Wednesday, April 28, 2010

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

YEAH BABY! Let's do lunch.

Uh... not much to say about this video. I think the point is made rather clearly.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Class in America

The New York Times is publishing a series on class in America this week. The first article in the series appeared on Sunday under the heading "Class in America: Shadowy Lines That Still Divide." There were four criteria the authors (and presumably scores of researchers) used to set their definition of "class" --- occupation, income, education, and wealth. To be fair, they regard this as "one way to think of a person's position in society." Unfortunately, because they chose, or were forced, to use these four quantifiers in their studies through surveys and data compilation from various sources, the entire study seems almost entirely to miss the mark in terms of what really matters in an analysis of class in America.

Class in America escapes precise definition for two reasons. The first is that the mainstream media cannot undertake any kind of discussion of class without alienating a significant segment of its audience and advertising base if it does not use statistical analysis (as the Times so exhaustively has) backed up by surveys from people of all levels of the society. The main thing wrong with this approach is that "class" is not determined by "the people" themselves; it is, by definition, determined by the historical elite of the society. Perhaps in the colonial period of our country's history, the four criteria the Times uses may have made sense as real determinants since colonists were coming from the same area of the world --- many from the same country. But, when the American society began to exhibit a specific culture of its own (which, with the advent of television, has become something different from what it was prior to the latter half of the twentieth century) as successive generations of elites were born into the society and subsequent waves of immigrants came to America, the four determinants quickly began to break down. The main determinant that remained was, and still is, the elites' power to control placement of any striver to the upper echelons of "American" society.

The other main reason class in America escapes definition is that, as a country, we have done our level best to pretend that class does not exist here, especially in the form our founders were trying to advertise an escape from. And "advertise" is the key word here because they have (eventually) built an infrastucture (the vast American media) based on the flow of information which, for the most part, only they can manipulate, simultaneously keeping themselves "elite" and promoting the idea that there is no "elite" in America, just fame and money earned by the sweat of one's "American Dream."

I could go on at book length about this topic. Suffice it to say, the above paragraphs encapsulate my view on the subject. If the Times is ignorant enough to go ahead and trod this well-worn, dead-end path, so be it. Any real discussion of class in America will have to begin with a real admission of its existence. And that means the Times will first have to admit that it IS an "elite" entity which has long been, and continues to be, in the business of telling the American public which classes they belong to, though obviously not through the democratic-style statistical analysis they purport to be using this time around. I'm not kidding when I say a still better way of determining class in America would be just to research and write about what words people use to communicate and how they pronounce those words when they speak them aloud.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Give 'em Enough Rope...

The New York TImes reported today that Dr. Bill Frist, the Senate Majority Leader is lending his voice to a publicity video being distributed by Christian activists starting on April 24 --- a day the Christian PR machine has deemed "Justice Sunday." The poster promoting the televangelical event carries an image of a white teenage boy quizzically looking at a gavel in one of his hands and a bible in the other, accompanied by the taglines, "Public service? Faith in Christ? He should not have to choose." and "The filibuster against people of faith." Well, last time I checked, we still had separation of church and state in the U.S., so the answer to the poster's question is really quite simple. The teenage boy doesn't have to choose, he can have both. And, constitutionally, he is bound to separate one from the other if he ever decides to become a public servant.

Dr. Bill Frist, by lending a hand to these Christian PR specialists, seems to be coming dangerously close to violating the oath of his office. One can only assume that the broadcast will be an attack on Senate Democrats' use of the filibuster in opposing religionists nominated to federal court judgeships by the Bush administration. If Frist seems unfamiliar with constitutional law, at least he is intimate with the rules of the Senate which he is threatening to change if these nominees continue to be held up by filibustering tactics. A look at the Senate's website shows a little history of the filibuster and one such rule change (cloture) that affected it. Of course, Dr. Bill is probably well within his purview to junk tradition and try and get a majority of his colleagues in the Senate to change their rules. That's not what's so ironic here. Lately in this conflict, he has been likening this proposed rule change to some kind of constitutional duty that Democrats are obstructing, saying things like:
"It's consistent with the Constitution, where we are as a body to give advice and consent, and the only way we can give advice and consent is an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate."
Both bodies of Congress have always been full of this kind of maneuvering for partisan power. It's funny to see so many scholars flexing their head veins over these issues. What's not funny is the extent to which people like Dr. Bill Frist are willing to go to ignore the sacred separation of church and state and come out in the media supporting extreme religious positions which are blatantly toying with the U.S. Constitution.

