Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday, Travel Day, Amnesty Day

Kiko's House is on the road and this will be it for posts until tomorrow barring a biggie, and that we can all do without. Meanwhile, in the spirit of Blogroll Amnesty Day, we're linking to five other blogs that deserve wider attention:
If you don't appreciate the Philadelphia of yore (we're talking post-World War II on the cusp between Steel Belt City and Rust Belt City), then by all means don't read DAN LEO. But if you want a breather from stimulus packages and merely want to stimulate your noggin, then add this blog to your daily bread.

My only complaint with A WHOLE NEW G is that Ms. WNG doesn't post as much as I'd like. But when she does she comes through loud, clear and from the heart, not all screechy, self righteous and stuff like I often do. And thanks to her I know what Snickerdoodles are.

If you detect a pattern here -- blogs that are more brain candy than topical and political -- you get a bag of Snickerdoodles. Which leads me to WOODS LOT, a smorgasbord of deep words, old photos and artsy stuff courtesy of Canadian blogger Michael Woods, who may or may not be the guy on the right.

SECRET NOTEBOOKS is not unlike Woods Lot, except that it is very much in the present and very much in the spirit of blogger M. Heart, a graphic designer who shares my love of wild birds and Joni Mitchell, among other pleasures.

My blogroll for photography sites grows ever larger because there are such an extraordinary number of great photographers out there in this digital age and anything I can do to help spread the word is all good. In that spirit, ONEXPOSURE is a town square of talent "in pursuit of the sublime," as the founding bloggers put it.
See you tomorrow.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Surprise! Congressional Republicans Are Still Confusing Talk Radio With Reality

There is a pattern emerging in Washington in the early days of the new administration: The dregs of the once proud Republican Party, having learned nothing from its stinging electoral defeat, lacking moderate counterweights and not having the votes to hold up the Democratic agenda, are rejecting President Obama's invitation for bipartisanship by rolling the dice in the hopes that the 2010 mid-term elections arrive before an economic recovery and happy days will be here again for them -- just not most Americans.
Voting unanimously in the House against Obama's $819 billion stimulus package on Wednesday night was a gamble that the country they profess to love more than the Democrats ever could will sink even deeper into despair. That way Obama and his army of spendthrifts in Congress will shoulder the blame for not being able to pull the economy out of the nosedive that is George Bush's greatest legacy.

This in theory would allow the GOP to emerge re-energized as it did in 1994 after mid-term elections two years into the Clinton administration. But the climate today compared to 16 years ago could not be more different. (And, by the by, the Democrats retained a healthy majority in 1934 two years after FDR's electoral mandate despite the continuing Depression).

A casual observer might be led to believe that House Republicans are channeling not some higher entity like Ronald Reagan but that pillar of Keynesian probity -- Rush Limbaugh -- in still refusing to endorse the stimulus package even after a number of their objections were satisfied in the spirit of bipartisanship. Meanwhile, their lock-step objection to subsidizing health insurance as part of the package is a real keeper: It's not because that isn't desperately needed. It is, but it might lead to universal health care. (Sigh.)

While I view the package as too much of a grab bag, I am convinced that government spending is more effective at creating jobs than tax cuts, although there are nearly $300 billion in such cuts. What this package is meant to do is to stimulate, and in theory it should do exactly that through propping up unemployment benefits, food stamps and Medicaid while funneling aid to state governments so that they won't have to cut the services and employees who are especially crucial in tough times.

My guess is that the Republican gamble will fail not because it leaves their short-term fate not to smart politicking or policymaking but to factors well beyond their grasp, but it is probable that while unemployment will continue to tick upwards for a few months before the economy finally bottoms out as the effects of the stimulus package begin to take hold.

There will not be a sudden turnaround. The hole the Bush administration dug is too deep and Americans understand, as they did in 1932, that a recovery will take time. But jobs will become available, credit will loosen up and home prices will inch upwards, the result being that the Republicans still will be wandering in the wilderness in 2011 wondering where the heck their mojo went.

