Friday, January 28, 2011

Tunis, Cairo, and beyond

I guess the most important thing to remember right now is that we don't know what government is going to emerge from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Some are hopeful that this is some sort of Arab Enlightenment, the beginnings of new democracy in Muslim North Africa. Others are worried that militant Islamists will have an opening.

Maybe it's simplistic, but I tend to believe dictators are always worth overthrowing. The possibility of democracy is worth the risk of Islamist takeover.
A friend of mine sent me a link to this "news" segment today, needing a moment to rant. One sympathizes.

In general I'm done worrying about Sarah Palin unless and until she becomes a serious contender for anything important. I feel sometimes like she could come down with a serious case of dementia tomorrow and nothing would change. She could say in an interview, for instance, that Barack Obama's arms treaty with the Galactic Empire robs us of the right to shield ourselves from the Eye of Mordor. The people who still support her right now would find the headspace to fit the new Palinism into their worldview, the rest of us would think she's a blithering idiot, and the press corps would ask the president to respond to her "remarks." There is just nothing Sarah Palin can say that will make her supporters question her competence, and the rest of us have similarly made up our minds about her.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chewbacca and R2D2: secret Rebel agents?

Submitting this thesis to the readership. In essence, a close reading of Stars Wars episode IV: A New Hope while relying on the veracity of episodes I-III (i.e., the new ones) reveals two secret Rebel agents relying on patsy front men to sell their cover: R2-D2 and Chewbacca.

is abortion "like slavery?"

I see TNC is getting entangled in Rick Santorum's new rhetorical IED:
"Well if that person, human life is not a person, then, I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, 'We are going to decide who are people and who are not people.'"

Conservatives really like this comparison because it seems like an ironclad way to hoist liberals with their own petard, and I see various ones have already given this comparison their endorsement.

Personally, I still think arguments made by analogy are almost always specious. People usually move from "X is" to "X is like" because they only want you to see this one detail here, not all those inconvenient ones over there.

For example, Coates points out the problems with the "abortion is like slavery" thesis by pointing out that slaves were considered people, just unequal people, and moreover that they were themselves one of the primary agents in their own abolition. It totally glosses over the long struggle of black people escaping slavery and becoming abolitionists, pamphleteering, preaching, and helping other slaves escape bondage via the underground railroad. Thus the "pro-life as abolitionist" model is that of altruistic white men condescending to lift up and extend their own privilege to some helpless, voiceless other, which is understandably offensive to others, not to mention "bad history" as Coates argues.

In this way, Rick Santorum interestingly steps into the same puddle as Hillary Clinton back in '08 when we were all forced to litigate the degree to which Lyndon Johnson (and by extension white America) can or should claim responsibility for the Civil Rights Act. African Americans are very sensitive to this subject because white people tend to understate the role of black people in their own emancipation.

That is all, of course, aside from the more obvious critique that if you decide personhood begins at conception, you're still "deciding who are people and who are not people," and it's not just a matter of setting the start date earlier. If "personhood" includes, say, "the right to make your own medical decisions," there is the wee matter of the mass of flesh surrounding the fetus.

There's yet another wrinkle in Santorum's logic that I thought worth mentioning. Despite the reductionist description of the president as "a black man," Barack Obama is not the descendant of American slaves. There isn't anything in his heritage that would make this issue more acute for him than for Santorum.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Yeah, people get it wrong all the time, I know. I still would not have expected such a foul-up here, and then a failure from the "editor" to recognize the mistake.

This is all separate from the issue of Joe Lieberman's nauseating sanctimony during the whole Lewinsky scandal. Contra Brooks, it was not one of his finer moments.

Nor does it pertain to David Brooks' perplexing failure to recognize that Joe Lieberman is one of the most vindictive egomaniacs in the entire Senate, changing positions on a dime solely to obstruct the people that he thinks didn't adequately champion his re-election bid in '06. His support of the Medicare buy-in compromise last year, and then blindsiding Reid by reneging on that support just as it was reaching the tipping point in the Senate, comes to mind as one of the most egregious examples.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

the internet catches up with Paula Deen

Paula Deen publishes a recipe for English peas on the Food Network website which, as far as I can tell, is just heating 2 cans of peas in a 1/2 stick of butter. 3 years later, it finally goes viral, and the comments section is something special.

My favorites so far:
I tried it but I thought it might be missing something..... oh yeah, it's a trailer park.

If my can of peas has small Spanish translations under the English text, will they still work for this recipe?

The English peas turned out just great with a little help from my new friend Annette, and went perfectly with Boiled Hot Dog on Hot Dog Bun, in particular, and she's promised to walk me through that one soon. She suggested I work up to it with one of Chef Deen's intermediate recipes first, though, like Opened Bag of Chips Adjacent to Opened Can of Dip.

