Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day--for whom?

Today is Memorial Day. Who do we honor? Everyone who served and died in America’s various wars. Or do we? All we see in the media are old white men, who we are told fought for our “freedoms.” Of course they were not necessarily fighting for the “freedom” of everyone in this country. In the Civil War, most in the North were fighting for Union, not for the end of slavery; for clear-sighted Northern leaders, it was less a moral imperative than ending the scourge of the country, and insure that it would never again be the cause of division again. Of course, the South was fighting to maintain the institution of slavery. In the Mexican and Spanish wars, it was a fight for territorial and colonial expansion.

In World Wars I and II, it was about the balance of power and who would have the upper hand in the control of resources; the extent of or even the recognition of the Holocaust was not an over-riding motivation to enter the latter war against the Germans for most Americans. Fighting for “freedom” was just a useful catchphrase and public relations move to provide a moral purpose to fire the spirit of the country and individual soldiers to back the war effort. The Nazis were not nice guys, but outside of Jewish groups, the plight of European Jewry was insufficient cause to fight and die in Europe for most Americans; even in countries allied with or occupied by the Germans, if “freedom” could be purchased by cooperating with the deportation and mass slaughter of Jews, then they would do so, with only slight reservations (as an aside, I was listening to the vaguely anti-American and anti-Israel BBC World News the other morning; I can’t help but to observe that there wouldn’t be a Palestinian problem today if Europeans had not maltreated Jews to the extent that they did).

Another reason why I am off-put by the media’s focus on white soldiers of a bygone era is the fact that it gives the impression that only whites fought for our “freedoms.” Well, it is true that many more white soldiers died in America’s wars (but only per their proportion in the ranks), and it is also true that they had no interest in anyone’s freedom but their own. For too much of this nation’s history, black and Latino soldiers fought and died for what they saw as their duty as Americans, perhaps in the hope that their sacrifice would provide some recognition of their human rights and dignity. Instead, many only wondered why they are fighting the white man’s war when they are losing another war back home. This question frequently came-up for black soldiers during the Vietnam War, and is certainly a question for Latino soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Both black and Latino soldiers are virtually invisible in the annals of World War II, but for different reasons. While there were some black units both in the Army and the Air Corps that have become famous (such as the Tuskegee airmen), the vast majority of black soldiers were prevented from serving in frontline duty, mainly because of white animosity prevalent against black soldiers during World War I and the mainstreaming of the Ku Klux Klan and it’s segregating “philosophy” after that war. As for Latino soldiers, most of them (save for all-Puerto Rican units) were invisible because they were classified as “white”—which did not prevent them from frequently being the target of discrimination in their units. No one knows the precise number of Latino soldiers killed during World War II—the high range is 5 percent of the total—because no one thought their sacrifice was worth noting. And this after the forcible “repatriation” of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens of Mexican descent into Mexico in the 1930s. During the Iraq War, the media focused on supposedly all-white Marine and Ranger units, ignoring black and Latino soldiers—at least insofar as the direction they turned their cameras; white reporters generally only think the views and service of other whites is worth noting.

It is also interesting to note that during the Civil War, immigrant soldiers were recruited right off the boat with promises of instant citizenship if they served in the Union Army; during the Iraq War when recruits were difficult to find, Latino immigrants were promised citizenship if they enlisted for combat service—which is why Latinos were twice as likely to serve in combat units as white soldiers, and had a fifty percent higher death rate per their representation in Iraq. Does this do anything to reduce the anti-immigrant hysteria in this country? Of course not. Many who served in Iraq are also reporting that the citizenship they were promised is a mirage, with delaying tactics used by the FBI conducting “background checks.”

I served seven years in the Army, four of them in Germany. Once in the airport I walked past a black and a white soldier who gave me a “look” which could only be defined as contempt, probably because I was a civilian with that “ethnic” appearance that the country likes to pile on. I told them bleep you, I was there too. Well, alright, I wasn’t THERE, but it was not my fault or anyone I else I served with that it was Bush I and II who had the war fever. None of this Iraq, Afghanistan and Al Qaeda business would be going on if Bush I and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq had not been wishy-washy in their answer when Saddam Hussein asked if it was alright for him to invade Kuwait. One suspects that Bush I was looking for a pretext to get rid of the unreliable Saddam; later on, his son would follow his example. But if there was no Kuwait, there would have been no U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, no Al Qaeda menace, no 9-11, and no Afghanistan. That is the sorry truth on Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

At least it can be said that right-wing hypocrisy is "pure."

Abraham Lincoln, commenting on the nativist Know Nothing Party, noted that if their position on racial, cultural and religious “purity” ever came to be the accepted dogma of the land, he’d prefer to live in Russia—where despotism could “be taken pure, without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” One must confess that right-wing talk of the variety you hear on Fox News and the radio at least has the certainty of predictability; you know that you are listening to hypocrisy itself in its purest form. There is not even the weakest pretense at fair and reasoned dialogue. You don’t even have to be watching or listening to know this; you could be a million miles away or fast asleep, and you could still be certain that you are not missing anything worthy of more than as astonishment at the gullibility of many millions who do take this in judiciously.

So it was a week ago I was surfing the AM radio dial when I encountered a vaguely familiar voice, effeminate, earnest, and occasionally hysterical in the enunciation of tiresome right-wing clichés that might have a surface “truth,” but doesn’t necessarily get us any closer to solutions for the country’s problems; for example, we may say this particular person always talks like he has ants in his pants, but removing the ants won’t necessarily calm him down and make him erudite. Of course I’m talking about Sean Hannity, who not only pollutes the television screen but the AM radio waves as well. Before Fox News, Hannity succeeded Bob Grant at WABC in New York. Although you wouldn’t guess it from his tame Wikipedia page, Grant was a radio “pioneer” alright—of race-baiting talk radio, preaching the gospel of white supremacy for a “mainstream” audience. After he joined Fox, Hannity would pay tribute to his mentor, inviting him on his show on occasion so that they could swap views on race and socialism. During his stint at WABC, Hannity welcomed one of Grant’s frequent callers, neo-Nazi Hal Turner. After Hannity subsequently denied he knew him when challenged, Turner—still unapologetic about his views—expressed disappointment with Hannity, who like a yellow-bellied coward denied their good friendship as if it had never happened. Hannity also had no problem (much as CNN’s Lou Dobbs often did) allowing white supremacists and anti-Semites like Andy Martin to appear on his show supporting his various smear campaigns of misinformation and deception, and only when directly confronted with it did he remember he “disagreed” with their racist views. We only have to ask, however, if Hannity believes his own views; if so, then we can assume that at least in private, he has “intellectual” intercourse with these fascists.

The only reason to bring any of this up is because—whether he was a good pupil or simply became more confident in expressing his paranoid beliefs—it is clear that Hannity doesn’t just come out of nowhere with this stuff; after all, he was engaging in race-baiting before he even heard of Barack Obama. Now that he has heard of him, Hannity acts as if he actually knows all about him; the obvious problem with Hannity doesn’t even know himself, so how can he know Obama? No one has ever heard Obama make Rev. Wright and Weather Underground-like commentary, but we hear Grant and Turner-like commentary from Hannity every day; the fact that Hannity is allowed a “mainstream” audience to expectorate his filth makes him much more dangerous than either of those two. Today (or any day) Obama is accused of being a spend, spend, spend freak, and fellow Democrats were running away from him like the plague. Now, how does Hannity support these claims? He may quote a so-called “poll”—probably something he either made-up, or something some extremist organization dreamed-up—that 89 percent of the respondents disagreed with giving Obama a “blank check” to raise the debt ceiling; maybe the 11 percent who said yes probably didn’t understand what “blank check” meant. Such fraudulent polls are the kind of "evidence" that the right uses to suggest considerable distance between the “socialist” Obama and “the American People.” Hannity then exclaims that Americans don’t want “business as usual” concerning the debt ceiling; why didn’t he say anything when Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress was inflating the deficit? Maybe he was just too busy dreaming-up the imminent communist takeover to think much about it.

Hannity claims on any given day that only a tiny minority supports Obama on any given issue (mostly fellow socialists); being so “out of touch” with the “American People” means that the Republicans have a free pass all the way to the White House in 2012 if they play their cards right. After all, O-B-A-M-A stands for Outrageously Black Afro-Muslim Abomination (I suppose I could come-up with something more creative that, but you get the point), all our guys (and Sarah Palin) are white and right just like you. Given all the suggestions of racial division, it is indeed odd how the right claims that we live in a “post-racial” world now that a dark-skinned man was elected president. What does that mean? From what I can tell, all it means is that people like Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh have the “freedom” to more openly express their racial animosities as long as nobody is boycotting their corporate sponsors.

The hypocrisy of the right goes far beyond Hannity. I am the sole “liberal” in a family of Christian conservatives. I am not a contrarian; my life experiences have simply been far different. My older sister was a supporter of Mike Huckabee in the 2008 presidential primaries. This is the same man who on his Fox News show had not only welcomed right-wing country-rock “star” Ted Nugent, but joined him on stage with a guitar; a visibly embarrassed Huckabee listened as Nugent used a rather suggestive lyric that employed the words “stroke,” “pussy” and “purr.” Hardly “Christian” themes. I suspect that Nugent meant to make Huckabee uncomfortable for a laugh. Hardly amusing was Nugent’s 2007 rant on stage—brandishing and firing two rifles, informing an adoring crowd that "Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch"—which seems not to have offended Huckabee’s sensibilities at all, at least not enough to prevent him from wondering if Nugent was a suitable guest. Of course Huckabee could say that he doesn’t condone such intemperate language, but that is only after you have the bad manners of asking him about it. It is also indicative of the fact that when Republicans claim that their party is “inclusive,” what they mean is that no racial hate speech is too extreme for them to accommodate.

