Saturday, October 30, 2004

So much for optimism. I suspect that Osama fucking bin Laden has just won the election for Bush. Democrats and left-leaning bloggers are trying to spin this as good for Kerry, but I don't see how it could be. It renews the focus on terrorism, and most Americans think Bush is better on terrorism than Kerry. This is idiotic, but it is still true.

I really need to calm down a little bit about the election. I'm not sure being this invested is entirely good for my mental health. Must remember: we survived 1919. Well, most of us did. This too will pass.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Is it very, very dangerous that I'm beginning to think that Bush could actually lose? I usually practice defensive pessimism so I'm not devistated when the worst comes to pass, and I'm trying to maintain that stance now. But I have third-hand (but reasonably reliable third-hand) information that the Republicans are panicked because their inside polling, which they don't release to the press, is looking ominous for them. And all of the mini-October surprises seem to favor Kerry, with the possible exception of Rehnquist's health, which I think is probably a tossup.

Incidentally, I have an election rant. I live in a very Democratic, fairly liberal distric. In fact, there is no doubt that every local election is going to go to the Democrat. In many cases, the Democrat is running unopposed. This is to say that I live in exactly the kind of place where the Green party or some other lefty third party should be active. It would be possible to build a real grassroots movement here, and nobody could accuse you of playing spoiler or throwing the election to the Republicans. A third-party candidate might even be able to be elected to local office, which would provide a base from which to run for state-wide office. And yet the only third party on the ticket was the Libertarians. The Greens are perfectly happy to run a presidential candidate who could cause Bush to win the election, but they can't be bothered to do the hard, meaningful work of grass-roots organizing. If they're really serious about taking back the American political system, this makes no damn sense to me. It's as if they think the fastest way to power is to be the biggest menace possible, not to actually organize a movement.

Oh, and this just in: Atkinson County, GA, has apparently come to the conclusion that challenging voters based solely on their race is not okay. Way to join the 21st century (hell, the second half of the 20th century), Atkinson County! I sort of thought we'd already fought this particular battle, but I guess it's never too late to fight it again.

You know, I'll be happy when the election is over and I can get back to blogging about my medical problems.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Was anyone else vaguely disturbed by Lost last night (and not in the way that you're supposed to be disturbed)? Lost is losing me anyway, because it's getting kind of boring, but I thought last night's episode was stereotype-o-rama.

So the premise of Lost is that a whole bunch of people survive a plane crash and are stuck on a creepy yet lush and beautiful island where strange things happen. In each episode, we watch the people trying to survive and get along with each other, we see some creepy island strangeness, and we get the backstory on one character or connected group of characters, via flashbacks. This week focused on a Korean couple who apparently don't speak English and have had trouble communicating with the other castaways. They speak to each other in Korean, which is subtitled for the non-Korean-speaking audience.

At the beginning of the episode, the Korean man attacks and tries to kill another character, apparently for no reason. It's a disturbing (in the way it's meant to be) scene, and you expect the flashbacks to reveal why he'd do this awful thing. They don't, though, although they do tell us that the man works for his wife's father, a Korean gangster, and that the wife was considering running away from both her husband and her dad. But the reason that the Korean guy tried to kill the other guy, it is finally revealed, is that the other guy was wearing the wife's father's watch. (I don't know if we ever find out how her father's watch came to be on the plane. That's actually an interesting question, since the father was not on the plane, as far as we know.) All of the castaways have been shown scavanging through the wreckage for stuff, so it's not that surprising that the guy was wearing someone else's watch. But the Korean guy decided he was a thief and had to be punished. It was, you see, a quesiton of honor.

Now, this makes no damn sense. If you were in a situation where people were scavanging through dead people's stuff, and one of them accidentally took something that belonged to you or your relative, you would simply ask for it back. The Korean guy can't speak to the other guy, but he could try, say, pointing at the watch and pointing at himself, and I bet the other guy would understand. And even if he didn't, it's a watch. Considering that these people are marooned on a deserted island inhabited by a scary monster and other highly improbable fauna, you'd think that the Korean guy would have bigger fish to fry than a damn watch.

I think that the writers of this show were counting on viewers to buy this storyline because we are supposed to believe that Asians have kooky ideas about honor. Asian characters can be made to behave in ways that would otherwise seem completely illogical, and a lot of people will go along with it as long as writers claim it's about "honor." I think of this as the Crouching Tiger effect. I read an article that suggested that Chinese audiences were baffled by the love story at the center of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which involves two characters who are honor-bound not to hook up because one of them used to be engaged to the other one's dead best friend. To Chinese people, this is nutty: they love each other, the fiance/ best friend is out of the picture, and they should clearly start dating immediately. But American audiences completely bought the notion that honor prohibited them from doing anything more than exchanging passionate, tragic glances. The whole movie only makes sense if you buy into the myth of kooky Asian honor.

