Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Random thoughts and observations

I have a rather large backlog of things to discuss, but since it all seems to be a variation of the same themes, it just doesn’t seem to matter whether they are discussed or not, because nothing seems to change despite all the hot air expended. People actually get paid to do this, and most of them seem to be more dim-witted than the ones who don’t get paid. Anyways, here are some tossed-off observations dispensed with in a completely, confusingly random manner:

I was walking down a sidewalk in Kent when I observed standing ahead of me a yuppie-looking type smoking a cigarette; I thought to myself “I bet that’s another office guy.” I didn't actually use those terms, but let's not get technical. As I walked past him, I heard him say “Hi Mark.” I stopped and looked at him; he looked like John-Boy with receding hair, but I recognized him as one of the guys who bounced around from position to position at the sports apparel company where once I worked. He told me about the new, smaller building they had moved into, and how there were only 17 people employees left (from 50, plus a dozen temps); I supposed they kept him around because he was “flexible.” I reflected on how the company’s “successes” in the early 2000s were based on over-optimistic expectations, followed by a steady, unstoppable decline in sales until the barely-visible state the business was in now. When I mused about the fraud the Bush and Republican Congress’ economic “plan” was, and that the country’s economy has in fact been in defacto recession since the beginning of the previous decade, a fact masked by financial-gambling bubbles, he decided he needed to go back to work right then. The president of the company was a Republican, and I once or twice overheard him make comments that I deemed racially-insensitive; I was fortunate that my boss was allowed to operate independently and hire whoever he wanted—that is until he was fired after getting involved in a power struggle with the “Chief Operating Officer” who normally had nothing to do except collect a six-figure salary, but suddenly decided she wanted to micro-manage the warehouse. The real problems lay elsewhere (like the sales department), but as always, sh*t rolls downhill.


There was front page story in USA Today recently about how Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and others having to make the “tough,” “visionary” choices to balance their budgets. Actually, they could have left out the “visionary” part, since it doesn’t apply. I was listening to the BBC world news commentators bubbling about how China was about to pass the U.S. in published research papers (although they admitted that Chinese research was generally of low-quality), and how China was projected to become the world’s largest economy in 2023. Tom Friedman of The New York Times was interviewed about his concern that the U.S. didn’t seem to have the “get things done” mentality as in the past. That’s where the “visionary”—or lack thereof—part comes in, which Republican politicians have a distinct lacking of. Republicans are busy laying-off teachers for purely partisan political reasons (since they are viewed as Democratic-leaning), cutting education funding, trying to push (as Walker is doing) reducing per-student funding in order to cut property taxes. Higher education funding is being cut even more than in previous years, which naturally includes research funding, thus one reason why the U.S. is losing ground to China. Back in the day, U.S. research funding went into bigger things, like airplanes and space flight, which required new and more efficient uses of resources; now, research is more likely to be in the smaller and less empirically useful—and certainly not with an eye to address future crisis, especially in energy and infrastructure. When the future requires newer and more efficient mechanisms for power, infrastructure and transportation, Republicans repeatedly block these goals, because they “cost” too much, or interfere with “market forces”—meaning their corporate sponsors. What are people in this country doing about it? Sitting on their arses, getting dumber watching Fox News and voting Republican.


Following the Tucson massacre in January, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik denounced right-wing blow-hard Rush Limbaugh for continuing to make what he described as “incendiary” comments that inflamed hate and promoted violence, telling ABC News that “The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh, in my judgment he is irresponsible, uses partial information, sometimes wrong information…attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials and that kind of behavior in my opinion is not without consequences." Not all potential consequences are necessarily for the worse, however: It appears that outside the unabashed race-baiter Russell Pearce, Arizona Republicans have decided for the time being to cool their heels on the immigration issue. Five bills promoted by Pearce and fellow fanatic Steve Smith went down in flames two weeks ago; they would have required teachers and health care workers to report “suspected” illegal immigrants to law enforcement, required the forcible eviction from public housing legal residents if they allowed an illegal immigrant to live with them, made it a crime for an illegal immigrant to drive or possess a driver’s license, and included a "proposal" to the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the issue of denial of automatic citizenship for children born in this country. With businesses complaining that the focus on illegal immigrants was in fact hurting—not helping—the local economy, some Republicans decided that “the people” wanted them to focus on other issues. There was no mention of the Tucson massacre in their deliberations, but as Frank Rich opined in the New York Times last month, there was a very definite fallout for Republicans, especially in the at least short-term decline in ratings for Sarah Palin and Fox News blowhards. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Michael Medved—one of those “rational” conservatives—denounced the supposedly “mainstream” right for continuously portraying Barack Obama as an “evil” man with a master plan to “destroy” the country. In Arizona—ground zero for hate speech—the political gain for such folly proved insufficient to put Pearce’s even more draconian bills in the racist “win” column.


