the complete excitement around physically creating (and, full disclosure, destroying) things, it is great that these funny, compelling people are so unabashedly fond of science and learning. You gotta love a show that on the day one of your kids comes home with a study sheet about Newton's Laws of Motion, that evening they get treated to detailed discussion of the idea that force=mass x acceleration through crashing cars into a wall at various speeds and watching the crumple patterns. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pat McCrory (R-Duke Energy)

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
Gov. McCrory signs bill that could speed up fracking timeline 
 — Gov. Pat McCrory signed major energy legislation in a public ceremony Wednesday, predicting the new law will clear the path to shale gas exploration in North Carolina.
McCrory signed the law at N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus flanked by key lawmakers and cabinet secretaries who are involved in developing an energy exploration industry for the state.
“Now for the first time North Carolina is getting into energy exploration,” McCrory said. “North Carolina has been sitting on the sidelines for too long.”
What could possibly go wrong?

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/06/03/3909131/mccrory-plans-to-sign-fracking.html?sp=/99/100/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Charlie Pierce on the fresh horrors discovered in Ireland:
The Republic Of Ireland has been doing a very hard job over the past couple of decades of confronting the awful legacy of having its civil government so closely married to the institutional Roman Catholic Church. For years, the Church was given a free hand in running a great deal of what passed for educational and social-welfare policies in Ireland. The results were almost uniformly authoritarian and almost uniformly godawful, in every sense of that word. Over the past 20 years, the country has slowly, but steadily, made a project of telling the truth to itself about the atrocities that the civil government allowed to be perpetrated against its citizens by the institutional church. A remarkable number of these crimes against decency and humanity were conducted against the country's women, although the crimes of the Christian Brothers against boys and young men were no less horrendous, as were the crimes committed in Cork that were the subject of the Cloyne Report, which prompted this remarkable speech in Dail Eireann by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, which may be the clearest and most uncompromising statement of the importance of the separation of church and state produced since Madison's Memorial And Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments.  it was Irish women who took the brunt of the Church's vengeful indecencies.The country is still coming to grips with what it still owes the women who suffered the horrors of the Magdalene Laundries, the last of which closed only midway through the Clinton administration.
Comes now what might be the worst story of them all.
Pierce ends his piece by reminding us that Ireland isn't the only place where the toxic mix of religion, state power, and misogyny has taken hold. Even though I know it doesn't speak well of me, sometimes I really hope there is a hell as these people envision it, because you know they'll be spending eternity burning in it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Don't Believe the Hype

With all the recent sturm und drang about how the Obama Administration is failing our vets, and the way this issue is being exploited by the right to indict "government-run healthcare" in general,  I thought I'd pass along this reasonable assessment (with data to back it up) of the Veterans Administration healthcare system by Phillip Longman:
Over the next several days, I plan to make a series of posts here at Political Animal that I hope will be helpful to those covering the story, or for those who are just trying to get the full context for forming an opinion.
Today, let’s just start by scrutinizing the now almost universal assumption that there is a “systemic” problem at VA hospitals with excessive wait times. Even progressives, including the likes of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, seem predisposed to believe this for their different reasons. Some voices, like my former colleague Brian Beutler of The New Republic, even speculate that the scandal may ultimately bounce in a way that harms the Republicans more than it does the Democrats.
But before we go there, can we get clear on just what the underlying reality is? There is, to be sure, a systemic backlog of vets of all ages trying to establish eligibility for VA health care. This is due to absurd laws passed by Congress, which reflect on all us, that make veterans essentially prove that they are “worthy” of VA treatment (about which more later). But this backlog often gets confused with the entirely separate issue of whether those who get into system face wait times that are longer than what Americans enrolled in non-VA health care plans generally must endure.
Longman quickly identifies the initial choke-point in the ability of veterans to obtain medical care, one that has nothing to do with the actual socialized healthcare system run by the VA. Basically, in order to access VA health care, veterans have to "prove" they are entitled to that care - that their ailment was a result of their service, for instance. These regulations were mandated by Congress, not the VA or the Obama Administration, and only Congress can pass laws to loosen those restrictions or make the process the Veterans must undergo to receive care less burdensome.