It is admittedly hard at times to say who is more “pure” in their hypocrisy—Hannity, Palin or Michelle Bachmann. When Bachmann referred to “Osama” as if she and Bin Laden were best buddies, we knew it was because the right wanted to create a “link” between “Osama” and Obama. Bachmann also frequently bombasted that Obama was “soft” on terrorism because he wasn’t going after Bin Laden. It turns out, of course, that Bachmann was talking out of her fundament, but it sure made an impression on the old folks afraid of any dark-skinned person in their neighborhood. What was Bachmann wondering when George Bush said on several occasions that Bin Laden wasn’t a “priority,” and he wasn’t the least concerned about him? Probably the same thing Ann Coulter said on the Fox News version of the old CNN show “Crossfire”—that everything was going “swimmingly” in Afghanistan; this observation drew so much derision by a Democratic guest and the “liberal” questioner that Coulter became all flustered and stormed off the set. Bachmann’s also amused in a recent speech when she wondered if people like her mother could not explain to her why Americans had not stepped up to stop the Holocaust (probably a “repressed” memory), it would be just like having to explain why we had not stopped the “crushing” tax burden on Americans to our children. "I tell you this story because I think in our day and time, there is no analogy to that horrific action (it is not certain if she is referring to the Holocaust or taxes, as if it matters). But only to say, we are seeing eclipsed in front of our eyes a similar death and a similar taking away. It is this disenfranchisement that I think we have to answer to." You know, the U.S. has one of the lowest tax burdens in the civilized world, and the problems this country has only shows more clearly the effects of it. Western European countries are not whining about their tax burdens, because they realize that a civil society cannot function for long without some recognition of communality.

But Hannity is the star if this show, and in another recent broadside I heard him refer to a letter sent to Obama by a half-dozen health care organizations that pleaded with him to scrap the health care reform bill, which of course supported his own and the rest of the right’s view, based not a reasoned accounting of the health care problem, but simply because they hate any idea that actually takes into account the needs of people. But hold on a moment; Hannity was once more mixing his foul-tasting stew of misinformation with outright lies for added spice. He may have been referring to a letter from anti-abortion groups disturbed by provisions that end protections for doctors who will not perform abortions as a matter of conscience (I happen to agree with them on this), but more likely it is the letter from the AMA, Pharma, insurers and employee representatives. This letter did not, as Hannity told his listeners, express opposition to the health care reform bill; in fact it did not directly address it at all. It was merely a compendium of “suggestions” on how to cut costs by 1.5 percent, thus save $2 trillion over the next ten years or so. Since health care inflation would far exceed this (probably doubling costs at current rates), this is more a public relations stunt, and would have minimal impact on the federal deficit. The letter (which Hannity or his listeners obviously didn’t bother to read), contains certain proposals that are of interest only because of their redundancy:

Administrative simplification, standardization, and transparency that supports effective markets.

Reducing over-use and under-use of health care by aligning quality and efficiency incentives among providers.

Encouraging coordinated care and adherence to evidence-based best practices and therapies.

Reducing the cost of doing business by addressing cost drivers in each sector and through common sense improvements in care delivery models, health information technology, workforce deployment and development, and regulatory reforms.

Focus on obesity prevention.

So Hannity is lying again; nothing strange in that. These ideas were on the table 20 years ago, and probably for a lot longer—and maybe you think it might be a good idea to maybe do something now? The best thing about the health care reform bill is that it is actually forcing the health care industry to pay at least lip service to reform on their own, even if it is only that. Maybe they should have sent this letter to someone who still doesn’t “get it,” like Hannity. Oh, I forgot—you have to be able to read and comprehend first--and then say something that has no relation to its content.

As I said at the top, there is a certain “purity” about right-wing talk. If you buy into it, you never need be bothered with such as things as cause and effect or truth or consequences. It all has a simplicity that is both easy to consume and easy to excrete without fully digesting it. For those who don’t buy into it, they are saddled with the difficult work of navigating through the impure nature of reality.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sylvia Likens and the limits of victim mythology

One of the more useful aspects of the Internet is that you can discover a tidbit of some temporary fascination that you would otherwise have never known existed. For example, I became curious about Kenny Rodgers’ pre-country pop days with the First Edition, and naturally from there I wound-up on the Wikipedia page on the ruby. Since the ruby is one of three (or is it four now?) precious gems, I decided to read a little, discovering that the stereotypical blood-red ruby is actually not the usual color it is found as. I also learned that a “businessman and philanthropist” had donated to the Smithsonian a ruby that originally belonged to his beloved deceased wife. My thoughts on the matter progressed in the following order: An expensive expression of one’s affection; one way to obtain a kind of “immortality”; it must be helpful to have a connected father; this is way out of my league; and I must have been right about that silver spoon business. Still, if I had not live the life of an urban Jeremiah Johnson/Robert Dupea, life would have been quite dull and I would have nothing to talk about.

In the same vein, a search for a film that was rated NC-17 for extreme violence rather extreme sexuality ended in abject failure, but I did come across the name Ed Gein. Gein was the Plainfield, Wisconsin man and apparent harmless town oddball who would become the inspiration for such horror film characters as Norman Bates, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. From there I discovered the case of H.H. Holmes, whose hotel built to accommodate patrons of the Chicago World’s Fair would become known as the “Murder Castle,” since those who booked a room in the place never came out alive, and Jane Tappon, the nurse who cuddled and kissed her victims while they writhed in agony from the poison she administered. But these cases were of mild interest compared to the case of Sylvia Likens, the 16-year-old girl who in 1965 was tortured to death in Indianapolis. The abuse she endured was one thing; but what makes this case stand-out for me was the hypocrisy of feminist mythologizing involving the case since then.

It is unfortunate that one of the first “serious” treatments of the Likens case came from Kate Millett, in her “semi-fictional” book “The Basement: Meditations on a Human Sacrifice.” I’m sorry, professor, but radical feminists are called “radical” for a reason: Their indulgence in self-pity immersed with misandrist fantasy has to be taken as precisely that. When Eleanor Smeal complained in USA Today about “racism against white women,” this was an utterly unjustified by reality attempt to place the station of white women as lower than racial minorities in this country. I once read on the PBS website a comment by a feminist “scholar” who tried to place the blame for the horrific mutilation and beating to death of 14-year-old Emmett Till on Till himself, because even from today’s perspective a black youth whistling at a white woman would be deemed irredeemably “offensive.”

For a little background, Sylvia Likens was the daughter of carnival employees who frequently placed their daughters in the care of others during their traveling. For Sylvia, the last of these foster parents would be a woman named Gertrude Baniszewski. Although Baniszewski already had seven children of her own, she agreed to take on Sylvia and her sister Jenny for $20 a week. She was receiving child support payments from two ex-husbands, one of whom she would claim was in arrears, and apparently she supplemented that income from a home business ironing clothes. Although most commentators claimed they lived in abject poverty, in fact Baniszewski was able to maintain the family in what most people would regard as a large home, two stories not including an expansive attic and the infamous basement. There was no stove in the house—despite the fact that Baniszweski’s first husband of a total of 17 years (they were married and divorced twice) was a policeman—only a hotplate to heat soup, but more bizarrely, there supposedly was only three eating utensils for ten people, and eventually only one spoon; each person had to wait till another person had finished eating to let the next person use it. It would turn out that this was less a symptom of poverty, but of the bizarre character of Baniszewski.

Sylvia Likens lived in this house for only three months, but during this time Baniszewski would target her, and lead her own children and some in the neighborhood in an orgy of sadistic “punishment.” Even if one enumerates Sylvia’s alleged transgressions—like allegedly stealing candy, beaten into confessing to stealing a gym suit that Baniszewski had refused to buy for school, allegedly spreading rumors about Baniszewski’s daughters—they can be explained by the abuse and deprivations she endured, all either perpetrated or directed by Baniszewski. Particularly in the last weeks of her life, Sylvia suffered cigarette and heated knitting needle burns that were applied all over her body, being kicked in the vagina, starvation, force-fed her own feces, bathed in scalding water, locked in the basement or tied to her bed so that she would “learn a lesson” about not peeing on the mattress (and then beaten for incontinence because she was not allowed to use the bathroom) and finally—and only an idea that could come from a sadistic adult—the words “I’m a prostitute and proud of it” were scrawled with a heated sewing needle on her abdomen. Baniszweski initiated the carving but passed the “job” to a boy who was there; he didn’t know how to spell “prostitute,” so Baniszewski wrote it out on a piece of paper. Then, after overhearing Baniszewski instructing one of the boys and Sylvia’s own sister to dump her body in the woods, she tried to escape, but was caught and beaten senseless in the basement; she died the next day, apparently from swelling and bleeding in her brain. Baniszewski gave police a letter that she had dictated to Sylvia, stating that a gang of boys had raped her, scrawled the “message” on her and dumped her body in the basement; Sylvia was in fact a virgin (and the subsequent autopsy would confirm this remained so), but Baniszewski had made an effort to “simulate” sexual intercourse by forcing her to insert a coke bottle in her vagina, but apparently not enough to break her hymen. Jenny Likens, however, escaped with the police and informed them what was really going on in the house. Ironically, unknown to Baniszewski, it was one of her own teenage daughters to whom the term “prostitute” could be better applied to, she being pregnant at the time.

Although there were numerous occasions, such as a visit from her parents, an older sister, the police and child protective services regarding suspicions about Sylvia’s condition, Baniszewski’s deceptions seemed to convince all that nothing was amiss, or that Sylvia was simply getting the “punishment” she “deserved.” Baniszewski was eventually arrested based on the testimony of Jenny Likens and neighborhood children who were peripherally involved, and charged with first degree murder; her daughter Paula was also charged with murder, and some of the “children” more egregiously involved than some of the others were charged as accessories. Although Baniszewski was convicted in two trials, she eventually served less than 20 years in jail, being declared a “model” prisoner (even referred to as “mom”) by the parole board despite the outrage of Sylvia’s family and most of the state of Indiana. Baniszewski claimed that she didn’t “know” what role she played in Sylvia’s death, and even if she took part in any abuse, she didn’t “remember” it because she was “on drugs.” She died five years later, apparently never admitting to any culpability save feeling “responsible” for the children’s actions.

So back to feminist Kate Millett and her take on this case. Even people who quoted from “The Basement” in their own research only referred to the more “lucid” passages when in search of commentary based on the actual facts rather than ones she made-up to suit her political fantasies. In an interview about the book, Millett claimed that in her view the Sylvia Likens saga "is the story of the suppression of women. Gertrude seems to have wanted to administer some terrible truthful justice to this girl: that this was what it was to be a woman.” It is hard not to feel some disgust, given the facts, that this sadist would be referred to by her first name, as if Millett had some sisterly kinship with her; come to think of it, maybe she does. The only “terrible truth” to the case was that a “mother” was responsible for inhuman actions on a child. Millett also refers to the alleged grinding poverty of the family, but on the Investigation Discovery Channel, a program on the case featured a reporter who was on the scene at the time who noted that Baniszewski’s financial difficulties were based more on her money-handling incompetence rather than a lack of sufficient income. Millett also “mused” that Sylvia’s killer had a lesbian attraction to her; a police profiler on the ID program contradicted this assertion, stating that Baniszewski had a psychotic jealousy of the young, attractive Sylvia, which would make her the “logical” target for Baniszewski’s depradations.