As one may or may not have heard, Sarah Palin made a trip to India to make what was billed as a “major foreign policy address.” Why Palin would be making a “major foreign policy address” if she didn’t still harbor fantasies about becoming president is anybody’s guess. Attendees at her speech admitted that they only showed-up because Palin was a “celebrity,” and although she said the “right things” about Indian-Pakistani relations, the general consensus was that she didn’t have much of substance or new to say. This was apparently Palin’s latest “coming out” party, following her disastrous performance in the wake of the Tucson massacre. A speech she was supposed to give in Glendale, Arizona was canceled because of “anemic” ticket sales—even at half-price—which apparently would not cover Palin’s $100,000 speaking fee. I mean, what idiot would pay $185 to listen to someone make sarcastic noises that pass for human speech? I paid $80 for a cheap seat to see Paul McCartney at the Tacoma Dome in 2002; I can only say that I’m not embarrassed to admit that. But while the idea of Palin as president remains a head-scratcher, guess who else wants to be president? That guy with the bad hair, Donald Trump. Trump claims he can do a much better job with the economy; the problem is he is one of a type who helped sink it in the first place. Trump, by the way, has been in bankruptcy court numberless times, and received a sweet heart deal from banks in 1991 that helped him avoid both financial and personal ruin. He’s still trying to avoid paying off loans he owes, making the bizarre claim that the current recession is an “Act of God”—so it isn’t his fault that he can't honor his obligations to Deutsche Bank. Let this guy run the country? Only if you believe in smoke and mirrors.


Can the world function without computers? Consider: Last Saturday I was sitting in my “office”/parking spot at the airport when I noticed after a couple of hours that not much seemed to be going on. I decided to take a stroll about and discovered that a lot of people were also standing or sitting around with nothing to do. Flights that were supposed to leave at 6 A.M. were still sitting motionless. Because planes were still occupying all the gates, no plane could come in, and of course made for a great mess of things. The airline cancelled 95 flights, lost some money and maybe some customers.

What happened? According to an airline spokesperson, a “routine” upgrade in the flight planning computer software went awry. Likely story. When I was a kid, I was a baseball fanatic. Every morning I make sure I had time to stop by the school library before classes so I could pore over the Milwaukee Brewers box score (back when Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Jim Gantner formed the core of the team for over a decade), and would spend the rest of the day doodling rotisserie league statistics and learning to figure batting averages, slugging percentages and ERAs in my head. I used to do this a lot when I was in college in order to pass the time when I was bored; at least it fooled instructors who thought I was taking notes. On one occasion there was a guest lecturer regaling a class I was in, and she seemed to be quite impressed with the fact that I seemed to be the only student diligently taking notes of her every word—that is until she noticed that a student sitting next to me was looking at my handiwork and silently laughing. I didn’t need a calculator or a computer—in fact there was no such thing as a home computer until I went to college after I decided I had enough of Army life. We found everything via a card catalogue, and figured using scrap paper and pencil. I suspect that back in the day, even an airline operations staff—like most other businesses—had to make do with doing everything by hand and be semi-knowledgeable in basic math equations, like addition. But not today; people are helpless without their gadgets; you only have to have the pretension of intelligence. Working in the cargo department, I probably know better than anyone else their dearth of competence even with the aid of mechanical and electronic devices.