I think that's what's going on with last night's episode of Lost. But maybe I missed something, or maybe it's all a set-up for a big reveal later on.

Really interesting article from the Washington Post about how pollsters are having a harder time measuring Americans' actual attitudes.

Two converging trends -- the rise of telemarketing and growing time pressures in the home -- have frayed America's nerves and left many people unwilling or downright hostile when it comes to talking to pollsters. But a bigger problem seems to be that people are simply harder to reach. They're working longer, going out more and using call-screening devices when they're home, Krosnick says.

The pollsters suggest that this doesn't really matter because there's no correlation between being overworked and harried and supporting a particular candidate. I'm not so sure. I guess we'll find out next week.

Incidentally, I voted early today so I can go back to the friendly neighboring swing state on Tuesday and schlepp people to the polls. The early voting station was pretty packed. I take this to be a good sign.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Red Sox won the World Series! The last time the Red Sox won the World Series, World War I was still going on and American women couldn't vote. I sort of feel like if this is possible, anything is.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

One of the frustrating things about studying history is that you must constantly confront people who believe that because something is now true and seems totally natural, it must always have been true and in fact be a timeless law of nature. And if you study history, you know that this is seldom the case. I once heard conservative film commentator Michael Medved proclaim on some talk show that violent movies should be outlawed because they threaten childhood innocence, and protecting childhood innocence is the foundation of Western Civilization. I don't really have a position on violent movies, except to point out that I don't think it was a coincidence that Medved's example happened to be a serious movie that condemned torture rather than your average Hollywood shoot-'em-up, but I do know that the idea of childhood innocence is not the foundation of Western Civilization, unless you believe that Western Civilization is a pretty recent invention. Unless I'm very much mistaken, the idea that children were innocent didn't take hold until the Englightenment, when it supplanted the much older idea of innate depravity. Lots of participants in Western Civilization believed, and continue to believe, that children are born infinitely sinful and guilty and that the best way to deal with that is to use lots of violent images to terrorize them into accepting Jesus as their only salvation. Hence all the little kids at that Mel Gibson gore-fest. Medved, like me, is Jewish, so the whole innate depravity thing probably seems as, well, depraved to him as it does to me. But unless you want to exempt much of the Christian tradition from "Western Civilization," you have to admit it exists.

Similarly, there's something slightly perverse about the insistance that marriage has "always been between a man and a woman." It's even more comical that anti-same-sex marriage types call this "Biblical marriage." If you actually look at the Bible, you will find many instances in which marriage was between one man and up to 700 women. The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament, Torah, whatever) was written in a society in which polygamy was just hunky-dory. If you think that the U.S. is founded on a legacy that goes back to the Bible, that's part of our heritage. I'd argue that it's a pretty oppressive, nasty part of our heritage, but that's not really the point. I think that marriage, like all institutions, changes over time. I believe we should go with the system of marriage that is the most just and that works the best, not the one in some ancient, deeply weird text. It's not a problem for me that the Bible reflects some ideas about gender and family and whatnot that are really foreign to modern people. But if you want to claim that the current system of marriage is a law of God or nature, the Bible, not to mention the historical record, is going to present you with some serious challenges.

In boring health news, I am feeling mysteriously crappy today. I have the usual nausea/ odd stomach discomfort issues, but I'm also really lightheaded. I have that fade-to-black thing when I stand up, which I remember distinctly from being anorexic, but I've had plenty to eat today. I can never decide whether I should call the doctor about this kind of thing. On the one hand, it's conceivable that this could be the dread heart condition. On the other hand, I'm probably just dehydrated or something, and I'd feel like an idiot for bothering the doctor, whom I think already suspects I'm a loopy hypochondriac. Anyway, I'm definitely skipping grown-up swim team today.