Millett was not the only person with mendacious ideas about the case based on feminist gender myths. Denise Noe, who wrote about the case for TruTv, apparently didn’t read the psychiatrist reports from the time of the murder when she wrote “The poverty stricken and chronically ill Mrs. Wright (what Baniszweski called herself to provide cover for the fact her youngest children were illegitimate) was hardly charismatic; she was neither hypnotist nor dominatrix but the minors apparently had faith that her "grown-up" status would protect them from the consequences of their actions. As it turned out, they would be appallingly successful in hiding behind her skirt.” Once more, woman as victim, children as victimizers; it didn’t occur to Noe that the facts indicated that it was Baniszewski who was, like a cowardly bully afraid to face the consequences of her actions, trying to hide behind the children. Reality rarely justifies feminist fantasy. A psychiatrist who examined Baniszewski in 1965 said on the ID program that his diagnosis was that she was a “hysterical personality” with “sadistic traits.” The criminal profiler also said that she was a sadist, because she apparently obtained a “thrill” from inflicting pain, and watching others inflict it. As for the children, the profiler noted that in such cases, when multiple children are present, the adult abuser singles out one child, initiates the abuse, and being the authority figure, authorizes those under her to inflict abuse. Baniszewski was also sending out a message: If you don’t stay in line, this could happen to you. Children who feel fear of the adult also wish to “please” the adult—even if it means inflicting cruelties on one of their own.

None of this has anything to do with gender politics; in the only critical commentary I found on Millett’s book—strangely enough an English translation of a review in the German magazine Der Spiegel—Angela Praesent admitted that she wished someone with sufficient distance, like Norman Mailer or Truman Capote, had written the book. Millett—rather mendaciously given that her own life has been a relative success and uninhibited by “patriarchal” obstacles—has made both Sylvia and Baniszewski’s story her own, which allows her to find excuses for Baniszewski’s crimes, and invent unjustified inferences into Sylvia’s thought processes. Millett’s “hyper-identification” with women only serves feminist mythology, not knowable fact:

"For I was Sylvia Likens. She was I. She was sixteen. I had been sixteen...Since then you have been with me, a devil's seed, a nightmare, my own nightmare, the nightmare of a youth, of a female child's growing up, of becoming a woman in an enemy world, a world we had lost and in which we are constantly reminded of our defeat. What you endured is a symbol to it. That it was done to you by the hand of a woman is the worst part of the story...Who else could have been so suitable for destroying a child-woman?"

I’m just guessing, but I think Millett has more in common with Baniszewski than with Sylvia. At any rate, no one should ever attempt to deduce logic from feminist arguments. Millett’s life “story” has absolutely nothing to do with Sylvia Likens’—and for her to pretend to merely belittles Sylvia’s death and the suffering she endured. Praesent also scoffs at Millett’s simplistic breaking down of society as victim-woman/culprit-man, especially given the lack of “victimization” in Millett’s own life (in fact, most feminists seem to be victims in their own mind). Take this bizarre assertion:

"How scheming that the male society's wish to castrate the woman is performed by women as their dogsbodies (someone who does the “dirty work”); women who have been mutilated themselves in their youth, embittered and eager to ensure that the young shall never experience these joys they had to forego themselves …. To be female then means to die."

If men are not performing the dirty deeds themselves, then they are somehow telepathically projecting their evil designs into the minds of women: Thus both men and women are combining to exterminate the female of the species. Again, there is no point in searching for logic in any of this, save within the mind of someone who “feels good about feeling bad.” The fact is that while there are some less developed countries where such “mutilation” is occurring for obscure cultural reasons, it is not happening in the U.S., and for anyone—especially a woman—to believe that she is performing an act forced on her by either experience or by the “patriarchy” is utterly delusional, and probably psychotic.

Praesent’s ends her review by noting that “Kate Millett is taken in here by her own overexpansion of the Male-Female dichotomy. There she is, one of us who eventually got away - alive and still female, economically, sexually and intellectually not a bit more depending on others as men are - and shakes compulsively the bars of the self-constructed cage made of terms and ink. Let's help her to straighten things out: Not just women were murdered in Auschwitz. Charles Manson and his mixed group of followers did not just slaughter Sharon Tate but her male guests as well. Especially black male Americans were (and are) lynched because of their allegedly threatening sexuality. Male children, too, are abused by their parents. Boys, too, were kept from masturbation, from lust, in a violent and soul-killing way, and not just in Victorian times. Jesus also died, as we learnt.”

Most males in this society never realize the hopes and aspirations of their youth; each day comes and goes as if the last one never existed, and the next one promises nothing except that it will come (or so you hope). The one thing you wish for is that some shred of satisfaction or happiness will intervene to make it tolerable; you certainly don’t need a loud woman with “issues” to make it worse. In some quarters that logic has the kind of resonance one might expect for a blind, deaf and dumb person; to feminists, anything contrary to their sole victim state—even to the exclusion of the male minorities, who are constantly demonized for stereotypical criminal and sexual “deviancies” in this country—is anathema. I also would include the media—both “news” and “entertainment”—as perpetrating a false mythology, obviously not because they are interested in “truth,” but for ratings.

To reiterate what the facts of the case show, it is a mistake to label Baniszewski a “victim”—she was the adult in charge and knew exactly what she was doing. The fact she chose to single out a child not her own tends to show that this was not about conveying a “message”—political or otherwise—to the victim, other than the fact she was not immune; such immunity would seem to be implied from the fact that the last thing a parent who employs a “sitter” expects is for their child to be beaten and starved to death (especially in only three months time). Baniszewski obviously felt no emotional or personal responsibility for Sylvia’s well-being; although she could not abuse her sister Jenny—who was lame from polio—without appearing impossibly cruel even to the children whose lives she manipulated with fear and gave justifiability to their immature instincts (to them, it may have all been a sick “game”), she could vent her increasingly insane frustrations on Sylvia, who could be reduced to a mere interloper and pest. By the end, as the criminal profiler surmised, the very act of carving the “I’m a Prostitute” on Sylvia’s abdomen indicated not a “scarlet letter” and at least a questionable future, but that Baniszewski intended that she die, just not in the house as how occurred.

Claims by some—usually women—that Baniszewski had somehow been “forced” to do this from her own alleged previous experiences of abuse do not justify in any way what she did to Sylvia; people always have choices, such as preventing someone from suffering as they allegedly did. It is also sheer mendacity to suggest that Baniszewski had suffered anything like what she inflicted on Sylvia. The sheer level, variety and quantity of abuse suggests some people are simply “born bad.” We don’t even know or choose to discuss to what extent her psychological issues (a “hysterical personality” with “sadistic traits”) were also a problem in her two marriages. It is also no good to ignore the fact that this “mother” would actually coach and encourage the children around her to engage in unspeakable acts. She was also apparently a congenital liar who refused to take responsibility for her actions or those under her “supervision.” Why should we assume (as Noe rather strongly imputes) that the children were lying and she was telling the truth? Since when does a mother choose to throw her own children under the bus for actions that she both initiated and encouraged? More frequently than it is wished to admit? And does not criminal behavior also involve the desire to escape paying a price for those crimes? Not only did Baniszewski repeatedly lie both on the stand and to a parole board about her culpability, but the letter she dictated word-for-word for Sylvia to write in her own hand indicated an effort to falsely shift blame away from her. It is beside the point to speculate if these actions were meant to make a feminist “political” statement; Charles Manson was also trying to make a “statement.” Manson was criminally insane; Baniszweski may well have been as well.

Horror does not necessarily mean spooks and demons. It can come in human form. Sylvia knew it, particularly in the last weeks of her life. Why didn’t she run away? Perhaps she didn’t know where else to go, perhaps she still hoped to get on Baniszewski’s “good side,” or perhaps she was too naïve to allow herself to see the inevitable result of Baniszewski and her underlings’ behavior; after all, they were not actually aiming to kill her, were they? But even a few weeks respite is illusory, always living with the fear of what "bad thing" he or she has done to set off another round of "punishment." By the time she sensed the truth and made a dash for safety, it was too late.

No phony mythologizing can alter the fact that a dark side can reside in any person’s mind—male or female.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Supreme Court once more grinding its heel into individual rights

It is fascinating to note that there is a certain schizophrenia in regard to individual rights in this country, or rather concerning what rights should be protected. The right to own guns, the right of Sean Hannity to tell the most outrageous lies and get paid millions for it, the right of anti-government, anti-tax fanatics to believe that a civil society can exist without some recognition of communal responsibility. On the other hand, the protection of the citizen against law enforcement power has been steadily eroded over the past decade or two. There are people who claim that this is necessary, because police and prosecutors are unnecessarily “handcuffed” by being forced to respect the annoying rights of suspects.

But let’s face some reality. The vast majority of people who come into unwanted contact with police have not actually done anything wrong, or at least nothing that should land them in jail. Yet police frequently abuse their authority even in cases where a person has done nothing at all, except maybe walking down a sidewalk. People don’t seem to realize this, but it is illegal for police to demand your photo ID merely on whim; you have to be suspected of a crime, or about to commit one—and police cannot cast “suspicion” on you based on invention or personal prejudice and stereotype. Yet police get away with this violation of civil rights all the time; filing complaints against officers engaged in it doesn’t stop it, as I’ve discovered. Especially given the recent immigration laws passed in Arizona and Georgia, simple racial profiling is sufficient to excuse to violate an individual’s rights, and it is allowed because the majority white population is not meant to be discomfited by it.

So why should we be surprised that the U.S. Supreme Court has stunningly, by an 8-1 vote, further eroded individual rights but allowing police to break into a person domain without a warrant if they knock on that person’s door first, so long as they have a “suspicion” that the person is destroying “evidence.” The remarkable thing about this case was that police in Lexington, Kentucky were looking for a “suspect” who they witnessed in a drug deal in a parking lot. They followed him in an apartment, but became confused and broke into someone else’s apartment, supposedly because they heard what they believed was someone scuffling around. The police did find marijuana and cocaine, but not the original suspect. The Kentucky Supreme Court threw-out the man’s conviction because the police had not legally obtained the evidence; since he was not the suspect the police were after and they had not observed him doing anything illegal, the police were required to present probably cause before a judge and obtain a warrant before breaking into his abode.