Speaking of computers, I used to be an Apple fanatic, but those days are long gone. It took a awhile, but I discovered a startling fact: When you purchased a Mac, you were not buying it for the hardware, but for the software. A Mac could cost twice as much as a Windows machine, but you were paying for half the hardware. Thus when I discovered recently that I couldn’t find a Mac with a blu-ray drive, I knew I still didn’t want to go back. This has been taken as evidence that the blu-ray format has not been a raging success, even though discs and hardware prices have gotten to point where they can actually be called “cheap,” and frankly I still prefer physical media over what can easily be lost in hard drive crashes. But I don’t buy the pundits story. These days I will only purchase a machine that has blu-ray capability, even if I don’t intend to play blu-ray discs. Why? Because blu-ray requires more robust hardware requirements, like faster processors, larger hard drives, but especially more video memory; you wind-up with a faster machine for performing other functions. This is the real reason why Apple doesn’t sell Macs with blu-ray drives: Macs generally have less memory and smaller hard drives than Windows machines that cost half as much—it assumes people will be satisfied by its admittedly superior operating system. Me? I’m not fooled.


It is hard to find public restrooms in downtown Seattle, so the other day I availed myself to the one at the Convention Center. The one on the second floor, right off the escalator, has a room with one of those opening in the wall, like a hatcheck room of old. It always closed, except this time it was open, and inside was sitting a shriveled-up fiftyish white woman with short red hair. As I entered she gave me an evil look. There was about five guys milling about inside doing I don’t know what, but left right then. I went into one of the stalls; while I was conducting business, I suddenly heard this truly unpleasant voice call inside: Can I help you? Do you have a problem? When she didn’t get a response, I heard her call someone to see if the SPD was “still outside.” Shortly thereafter I heard her say something to somebody else about the “last guy who went in there.” That somebody went inside the restroom, where I heard him tell another person on a radio that there wasn’t any problem. After I was done and vacating the restroom, I noticed that the door to the hatcheck room was closing and the red-haired woman suddenly appeared in the opening; I figured she must have standing outside listening in. She was still looking at me with the evil eye; she wasn’t wearing a name tag, so I asked her what her name was. She didn’t answer, just stared at me evilly, but I told her that was OK, I was going to write about this incident on my blog anyways. I figured she must have been fired from a previous management position, and now she could only find was this shitty security guard job, which her ratty blazer couldn’t conceal. I guess the only people she knew to blame were those “Mexicans,” and she wanted “get even.” I found an alumni magazine in my post box earlier in the day; the cover story was about African-American achievement at the school. Frankly, this country has only addressed half the problem.


I was digging around in my rat nest when I discovered a cap with the AS Roma soccer team insignia, which was manufactured by the aforementioned apparel company I worked for. I once wore it at the airport; one of the airline employees saw me and complained to a supervisor, and I was hunted down and told to remove it. What was so offensive about it? The insignia portrayed the famous sculpture of Romulus and Remus—the mythic founders of Rome—being suckled by a wolf, as they were according to legend. I’m a history buff, so I know these things. Obviously, anyone in this sexually-correct country who is unaware of the iconology would interpret it incorrectly. Culture is a funny thing; people claim to have it, it’s all theirs, but they can’t explain what it is. It is remarkable to me how white Americans have very little knowledge of the artistic and literary past of their own country—let alone that of other countries—yet find time to criticize the alleged lack of other groups to be “cultured.” I’ve seen other people’s “superior” culture alright. I spent four years in Germany, which was “cultured”—like a stone statue. People would go about their daily life, and then disappear after 6 PM. Unless you lived in one of the megalopolises, streets were literally devoid of life. I often wondered what Germans did after 6 PM; were they pondering the philosophical ramifications contained in thick tomes, or concentrating on the intricacies of a classical music piece? Perhaps poring over complex mathematical equations for amusement? Or maybe they were just watching TV or getting drunk. In Greece, I visited a tourist shop; what I saw were statuettes of naked Venuses and men with gigantic upright penises. I suppose that passes for “culture” in some parts, although you’d still have to wonder.