Speaking of which, I am really liking the grown-up swim team, but I'm not crazy about the team aspect. For one thing, although I'm pretty comfortable with my body, all that standing around talking to near-strangers while wearing a swimsuit is a little freaky. But also, I just don't like to socialize while I exercise. "Find your exercise personality" quizes are a staple of a certain kind of woman's magazine, and I always end up being the "solitary exerciser." So I'm finding it a little annoying that, in the middle of swim practice, in between drills or whatever, people are constantly asking me what I study or whether I swam in high school. Dude, I just want to catch my breath and then go onto the next thing. Can we talk about this when we're both fully clothed?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Call me crazy, but I think that if Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen is going to write a column on the Bill O'Reilly sexual harassment flap which essentially blames the victim, he's morally obligated to reveal that he was accused of sexual harassment under similar circumstances. I think that piece of information would be useful to readers trying to gauge Cohen's credibility.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

I'm back from my field trip to the friendly neighborhing swing state. And everyone there was friendly, including the die-hard Bush supporters. It was, however, totally exhausting, not to mention dehydrating. I woke up this morning and thought that I had a terrible hangover, before I realized that I hadn't actually consumed any alcoholic beverages recently. If I'm going to go back, I'm going to have to bring water and think about better sun protection. I feel a little bit like I've been hit by a truck.

Anyway, after taking the bus to swing state central, I was dropped in a residential neighborhood. My job was to knock on every door and ask the person who answered if he or she was planning to vote for Kerry. If the person said no, I was supposed to thank them and leave. If he or she said yes, I was supposed to write down contact information so the campaign can make sure he or she actually votes. I was also supposed to tell Kerry supporters that they can vote early and offer them a ride to the polls if they have trouble getting there themselves. If the person was undecided, I was supposed to hand over some campaign literature. The point of this endeavor was really to ensure that Kerry supporters make it to the polls, rather than to convince the undecideds.

The thing that surprised me the most was how many undecideds there were. The neighborhood I canvased was mostly-white, lower-middle-class, and very Catholic. Judging from the contact information I gathered, I'd say it's mostly Polish, although it could just be that Polish people are the ones voting for Kerry. It's the kind of neighborhood where almost every house was lavishly decorated for Halloween, and a whole lot of people had American flags up, or American flag decals on their cars, or those new yellow ribbon "support the troops" car magnets that you see everywhere. My sense was that people were torn between their concern about job loss and pro-life and security considerations. One elderly guy told me that he was voting for Kerry because the only time he'd ever voted Republican was for Ronald Reagan, and a year after that he was laid off and his job was shipped overseas. He said he was never making that mistake again. I smiled and thanked him, even though I don't think Kerry will really do a damn thing about outsourcing and industrial job loss.

So anyway, it was a lot of effort, and it didn't feel like I was making a huge difference, although I know that they need that list of Kerry supporters for get out the vote efforts. And I'll probably go back next week to drive people to the polls. I may be an unenthusiastic Kerry supporter, but I'm a committed one.

Friday, October 22, 2004

I'm not succombing to flu shot hysteria. I usually get a flu shot, because I had the flu (the real flu, as in influenza) five or so years ago, and it was very unpleasant. But it did not kill me then, and I don't think it's likely to kill me now. Now that I'm off of prednisone, I don't have a compromised immune system: actually if anything I have an overzealous immune system. Considering how effectively it has attacked my various organs, I'm pretty sure it could handle any flu buggies.

Having said that, I'm reasonably alarmed that my 84-year-old grandmother has not been able to get her hands on a flu shot. Neither have any of the other residents or workers at her nursing home. We're all trying to keep calm about this, but it does kind of seem like a recipe for disaster.

Therefore I am, to put it mildly, not pleased to hear that members of the Chicago Bears football team have been given flu shots. Assholes. Nice to know that a bunch of healthy athletes think their comfort is more important than elderly people's lives.

In my attempt to arm myself with facts and arguments for my trip to the friendly neighboring swing state, I have looked into Bush's solution to the healthcare crisis: medical savings accounts. And I have to say that it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Maybe someone who understands these things better can enlighten me.

Here's the proposal. At the moment, Americans are supposed to have health insurance, which pays for their healthcare. But the freemarketeers say this is inefficient: the people consuming the care don't pay attention to the cost, so they spend more than they should. What if, instead of paying a healthcare premium every month, you or your employer put money in a savings account? Then, when you needed medical care, you would have incentive to look for the cheapest provider and to forgo care that wasn't really essential. This sort of free market competition would drive down price. Meanwhile, you would still have traditional insurance to cover really expensive medical needs. This insurance would kick in once you'd paid a certain amount out of pocket. That way, you wouldn't be left high and dry if you were hit by a bus or needed a heart transplant.

The problem, as I see it, is that this provides a disincentive to get preventative care. It's hard enough to convince Americans to get pap smears or colonoscopies when their insurance pays for it. I suspect that if people had to pay out of pocket, they just wouldn't do it. And that means that a lot of people wouldn't get care until they had catastrophic problems, which would be dealt with by the old, supposedly-inefficient insurance system. I assume that it's a lot cheaper to treat someone with early-stage wonky blood sugar than someone with full-blown type-2 diabetes. Leaving aside the social costs of needlessly amputated limbs and unnecessary premature death, wouldn't medical savings accounts just end up costing more money down the line?