Prosecutors and police, however, don’t like playing by the rules of right to privacy. And neither does the U.S. Supreme Court, which has just handed down a ruling that allows warrantless searches of anyone, if police merely “suspect” that someone is doing something illegal behind closed doors, like “destroying evidence” even if they visually cannot justify it. Far-right, Scalia mini-me Justice Alito (you know Republicans can count on the Italians to prove they are more maliciously paranoid than the Anglos), explained the ruling with this completely incomprehensible statement: “The police did not create the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment. Warrantless entry to prevent the destruction of evidence is reasonable and thus allowed." Huh??? How can this be interpreted in any other way but a police officer can simply walk to anyone’s door without probable cause, knock on the door, and break in if he only “suspects” something illegal is going? Police who think all minorities are “criminals” will have a field day with this. If this isn’t a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, then we have people on the bench who have utter contempt for—or do not understand—the Bill of Rights. Alito suggested that all that mattered was that police had acted “lawfully.” The question is what “law” is he talking about? Police are allowed to break into homes if they hear screams or see a suspect running into one, but nothing says that just because they hear anything and choose to apply any definition to it that suits them, does not mean they can simply bust into someone’s home after only knocking on the door and saying something; maybe the occupant is having sex with the neighbor’s wife, or the dog got excited and knocked over a lamp.

Alito implied that the defendant could have simply sat silently or demanded a warrant. Oh, that’s going to stop police from breaking in—armed with this ruling? All they have to do is “imagine” they hear something, which is what they typically do anyways when they want to harass someone. No one should be fooled by this ruling; its impact goes far beyond the drug issue. This ruling invites virtually unlimited abuse by police under any number of scenarios beyond illicit drugs. And as we discovered in the John T. Williams case here in Seattle, police officers will lie even when there are witnesses and video evidence that directly contradicts their story; with the absence of such contradictory proofs, the public has shown that it will believe anything the police tell them. Under this ruling, police can evade warrants and probable cause, and simply “hear” what they want to hear, and break and enter at will.

And this is only the most recent example of the Supreme Court’s showing considerable favoritism toward law enforcement at the expense of individual rights. In another recent ruling, Miranda rights were further eroded when a bare majority of the court ruled that even when a suspect refused to acknowledge either verbally or in writing that he understood his “rights,” the police could still use anything he said as evidence. Such was the case in the 2000 Michigan arrest that led to the ruling; detectives grilled a suspect for nearly three hours with no result, until one of the interrogators asked the suspect “Do you believe in God?” After replying in the affirmative, the interrogator asked, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?” The suspect again answered in the affirmative, but after several hours, it was likely he had heard another innocuous “trick” question and didn’t understand its import, which he would have been alerted to if he had an attorney present. And in 2006, the court ruled that police armed with a warrant can smash into a person’s home any time of day or night without announcing themselves—even if it is the wrong home.

Why should we be concerned about this? Currently, the Justice Department is investigating the SPD and the Sheriff Joe Arpaio for civil rights abuses in their jurisdictions; instead of putting a brake on such abuses, the court is increasing the likelihood of more abuses by giving them the protection of "law." Furthermore, because for the individual who cannot afford million-dollar defense attorneys, the full weight of resources of law enforcement and the court system is weighed and arrayed against them. Police can and do fabricate evidence and testimony, and prosecutors can and do suppress evidence and testimony favorable to defendants.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Are MLB pitchers today "wimps?"

I mentioned in a recent post that how you are treated by the local sports personalities often depends on how “well” you fit into the prevailing society. Latinos, for example, are virtually invisible in Seattle, so there is no one to take exception to the occasional demeaning rhetoric one might hear about one player or another. Despite that, even I would not want to “even” the score by deriding the hapless Mariner pitcher Brandon League in a similarly demeaning manner. I don’t know if he should consider it a “blessing” that we haven’t heard of any more of his mound misadventures since Friday, but I’m sure that the rain-outs in Cleveland over the weekend offered him a much desired respite from any more opportunities to disgrace himself. The prior week’s performance was enough embarrassment for any player for an entire season. Pitching in four of the last five games—three of which the Mariners were ahead, and the other tied—League, as the “closer,” pitched a total of two innings, gave-up 12 hits and 10 runs, all earned. His record in that span? 0-4 and 3 blown saves. His ERA ballooned from 2.08 to 7.31.

You would think that coming in for one measly inning every other day shouldn’t be considered a herculean task. After all, in one season in the 1970s Mike Marshall of the Dodgers pitched in a record 106 games, and his 208 innings was another record for a relief pitcher; these days, if a closer gets in 65 innings, that is considered “typical.” Marshall had only 21 saves that year, and 12 blown saves. Did that make him a “bad” closer? Consider that he had a 15-12 record and respectable 2.42 ERA; back in the day, there really wasn’t such a things a “closer” as we understand it today, and his numbers would be considered good for a starting pitcher in the present era. What made Marshall’s record so remarkable was that back then, starting pitchers were expected to go seven or eight innings every four days, and for most of the year it was Marshall who was supposed to go in and “mop-up” the rest of the way. Back in those days, you only received credit for a “save” if you actually saved a game—meaning that you came in the eighth or ninth inning with bases loaded and one out, and you got two men out to save the victory.

Today, a “save” is recorded if you pitch the ninth inning with a lead of two runs or less, and your team is still ahead when you are done. All you have to do is get your three men out, and you’ve accomplished your assignment. For most closers today, you are only expected to do this once every three games. That’s why League’s performances of late has been sadly comical and frustrating. On the surface, Hall of Famers like Bruce Sutter (who had 27 saves and 14 blown saves in 1978 despite a 2.01 ERA) and Rollie Fingers (who had 20 saves and 14 blown saves in 1978 despite a 2.47 ERA) would seem to have “similar” lack of success; HOF pitcher Goose Gossage had the career worst 112 blown saves to go with 301 saves, suggesting a less than stellar success rate. But these greats played under different rules and expectations.

Starting pitchers today also perform under different expectations. In the pre-1900 era, top pitchers routinely racked-up 500 to 600 innings a year, then dipped to the 300-400 innings. From 1957 to 1961, no pitcher threw for 300 innings, but from 1962, the league leader in innings pitched in the National League had at least 300 innings in 18 of 19 seasons, while AL leaders had 300+ innings in 11 of 12 years. In 1972, Wilbur Wood of the White Sox started 49 games (in a 154-game season) and pitched 376.2 innings—the most in the live ball era. He completed 20 games, and still had a respectable 2.51 ERA. In 1971, Mickey Lolich of the Tigers had 45 starts, completed 29 with 376.0 innings pitched—an average of more than eight innings per start. But by the late 1970s there was a change in strategy and slow decline in innings pitched. Steve Carlton, in 1980, was the last pitcher to throw 300 innings in a season; Phil Niekro in 1977 was the last AL pitcher to do so. Even Roger Clemens never pitched 300 innings in a season. These days, 220-250 innings pitched in a season is considered a “workhorse” load.

The reasons for lack of innings are many. Some say pitchers have to save their strength because of bulkier hitters, or because of high salaries, pitchers can’t be allowed to burn-out too quickly. The latter, perhaps, has more coin, because back “in the day,” teams with “Murderers Row” like the Yankees were routinely scoring 900-1000 runs in a 154-game season in the 1920s and 1930s. Oldsters like Elden Auker of the Detroit Tigers, who completed 126 of his 261 starts in a ten-year career in the 1930s and early 1940s, said that back then starting pitchers were paid to finish what they started, because as an owner during the Great Depression era told him, “I can't afford to pay you to start a ballgame and pay three or four others to finish it." In an interview before he passed away recently, he claimed that the problem with pitchers was that they don’t work enough, not work too much. Not keeping arms in shape by regularly using them, and running to strengthen legs, was the cause of sore arms and other arm injuries. Putting pitchers on a “pitch count” was a joke, and only useful to pitchers who are out-of-shape due to lack of exercise of their limbs; pitchers today are “pampered.” Auker said that it a pitcher with a sore arm was such a rarity in his day that the joke was that pitcher probably didn’t like to exercise.

The story today is that a good, reliable pitcher who can go "deep" into a game--even if only six innings--is like gold. If that is true, we are talking fool's gold.

Friday, May 13, 2011

All you can do is laugh at them--doesn't anybody know how to pray?

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, apparently because of her anger that more embarrassing anti-immigrant laws failed to pass the state Senate for her to give her skeletal writing hand a workout signing, announced that she was going skip the “liberal” 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and ask the U.S. Supreme Court to throw-out the injunction against the portion of the anti-immigrant SB 1070 law that mandated racial profiling by police. The law as a whole is mostly unconstitutional, but then again the present court has shown a proclivity for ignoring parts of the Constitution it doesn’t like, especially where law enforcement and defendants’ rights are concerned. “The decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the suspension of key provisions of Senate Bill 1070 does harm to the safety and well being of all Arizonans, who suffer the negative effects of illegal immigration," Brewer opined, playing the fear, paranoia and racial card to the hilt; she might have mentioned the benefits of “illegal” labor in the state, but that wouldn’t have played as well.

What does the Arizona Democratic establishment have to say about this? They are perfectly happy with it. Why? "Arizona has a serious problem with criminal cartels that smuggle drugs, guns, and humans across our border” said party chairman Andrei Cherny. “Whatever the ultimate decision as to its constitutionality, SB1070 won't solve this problem. Let's settle this legal debate once and for all, so our state can move on from political games to real solutions on border security and comprehensive immigration reform."

It sounds like Arizona Democrats are playing both sides for the middle, although I suspect they’d prefer to fall off the fence on the “right” side. Actually, the gun smuggling is occurring in the other direction; Arizona’s non-existent gun regulations make it easy for people on the other side of the border to acquire weapons. There is also the reality that drug violence is occurring largely on “their” side of the border—no thanks to the U.S. pumping in guns and resources for a “war” that has merely exacerbated—not reduced—drug violence, to the tune of 26,000 dead Mexicans since 2006. But that’s just a detail; we are really only concerned about the handful of Americans—mostly “Mexicans”—who were in the “line of fire.” Actually, no one is cares about them, either, save as a mendacious sound bite. There is also that tiny little fact that the U.S. is the world’s largest market for “recreational” drugs, and the reality that drug dealing in inner cities is one of the few “profitable” enterprises to be found, especially since so many jobs—particularly manufacturing jobs—have left the cities to China and elsewhere.