Longman then moves on to a discussion of waiting times at VA facilities, the root of the current scandal. He detail how, although most VA hospitals are actually underutilized because of the passing of large numbers of WWII, Korean War, and Viet Nam War veterans, due to recent population shifts from the north to the sun-belt states, there are some hospitals that are over utilized and have longer wait times (hence the problems in the Phoenix area that have been getting all that press).

After putting the numbers in perspective, Longman critiques the critics calling for privatizing the VA (and all other government-administered healthcare) by noting that the Veterans' organizations themselves do not want the VA privatized, and generally rate the quality of care they receive higher than that provided in the private sector.

Longman finishes with the promise to investigate the question that most media outlets seem to be doing their best not to ask at all:
. . . the key question to ask when confronting the real deficiencies of the VA is “compared to what?” Once that context is established, it becomes clear that VA as a whole continues to outperform the rest of the American health system, making its true lessons extremely important to learn. 
I look forward to reading the rest of the pieces in this series.

EOG Week - Oh Boy!

In honor of my 3rd grader's first End of Grade (EOG) test today.


May we all survive the testing mania.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Idiocracy

Okay, clearly, I am far from neutral on this point, but let's face it, one of our major political parties is as dumb as a sack of hair. In this assessment, I include both Republican base voters and elected officials. And the ones who aren't purposefully courting ignorance are certainly abetting it in a cynical attempt to further their hold on power.

To wit:

A majority of Republicans reject the scientific consensus on global warming:
Eighty percent of Democrats report having high trust in scientists, compared with 63 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans, according to the Stanford poll data. Partly as a result, Democrats’ concern about climate change is far higher than Republicans’ concern. Americans, as a whole, are less concerned about global warming than people in other rich countries largely because of low levels of concern among Republicans.
Thanks GOP for making us look like fools on the international stage (not to mention destroying the planet for future generations)!

A majority of Republicans believe that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, rather than having evolved over time, contrary to all available, you know, evidence:
First off, Republicans are simply systematically less likely to believe in evolution than Democrats or Independents. And according to Pew, neither the religious nor ethnic makeup of the Republican electorate can fully explain away this difference.
Second, there is almost no difference between Democrats and Independents: in both categories about two-thirds of respondents express a belief in evolution.
Finally, while the beliefs of Democrats and Independents have been relatively stable over the past four years, Republican belief in evolution has fallen by almost one-fifth: while 54 percent of Republicans expressed a belief in evolution in 2009, only 43 percent did so in 2013.
Yes, you read that right. They are actually getting dumber.

A majority of Republicans live in an alternate universe where Iraq definitely had WMD, even though they were never, ever found:
The poll, constructed by Dartmouth government professor Benjamin Valentino and conducted by YouGov from April 26 to May 2, found that fully 63 percent of Republican respondents still believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded in 2003. By contrast, 27 percent of independents and 15 percent of Democrats shared that view.
Imaginary WMD? Duh.     Fossil record? No Waaay.

And those are just three quick examples off the top of my head. We could just as easily talk about all the ignorance surrounding the Affordable Care Act; or how Red states think their tax dollars are supporting all those urban brown people, when in reality it's the cosmopolitan blue states supporting them; or even how when rape is legitimate "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

You can see why Republicans at all levels of power are trying to gut our public education system, from pre-K through college. They rely on a large contingent of dumbasses who can be easily manipulated into voting for policies that benefit a small cadre of the already rich and powerful at the expense of the rest of us.

Oh, and like I said in a previous post, the self-styled "moderate Republican voters" who like to pretend  their party hasn't been infected by a prion disease don't get to escape judgment either. If you still can't figure out that "Eisenhower" or "Rockefeller" or whatever name you want to call them Republican  politicians no longer exist, you get called a moron too.

Yeah, you bet I'm angry. It's depressing that people who seem to take pride in ignoring evidence of any and all reality that contradicts their ideology get to make decisions that have profound ramifications for our lives and our descendants'. I know that pointing and mocking is probably not the most effective way to win over hearts and minds to our side, but at this point I'm not sure the average Republican voter or lawmaker has either one.