Needless to say, they also don't do anything about the problems of people who are uninsured. If your employer doesn't provide health insurance, I'm not sure why we should think he or she would pay into a medical savings account. And I suspect that, by transferring responsibility for day-to-day medical care to individuals, wholesale adoption of medical savings accounts would obscure the issue of people not having access to health care. After all, it's just a matter of personal priorities. If people choose to spend their money on food and rent rather than doctors' visits, that's just their rational choice, right?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

To the person who got to my blog by googling "what happens when prednisone is stopped suddenly", I can't give you an answer, but I have it on very good authority that it is not pretty. My mom's friend did that, and she mentioned suicidal depression. It took me a month to gradually go off prednisone. I would not stop all at once.

That's my PSA for the day.

The point of linking to this article is not to bash "Kabbalah", enjoyable as that may be. It's to bash the British media. Did Missy Eliot really say that she became friends with Madonna while filming a "Gap advert"? Would British readers not understand what she meant if she said "ad," as I assume she did? It's as bad as when the American publishers of Harry Potter objected to "fortnight" because American children don't know what that means. I know we're two countries separated by a common language, but you'd think that we'd be able to make the simple, straightforward translations.

Incidentally, my friend M., the aforementioned rabbi's daughter and divinity school student, thinks that the allure of Kabbalah is that it makes no damn sense. She says that most religions require you to put in some effort, but since Kabbalah is totally incomprehensible, all you have to do is wear a red string, show up at the center, and maybe occasionally read some stuff that sounds like total gibberish to you. It's spirituality without work, which is attractive to lazy seekers.

So on Saturday I'm off to my friendly neighboring swing state to volunteer for Kerry. At least, I hope the residents of the neighboring swing state will be friendly: they may decide I'm a nosy interloper and call me rude names. But my dad was harassed by Hell's Angels while handing out leaflets for McGovern at the Connecticut State Fair, so I suppose it's a family tradition.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

When I get sarcastic and dismissive responses from the advertisers I emailed, should I email them back and try to refute their points? Ignore it? Post the emails here? Forward the emails to all my friends? I'm not up on my boycotting etiquette!

It looks like the most effective challenge to Sinclair Broadcast's right-wing bias will come not from the FCC but from shareholders angry about plummeting stock prices. Want to do your bit to make the stock price plummet a bit more? Here's a list of companies who advertise on Sinclair stations. Call them up and tell them you don't do business with people who support conservative bias in media.

The first link is courtesy of Romenesko.

And incidentally, can we finally put the myth of "liberal media bias" to rest?

Monday, October 18, 2004

So I bought the New York Times yesterday, for the first time in ages, and I was kind of shocked to see that with the exception of the Hebrew Bible, the author of which is difficult to determine, all of the adult books reviewed in the Book Review were written by men. Of the four works of fiction and six works of non-fiction reviewed (seven if you count the new translation of the Torah), not one was written by a woman. It's true that there's a longish thought piece on Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, but still. Reviews are clearly the meat of the section, and no woman was deemed worthy of review. Is that really an accurate reflection of women's contributions to the culture, or at least what the New York Times defines as the culture?

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

So I watched the debate with my temporary roommate, and we're both wondering about something. Bush is clearly under the impression that Ted Kennedy is such a bogeyman that the mere mention of his name will send people scurrying out of the Kerry camp. Is that true? I feel like it might have been ten years ago, but now people don't think about Ted Kennedy all that much. Actually, I feel like "liberal" has lost some of its sting. Am I just totally out of touch?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I've been trying to get my thoughts together to write something about Christopher Reeve, and I'm having trouble doing it. I think that's because the controversy around him has made me focus on my still-unresolved issues about my own health status, and I'm afraid that's what this post may end up being about. So if this seems offensively solipsistic, I apologize.

As I think I've mentioned here before, one of my friends has cerebral palsy, and she's kind of tangentially involved in the disability rights movement. I knew through her that Reeve was a controversial figure in that world, and since the discussion of him since his death has been universally lauditory, I was curious and thought I'd do some googling. I found a couple of articles in disability rights publications, and it seems that there are two related aspects of his public life that rile disability rights folks.