An alternative weekly in Phoenix—the New Times—has an ongoing series of articles it calls “Why the Rest of the Country is Laughing at Us.” For example, the fossilized Gov. Brewer approved of a law that permits the state department of licensing to create eleven new license plate designs, one of which depicts the Gadsden flag, the one with the snake (frankly, an apt representation of a typical Tea Partier) and the famous slogan "Don't Tread on Me.” In order to get this plate, part of the purchase price is $17 that goes to projects that “promote Tea Party governing principles,” regardless if you agree with whatever those are or not. Well, actually there is only one “project” and “principle” you need to support: The plates cost $32,000 to design, and the since it is not an “official” plate—more like a “vanity” plate—the Arizona Tea Party has to foot the bill, with the “help” of anyone asinine enough to want one of these things. Since the plates have a clear political message and the Tea Party is a political “party” in all but name, Gary Ackerman, a New York congressman, has proposed a bill called the “License Plate Political Slush Fund Prevention Act.” It’s not likely to go anywhere, given all the fear bone-head Tea Partiers put in the minds of House Republicans, but it does address the issue of government funds being used to promote political propaganda; only the Republicans would try such a slimy stunt.

What else…Arizona recently became just the second state to see fit to pass a law naming—get this—a “state” firearm. Brewer approved the selection of the Colt single-action Army Revolver. I’m not sure why they call this gun (put into service in 1873) a “single-action” device, because cocking the hammer and pulling the trigger is two actions; but what I do I know, I’ve never owned a gun and don’t plan to. According to the New Times, this latest right-wing clown act “will undoubtedly serve as rhetorical ammo for the state's haters who want to paint Arizonans as knuckle-dragging, gun-toting hillbillies. That said, one look at the majority of our elected officials, and the haters would appear to be right.” In the wake of the recent shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, it would indeed appear so. By the way, Utah became the first state to pass a “state gun” bill, and it is illegal to forbid students to carry guns on college campuses; it is apparently OK to carry a gun at BYU, but not OK to have sex. But this isn’t even as bad as Kansas, where a state law actually allows the carrying of guns in K-12, which in its annual report the Brady Campaign for the Prevention of Gun Violence called one of the “craziest” gun laws in the country. Arizona, Alaska and Utah were also singled-out in the report for having a score of “zero” in regard to the number of “common sense” gun laws they have on the books.

It also should be pointed-out that it was a crazed white man—not one of those “Mexicans” of white paranoid fantasy—who shot Giffords; Arizona’s “Wild West” attitude about guns and the worth of a human being (“Mexicans” actually are human) is what people in the state really need to fear.

Meanwhile…Despite the fact that Barack Obama released his “long form” birth certificate that should put to rest the birther business, Arizona is carrying-on “humiliating” itself by an attempt by Republican legislators to re-introduce the "Birther Bill," which applies only to persons planning to run for president or vice president on the state ballot. Well, actually I’m not sure this is the before-or-after bill that Gov. Brewer vetoed because she claimed it take the country down a “path of destruction.” Too bad she doesn’t consider mandating race hatred and the glorification of guns a destructive path. The bill is (or was) absurd since it is already a federal requirement, but obviously its aim is to embarrass Obama as well as Arizonans. If such a law would pass, I wonder what kind of scrutiny white candidates will receive when they only supply their short forms; as we recall, the certificate that birther Donald Trump recently provided the media wasn’t even a legal document. This is most probable reason for Brewer’s veto; she probably can’t find her birth certificate.

Brewer did use her race-hate “mandate” to sign a law that eventually bans ethnic studies classes in public schools, a law aimed at ending curriculum that allegedly incites “rebellion” and “revolution” among Latino students. The real reason for this law is to prevent Latinos from gaining an identity independent from the racist propaganda of the white media and Republican politicians, and from having a forum in which they can derive self-awareness and self-empowerment. White politicians and school officials, of course, fear that what they are really doing is identifying problems and formulating solutions to combat a right-wing white society that denigrates them. By banning ethnic studies classes, white Arizonans wish to keep Latinos in the state “ignorant” of abuses heaped on them.

According to the New Times, 60 percent of the students in the Tucson school district (the principle seat of the conflict) are Latino—as much as 90 percent in some schools. Shocking numbers, according the New Times, and “evidence that the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education, which held that separate educational facilities for students of different races are ‘inherently unequal,’ has been effectively undermined by white flight and the rise of charter schools.” And this isn’t anything new, either. Tucson’s segregated schools were the subject of a law suit forty years ago, and the ethnic studies programs for discriminated-against minorities was part of the corrective. Even one or two opponents of the curriculum admit that the ethnic studies programs has had a positive effect on school performance and graduation rates, largely by making students feel that they matter. But for the rabid racists who fear that they will be recognized and exposed by such courses, educational performance is the last thing they are concerned about.

It seems that white officials, infused with fear that all these children might grow-up to be voters who might overthrow Arizona’s apartheid regime (which by the way is what Brewer, Russell Pearce and that ilk really mean by the “negative” effect of immigration), refuse to even countenance the idea that Latino students ought to have the same positive reinforcement as white students are allowed by default.

One last item: I might have mentioned here that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County Prosecutor Andrew Thomas are tag-teammates in running the county like it was still the “frontier justice days” of 1870. The problem is, they just can’t go out and shoot all their opponents, or arrest everyone in sight who disagrees with them or have different opinions on how the law should operate. Having been thwarted by Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe in their attempts to railroad local politicians who opposed their methods with false allegations, and in one incident jailed one of Sheriff Joe’s deputies for sneakily removing documents from a defense attorney’s files (caught on video), Donahoe is now the subject of a RICO charge concocted by prosecutor Thomas, supposedly concerning the construction of a new courthouse, but in reality attempting to give the “impression” that Donahoe was “bribed” into passing down judgments that made Thomas and his henchwoman Lisa Aubuchon look like buggling incompetents. One may wonder why a county with left-leaning Phoenix can repeatedly elect such bozos as this AND Sheriff Joe; the answer is that everywhere else is gun-toting right. Maricopa county is the largest county by population to have a majority vote for John McCain in 2008, and since at least 1960 has voted for the Republican candidate for president every time.

Donahoe isn’t the only person in Sheriff Joe and Thomas’ sights. According to them, practically the entire county is a Mafia affair whose sole purpose is to embarrass and thwart them at every opportunity—as if they don’t do this all by themselves. All five county commissioners, the county manager, the deputy county manager, three other judges and two local attorneys were named in the original RICO suit in 2009. All are allegedly involved in a “conspiracy” to block the paranoid prosecutor and sheriff’s efforts to run the county into the ground, supposedly in exchange for “illicit services.” Needless-to-say, Thomas has assigned a new henchwoman, Rachel Alexander—whose night job is right-wing blogger—to take their case to Washington D.C., since they can’t find any court in the state to take them seriously. In fact the so-called “investigation” was so shy of factual information that even the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office—normally the lapdog of Sheriff Joe and Thomas—was not “trusted” to participate in the “investigation,” for fear they would find nothing prosecutable. Subsequently, no one in the office could be found to sign-off on the finished document, which was described as little more than a long “letter to the editor” of the prosecutor’s various bellyaches against his perceived opponents, and the sinister reasons why they opposed him.

Local attorneys are, however, fighting back. A law suit against Thomas and Aubuchon claims that they “conspired with each other and with others to injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate Judge Donahoe in the free exercise of his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, a right or privilege secured to him by the U.S. Constitution and laws of the U.S., or they did so injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate Judge Donahoe because he had exercised his right to freedom of speech…Thomas and Aubuchon also conspired with each other and with others to injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate Judge Donahoe in the free exercise of his constitutional right to engage in his profession and do his job as a judge."

To paraphrase the Mark Lindsey song, “And all you can do is laugh at them—doesn’t anybody know how to pray?”

Immigration reform won't happen with reliance on the usual misinformation and propaganda

This past Tuesday, President Obama gave a speech in El Paso, Texas that was an attempt to resurrect the immigration reform issue. Once more, catchy phrases rather than addressing the solutions standing right in front of one’s face is the name of the game. The issues that need to be addressed is to removing the onus on employers to “prove” they have difficulty in finding workers for certain job descriptions, and then simplifying the excessively onerous hoops that Latin Americans have to jump through to be granted work visas, put in place for purely prejudicial and discriminatory reasons; this incomprehensible policy is the reason why we have an immigration problem. This country will fly in people all over the globe at government expense to do work when there are people willing and able to do that work right here, and even pay their own way—just because you don’t like “Mexicans.”

Obama did throw a bone to Latino voters, recognizing that the vast majority of illegal immigrants (frankly, all immigrants to this country prior to the 1924 immigration law—which did not include restrictions on Latin Americans—would be classified as illegal under today’s statutes) are here looking for a better life. He mentioned (sort of) what most economists recognize: that the U.S. economy has grown largely on the backs of immigrant labor. He could have mentioned that the U.S. and Mexico have a history and a relationship that has rarely been beneficial to Mexico, and in fact Mexicans have been exploited by the U.S. for both their labor and their “use” as a national scapegoat for the country’s problems.

Obama also criticized Republicans for refusing to negotiate in good faith on the immigration issue; every time a benchmark for border security demanded by Republicans was met, they moved the “goal posts” again in order to maintain immigration as a partisan political weapon. He even joked that the Republicans may even demand the construction of a moat patrolled by alligators. Nevertheless, in an effort to assuage the “fears” of the “middle,” he himself continued that conversation by using phrases like “rule of law,” which to most bigots means to portray illegal immigrants as common criminals simply for being here—even children.