Localities Say Frack You

There's some interesting push-back against fracking occurring in rural New Mexico. Interesting for historical, colonial reasons related to the annexation of parts of Mexico during the mid-19th century; and interesting because the use of local and state laws to challenge federal power has traditionally been a conservative tactic (one that has met with considerable success).
Rural New Mexico is a very interesting place. It’s basically the only rural area of the United States that is militantly pro-Democratic. When I lived in Albuquerque and Santa Fe from 2000-07, I’d be driving up there and see “Bush is a Murderer” graffiti and other similar things on pipes, buildings, and the such. This is a majority Latino place where people are VERY VERY ANGRY that white people stole their land after 1848, flushing the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo down the toilet and eliminating their land grants.
So I am not surprised at all that Mora County would take the lead in anti-fracking cases, basically ignoring a federal law the country frankly doesn’t have much respect for and banning energy companies from fracking public lands in the county. But this is more interesting than just some people sticking it in the eye of the energy companies. Mora County knows it will lose but are trying to clarify the law so have more concrete standing for other actions going forward. 
The full piece at the Nation is worth checking out. I think broadly deciding to ignore federal laws is obviously problematic (see Cliven Bundy and public school integration for e.g.), but when federal laws basically grant corporations personhood to run roughshod over actual, you know, people, citizens at the community-level should have the right to push back.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Native Plants I Love

Rhododendron catawbiense (Common Name: Catawba rhododendron)

An evergreen shrub that can tolerate shade and produces gorgeous clusters of rosy purple flowers?  Awww yeah. 

Catawba rhododendron is native to the southern Appalachian mountains from Virginia to Georgia and can be used in a variety of ways in the landscape. They are stunning massed in a line where open yard meets more wooded areas. Because they keep their leaves year-round, they are effective foundation plantings, especially around raised porches and decks because of their potentially large size. They also make lovely specimen plants, with a flush of spring flowers and pretty green foliage all year long. 

Rhododendrons prefer bright shade and acidic soil, so you may need to amend your soil to keep them thriving (pine-needle mulch is an easy way to do this). They typically grow 6'-10' tall with an equal spread, so be sure to give them some room to grow.


The plant in the photo above is about 3 feet tall and wide, and has been sited so that it will eventually fill that corner and screen the underside of our deck. We planted it last spring, added some fertilizer for acid-loving plants to the planting hole, watered it in for a few weeks, and have let it alone since then. It is located near an enormous American holly tree whose dropped leaves provide a regular injection of acidification.  

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Relatively Recently Read

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

This one is going to stay with me a long time. 

As with Kate Grenville's The Secret River, this novel tackles a subject about which I was woefully ignorant, the wars between the Russian state and Chechen rebels in the decades following the break-up of the Soviet Union. Maybe because the horrors related in this book are not something out of the distant past, but took place during my unbelievably unaware adulthood, the effect on me was far more profound. 

Or maybe that effect is due to the memorable characters Marra creates, and the ways they make you think about what you might do faced with unthinkable circumstances; how you would define loyalty and love and family, and the notion of survival itself. Or maybe it's the way he describes small moments and details that stick with you, how he injects humor into the horror because, after all, that is what people do when trying to hold on to their humanity. In that last respect, this novel reminded me of City of Thieves, although Marra's book is by far the more serious of the two. 