The first is the way he talked about his disability. Disabled people have to contend with a particularly demeaning set of assumptions about their lives: that they are dependent and unproductive, that their lives are without dignity, that they might be better off dead or having never been born at all. In a lot of ways, Reeve reinforced rather than challenged these assumptions. Disability rights advocates argue that with reasonable accomodations, disabled people can live full and productive lives. At least at first, Reeve derided this position. He was defective and dependent, he said. His disabled life wasn't worth living, and after his accident he wanted to die. What kept him going and gave his life meaning was his faith that one day he would be cured. For people who don't expect to be cured, this is a pretty insulting and defeatist message.

Which gets back to me. Most people with the Very Rare Condition eventually go deaf. I don't have a typical case of the Very Rare Condition, and my doctors have told me they have no idea whether I'll lose my hearing or not. But I have to contend with the possibility that it could happen. I've sat down and tried to figure out what my life would look like if I couldn't hear, and I've decided that I could deal with it. Still, the idea totally terrifies me. Between 10 and 20% of people with the Very Rare Condition develop life-threatening heart-related complications, but that's not the thing that keeps me up nights. Maybe it's just that it's easier to contend with worry about deafness than with worry about dying, but when I wake up in the morning, I breathe a sigh of relief that I can hear my alarm, not that my heart is still beating.

So anyway, the capital-D Deaf community is one of the more militant and organized parts of the disability rights crowd. In fact, they deny that Deafness is a disability. Instead, they say it's a culture. Sign language is a language like English or Spanish, and the Deaf community is a group of people who happen to speak sign language, rather than the dominant language. Given access to the Deaf community, Deaf people can fully participate in every aspect of life. I think that perspective has a lot of merit, and I mean no disrespect to it when I say that I'm scared shitless of going deaf. But I am. If I'd been born deaf and raised in a Deaf community, it would be one thing. But I've lived my whole life in a hearing world, and losing my hearing would make it difficult to continue living the life I've made for myself. What would it mean for my relationships with my friends and family? What would it mean for my career? Would I have to start over again, in an entirely new language with entirely new people, at this late date? Am I even capable of doing that?

I think of adult-onset deafness as being akin to being a refugee, an involuntary exile from the land of the hearing. I think that's because it's an encouraging metaphor for me: my grandparents were refugees, they had to start over in a new language when they were around the age I am now, and they managed it, despite facing a lot of challenges that easily eclipse anything confronting me. But I think most refugees feel a certain nostalgia for their old homes, or at least for the ease of living in a culture that's fully comfortable. That doesn't imply any disrespect for their new country; it's just not home. If I go deaf, I think I'll always be homesick. I assume that Christopher Reeve, having lost the ability to do a lot more than hear, felt homesick for his old life, too.

So I guess I have some sympathy for Reeve's impolitic understanding of his own disability. He had a particular life, and then he lost access to it. He was used to living in a certain way, and then he couldn't live that way anymore. I think it's a little unreasonable to blame him for mourning the life he'd lost. I think it's a little unreasonable to get angry at him for wanting it back. You can't really expect people to react to their major life events according to a particular script. He felt what he felt, and I don't think he should have been expected to censor his real reactions.

Which leads to the second area of controversy. The issue isn't just that Reeve understood his disability in a problematic way. It isn't even that, as the most visible seriously disabled person in the world, he was able to publicize his attitudes towards his disability in ways that no other disabled person could. It's that his celebrity gave him considerable political clout, and he used that clout to push funding priorities that didn't necessarily benefit most disabled people. He insisted that the priority should be finding a cure for spinal cord injuries, rather than funding accomodations that would allow disabled people access to jobs and whatnot. To him, disabled people who focused on accomodations had "given up" on the real goal: a cure that would make them whole again. But most disabled people don't have spinal cord injuries, and the research Reeve supported wouldn't cure everyone. And it was easy for Reeve to dismiss state-sponsored or mandated accomodations, since his considerable personal resources meant that he could often provide his own. To his credit, Reeve did eventually realize that accomodations were necessary in the short term. But he lobbied the American and other governments to focus on a cure, and because he was famous and charismatic, governments listened to him. Research on spinal cord injuries is now better funded than research on a lot of more common debilitating conditions (and because this is a solipsistic post, I will point out that this includes autoimmune diseases, which do not have the benefit of a big-name celebrity advocate who can argue for research dollars.)

The thing is, I'm not sure I blame Reeve for that, either. It's hard to fault someone for wanting his own problems to be addressed. The fault, I think, lies with a culture that values celebrity so much that governments actually allow movie stars to dictate how it spends taxpayer dollars.

So anyway, standard disclaimer: the disability rights stuff is new terrain for me, and I apologize if I've got it wrong, spoke out of turn, or otherwise caused offense. Feel free to set me straight in the comments!