What is culture? Not “political culture”—which in this country can best be described as controlled insanity—but the artifacts of “higher” civilization. Just the things that amuse you to pass the time? I know what I like, and nobody can take that away from me, even though some people have tried; in college, I was listening to a cassette tape I had made of favorite songs, mostly from the 1960s and 70s. A white student who overheard it sneered “that isn’t YOUR music.” So what made it “his” music? What makes it Pat Buchanan’s? They didn’t create it. Artists and writers don’t intend to appeal to only certain “privileged” groups. Look how many white people get-off on rap music, even though its commentary has little to do with their own lives, often quite the opposite; after the shooting death of yet another hip-hop personality—DJ Megatron—I think it is about time that the musical themes of the past—you know, “love,” “peace” and self-empowerment—make a comeback. I admit my own knowledge of “culture” is limited to what I read or listen to, but at least the books and music I avail myself to have generally stood the test of time.


I read an article about the Great White Shark becoming close to being placed on the Endangered Species list. Some of us remember the Steven Spielberg film “Jaws,” which convinced many viewers that even though they probably wouldn’t encounter one in their life-spans, the world be a much better place without them. They may get their wish, even if memory of the film has faded, aided with the reality that Great White attacks continue to be a rare occurrence. Meanwhile, according to a recent National Geographic expose, a rather amazing 40,000,000 sharks are killed every year for one thing, and one thing only: Their top fin. According to the publication, “That raises the issue from animal cruelty to global crisis.” The reason for this seemingly mindless slaughter, especially when only five species of shark out of 300 are considered “threatening” to humans? Because shark fins are a delicacy in China, and dining on “shark fin soup” is considered a measure of one’s status in Chinese society. China’s rapid economic growth has brought with it a growing number of newly rich, and so has grown the “taste” for shark fins. I don’t know what shark fins taste like, but I’ve tasted an alleged “delicacy” called caviar—the eggs of sturgeon—and I still can’t figure out the big deal is; it’s just another superficiality without any redeeming value. I’m sure the Chinese millionaires can live without shark fins, and they may have to do so sooner than later; the stupidity of it all is the killing off whole species for the sake of momentary “prestige.” Somehow, “prestige” is the last term I would apply to it.


The U.S. used to have something called the “fairness doctrine” in which broadcasters were required to allow equal time for differing political views. Obviously that doesn’t exist anymore; Fox News’ claim that is “fair and balanced” is the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on humanity, and CNN is increasingly catering to a right-wing audience. There is still something like a fairness doctrine in the UK; while in the U.S. the FCC seems more concerned with the use of the Seven Dirty Words, Ofcom’s mission is to “make sure that people in the UK get the best from their communications services and are protected from scams and sharp practices, while ensuring that competition can thrive.” This apparently has in mind preventing the kind of domination of deceptive and race-baiting political “commentary” by right-wing radio talk in this country. Check out these amazing concepts meant to maintain an informed public:

Insure that a “wide range of high-quality television and radio programmes are provided, appealing to a range of tastes and interests;”

That “television and radio services are provided by a range of different organisations;”

That “people who watch television and listen to the radio are protected from harmful or offensive material;”

That “people are protected from being treated unfairly in television and radio programmes, and from having their privacy invaded.”

On the other hand, what we have in the U.S. is a lot of hot, empty air, misinformation, hate, greed and always the threat of violence—and most of it perpetrated by the right, which almost completely controls the radio dial and dominates at least cable news. There is no such thing as frank, reasonable discussion of the issues in the hands of those who now control public discourse airwaves (don’t get me started on that empty suit Wolf Blitzer and his hypocritical blowhards on the “Situation Room”). However, things may be changing in the UK, thanks to a familiar name: Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch’s News Corp controls the cable news channel Sky News, which is based on the Fox News model. It isn’t quite as bad as Fox, since Ofcom takes seriously the 1,000 or so complaints a year about Sky’s violations of the various codes. But what Sky News can’t get always get away with (one guest on a news program hosted by the oft-lampooned Kay Burley called her “a bit dim” on air when she repeatedly made the kind of mean-spirited, insipid observations usually reserved for the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity), it makes up in spades with “eye candy” appeal. Like Fox News, leg and bosom are front and center. You rarely see one of Fox’s harem sitting behind a desk where you can’t see anything, and all of them (save Greta VanSusteren, who otherwise is completely irrelevant) look like they were hired from a Vegas strip show, with their only other “qualification” being that they are “mean girls” with sarcastic attitudes. Sky’s women are not all “mean,” but they are required to occasional play “devil’s advocate” when questioning a “liberal” guest. Fox’s “Happy Hour”—where there is usually at least one of Fox’s harem wearing a skimpy cocktail dress—has its similar number in Sky’s “Poker Lounge,” where someone is usually seen laid out on a sofa in, yes, a skimpy cocktail dress.