It was also politics as usual with lines like requiring immigrants to “pay the taxes they owe.” This piece of propaganda is one that I have particular trouble with, since it assumes that illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes, which is a false assumption based on no actual study on the matter. Instead, we are given as way of an explanation another assumption—that most illegal immigrants work in the “underground economy” who also “depressing wages.” Forget studies that have shown that illegal immigrants have little or no actual impact on wages; there is also little evidence to suggest that there is a significant “underground” economy in this country manned by illegal immigrants (although this is true for Mexico, where the Euro-elites control who has jobs), unless you are talking about the street corner landscaper and shoveler trade. Most illegal immigrants work “above” ground, even in the farm industry; that is why the ICE has such an easy time hauling them in. Wages are low in this country not because of illegal immigrants, but because most of our non-produce products on the shelves are made in low-wage countries in Asia (and not from NAFTA trade). American businesses have to compete with them, because Americans with tight budgets buy what is cheap, not what is American. Blaming illegal immigrants for this is simply scapegoat politics.

And once more, American policy makers refuse to address the biggest mendacity of all on the immigration issue: Illegal immigrants are here because there is a “market” for their labor, and that is the fault of an unreliable “native” workforce, and the fact that much of the labor holes illegals fill require some amount of flexibility and a willingness to go to where the work is; unless it is high-wage opportunity that makes travelling affordable, most Americans prefer to stay put on their sofas. I give Obama credit for at least trying to put a human face on the immigration issue, but he undercut his own message by declining to take the high road and point out that the context within which the immigration issue exists contains elements that go far beyond one’s personal prejudices; the real “criminal” activity is a U.S. immigration and work visa policy that refuses to accept reality, because it takes into too strong consideration the bigotry of many Americans.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bigotry just part of the game?

I suspect that most people who watched Game Four of the NBA playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks the other night likely suspected that the team that deserved to move forward did. The mighty Lakers were not only embarrassed on the court, but several of their players displayed—as Magic Johnson lamented afterwards—a complete lack of class. While there are few people, like Mike Golic and Dave Miller, who say that Laker center Andrew Bynum’s hit on the Mavericks’ Jose “J.J.” Barea was “part of the game,” most thought it was clearly “dirty.” To recap, in the fourth quarter Barea—the little man who was running circles around the Lakers’ big men whenever he got off the bench—was taking the ball on a fast break to the hoop when Bynum lunged hard from below into his armpit in what was obviously not an effort merely to prevent a basket; the eventual winner of the game and the series was by then already a foregone conclusion. Barea felled hard to the floor and stayed there for several minutes.

If this act was not meant to alter the result of the game, then we have to conclude that the hit was either meant to hurt Barea, or to “send a message.” First of all, Bynum was perfectly aware that the hit would get him ejected from the game, and everyone else who saw it knew it too; no sooner than Barea landed on the floor, Bynum was walking toward the exit, ignoring the official who made the call. Thus Golic and Miller were wrong to say that it was “part of the game.” It is not “part of the game” for a starter to do something that he knew would get himself ejected. Bynum didn’t care if he stayed in the game; he had by then already quit, so as “part of the game” the hit was pointless as well as dirty. So the idea that he was “sending a message” is only relevant if we conclude that the “message” was an acting-out of personal malice.

That leaves us with the intention to hurt—or more likely, injure—Barea. One thing that most commentators have not discussed—but is important in understanding what may actually be in play here—is what happened in Game 2 of the series. Barea was dribbling the ball up-court when Ron Artest stepped in front of him and “close-lined” him—deliberately thrusting his arm out and striking Barea full in the face (for some reason, I am reminded of the incident involving hockey player Marty McSorley in 2000). Replays showed that Artest had literally pushed aside another Laker defender in order to do this. This move was so punk and without any “part of the game” rationale that not only was Artest ejected from the game, but he was suspended for Game Three, which of course was no help to the Lakers’ efforts to actually win the series. Artest’s “play” on Barea was probably even more “dirty” than Bynum’s, because it was clearly not a legitimate basketball play, but a deliberate attempt not just to hurt Barera—but to show contempt for him as a player, as if he didn't belong.

And this contempt is the crux of the matter. Barea is Puerto Rican, in a league where Latino players can be counted on one hand. Now, some people will jump in and say that his “ethnicity” was not a factor, but who knows what goes on in the heads of some players, especially under the influence of “frustration.” Artest’s actions showed that his personal animosity toward Barea completely clouded his judgment—particularly given the fact that Barea hadn’t displayed any physical or verbal aggression in kind to justify what he did. Artest’s current and otherwise bizarre explanation for his action does have one element of truth, in that he admitted he did it out of malice. After Bynum’s dirty play on Barea, who was it who greeted him after he was thrown out of the game? Artest. We may not know exactly what these two said about Barea in private, but their actions speak volumes.

While we’re on the subject of Latino athletes, I want to mention my disgust at some of the things I hear on the local sports radio stations. Now, the Seattle Mariners baseball team is clearly jinxed. The Toronto Blue Jays—who joined the AL the same year as the Mariners—have won two World Series. Recent entries like Tampa Bay, Florida, Colorado and Arizona have already been to the Series. Even the Brewers have one World Series appearance to their credit. The only team to share the Mariners futility is the Montreal/Washington D.C. franchise. This team has the bad fortune of trading away “mediocre” players who turn out to be stars for other teams, and trading or signing free agent “stars” who turn out to be mediocre. The fact is that while the Mariners have brought-up Hall of Fame material like Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson, they didn’t stay—while they were never able to attract any true free agent star to the team; even a rare gem acquired in a trade, Cliff Lee, was gone before you could bat an eye. They traded one of their top prospects, Adam Jones—who has been solid if not spectacular with the Orioles—for Eric Bedard, who for three years gave the Mariners absolutely nothing; that may yet extend to a fourth year. But while star players tend to avoid coming to Seattle if they can help it, isn't it heartwarming that other teams' cast-offs actually want to stay?

But what do you hear from local commentators? Jose Lopez—who gave the team four solid seasons, including a 191-hit year, and 96 RBIs another—was scapegoated and made the butt of jokes for all the failings of a 101-loss season last year. Carlos Silva was as recently as Monday remembered as “trash” and “garbage” despite have moderately successful seasons before he came to the Mariners—and after he left them; with the Cubs last year, he had a 10-6 record. Yuniesky Betancourt hit .279 with the Mariners, which didn’t prevent the locals from trashing him and having him run out of town; that .279 average has been looking mighty good these past two seasons. Nor did it take long for Freddy Garcia to lose favor with the local media, even though the team stunk his last season—a 3.20 ERA was only good enough to get him a 4-7 record. The season after his trade to the White Sox, Garcia pitched in and won the decisive Game Four of the World Series. This year, the Yankees thought enough of him to put him in their starting rotation.

Yes, Edgar Martinez, who spent his entire career with the Mariners, and Felix Hernandez for the past three years, have been in the good graces of the local blowhards. But they have been the exceptions to the rule; it seems that you have to be at least above average if you are a Latino player to avoid being characterized as "trash." Probably because of the heat generated by the immigration issue, heaping contempt and abuse on Latino players is tolerated. Think I’m making this up? Last season the Angels' Torii Hunter derided Latino players for being worth a "bag of chips," while Latino players of African descent were "imposters." Some people have derided the New York Mets as “Los Mets” in an effort to blame Latino players for the team’s failure to make the playoffs these past years.

On the other hand, the just released Milton Bradley was a known clubhouse character and particularly undependable on the field when he came to Seattle, but the locals kept giving him a mulligan nearly to the very end. Ryan Langerhans (a white guy) hitting around .160 and who also just released, was never referred to as “trash” and “garbage.” In fact, his parting was lamented because he was a “nice” guy. Pu-lease. Michael Saunders (another white guy) is awful, but the “trash” label has evaded him so far. And the horrible Jack Cust supposedly has too much “upside” to be called “trash” or “garbage;” I suppose it is just expected that this white guy should have twice as many strike-outs as hits. But then again, it is too much to expect that Mariner management would have realized, as Oakland did in time, that he was a bust in the making.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Gender shouldn't be an excuse to promote unequal opportunity in schools

The front page of the Seattle Times’ Sunday edition featured a story written by a reporter named Linda Shaw which was typical of the way the Times (and the media in general) approaches gender issues. Take for instance a story a few years ago that dealt with alleged education disparities between girls and boys in Pakistan. Pakistani girls living in the U.S. are receiving educational opportunities that most would not be receiving in their native country. Only 18 percent of girls in Pakistan have some high school education. This is a prime example of gender discrimination. Pakistani boys residing in this country are presumably receiving superior education as well, but to mention that leads us off point. Boys in Pakistan do, on the other hand, have much greater access to a high school education—or so we are supposed to believe.

Here is a multiple choice question: What percent of Pakistani boys would you guess have some high school education, information buried somewhere in the rump area of the story:

A. 93 percent
B. 77 percent
C. 54 percent
D. 23 percent

If you guessed A, you are obviously strongly influenced by the propaganda. If you guessed D, you would be right, and it shows that you have an awareness of how class often trumps gender in many less than completely “developed” countries. Just because men may dominate political and economic life in certain countries, the people that do are usually members of the elite class that maintains itself by keeping the majority of people—males as well as females—in an illiterate or under-educated state. In many parts of the world, boys are given guns instead of an education, to be used as cannon fodder by warlords.

The Shaw story, on the surface, purported to be about what some inner city school was doing to help failing students. Fine—except that the focus was on what teachers (apparently white) were doing to help female students. Now, I don’t know if this was only an impression constructed by the fact that the reporter was uncomfortable with male students—or maybe it wasn’t merely an impression: Maybe the teachers were, in fact, focused solely on helping female students. We have heard time and again that girls are “disadvantaged” in school, but if this was ever true, it hasn’t been true for many decades, especially since the numerous “Titles” instituted in the early 1970s mandated “equality.” The “girl friendly” rules that tried to emasculate boys have had the effect of portraying their strengths as “weaknesses.” One of the complaints was that boys were too “eager” to answer questions, which was seen as “bullying” and “suppressing” the girls. The effect of suppressing the boys' instincts is like saying to them “We don’t care about your education. Fend for yourself.” It goes without saying that black and Latino males are most likely to be negatively-effected by such attitudes.

I remember watching a CNN report regarding a National Women’s Law Center “study” on the “alarming numbers” of Latinas who fail to graduate from high school after four years, for the usual cultural reasons. Typical of these narrowly-focused and politicized studies, numbers are cited without context or concern about the other side of the equation. The “other side,” of course, is that all over the country states are reporting that black and Latino males have by far the highest drop-out rates of any measurable demographic. Why the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund chose to be a party to this partisan political report focusing solely on girls and ignoring the problems of Latino boys flies in the face of the fact that the very year this “study” was released, New York and Massachusetts were reporting that not only do black and Latino males have the highest non-high graduation rates in their respective states, but they are most likely to be dumped—and forgotten—in special education classes.