Monday, October 11, 2004

My university deals with Columbus Day by ignoring it completely. I just got back from the library, which was open as usual. Classes went on as usual. If this post seems rushed, it's because I have to write fast so I can get to swim practice, which is being held as usual. All of this as-usualness is an attempt to avoid controversy, because Columbus Day is now associated with imperialism, conquest and genocide. My university would like to avoid protests on campus, so they don't do anything for Columbus Day.

This is interesting to me, because to the people I study, it meant something very different. For them, Columbus Day was a time to stake Catholics' claim to be fully American. In the early Twentieth Century, many Americans believed that the U.S. was a white, Protestant country founded on white, Protestant ideals. Only white Protestants could fully live up to those ideals, so only they were worthy of American citizenship. Acting on this belief, various white Protestants did a lot of very bad stuff, such as restricting immigration to favor Northern Europeans, as well as attacking black men who tried to exercise their citizenship by doing things like voting or joining the army. The Ku Klux Klan, which was as militantly anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic as it was racist, rose to new prominence in the 1920s on this set of beliefs.

To the people I study, Columbus was a symbol of the fact that the U.S. was not a Protestant nation, founded on Protestant ideals. Catholics had been here since (what they considered to be) the very start. Columbus Day parades were an opportunity for Catholics, led by the patriotic Catholic fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus, to assert their right to American citizenship in a visible and unapologetic fashion.

Now, I tend to think this was pretty misguided. For one thing, Columbus does represent imperialism and all that other bad stuff. For another, by arguing that there had always been Catholics in America, the Knights of Columbus and their allies seemed to assert that how long your people had been here was an appropriate criterion for determining who should get to be a citizen. The point shouldn't be that Catholics should be in the exclusive club of people who could be American: it should be that American citizenship ought to be open to people of all faiths or no faith. They should have been battling the underlying assumptions about the limitations on citizenship, and to be fair they did some of that, too. But they returned time and again to the theme that Catholics had helped build America and therefore deserved equal membership in American society and civic life.

But I still can't totally dismiss Columbus Day as "Genocide Day," the way protestors used to when I was an undergrad. That's part of it, but it's also a day when people stood up and told the Ku Klux Klan to screw itself. I don't really want to commemorate Columbus, but I do think there's something to be said for remembering that history of resistance and defiance.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

How's this for a meme? Turn your iTunes to "party shuffle" (otherwise known as "random"). What are the next ten songs? Mine are:

1. Give Me Another Chance, Big Star
2. For What Reason, Death Cab for Cutie
3. GreenCastle Hornpipe, Beginish
4. I'm Not Down, the Clash
5. Mitwa, Udit Narayan, Alga Yagnik, Sukwinder Singh
6. First to Finish, Last to Start, Ted Leo and the Pharmicists
7. There Goes the Fear, Doves
8. The Ashplant Set, Dervish
9. Know Your Onion!, the Shins
10. Brief Candles, the Zombies

What does this prove, other than that I have kind of random taste in music? Well, aside from the crowd that does "Mitwa," I think Dervish is the only band on that list that has a single female member, and the only woman in Dervish is the singer. (Women singers are still more common than female instrumentalists in Irish music, although it's not as true as it once was.) It appears that my feminism doesn't extend to my musical taste.

You know, it occurs to me that this week Dick Cheney may actually, for perhaps the first time in his life, have done something that benefited the American people. is a very useful site. And while I'm clearly totally biased, I think it hurts Bush more than it hurts Kerry. It's too bad (although kind of funny) that Cheney didn't get the URL right, but I'm glad that more people know where to go to get some of the spin debunked and clarified.

Ok, here's the thing I don't understand about the embryonic stem cell controversy. The Federal government has effectively blocked research with embryonic stem cells, because that research requires killing embryos. These embryos are produced in fertility clinics and will generally be destroyed anyway. So the government's decision shuts off research that could help millions of sick people, but it doesn't actually save any embryos. Why isn't Bush just moving to ban the fertility practices that produce excess embryos?

Is it because the federal government funds research, and fertility clinics are privately funded? That's true, but it doesn't really explain anything, I don't think. The regulations were formulated to make stem cell research impossible. Bush could have denied federal funding to projects, rather than institutions that used embryonic stem cells. It's possible to fund a project without federal money; it's not possible to run an entire institution in the U.S. without federal funds. The point here wasn't to withhold government funds from a practice Bush finds objectionable: it was to ensure that practice ceased to exist. I'm pretty sure that if the federal government went after fertility clinics with similar vigor, they could prevent clinics from producing excess embryos.