Having sowed the seeds of viewer discontent with the somewhat less enticing BBC News, Murdoch and his UK flunkies are now trying to abolish Ofcom and its regulations. That would require a rather drastic change in the political environment, and I’m sure the British consider themselves more clear-thinking and less susceptible to smear talk than the minority of Americans who seem to wield substantial influence in what is considered “public interest” programming and discussion. But you never know; after all, the most powerful media mogul in the U.S. isn’t even an American.


Some people may be aware that there is a trial of former baseball slugger Barry Bonds currently in progress, on the charge of lying to a grand jury concerning his alleged use of steroids. While the supposed supplier of the steroids, Greg Anderson, has refused to talk and is in jail for contempt, a litany of witnesses all claim to know that Bonds took steroids without actually having seen this. A concerned “friend” secretly recorded a conversation that discussed Bond’s steroid use, perhaps with future blackmail on his mind. A former mistress-turned Playboy model-turned star witness made humorous claims about how Bond’s private parts appeared to alter in size. Frankly, this is a joke of a trial; Bonds is in trouble not just because he was a "big fish," but because he refused to cooperated with prosecutors who were targeting Anderson, and vice versa. At least four baseball players have testified that Anderson gave them steroids, yet there is no effort to criminalize them. Bonds is about to go to jail for something that was not at the time technically criminally illegal, for something that at least 100 other players tested positive for and baseball won't release their names, and that baseball gave a wink and a nod at after the lockout. OK, he lied. So did Roger Clemens. And Mark McGwire. So what. Maybe hundreds of players were “doing it” and except for some bad publicity nobody felt the threat of prosecution, except Bonds, and maybe Clemens. Bond’s problem was that he was unpopular with the media, and prosecutors thought they had an easy mark. Would he be in trouble if he just cried and took the Fifth, like McGwire, and then come back and fib about it after the statue of limitations expired? Is a Bonds a scapegoat? Are the prosecutors just publicity hounds?


I recall an Economist story that commented on the U.S.’s rather draconian sex crime laws; the media and television series like “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” codifies in the public mind that these victims are indeed more important than others. Of course, “Law and Order” doesn’t take into consideration the possibility of deception, given the hundreds of wrongly-accused men exonerated by the Innocence Project, but that’s a matter for another day. I came across a story recently about an ex-NFL football player named Tommie Boyd who pled guilty to grabbing a 14-year-old girl's buttocks “with both hands.” According to The Detroit News, the judge called him “a parent's worst nightmare," before sentencing him to a 2 to 15 year term in prison, and once released to be registered as a sex offender and “fitted with a tether for the rest of his life.” This is probably the kind of thing the Economist was referring to.