Why then are the House Republicans trotting out the same tired tax-cutting, liberal bashing talking points while siding with bankers and not beleaguered homeowners -- the very wedge issues that lost them the White House and Congress in the first place? Because bipartisanship is a noble concept only when they are promoting it. (Recall the support for TARP legislation last fall.)

Blaming Obama for reaching out and giving him the finger in response is deeply cynical, but this crowd is bereft of fresh ideas, let alone a workable vision for America.

Who then are these all white and predominately male Republicans appealing to? Their diminishing base in the diminishing number of Red States, now at somewhere between five and seven. In other words, conservative talk-radio listeners. And woe befall the Republican who has a contrary word about Pope Rush. Just ask Phil Gingery, who was censured for suggesting that not everything that emanates from that blowhard's mouth is gospel.

We can anticipate that Senate Republicans will be less cavalier when they take up the stimulus package next week as some members of their caucus cross the aisle to vote with Democrats.

Resuscitating the economy is what counts, but impressions also matter.

And the impression that most voters will take away from the first 10 days of a new administration is that Obama, who is hugely popular at the moment, has tried to be reasonable while House Republicans tried to put a stake through the heart of a new era of bipartisanship before it had even begun.

Top photograph by Exfordy

When Turnabout Is Fair Play

There are at least 30 Republicans who voted against the stimulus bill who represent districts that Barack Obama carried in November, so it's likely that the expected Democratic TV attack-ad pushback will target them. And only fair, which is why the GOP has its collective undies in a knot.

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (photo) is expected to issue a statement contending that Obama's promise to "put an end to petty politics" is "threatened" as the White House and their allies "are making political threats rather than crafting a bipartisan economic stimulus plan."

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans in three states that Obama won -- Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada -- are targets of a radio ad campaign that asks if they are with Obama or Rush Limbaugh.

'Whatever It Is, I'm Against It'

By Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby
[Groucho Marx]
I don't know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it.

Your proposition may be good,
But let's have one thing understood,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
And even when you've changed it or condensed it,
I'm against it.

I'm opposed to it,
On general principle, I'm opposed to it.

He's opposed to it.
In fact, indeed, that he's opposed to it!


For months before my son was born,
I used to yell from night to morn,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
And I've kept yelling since I first commenced it,
I'm against it!
Hat tip to commenter Joe Benevides at FiveThirtyEight

A Rocky Start For Health-Care Reform

In one fell swoop yesterday, the Senate nearly halved the number of children in the U.S. without health insurance, but the 66-32 vote to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) largely along party lines boded ill for enactment of the sweeping health-care reform that President Obama has promised.

The bill -- which parallels one approved in the House two weeks ago -- would cover an additional 4 million children at an estimated cost of nearly $33 billion over the next 4½ years by helping states provide health insurance for families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance.

Six Republicans crossed over to vote with Democrats for the expansion, which will be funded by raising the federal tax on cigarettes from 39 cents to $1 a pack.

The Epidemic That (Thankfully) Wasn't

One of the most deeply depressing stories I handled as a newspaper editor was the inner-city crack epidemic in the late 1980s and predictions, which seemed chillingly possible at the time, that there would be a generation of severely damaged children who were birthed by addicted mothers.

That, reports The New York Times, now appears to be anything but the case because scientists say that so far the long-term effects of such exposure on children's brain development and behavior is relatively small.

A Mere Pimple On The Ass Of History


John Martyn (1949-2009)


Is Scientology Turning Katie Yellow?

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Time exposure of the Swiss mountain resort of Grindelwald at the north face of the Eiger mountain.
Photograph by Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Though aimed at men, the drug [Viagra], which transformed the treatment of impotence, has dispersed a kind of collateral electric current into the area of women's sexuality, not only generating an effort -- mostly futile so far -- to find drugs that can foster female desire as reliably as Viagra and its chemical relatives have facilitated erections, but also helping, indirectly, to inspire the search for a full understanding of women's lust. This search may reflect, as well, a cultural and scientific trend, a stress on the deterministic role of biology, on nature’s dominance over nurture -- and, because of this, on innate differences between the sexes, particularly in the primal domain of sex.