I'm thinking that maybe it's politically easier to ban a practice that's in the research stages, rather than a procedure which is helping people today. I also suspect that Bush realizes that once stem cell research starts producing effective therapies, there won't be any turning back. I can conceive of a future in which they'd outlaw in vitro fertilization; I can't conceive of Congress outlawing a cure for Alzheimers.

Anyway, I watched the debate with my friends L. and M. They're, like me, not very enthusiastic about Kerry but voting for him because they think Bush is scary and dangerous, and I don't think any of us are very good at gauging how debates have gone. Afterwards, we called L's parents, who are your typical swing voters. They both voted for Bush last time, and they're both 80% sure that they're voting for Kerry. L's father hasn't voted for a Democrat in 20 years, but he's a Korean war veteran, and he's furious at Bush for unnecessarily putting American soldiers in harm's way. He says that the military is good at breaking things and killing people, and sending them to do anything else is pure folly. The idea of sending troops to instill democracy, he says, is insane. So anyway, L's parents were very impressed with Kerry in the first debate and less so in this one. They felt like he missed opportunities to slam Bush. They didn't feel like he came down hard enough on Bush about the environment, which surprised me. They're still leaning towards Kerry, but they said they'd feel better about it if he did better in the next debate.

That's interesting, because I thought Bush was a mess. He seemed totally defensive: he's stopped pretending that he has achievements to tout, and now he's just arguing that his failures aren't his fault. I thought he really bombed the question about mistakes he's made: he thought he was being challenged on Iraq, but really he was being asked to show that he had an ounce of humility or self-awareness. Coming into the debates, people thought he was basically a good guy: he's now coming across like a total ass.

Actually, I think the difference between me and L's parents is that I don't expect to like Kerry. I'm just focusing on how much I despise Bush. They still want to be able to vote for someone who they respect; I've given up and just want to vote for someone who I don't think will imperil humanity.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

So the mainstream media seems to be slowly picking up on the story that Alan Keyes's daughter may be gay. Newspapers have mentioned that Keyes was asked about it at a debate with Obama on Friday, and someone brought it up on the post-debate discussion I listened to on talk radio Tuesday night. I feel a bit weird about adding fuel to the fire, but it's out there, so I'm going to post about it.

In general, I'm pretty opposed to dragging politicians' kids into political campaigns. I am the first to admit that I'm totally biased on this question. As a kid, I knew a bunch of children of politicians, and while their parents' (actually, in every case I can think of, it was their father's) jobs gave them opportunities that I could barely fathom, I still didn't envy them. There was a sense in which they fundamentally lost the right to be their own people: they always had to be conscious of their status as accessories, of the ways in which their every move could be scrutinized and critiqued and made to reflect on their parents. They lost their right to privacy, and the scrutiny was often most intense at the times that would otherwise be most stressful, such as when their parents split up or were accused of some sort of wrongdoing. I realize that considering the many things that less-fortunate kids deal with, this hardly seems like a national tragedy, but I saw it cause a lot of misery, and I don't think that misery can be justified by the supposed benefit. I actually don't think there's a lot of correlation between people's ability to govern and their ability to raise polite, smart, tea-totaling, abstinent, good-looking children. For the most part, interest in politicians' children has more to do with the prurient culture of celebrity, I think, than in anything politically substantive. In the overwhelming majority of cases, I just don't care what candidates' children do, and I don't think you should care, either.

There is, I think, a big exception to that rule, and it has to do with hypocrisy. It is, I believe, ok to point out when politicians are exempting their own kids from the difficulties they impose on other people's children. It's ok, for instance, to point out that a whole lot of politicians talk a good line about public education but send their own children to private schools. It's fine by me if you want to discuss the fact that politicians will have the resources to procure abortions for their daughters even if abortion becomes illegal in the U.S. I feel horrible for Jeb Bush's substance-abusing daughter, Noelle, and I think that Bush is right to suggest that her difficulties could happen in any family. But at a time when whole families can be kicked out of public housing if a single member is convicted of drug possession, it's worth pointing out that poor folks can be rendered homeless for committing exactly the same offense for which Jeb Bush argues he should be given a pass. If he shouldn't be held responsible for his daughter's drug problem, why should other people face such draconian punishment? If a policy is supposed to be fair and humane, I think you can ask why politicians don't think it should apply to their nearest and dearest.

But here's the thing. I've seen no evidence that Alan Keyes is a hypocrite. He doesn't think that his daughter should be the only gay person who is granted civil rights. Assuming that Keyes's daughter is a lesbian, he thinks that she, like every other gay and lesbian person in the U.S., should be a second-class citizen. He thinks that she, like every other gay and lesbian person, should be denied the right to have a family that is recognized by the state.