It seems to me that we should all be more worried about this fanatic minority trying to take over our government by successfully purchasing the souls of ambitious politicians like Dr. Bill Frist, rather than quibbling about Senate rules, the "nuclear option," and how many times the filibuster has been used by each party. John Dean, our favorite second act American, thinks Dr. Bill may hang himself if he actually did try to exercise the nuclear option, but in the meantime enough rope is being furiously manufactured for the rest of us.

The 21st-century fascist youth poster boy is staring us right in the face, and he has a gavel in his hand. Isn't it clear that Dr. Bill Frist should not be giving political speeches on TV with these people?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Encomium to Popes John Paul I and II

News of the Pope's death, his funeral arrangements, the reading of his last will and testament, paeans to his life in the mainstream press, throngs of mourners descending on Rome from all over the world, jockeying by members of Congress to be included in the official U.S. delegation to his funeral --- it has all caught me in between two states of mind, I and II.

John Paul II was high priest of the Catholic church for much of my life, and will retain a place in my mind somewhere between entertaining media figure (video scenes of the Popemobile) and principled politician (his strong opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq). I agreed with his pronouncements probably half the time; the other half I found antithetical to the progress of a modern world. And, unfortunately for many of us who live in the developing world where papal pronouncements are taken as the Word of God, his dogmatic positions were probably quite destructive, especially in the areas of individual rights and the fight against AIDS.

As a young teenager, upset with a beauty and goodness that had seemed to abandon America sometime around 1974, I distinctly remember being disappointed when John Paul II ascended the throne in '78. I'd already been captivated by the humility exhibited by John Paul I in his short and reluctant reign as king. He was a humble Northern Italian man who for some reason I thought might bring some beauty and goodness back to me --- if only in the form of tolerance for other world religions and individual free will. Alas, he died suddenly of a heart attack only 33 days into his papacy, and the compromise that had led to his ascension was nullified by the conservative wing of the church in the personage of John Paul II.

Here was a guy from Poland, completely opaque to me as a young American on the other side of the Iron Curtain, taking over for a kind Italian man whom I thought embodied the best of Europe's qualities of enlightened thought. But, who could've known then that a divided Europe would open itself up so widely in the coming decades? To the point where John Paul II would no longer seem like just another beaten-down, paranoid guy from Eastern Europe?

Well, he kept his religion beaten-down and paranoid, but at least he got out there in the world and met some real people, and for that I am grateful. By doing that he made us all come a little closer together in some small way.

So, after all the moneyed religions of the world end up fighting themselves into oblivion, we'll still have the memory of that Polish dude who you could actually hang out with, even though he had some pretty seriously misguided religious beliefs. I shed a tear for the disrespect he showed the modern world, but another one for the legacy of his personal friendship to the wider world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Pyrrhic Victory, but for whom?

Fanatical Christian activists want the Federal judiciary to decide whether Terri Schiavo's right to due process under the U.S. Constitution has been violated by her own state's judiciary. Sound complicated? They succeeded in getting the Republican president to sign into law a measure demanding just that. The measure was sponsored by a Republican senator, and then passed by a Republican-controlled House --- not exactly what one might expect from the supposed defenders of states' rights. A federal judge ruled this morning that Terri Schiavo's parents had failed to prove "a substantial likelihood of success" if their case returned to court, and refused to order doctors to reinsert her feeding tube. The Bush administration, of course, then told the press they were unhappy with the ruling. This is all they needed to do. Now, they think, they can take another Senate seat from the Democrats in Florida.