How about the fact that women grow up in a society that is centered on men's experiences and lives? That the female body is used as a representation of sex itself, whereas (hetero) men's experiences and understandings of sex dominate our cultural narrative? To go back to an old feminist gem, men watch; women watch themselves being watched.

And women’s bodies are positioned as public property. Whether it's ongoing political battles about what we can and can't do with our reproductive systems or a cultural religious/virginity narrative that places female sexuality as a bartering chip between male "protectors" or not being able to walk down the damn street without a reminder that we don't have the same right to public space as men do, to be female is to be told, "Your body is not yours."


Wowzer. I think this is fascinating. In a world where women are often objectified against their will, is the ultimate turn on being able to control and even illicit our own objectification? This line of thinking also holds up when considering the number of women who have fantasies of being dominated, and sometimes raped. Is it sexually arousing to feel a sense of power over your own decision to submit in a world where you feel vulnerable to others domination against your will?


Today, we simply don't believe that science will uncover a Rosetta stone that translates sexual idiosyncrasy into truths about who we are as a species. Modern science reads odd compulsions as mere idiosyncrasy, glitches resulting from inheritance or environment that signal only damage or else particular solutions to particular developmental problems. As a result, perversions are back in the side show, a collection of curiosities at psychology's fringe. Scattered researchers still dedicate their careers to studying sexual aberrations, but the findings are likewise scattered: fragments of information about genetics, brain functioning, and cognition.

Yet the topic still fascinates, both because perversion is uncanny and because it is not alien to us.


If it weren't for intrepid New York Times Magazine reporter Daniel Bergner, I never would have known that Queen's University psychologist Meredith Chivers "favors high boots and fashionable rectangular glasses." Bergner's article doesn't bother mentioning such trivialities as Chivers' involvement in the infamous Northwestern bisexual erasure study of a few years ago, or about the anti-gay, transphobic record of that study's lead author and her mentor, J. Michael Bailey. But he does let the readers know that Chivers favors high boots, so we've got the relevant details.


The article posits that women have a wider range of arousal and stimuli. Rather than ask the question - Why are women so open to different sexual stimuli? We could ask the question: Why are men limited to so few sources of arousal?

Not, what do women want? But rather, why do men want so little?

This groundbreaking research is built on the old, sexist idea of "The Other Sex." This assumption that women are abnormal (as compared to men) is ridiculous. Assuming that women are the norm and men are limited and abnormal would result in a completely different set of research questions.

Top image by Ryan McGinley/Team Gallery

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Talented (And Psycho) Mr. Madoff

It turns out that Bernard Madoff was not only talented in engineering a decades-long Ponzi scheme of epic proportions, but arguably is a psychopath who got his rocks off -- not by murdering hospital patients one after the other like Charles Cullen did -- but by bilking investors one after the other for tens billions of dollars. And like Cullen cleverly manipulated the very people who should have stopped him.

This is the big takeaway from an excellent New York Times profile on Madoff, who remains sequestered in his Manhattan penthouse while the many investors, including charitable foundations, that he has confessed to ripping off try to pick up the pieces.

Times reporters Julie Cresswell and Landon Thomas Jr. write that it is obvious that Madoff was a greedy manipulator, but:
"[S]ome analysts say that a more complex and layered observation of his actions involves linking the world of white-collar finance to the world of serial criminals.

"They wonder whether good old Bernie Madoff might have stolen simply for the fun of it, exploiting every relationship in his life for decades while studiously manipulating financial regulators.

" 'Some of the characteristics you see in psychopaths are lying, manipulation, the ability to deceive, feelings of grandiosity and callousness toward their victims,' says Gregg O. McCrary, a former special agent with the FBI who spent years constructing criminal behavioral profiles."

Cullen, a registered nurse at hospitals in Northern New Jersey and Northeastern Pennsylvania, told prosecutors he killed about 40 people with intentional drug overdoses. Like Madoff, he did not fit the cliché about psychopaths who commit crime after crime. Hardly anyone suspected anything, although some people found his behavior to be unusual and even suspicious but failed to act on that.