This was one of those books that I simultaneously wanted to devour and read very slowly, both because I didn't want it to end, and because I couldn't bear the thought of losing characters to the violence of war. Amazing to think that this haunting novel is Marra's first.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Little More Hope

Nice to see some allies . . .
In the aftermath of the Isla Vista killings, as the MRA scum of the internet have come out todefend Rodger’s worldview if not his actions and a disturbing number of ostensibly non-sexist men have tried to downplay the role of misogyny in his crimes, #yesallwomen became a robust and cathartic rallying cry. Now, Elizabeth Plank from PolicyMic offers #allmencan as space for men who are also tired of misogyny to show that the #notallmen contingent doesn’t speak for them. 
A couple things I really appreciate about the #allmencan framing: First, while some of the men who submitted images to PolicyMic use the language of “real men,” the hashtag itself doesn’t. I get the desire to claim to “real man” label in order to, as Michael Kimmel explains on his submission, “take back the notion that supporting women’s equality does not in any way diminish our manhood.” But, honestly, I’m done with that. I’m done with any attempts to recruit male allies that appeal to a protector role or reinforce hierarchies of masculinities. Don’t be a “real man” — be a goddamn person. All of you.
I know it's just a hashtag and all, but the more we talk about misogyny and the million little ways patriarchy harms us all, the more we become aware that this isn't just how things are and have to be. It goes without saying that these kinds of conversations can be really hard, especially with good friends and people we love, but they need to be had.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

On a More Positive Note . . .

So here's some potential good news that is really very telling.

First the good news: President Obama is apparently preparing to take major action to address climate change.
President Obama will use his executive authority to cut carbon emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants by up to 20 percent, according to people familiar with his plans, which will spur the creation of a state cap-and-trade program forcing industry to pay for the carbon pollution it creates.
Mr. Obama will unveil his plans in a new regulation, written by the Environmental Protection Agency, at the White House on Monday. It would be the strongest action ever taken by an American president to tackle climate change and could become one of the defining elements of Mr. Obama’s legacy.
The article goes on to detail how cap-and-trade began as a Republican alternative to a straight up carbon tax, how existing state-level programs were spearheaded by Republican Governors, and how the Republican candidate for President in 2008 pledged to put a national cap-and-trade law into effect.

Now the telling part:

Immune to all logic, and completely ignorant of history and science, guess who's against these measures?
The regional program has proved fairly effective: Between 2005-12, according to program officials, power-plant pollution in the northeastern states it covered dropped 40 percent, even as the states raised $1.6 billion in new revenue.
But many Republican governors said they do not see the benefits.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, whose state was an original member of the Northeastern cap-and-trade program, has since withdrawn from it. In Ohio, a heavily coal-dependent state where the Republican governor, John R. Kasich, has also been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, officials are clear that cap and trade will not be welcomed. “We think it’s an unnecessary regulation,” said Craig Butler, head of the Ohio Department of Environment.
These guys are like children, perfectly happy to do something until the scary guy in the Oval Office tells them to. I swear to God, President Obama should just start issuing Executive Orders banning gay marriage, eliminating all corporate and personal income taxes, outlawing all abortion and birth control, and making fossil fuels the only legal source of energy. Then stand back and watch right-wing heads explode. I'll bring the popcorn.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It's a Man's World

So I have been resisting writing about the misogynist shooting near Santa Barbara because so much has already been written about it, and I was just depressed thinking about this young man who was so steeped in a culture of masculine entitlement he literally felt killing women was an appropriate response to being denied sexual access to women's bodies.

But, given that I live in a house with three male people, I think I need to process some of the stuff being stirred up before I just start hating on men in general. I know, I know, #NotAllMen harass or abuse or spout misogynist bullshit.  But I also know, #YesAllWomen (literally, every single woman I know) have experienced harassment, or abuse, or at the very least have altered our behaviors so as to try to avoid violence from men. And that is fucked up.

Not as fucked up as the lives many women lead in other countries, as this morning's New York Times reminds us, but I really don't think we should be congratulating ourselves simply because our fathers can't sell us off to men 40 years older than we are, who can then set us on fire to induce a miscarriage. With no legal penalty for any of it.

Still, the fact that women in our armed forces are 15 times more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by the enemy; that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the U.S, more than car accidents, muggings and stranger rapes combined; and that women who dare to have a public voice are barraged with sexually violent threats, doesn't exactly make me want to jump up and down shouting "Go USA!"

From the odious Pick-Up Artist movement, to the proliferation of Mens Right's Activists, to the widely-accepted and yet highly reductionist concept of men being relegated to the dreaded "Friend Zone," women are too often cast as the enemy, and damned if we don't have the injuries to prove it.