Much had been made of the Democratic response to the congressional measure --- either outrage at the weakness displayed by Democratic senators for letting it pass without delaying tactics (it would have passed anyway), or satisfaction that they were instead letting the measure go unchallenged so that the Republicans would effectively hang themselves if the federal judge assigned to the case ruled that Congress had yet again exceeded its authority in even proposing such a law.

I fear the fault, dear Democrats, lies not in your stars but in yourselves. You think you have been taken hostage by ignorant zealots all over the country, and that there is nothing you can do about it now. I agree. But, just wait. You will see the only power left to you in the form of parliamentary procedure evaporate even further, as these minority activists install their toadies in the rest of your seats, one by one. No one's going to vote for you anymore if you don't stand up for what an overhwelming majority of the country thinks is right.

Friday, March 18, 2005

What's so bad about steroids?

The House Committee on Government Reform apparently thinks that steroid use in professional sports is unethical, at least enough to call a hearing on the matter yesterday. Why? What is unethical about a paid athlete wanting to perform at his absolute peak? I'd say it's more like a sacrifice of one's body for his fans and employers. One House member intoned that "steroid use is a crime." It's obviously not, per se. Not that we could expect much better from the used car salesmen who seem to make up the lower body of Congress.

The risks associated with steroid use are well known by now, as is modern medicine's ability to control dosages and combat side effects. If an athlete wants to enhance his performance knowing full well he could be risking:

- Impotence, baldness and breast development in men
- Masculinization of the body in women
- Acne and cysts
- Heart attacks and stroke
- Liver cancer
- Mood changes, irritability, and aggression

among several other recognized side effects, such as suicide, why not? I won't even go into the obvious fact that most of the aforementioned side effects are at best anecdotal. An athlete pretty much becomes a hero in my book if he's willing to take any kind of risk with his body for my entertainment, and presumably his multimillion-dollar earning potential. Those side effects aren't anything I'd want to risk being afflicted with, especially because I view sports as a fun way to keep my body and mind productive and resilient. But professional sports? Isn't that a different matter?

Don't scholars and yuppies take amphetamines and anti-depressants as performance-enhancers? Don't professional musicians use the beta-blocker Inderal? These are all prescription drugs being taken for off-label purposes. What about the odd teenage girl risking auto-immune disorders and cancers by having silicone-filled sacs surgically implanted in her chest? Heart attacks? Breast cancer? Let's not even get into Viagra or the Pill.

One difference in the case of steroids, it seems to me, is that their use hits a nerve with our society's naive need for hero worship. Professional athletes are gods and we pay them accordingly, and gods should not need enhancement, even if the drugs in question are legal and FDA-approved. (Every time an anabolic steroid is added to the list of Schedule III controlled substances, another two compounds, or techniques, are invented to replace it.)

Speaking of naive hero worship, what about adolescents using steroids? Isn't it strange that even with a study that seems to bolster the case for increased suicide in a "subset" of adolescents on Prozac, the National Institute for Mental Health guides doctors and families to make their own decisions, and basically continues to encourage the use of the drug. From the NIMH web site:

"In the recently completed Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS) funded by NIMH, suicidal thinking generally decreased during treatment with fluoxetine [Prozac], but 15 of the 216 youths on fluoxetine (6.94 percent) had a suicide-related event, such as a suicidal attempt or threats, as compared with 9 of the 223 on the inert placebo pill (4.04 percent)."

That's an INCREASE in suicidal tendencies on Prozac in the study. Again, from the NIMH web site:

"Fluoxetine leads to significant improvement of depression overall. The drug, however, may increase the risk for suicidal behaviors in a small subset of adolescents. As with all medical decisions, doctors and families have to weigh risks and benefits of treatment for each individual patient."

More pressure on doctors to prescribe anti-depressants translates to more profit for the pharmaceutical companies. NIH obviously wouldn't give the same advice for kids (and their twisted parents) wanting a better chance at kicking rival-team-ass. So, steroids become evil in the eyes of Congress, even though they're far less risky than alcohol for instance. It's simple: steroids are cheap and readily available. The drug companies hold no patents on them. There is absolutely no way that congressional hearings would be called on this matter if steroids were proprietary drugs.