In any equally excellent 2004 Times profile, reporters Richard Perez-Pena, David Kocieniewski and Jason George document how Cullen was able to continue victimizing patients as Madoff victimized investors:

"It was his guile, in part, that allowed him to elude capture all those years. Mr. Cullen is suspected of choosing jobs and drugs that made it possible to kill without drawing much attention.

" . . . Mr. Cullen was able to continue mostly because of systemic failures, and his career reveals gaping holes in hospital and government systems for weeding out people who harm patients.

"Supervisors and government officials who were looking over his shoulder also failed. . . . Employers did not report him to one another, to oversight agencies, or to law enforcement, often because they were not required to. Some even brushed off allegations by victims' families or his co-workers."

There is one other similarity between Madoff and Cullen: They were adept at manipulating investigators even after their crimes were exposed.

Madoff may escape serious jail time because of his willingness to explain how he fooled investors while diming out the bankers who turned a blind eye to his scheming, while Cullen agreed to name names in explaining how he fooled hospitals in return for a life sentence without parole.

One consequence of Cullen's psychopathic behavior is the Nurse Cullen Act, a New Jersey law that requires nurses to be fingerprinted and established a system whereby the state Board of Nursing is notified if a nurse has any kind of brush with the law, no matter how minor.

One wonders if there will be a Bernard Madoff Act as the result of his psychopathic behavior. I somehow doubt it.

Top photograph by Jason Decrow/The Associated Press

Cartoon du Jour

Ben Sargent/Universal Press Syndicate

Another War On Terror Battle Lost

The Bush administration actively backed Ethiopia's 2006 invasion of Somalia in a rear-guard action in the War on Terror, but the last troops withdrew this week and the regime they had propped up quickly fell to hard line Islamist insurgents.

When The Vatican's Business Is Mine

You probably went to high school with a John Zmirak and remember him as the guy who set up the chairs and ran the projectors at assemblies. Zmirak is a co-blogger at Taki's Magazine and is of a kind -- someone who is deeply in love with his own conservative views, which in this case extent to traditional Roman Catholicism -- and brooks no dissent when it comes to those views.

While no fan of excommunicated Bishop Richard Williamson, an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier whom Pope Benedict VI has welcomed back into the Holy Fold, Zmirak is willing to hold his nose for the greater good and suggests that non-Catholics like myself who are enraged by this bone-headed decision should buzz off:
"Other religious organizations have as little stake in this Church decision as the Church does in the internal machinations of the Shi’ite Islamic or Orthodox Jewish hierarchies. It’s nobody's business but ours. There are cranks in every creed, and unless they advocate terrorism, outsiders have no business poking around inside other people’s houses of worship, trying to rearrange the candlesticks."
Master Zmirak is not allowing comments on his post, so I'll have to lob mine from long distance: It is very much my business what the Holy See does in this case because of all of my relatives who denied in the Nazi gas chambers that Bishop Williamson says didn't exit.

And I happen to know a couple of victims of the priestly pedophilia pandemic that the church has worked hard to try to cover up. So hard that the smugly self righteous Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, is under federal investigation for trying to keep the serial buggery involving his priests secret.

Billy Powell (1953-2009)

He survived the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash only to die in bed.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Viking reenactors congregate around a long boat with burning torches during the annual Up Helly Aa Festival, in Lerwick, Shetland Islands.
Photograph by Carl de Souza/AFP-Getty Images

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

JUAN WILLIAMS: Yeah. And let me just -- let me just tell you this: If you think about liabilities for President Obama that are close to him -- Joe Biden's up there -- but Michelle Obama's right there. Michelle Obama, you know . . .

BILL O'REILLY: But it's not her fault in the sense that . . .

WILLIAMS: She's got this Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going. If she starts talking, as Mary Katharine [Ham] suggested, her instinct is to start with this "blame America," you know, "I'm the victim." If that stuff starts to come out . . .

O'REILLY: Yeah, it'll be death.

WILLIAMS: People will go bananas.

O'REILLY: Right.

WILLIAMS: And she'll go from being the new Jackie O to being something of an albatross.