So again, I gotta say the only way I see of stopping this relentless shit parade women have to walk through every day is to raise more good men and get the existing good men to call their fellow men out every time they do or say something harmful to women. My husband and I are raising two boys, and I am genuinely curious - how hard is it for boys and men to stop making female traits the most horrible insult you can think of to call another boy; or stop whistling and gesturing at girls at they are simply walking down the street; or stop touching their bodies as they walk through a crowd to get a beer at the bar; or actually look a co-worker in the eyes, rather than at her chest; or take your hands off a woman when she says, "We've gone as far as I'm comfortable with?" I mean, isn't all of that just basic human decency?

I know this is a bit (or perhaps more than a bit) of a rant, but it gets exhausting and frustrating and depressing to realize that, despite a lot of real gains, so many of the people we are related to, or that we might meet and try to bring ourselves to love don't even look at us as fully human beings. Really, what IS that?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Burr-iffic!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the senior senator from North Carolina:
An “open letter” from a senior Republican senator to the nation’s veterans in which he castigates the leadership of veterans’ organizations prompted a brutal war of words over the Memorial Day weekend, including a promise from the Veterans of Foreign Wars that its “hat in hand” approach to Congress will turn more combative.
Why is Richard Burr attacking veterans groups, you might be asking. Basically, because they aren't carrying enough water for the Republicans by attacking the Administration's handling of the V.A:
Mr. Burr, angry that only the American Legion has called for the resignation of the veterans affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki, accused the groups of being “more interested in defending the status quo within V.A., protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the secretary and his inner circle” than in helping members.
Fortunately, the vets aren't afraid of a fight (duh), and they called out Burr for being the hack that he is:
“For years, the V.F.W. has come to Congress with hat in hand, and for years we’ve heard the same old story,” the heads of the veterans group wrote to Mr. Burr. “You can be assured, Senator, that you’ve done a superb job in showing us the error in our ways. You can also be assured that in the future, we will spend a substantial percentage of our time seeking to inform our members and our constituents of the repeated failure to act by our elected officials.”
To that sentiment, the national president and the executive director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America added, “Perhaps you should have shared with all veterans in your ‘open’ letter that you cared so much about their health care that you were not actually present during the testimony that the V.S.O. representatives provided, and you did not ask a single question.” V.S.O. stands for veterans service organizations.
The Republicans are trying to use problems with delays in treatment at the V.A. as a wedge to begin privatizing veterans' services, a move the veterans organizations themselves are against:
“For the full basket of reforms to take place at the V.A., there has to be some level of competition,” Mr. Burr said Monday in an interview. “The problems seem to be so systemic, and in some cases, so cultural, that unless there’s a model that gives veterans some ability to decide where to go, I don’t think we will have the means to meet the needs of current veterans, let alone future veterans.”
Veterans groups maintain that the department’s services for spinal cord injury, care for the blind, amputee care and other trauma cannot be matched by private facilities. Over the past two to three years, the department has had a net gain of 1.5 million patients, 200,000 of them with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, according to Mr. Sanders.
Republican wars of choice created an enormous number of veterans who need vital services from the Veterans Administration, and yet guess which party has been blocking funding for the V.A?
Relations between the organizations and Senate Republicans have been strained since February, when Republicans blocked a vote on broad veterans legislation, written by Mr. Sanders, that would have bolstered health and dental care, authorized 27 new clinics and medical facilities, added to veterans education programs, and dealt with veterans who suffered sexual trauma while in the military.
It's the same thing across the board: Republicans create the problems, refuse to fund the solutions, and then blame Democrats for not being able to fix their messes. Fortunately the veterans groups actually pay attention to how lawmakers vote and the effects those votes have.

I hope whoever runs against Burr in 2016 plays the statements of these vets on a continuous loop and makes him own his votes to restrict veterans' benefits. We have a large military presence in N.C., and they generally vote Republican. It would be nice if some of the groups they trust to protect their interests started calling out the GOP on the disastrous effects their policies have in the real world.