The fascination with such accusations goes back to at least Roman times (as the novel and BBC television production “I Claudius” suggests), but the U.S. has its own history. Remember the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle case in 1921? I didn’t think so, but I remember when I first heard about it in one of those “book of lists” that was popular back in the day, my impression from what I read was that he was probably guilty of raping and causing the death of Virginia Rappe during a party; although he was eventually acquitted, his career was justly destroyed. But the reality was much different: Arbuckle, one of the pioneers of silent screen comedy who mentored Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, and gave Bob Hope his first big break, was almost certainly an innocent man whose career was destroyed because the public believed the sensational newspaper stories (such as those published by the “great” yellow journalist William Randolph Hearst) that painted the picture of a beautiful young woman literally crushed to death by the lust of an enormous fat man. I won’t go into too many details here, but the three trials (the first two were mistrials) revealed almost the opposite of what was commonly believed. According to Arbuckle, whose account seemed the only plausible one anyone told during the trial, Rappe was found in a bathroom vomiting. Arbuckle assisted her to a bed; she was clearly ill and excitable, and tearing at her clothes (Rappe's neighbors claimed to have frequently seen her engaged in such behavior when she was drunk). She was examined by a hotel doctor, who also thought she had too much to drink. In fact she was suffering from urinary bladder disease, which was inflamed with the consumption of alcohol. Rappe also had numerous abortions (at least five before she was 17 according to one account), and it was suspected that she had just had another botched procedure. Newspaper stories that claimed that Arbuckle used a coke bottle as a sexual stimulator proved to be only that. The rape claim was made my Rappe’s friend, Maude Belmont, a person known to engage in blackmail schemes against celebrities. Before she died of a ruptured bladder and peritonitis, Rappe never made a claim of rape, and the doctor who examined her found no evidence to support the charge (the possibility that Arbuckle was “responsible” for bringing on her demise, would, however, be suggested by those who claimed to observe Arbuckle’s knee accidentally strike her in the stomach when she “impulsively” tickled him during the party). The doctor admitted at trial that he thought Rappe could have benefited from an operation; why this operation did not occur he could not answer. Defense doctors would testify that Rappe’s ruptured bladder could not have been caused by an external force. Along with the discrediting of prosecution witnesses, Arbuckle should have been acquitted during his first trial for manslaughter, but one of the jurors—Helen Hubbard—was what could be described as proto-feminist, and refused to even countenance the idea that he could be innocent. When Arbuckle was eventually acquitted in the third trial, the jurors were so outraged that they included in their verdict this note:

“Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done to him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story which we all believe. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgment of fourteen men and women that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.”

But there would be no justice for Arbuckle outside the courtroom. Just the charge itself was sufficient to destroy his career. More recently, I read a commentary by a woman defending the “honor” not of Arbuckle but of Rappe, who was indeed quite beautiful and appears in photographs to be the “sensual” type that would justify a career as an actress and artists’ model (allegedly posing nude on occasion). But the truth remains that Rappe’s lifestyle—perhaps explained by an unstable childhood due to her illegitimate birth—of alcoholism and promiscuity (and frequent abortions) led directly to the physical ailments that would kill her. Rappe’s personal habits were in fact so infamous that famed studio executive Mack Sennett once had the Keystone lot fumigated because he believed Rappe and boyfriend/director Henry Lehrman had infected it with venereal disease.


I was watching television in a Laundromat when a commercial aimed at sufferers of depression aired. If their current medication wasn’t working, there was a wonder drug called Seroquel a person could use as a supplement. The bulk of this commercial dealt not about the wonderful effects it had on reducing depression (in fact there was no discussion about how it accomplished this) but on its “side effects,” which constitutes almost the entire homepage of the drug’s website:

“Elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis (having lost touch with reality due to confusion and memory loss) treated with this type of medicine are at an increased risk of death, compared to placebo (sugar pill). Seroquel XR and Seroquel are not approved for treating these patients. Antidepressants have increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in some children, teenagers, and young adults. Patients of all ages starting treatment should be watched closely for worsening of depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, unusual changes in behavior, agitation, and irritability. Patients, families, and caregivers should pay close attention to any changes, especially sudden changes in mood, behaviors, thoughts, or feelings. This is very important when an antidepressant medicine is started or when the dose is changed. Report any change in these symptoms immediately to the doctor. Seroquel XR is not approved for patients under the age of 18 years. Seroquel is not approved for patients under the age of 10 years. Furthermore, “Stop Seroquel XR or Seroquel and call your doctor right away if you have some or all of the following symptoms: high fever; stiff muscles; confusion; sweating; changes in pulse, heart rate, and blood pressure. These may be symptoms of neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), a rare and serious condition that can lead to death.” And “High blood sugar and diabetes have been reported with Seroquel XR, Seroquel, and medicines like them.” It rather sounds as if the “cure” is worse than the disease.