A report just released by the Seattle School District examining the graduation and dropout rate in Seattle high schools for the classes of 2008, 2009 and 2010 provide the same depressing picture. The numbers for each year vary widely, and a surface examination shouldn’t be taken as suggesting a “trend.” 2010 had a lower dropout rate but also a lower graduation rate, because of a greater number of students “still enrolled.” In two of the three years, American Indians had more dropouts than graduates, and blacks and Latinos had dropout rates in thirty percents. Males had around a 30 percent greater likelihood of dropping out than females. Yet here we are presented in the Times a story that once more seems to indicate that teachers are only interested in helping the girls, while the boys are either dumped in those special-ed classes or simply ignored, probably because they are seen as “scarier” and less “cooperative” than girls (that’s a matter of opinion, of course). If girls are treated more deferentially and know it, of course they will respond—and go on to college, where some reports indicate that they out-number male students by a 60-40 margin (I would like to think that this isn’t due to a bias against male applicants in college admissions offices). This has yet to be seen as a “crisis,” because, as the Times once opined, we can’t do anything to help boys if it means “hurting” girls.

I also recall a report from something called the Cooperative Institutional Research Program Freshman Survey that took note of this bias against minority males. “For Latino males, it has not yet received the type of national attention you would think,” according to Victor Sáenz, an assistant professor of higher education administration at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-author of the report. “Sometimes it’s difficult for folks to want to have this discussion about gender inequity because it has traditionally been framed in a very different way, in terms of women not being granted full access to educational opportunity.” According to the report, Latino males represent less than 40 percent of Latinos enrolled in college; one reason for this is suggested by the fact that Latino males 16-24 (that is, beyond four years) are nearly twice as likely not to graduate from high school than the Latinas, who we recall were viewed as “victims” by the National Women’s Law Center without the benefit of context.

This bias toward girls in schools is so politicized by activists that the problems we really ought to be focused on are mostly hidden from view. In a New York Times story, Ronald Ferguson of Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative said that “There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten. They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have,” including “conversations about early childhood parenting practices. The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”

Do parents—and in particular, the single, high school dropout parent—give their toddlers and young children “toys” that promote brain development? Do they read to them? Do they talk to them in standard English? I don’t know—you tell me. All I know that it would help. And how are black boys to learn responsibility and self-respect in a fatherless home? Why do so many young males prefer to spend their time on the streets, or in gangs rather than spend their time at home doing their homework, where they have a parent who (we would think) knows more than they do to help them? Maybe it is because for the disinterested parent who still thinks like a juvenile, education isn’t important, and this rubs off on the child. Naturally, gender activists don’t want to have this conversation because they know where that road begins in too many cases.

The cough that roared

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had her Jessica Lynch moment last week. You remember Jessica, don’t you? Pvt. Lynch was one of the soldiers who was fortunate to come out alive with minor injuries after Iraqi insurgents ambushed their supply convoy. After being captured by the insurgents, she was rescued in a daring raid by American commandos. There was another female soldier captured, but because she was black and not white and blonde, the media ignored her (recall also that the media—Wolf Blitzer in particular—was utterly loath to admit that a black male military policeman was more the “hero” than the white female MP during the Fort Hood massacre, or that he even existed to spoil the moment). According to initial military and media reports, Lynch put-up a stiff fight before being put-out of action. The reality was that she was knocked unconscious almost immediately, was taken to a hospital by insurgents who were probably embarrassed they were fighting women, and practically begged U.S. authorities to take her off their hands. The Bush administration, however, decided that a “daring” raid was a public relations stunt they couldn’t pass-up. Lynch, to her credit, would later testify before Congress of her embarrassment over the unjustified media hype.

I’m sure everyone has seen the “iconic” photograph of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Clinton and various other persons observing in “real time” the attack on Osama bin Laden’s lair via a video monitor. Everyone (except the brigadier general scanning a laptop) are seen in various degrees of “intensity.” The editors of Women’s Wear Daily—which predictably takes a superficial view of things—thought they saw something “powerful” in Clinton’s hand-over-mouth demeanor. They asked the photo editors of two news magazine that typically puff-up (white) women and deflate men—Newsweek and TIME—about their take on Hillary’s importance to the composition. Newsweek’s Scott Hall effused "The mystery of what's happening off camera is captured wholly in the expression on Hillary's face," while Kira Pollack of TIME gushed "The Hillary Clinton expression is the one that holds the photograph fully. The reaction of her hand over her face. Her eyes. Clearly, she's reacting to something she's watching…To me, the whole image is about Hillary. In some ways, she holds the image. You look at her first, and then you look at everyone else."

Now, admittedly in looking at the photo, Clinton does capture one’s attention, but not necessarily for positive reasons. Is she becoming overly emotional? Is she putting on a show to get attention? Is she over-compensating for being a bit character in the drama? I suspect Clinton herself is aware that these and other questions are ones that a more cynical person might ask: "Those were 38 of the most intense minutes. I have no idea what any of us were looking at that particular millisecond when the picture was taken." Something important must have been occurring during that millisecond: "I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs." So we can at least credit Hillary for taking a page from Pvt. Lynch’s playbook and admitting some embarrassment at the gushing media “perspective” that portrays her as the only person worthy of being noticed.

Well, she wasn’t the only the person of “note,” as it turns out. Who is that “mystery” woman sticking her head out in the back of the pack? Her name seems to be Audrey Tomason, according to one source the “Director for Counterterrorism.” The main point seems to be that she is the only other woman in the room. Of course, it could also be pointed out that Obama is the only minority in the room—but then again, he is the president; they couldn’t really leave him out of it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Police more efficient than Kevorkian

On Wednesday, a man with a gun at the Kent Station park and ride excited several witnesses to call 9-1-1. Actually, that was KOMO’s initial erroneous report; police were in fact responded to a call from a cabbie reporting that a passenger had a weapon on his lap. When the cab arrived at Kent Station, the driver jumped out, and the police advanced toward the vehicle, where the passenger was still sitting. The man then apparently got out of the cab with weapon in hand, refused to comply with an order to drop it, was asked by an officer if he “wanted to die” and the man allegedly answered in the affirmative. Supposedly he advanced “threateningly” toward the officers, who “obliged” his “request” by shooting him dead on the spot. Amazing how helpful the police can be sometimes. The officer who shot him was a three-year “veteran”—meaning he hasn’t much experience in diffusing such situations in non-lethal manner, as if a twenty-year veteran has any more.

The bus routes were moved outside Kent Station while the police were looking for “evidence.” People on the bus I got on were talking about the incident; I asked the rhetorical question of why the police didn’t wound instead of killing him; the answer was that the police were worried about a potential lawsuit. I suppose it makes “sense” considering a man suffering from permanent brain damage was recently awarded $10 million, while the family of the Native American who was unjustly killed received a somewhat lesser amount ($1.5 million), while the Guatemalan mother I talked about earlier in the week was awarded only $75,000 for the murder of her unarmed son.

According to the latest reports, the man’s family stated that the Vietnam veteran was depressed and terminally ill, suffering from diabetes, hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver. Apparently suicide—assisted or otherwise—was not an option, perhaps due to religious scruples or consideration for the family. The police and media have coined the phrase “suicide by police” to justify shootings as described above, suggesting that police really can’t be blamed, or doing the victim a favor. But the fact is that these are not intended by the victims to be seen as “suicides.” The victims are merely acting on the knowledge that police have itchy trigger fingers, paranoid enough to use lethal force upon the slightest “provocation.” I might feel "sympathy" for police in these situation, except that even if they knew this was "suicide by police," they'd shoot him anyways. The man’s family said that he wouldn’t hurt anyone, and he apparently believed the way of ending his life that was least painful for his family was to die from the hands of someone else. Who better to oblige than the police? They do it all the time.

In any case, chalk-up another “hit” for the Kent police, which I’m sure some in the department will use as a “warning” to the “bad” guys that they are just as “bad” as the SPD, which is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice for various civil rights abuses. The Kent police probably have a higher kill rate per capita than the SPD, a rather strong possibility suggested by the photos of two-dozen youths whose lives were “stolen” in recent years by the KPD, on a banner that I saw the other day on a Kent sidewalk.

While we’re talking about law enforcement, I might as well tell another thrilling tale of yesteryear about my experiences with our “heroes” in black and blue, this time concerning the Renton police. One day after work I decided I needed to go the Fry’s Electronics in Renton for some reason that escapes me, and there was a Sound Transit bus that I could take from the airport to its general vicinity. I got off the bus in Renton and started walking down the sidewalk to the store. I noticed a police car going in and out of parking lots behind me, which seemed rather peculiar. A few minutes later I found myself hemmed in by three police cars. Three officers jumped out of the vehicles and had me stand at attention; I enquired as to their business with me, and I was informed that a bank had just been robbed. I informed them that it couldn’t have been me; I had just gotten off a bus after work. Couldn’t they see I was wearing a work uniform? Well, the robber was wearing a “dark” outfit, too.

I was told to empty out a little bag I was carrying; I was a little upset by this time, and so I dropped the bag on the ground. One of the officers proceeded to dump the contents all over the sidewalk. I insisted that they were wasting time while the real robber was about; at least one of the officers knew that this was likely the case, but had to put on a performance to justify what they were doing. He called the dispatcher on his radio for a description of the crook which I was supposed to hear: A white male with gray hair, about 6-feet tall, wearing dark clothes. “See?” the officer exclaimed, you are wearing dark clothes, so that makes you a “suspect.” No, I said, what makes me a “suspect” is that I am 5-feet-5 with dark hair, and “ethnic.” But the police just couldn’t stop performing this farce. Shortly thereafter another police car arrived; I could a see a black female civilian in the back seat, apparently to take a look at me. The next thing I knew, I was standing alone, no apologies and my belongings still strewn on the sidewalk. The whole episode lasted about twenty minutes, time of which I’m sure the real crook was happy to take advantage of.

How about some of that global warming for a change?