This isn't an isolated statement about something someone said last year, it fits into an established narrative of who black women are. Rather than being the hyper-sexualized Jezebel popular in rap music, she's portrayed as the masculine ball-buster, the kind of women ignorant men write "why I don't date black women" essays about, trying to convince themselves that there's something rational about hating the kind of woman who gave birth to you. Williams' statement makes me angry not because it's about Michelle, but because it's so manifestly not about her, but about black women in general. And maybe with some kind of messed up, terrible rationalization I can divorce myself from what happens in Hip-hop because I know Jeezy isn't talking about my mama. But when people talk about Michelle like this, they're talking about this universe of brilliant, accomplished black women who never seem to get their due. They're talking about the women I know; my mother, my aunts, my cousins.

Juan Williams calls Michelle Obama "Stokely Carmichael in a dress," thus proving he knows very little about Michelle Obama and even less about Stokely Carmichael. I have the urge to say something really nasty right now. But I never like those blog posts when I read them a week later. I don't know how to begin to address this dude. I can only say the following -- It's a dangerous, dangerous thing to make a living running your mouth.


We're way past the point at which it's reasonable to expect Fox News personalities to apologize to those they smear, but a) Juan Williams probably shouldn't expect any White House exclusives anytime soon, and b) the Obamas' "honeymoon" apparently never actually started, at least as far as the Republicans' news network is concerned.


A close second in the Negro Nitpicking Sweepstakes came the critique that Michelle Obama was wrong for not wearing at least one black designer on inauguration day. Um . . . she wore designs by a Latina and an Asian American -- tell me we're not back to the idiot days of the Obamas having to prove they're down for black folk. More importantly, her husband just appointed African Americans as UN Ambassador and ATTORNEY GENERAL. Personally, I think black America stands to benefit more from a top down opposition to racial profiling than either Obama checking off to-dos on this byzantine blackness list.

Here is a useful bit of information that we might reflect upon during the next four years: Barack Obama is the President, not the host of Soul Train.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On Hemp Food Products & Wild Horses

Hemp has become a bigger part of my diet in recent years in the form of hemp seed in cereal and hemp oil as a nutritional supplement, and there is no question that I am healthier for it, especially upstairs where my brain function seems to be better now than it was a decade ago. (Duh.) But would ingesting hemp-derived products get me in trouble if I were to be drug tested?

Hemp is fantastic stuff. The hulled seeds contain up to 35 percent protein and all nine essential amino acids, which is rare for a plant protein. The seeds also are high in unsaturated fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid often lacking in diets. Then there are the minerals, phytosterols and phospholipids such as lecithin.

So what's not to like about hemp? While it is not marijuana, which is a different kind of cannabis plant, it also contains THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the psychoactive ingredient in pot.

More potent strains of pot may contain up to 20 percent THC, which at that level hangs around in the body for next to forever and despite claims to the contrary by the makers of kits to fool drug tests, is extremely difficult to mask.

Hemp in food contains less than 1 percent THC, typically three parts per million or less. Manufacturers of hemp-derived products claim that there is no detectable level of THC, but given the lingering nature of THC in the body and increasing sophistication of drug tests, color me concerned.

And confused given the conflicting literature.

On the one hand, there are studies that claim ingesting any hemp product and even using it cosmetically is dangerous, a reflection of the hysteria that has kept marijuana classified as a dangerous drug while denying pain and nausea sufferers its use as a medical aid.

On the other hand, there are studies that claim that even a hemp product-heavy diet and use of hemp-oil cosmetics does not raise health issues and will not result in confirmed positive urine tests according to most drug-test protocols.

I'm going with the folks who say I'll test okay not because their science is better than the Chicken Littles, although I suspect that it is, but because hemp makes me feel better and think better -- and wild horses aren't going to drive me away from that combination.

John Updike (1932-2009)

Photograph by Marth Updike/Alfred A. Knopf

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

But You Don't Look Jewish

Natalie Dylan: A Whore's Apologia

When whoring is an act of empowerment.
Hat tip to CrunchyCon

Fred Hiatt: A Whore's Apologia

When whoring is an act of journalism.