If these were truly English peas, the recipe would have included making sure that you overcook them till mushy and all "pop" is gone from them. But I liked this recipe anyway. Although I didn't have any canned peas, so I dug through my freezer for frozen ones. Finding none, and with my butter already melted, I decided to slice up some bananas lengthwise and cook them in the butter, but it needed a little smidge of something, so I dumped half a cup of dark brown sugar in there, which was absolutely lovely, but simply not showy enough, so I tossed in some banana liqueur and a splash of rum. Of course, since I cook on a gas stove, I probably shouldn't have shook the pan so vigorously because the rum lit on fire and the whole dish burned until all the rum cooked off. But I spooned it over some vanilla bean ice cream and called it good. It was good. Will try Paula's recipe again in the future (with my modifications, of course!

Which half of the 1/2 stick of butter should I melt?

This reminds me of when I used to eat with my Aunt and Uncle back in my home town. She'd open a can of k'luth, which is Bachi for peas. Some times we wouldn't know what we would get because we lost our translator droid during the previous harvest.

I took helpful tips from one of the reviewers and I had something that came out exactly like Bananas Foster! Yum!!

House votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act!

O no!!

As I read one person say, perhaps now they'll move to repeal the president and the Senate.

Perhaps they should repeal the 2006 and 2008 elections, and the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Franklin Roosevelt. Or they could bypass the whole need to repeal the health care law by just voting to abolish sickness and death.

I wonder if they'll hold a vote to officially designate Democrats as the party that's ugly and stupid and smells funny. I bet Dan Boren (D-OK) would vote for it. Maybe they can attach a rider that disowns San Francisco and Massachusetts.

In all seriousness, though, in a way it's the perfect way to usher in the Republican congress. The Democrats ran the most productive House in ages, and one that dealt seriously with substantive issues. Like the results or not, they tackled difficult questions on health care, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, economic stimulus, and other major issues. Their first big splash legislation was the Lily Ledbetter Act, which made a tiny modification to an existing law but with huge implications, stating that the 180 grace period for filing a lawsuit under the Civil Rights Act resets with each discriminatory action.

The Republican congress, on the other hand, purports to make a massive, sweeping change in the lives of the people, repealing the ability of college graduates to stay on their parents' insurance, allowing insurance companies to begin dropping you from their coverage if you get sick, re-establishing the Medicare donut hole, and repealing tax credits for small businesses that contribute to employee health insurance, all while increasing the debt by $500 billion over the next 10 years. In reality, however, the vote does nothing. Political theater utterly lacking in substance. It really is the perfect foil for the Democrats and President Obama, who have enacted real reforms over the last two years, but are pathologically, infuriatingly* incapable of scoring political points.

*Yes, infuriatingly (and no, I don't care if that's not really a word). It isn't a compliment to say Democrats are incapable of scoring political points. Not scoring points is how we got a Republican House in the first place. The Affordable Care Act's popularity sank as low as it did because Democrats were completely unwilling to defend it. What, was it supposed to speak for itself? Where were all Democrats insisting that the CBO says it cuts the deficit? Where were all the accusations that Republicans want to reopen the donut hole? That they're in the pocket of the insurance industry? That they care about shareholders more than voters? That they're anti-retirement? That they want to work Granny to death? Where were the rallies in front of those Wal-Mart parking lots where poor people are getting root canals right there on the pavement like refugees?

John Boehner doesn't care about sick people!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

perceived vs. actual threats

An interesting point via Grist. I've noticed last year there was some discussion "out there" about the topsy-turvy way people -- and parents in particular -- perceive danger. This sentence illustrates it well:
...the five things most likely to cause injury to children up to age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are: car accidents, homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know), child abuse, suicide or drowning. And what are the five things that parents are most worried about (according to surveys by the Mayo Clinic)? Kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers and drugs.

Of those, of course, car accidents far outstrip everything else, accounting for some 30% of teen fatalities. Those fatalities, by the way, occur more frequently in rural/exurban areas than urban/inner suburban ones, as shown by this map from the CDC website and this UVA study cited in the Grist article.

Ironically, parents often react to illusory danger by subjecting their kids to actual danger, e.g., driving their kids around to prevent them from walking and public transportation, or escaping the hordes of drug pushers, terrorists, and shifty strangers of the cities by moving to the gun-ridden, car-centric, condom-eschewing exurbs.

Our relatively new parental culture of keeping kids in sight at all times must be hell on single parents. My mother let me walk home from school every day at least partly because she had little choice, what with school letting out fully two hours before her job. I suspect being a "latchkey" kid fostered in me a sense of the outside world as a safely navigable place, which perhaps ultimately led to my independence in junior high and willingness to take long road trips in high school and college. It may even have had a hand in my choice to go to Ireland alone for my junior year rather than the group study abroad programs that everyone else joined. It's still the best decision I ever made, and those trips to Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Durango are some of my fondest memories.

If Mom made that choice to start letting me walk home from school today, she'd probably be reported to Child Protective Services.