Now, I think Alan Keyes is a thoroughly reprehensible person for being willing to oppress his own daughter. Dick Cheney, who is of course also reprehensible, at least has the decency to seem chagrined about running on a ticket that seeks to deny his kid basic civil rights. But as incomprehensible and abhorrent as Keyes's stance on his daughter is, I think it's unlikely to lose him much support if it becomes public. Less than 25% of Illinoisans plan to vote for Keyes as it is. My hunch is that most members of that tiny fringe are as rabidly homophobic as he is. Sadly, they would probably approve of his willingness to impose his hateful agenda on his own daughter.

So I don't see any great benefit to publicizing this rumor, even if it's true. And I think it could cause a lot of suffering to the daughter in question. It's hard enough to be the gay child of a rabid homophobe. It would really stink to have the whole world know that your daddy loves the sinner but hates what he considers a sin and you consider a fundamental part of your life.

So why am I blogging about it, you ask? Well, not very many people read my blog, so I don't feel too bad about it.

In other news:

  1. Someone got to my blog by googling "Jack and Bobby" and "anti-Catholic." Is Jack and Bobby anti-Catholic? I stopped watching after the first episode.

  2. The stool samples came back negative for parasites. This is, despite the general disgustingness of parasites, not the result for which I was hoping. I have to call the doctor tomorrow and figure out what to do next. I'm currently trying to convince myself that this is all in my head and that I am somehow subconsciously making myself throw up. That would be crazy, but crazy is preferable to sick.

  3. I have actually volunteered to haul my ass to a swing state and volunteer for Kerry. This is particularly perverse behavior, because I don't even like Kerry. I don't expect him to be a very good president. It's purely about getting Bush out of office before he appoints Supreme Court justices and ruins the country for the next thirty years.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

For me, presidential debates are a really surreal experience. They show how totally out of touch I am with the American people. For instance, I thought Bush won the first debate. He came off, as far as I was concerned, like a smirking, idiotic frat-boy, but I always think he comes off like a smirking, idiotic fratboy. I assumed that most people must be ok with the smirk, the inarticulateness, the insincere pieties while talking about sending other people to their deaths, because I've spent the past four years wanting to hurl every time he came on my T.V., and there was no indication that your average American felt the same way. When I was trying to figure out how the ordinary viewing public would react to Bush's debate performance, it didn't occur to me that people would see him the way I always have. Since I thought Kerry was kind of inarticulate and all over the place, I assumed people would think Bush was better. They didn't.

Similarly, I thought Cheney won the debate last night. Don't get me wrong: I believe Cheney is pretty much the most evil person in American politics. But he's an articulate and authoritative debater, and he's incredibly adept at manipulating the truth. He doesn't generally come right out and lie, but he spins things in such a way that unless you really know about the subject, you'd come away with a completely inaccurate perception. He seems intelligent and credible. Edwards is a little too slick, a little too good looking, a little too vapid: he just doesn't seem to have any weight. He's like someone running for vice president of student government, not the United States. I think he scored some points last night: I was glad that he pointed out that Cheney himself supported the 1984 weapons cuts, and he certainly hammered home that there is no connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. But if I didn't have strong views on the issues, I could see myself thinking that Cheney was more credible and presidential.

I'll be interested to see if the polls are with me on this, or if once again I'm totally out of step with the general viewing public.

Oh, and can someone explain to me why the major networks have representatives of the parties do the post-debate coverage? What, exactly, am I supposed to learn from hearing some professional partisans spin their candidate?

Monday, October 04, 2004

I'm back from my brother's wedding. It was, all the snarking about my dress aside, really lovely. My brother and sister-in-law seem totally happy, the ceremony was short, the reception was fun, and only one person got so drunk that she puked all over the floor of the ladies' bathroom.

So I read in the paper today that pro-choice people can no longer speak at Catholic University. I don't mean that people can no longer give pro-choice speeches: I mean that pro-choice people can no longer speak on any subject. In this case, the person who has been banned is Stanley Tucci, who was going to give a talk as part of Washington's Italian film festival.

I realize that it's difficult for religious institutions to balance their spiritual and educational missions, but this seems pretty outrageous to me. Universities are supposed to be places that are open to the free exchange of ideas. Apparently, Catholic university thinks its students are too stupid or too morally fragile to stand being exposed to ideas with which the Church disagrees. Frankly, that reflects pretty badly on the institution and the people who attend it.

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