Statistics always fascinate me. Occasionally to pass the time, I might do some doodling during the course of which I might actually learn something that I didn’t know before. For example, I couldn’t help but observe that this past April was particularly cool at the airport. There was only one, maybe two days that could be described as “sunny.” The rest were merely miserable. But just how miserable? Using the data from NOAA and the National Weather Service compiled by the University of Washington’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, I discovered that there was 73 percent more rain than normal for the month (compared to 68 percent above normal for March). But what about temperatures? By adding (or subtracting) the differential between the “normal” and actual daily high temperatures, the average high temperature for April, 2011 was just a shade under 6 degrees below normal, which is rather significant; you can tell just by looking at Mount Rainier, which from this distance appears to be entirely smothered in white. Only one day in April was at or above the normal high temperature, and only five other days were within 3 degrees of normal; the average high temperature of 52.2 degrees was the lowest recorded in Seattle since such records began. The average low temperature for April was 2.6 degrees below normal; the difference between the high and low differentials can be explained by the fact that while the lack of clear skies during the day tends to keep temperatures lower than they might otherwise be, but at night cloud cover keeps whatever warmth that was generated during the day from escaping too rapidly. The overall temperatures in April was slightly over four degrees below normal.

El Nina will be blamed for this, but then again it was predicted that this phenomena would bring Puget Sound a much harsher winter than we actually had; except for a few days in mid-November and late-February, there was no snow. It also couldn’t explain the weather of last May, which was nearly 4 degrees below normal highs. There are two varieties of climate change—gradual and abrupt. The abrupt changes are more obvious—such as what we experienced in April in the Puget Sound area. Why there are abrupt changes has something to do with the Earth system being pushed into a different state by a combination of “forcings” which could include changes in the ocean, atmosphere, land, cryosphere (land covered by ice), as well as the Earth’s orbit and solar events; man-made effects, of course, are also blamed. However, scientists have been unable to accurately predict when these abrupt changes will occur or by how much—which also prevents accurate forecasts for effects on agricultural and water resources; abrupt changes in weather are also trickier to plan for than the gradual change, since it doesn't allow us the convenience of "time."

Nevertheless, the National Research Council states that it is not wise—as the Republicans and conservative scientists would suggest—to simply do nothing:

“It is important not to be fatalistic about the threats posed by abrupt climate change. Societies have faced both gradual and abrupt climate change for thousands of years and have learned to adapt through various mechanisms, such as moving indoors, developing irrigation for crops, and migrating away from inhospitable regions. Nevertheless, because climate change will likely continue in the coming decades, denying the likelihood or downplaying the relevance of past abrupt events could be costly. Increased knowledge is the best way to improve the effectiveness of response; research into the causes, patterns, and likelihood of abrupt climate change can help reduce vulnerabilities and increase our ability to adapt.”

For most people, wearing an overcoat instead of a windbreaker is sufficient to overcome the affects of unusual weather changes. But changes are not always so simple to adapt to. Across America, only 6 percent of spring wheat planting—from a normal of 39 percent—has been planted at this time of year as of last week, due to cool temperatures and excessive rainfall, which prevents fields from drying out enough to begin planting. This may not have obvious affects now, but weather of this sort continuing into the summer or for a number of years could have consequences on the food supply that simply ignoring the climate problem will not solve. Another consideration is that we might be on the cusp of a “Little Ice Age.” The last ice age of this sort occurred from 1550 to 1850, characterized by colder winters and cool, wet springs and summers. This may be just an anomaly; we wouldn’t know for another century or two if we are really in a cooling, rather warming period. At any rate, it is fascinating to speculate—especially if you don’t like cold, wet weather all the time.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Limbaugh has the blues over Bin Laden's demise on Obama's watch

I awoke this morning to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed during a raid by U.S. forces on his compound in Pakistan. I’m sure it came as a complete surprise to most people, for whom Bin Laden had become somewhat of a bit player on the overall world stage. Nevertheless, the idea that Public Enemy Number One received his just deserts after years of thumbing his nose at U.S. efforts to apprehend him seems to be the only “logical” conclusion to this saga (a pacifist like commentator Mike Malloy might call this "murder," but I doubt the number of Americans who share that sentiment can be described as significant). If Bin Laden had surrendered and allowed himself to be taken alive, he would have had a forum to cause more mischief, inflaming the passions of his followers through impromptu propaganda speeches in court, and becoming even more dangerous as a living “martyr” while spending the rest of his days in prison. But given his own statements, he had no intention of being taken alive by the Americans, no doubt hoping that his place in "paradise" was secured by his crimes.

I was curious about how right-wing radio would deal with this success occurring during the Obama administration. I first tuned to a black-oriented radio station, where I listened to one caller say that this was one thing that the anti-Obama media could not take away from him—that history would record that Bin Laden’s end had come under Obama’s watch. I wanted to know what Rush Limbaugh had to say about that, but first I had suffer Glenn Beck and his radio show for a little while; he seemed to be in a somber mood, just happy that Bin Laden was dead. He did mention that he was unhappy about the jokes about him and his Fox News cohorts at the Correspondents Dinner, complaining about how everyone tells lies about them; actually, the “enemy” does nothing more than use their own quotes against them. What the Fox News contingent is really concerned about is that their commentary has been recorded for posterity, for the perusal of future historians examining the reasons why during a certain period of U.S. history, fringe-right media commentary contributed to an atmosphere where civil discourse could not prosper. Having a few more minutes to burn, I turned to KOMO, just in time to hear an elderly white woman on the street tell a reporter “Yea for OUR troops” when ask her opinion on the Bin Laden news. Her scornful tone made it clear that she was unwilling to give Obama any credit in the action. Something told me that this opinion was not an isolated one.

So what did Limbaugh have to say? Now, I did read with some amusement a brief Los Angeles Times piece that quoted Limbaugh saying that Obama was the "only" person in the room "qualified" to carry out the mission, in fact doing it all "singlehandedly." He ended his initial comments by declaring "Thank God for President Obama." Limbaugh's tone suggested, however, that he was being "ironic." The person who recorded the initial comments in the Times did a disservice to readers by not waiting to listen to Limbaugh's comments after the first break. I suspect Limbaugh made these initial comments right off the top because he knew the "lefties" were listening in, and once they got this "non-partisan" soundbite, they'd turn away. In allowing itself to be suckered-in by Limbaugh's jesting (which Limbaugh himself found amusing), CNN once more proved that in the reporting of hard news, it lacks credibility.

After the break, Limbaugh lifted his veil and told us what he really thought. One of the first things out of his mouth was that he was glad that “Obama—I’m sorry, Osama—is dead.” Limbaugh gave Obama “credit” only for “continuing the Bush-Cheney policies,” keeping the “team” that was allegedly already in place ready to take-out Bin Laden, and allowing Gitmo to remain open for business because of all the “valuable” information we were getting out of the detainees. Otherwise, Obama and his national security advisors contributed nothing of import. Limbaugh derided what he claims he heard in Obama’s announcement of Bin Laden’s demise that he did it all singlehandedly, as if anyone else was stupid enough to interpret Obama’s comments in that way; Limbaugh even claimed to have counted the number of times Obama used the words “I” and “me.” The man’s hatred of Obama cannot be over-stated. Is Limbaugh a racist? He once answered his own question if the opinions of the 13 percent of the population that is black matter in forming domestic policy: No,they don’t matter.

First of all, Afghanistan and Bin Laden ceased to be a Bush administration priority once the Iraq war began (which Bush declared as “won” a few months after it started). There were many theorists who though that Bin Laden was already dead as early as the initial attack on Tora Bora, and as the years passed, Bush insisted that the capture of Bin Laden was not a vital U.S. concern. Bush also continued to engage his “friends” in Pakistan, even though they failed to stop Taliban and al-Qaida fugitives from escaping unmolested into its territory. It is rather telling of the Bush administration’s failure to accurately judge a regime that apparently not only knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts, but protected him, likely in exchange for keeping al-Qaida fighters from conducting attacks inside Pakistan. Obama stopped the failed policy of treating Pakistan as if they were our “allies” in fact (if not publicly), as the CIA was allowed to largely ignore Pakistani complaints about their operations inside the country; Obama rightly did not inform the Pakistanis of the operation before it occurred, due to fears that our “friends” would warn Bin Laden of his peril.

There was also no “quick strike” team set-up by the Bush administration sitting in Afghanistan for years waiting for an order to take-out Bin Laden; the Bush administration seemed satisfied with bombing his alleged hideouts, and then withdrawing resources and troops from the region. Although the CIA continued to operate in the area, their ability to maximize use of intelligence was hampered by the dilatory attitude of the Bush administration toward Afghan operations; it was only after the Obama administration committed resources into Afghanistan that it became possible to conduct the intelligence operations necessary to lead to success in locating Bin Laden. Limbaugh also over-estimated the value of the intelligence received from Gitmo detainees; it was no “revelation” that Bin Laden was employing couriers to send messages back-and-forth (information gleaned from waterboarding, according to Limbaugh). Is our intelligence services that bad not to have realized this all by themselves, since this was the logical modus operandi of someone in hiding trying to maintain communications secrecy? If in fact the identities of some of Bin Laden’s couriers was gleaned from the information provided by detainees, there couldn’t be any assurance that the information was current; it was fortunate that at least one of the couriers was still a trusted Bin Laden confidant. Nevertheless, it is still telling that it wasn’t until the Obama took office that this information was taken seriously to commit the resources to confirm it, and take advantage of it.

Obama does, furthermore, deserve all due credit for the success of the operation. He is, after all, the Commander-in-Chief who ultimately had to approve of the details of the operations, and make the decision to back the riskier, but more certain, attack plan; some of us still remember the ghosts of the disastrous operation to rescue the American hostages in Tehran. Again, give the president the credit he deserves for carrying out his responsibilities with care and fortitude. Limbaugh? He is just a bigoted, outrageously overpaid fat man with an opinion that he can stuff. And finally—and more despicably—while elsewhere the media is referring to “Bin Laden,” Limbaugh only refers to “Osama.” He does this for a reason: It gives him an opportunity to repeatedly suffer “slips of the tongue” by referring to Obama before “correcting” himself to say he meant “Osama.” Yes, it is his own pathetic attempt to portray Obama as a “terrorist” himself and an enemy of America.

There was a time, a long time ago, that Limbaugh actually was “witty.” Those days are long gone. Today, he is just a man consumed with irrational hate (especially of the racial variety) and an inflated sense of self as bloated as his girth.