This is not to pick on Seroquel; virtually every “wonder drug” can be described in the same way. When you mess with vital organs, particularly the brain, ingesting strange chemicals into the natural order of things is a recipe for upsetting the balance of nature. Moral to this story: Instead of putting yourself in a position to take a life-threatening “cure,” eat right, as hard as that is—even when you can’t afford it; Bill Clinton could afford to eat right, but didn’t, and look what happened to him. A recent article in one of major news magazines had an article about how exercise was much less a factor in good health than proper diet; in fact exercise is only for people who don’t eat right—which may explain why you occasionally hear about “healthy” people who are running enthusiasts dying suddenly of heart disease.


I have said I rarely watch television, but on one particularly dull afternoon where there seemed nothing at all worth watching no matter how hard I searched, I tuned to the TV Guide station to see if I was missing something. Above the scrolling guide lines was airing a show I was completely unfamiliar with, but seemed mildly amusing in a bizarre way, called “Ugly Betty.” Well, I had heard of it, but had never actually seen it. At first I didn’t “get it.” It just reminded me of a more adult version of a Saturday morning live action cartoon show—not today, but back when I was a kid. But after awhile I started to decipher a method in the madness. It was about how superficial the world was, and how people are often judged by superficial ideas; the fashion world, of course, was the perfect venue. Betty was a pudgy little Latina and frequently taken advantage of by self-obsessed “pretty” people who thought they could. It apparently even made occasional political commentary, although nothing in the show was too obvious to offend the political and social sensitivities of the right. It was unfortunate that show only had a four-year run before it was cancelled; unlike all those numberless “CSI”-type crime shows, idiot male comedies, and brain-dead “reality” adventures, this was a show that not only had a diverse cast, but had much greater aspirations than anything else on television, much like the “socially-conscious” sitcoms of the 1970s (people who criticize the 70s missed quite a bit, because the ideals and political philosophies of the 1960s were put into practice, at least on television). In this day and age, that’s just asking too much of the audience.


And finally, a heart-warming story about what Philadelphia prosecutors described as a "house of horrors." An abortion clinic operator by the name of Dr. Kermit Gosnell performed abortions without apparent oversight by the state Department of Health, and for some reason ran amok. Among other peculiarities was a 15-year-old high school student administering anesthesia, Gosnell’s wife—a licensed cosmetologist—determined to be “qualified” to perform late-term abortions, and Gosnell himself not even certified in gynecology or obstetrics. Besides at least two patients dying, Gosnell kept a macabre collection of body parts of aborted babies. Gosnell served mainly poor, minority clients, apparently not perturbed by his cut-rate practices; according to prosecutors, these practices included using untrained staff to “administer anesthesia and drugs to induce labor” and then "forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord.” Some of these babies were at such an advanced state of viability that Gosnell supposedly joked that a six-pound baby born alive to a 17-year-old could "walk me to the bus stop." Of course, late-term abortions, as despicable as most of them they are, are usually performed in a more “humane” manner: The “it” is dismembered in the uterus and then extracted—as if that barbaric procedure is supposed to shield the woman from any annoying feelings of guilt. An alternative is the “partial birth” abortion, in which the “fetus” is partially extracted and then killed; apparently if a viable fetus is not completely extracted, there is no fear it will legally be a “baby,” thus being de facto murder. Not surprisingly, pro-abortion advocates are unhappy not about the suggestion that the murder of live babies occurred, but that Gosnell didn’t do it “right.”

Meanwhile, in Britain the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is doing something that should chill the blood of anyone who regards themselves as human: According to its new “guidelines,” doctors are required to “advise” pregnant women that “aborting the child is safer than carrying it to term." Health care providers must tell women that they will suffer no psychological harm if they have an abortion. In fact, the new guidance does not require doctors to say anything adverse about abortion at all (such as having a slightly higher incidence of breast cancer)—only the “dangers” of pregnancy. I was listening to a British medical ethicist debate a strangely American-sounding pro-abortion advocate on BBC radio, and obviously they had two different takes on the matter. What is interesting to me about this matter is that the "no psychological harm" claim suggests that women are not disturbed by any moral or ethical conscience in regard to abortion at all, or at least the women who have them.

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